In the era of massive and rapid globalization, a great deal of attention has been given to respecting the cultural differences of others while also trying to bring the best of all worlds together into one. It seems notable that so often our approach and most psychological and cultural approaches to resolving disputes is not so gregarious and understanding in terms of general approach. “Cultural influences can be pivotal in shaping an individual’s coping patterns. Although coping is a universal process, one’s cultural background and values may shape what coping patterns are appropriate and valued in a given society" (Lam and Zane, 2003, p. 447).
If coping is to be valued on a cultural level, it is critical that a culturally sensitive solution is derived that seeks to understand and accommodate cultural patterns of resolution, coping, and peace. Refusing to adapt one’s model for mediation to the local circumstances can be considered ethnocentric and can hinder progress toward a workable and sustainable solution. In order to best achieve the positive goals that have spawned in the age of globalization, careful attention to cultural acceptance within the framework of the “one world" vision, mediators must have a balanced perspective and be open to non-Western solutions as they arise based on the needs of the conflicting parties.
Laying the Groundwork of Intercultural Mediation
Despite a dramatic increase in the number of sectors—public, private, non-profit, and otherwise—that have recognized the inherent value in respecting the cultures of those whom they work with, in terms of general scholarship on the issue, those in the field of conflict resolution have comparatively few resources to help them address this matter. Cross-cultural understanding when guiding disparate parties through a conflict, whether it is on a small, interpersonal scale or on the playing field of international politics, is crucial for positive and lasting outcomes, but without a solid base of information regarding best cultural practices, efforts can be wasted and misunderstandings based on relatively maneuverable stumbling blocks will continue. For several years, the critical nature of cross-cultural understanding and the importance of moving away from ethnocentrism have been an often-overlooked topic in the scholarship on mediation in the international context (Davidheiser, 2008) but as more work has been conducted, it has become clear that this is an essential component of conducting well-managed and effective acts of conciliation. The studies that do exist on this topic are finally looking backwards throughout history and seeing what effects a culturally one-sided plan for dispute resolution have had. For instance, as Leng and Regan (2003) found in their study based on several cases, the effects of a lack of cultural understanding can be dramatic. “Analysis of 752 mediation attempts in militarized disputes occurring between 1945 and 1995 yields support for the hypothesis that mediation is more likely to succeed when the parties are from similar social cultures" (Leng and Regan, 2003, p. 463).
Taking the path of mediation in solving cross-cultural or international disputes is an increasingly favored mode of conflict resolution that is “far from the rigidities of legal procedures, from the risks implied by a military strategy, from the uncertainty to calling more powerful states to intervene…Mediation appears to be synonymous with the choices of pacifist conciliation and impartiality" (Tennnbaum, 2004). While this is an acceptable definition about the foundations for use of meditation over other practices, one must note that the idea of a pacifist approach (not the mention to the other components of this definition) is Western in nature and does not consider the cultural counter-probability that other forms of handling disputes that are not founded on the peace-based approach might be successful—perhaps even more so, depending on the cultures and conflicts involved. For all of its vagueness culture in the context of conflict resolution can be tricky to define. Leng and Regan (2003) suggest in societies, “culture encourages common patterns of interacting and reacting to the actions of others, by creating a set of imperfectly shared values and beliefs to guide individual behavior" (p. 432). It is only with these two definitions in place to temper one another, can one begin to see that culture is at the heart of any mediation attempt and that this is especially true when the scope of the conflict is international and distinctly intercultural.