"I have been doing this for the last 40 years. I would prefer to continue to do it as I have always done. There’s no need for this extra help. In fact, people would think I had gone a bit soft, or that I couldn’t manage it myself. And not many people do it anyway. It’s more costly too.”
This was my response to my wife’s suggestion that we should each obtain bicycles with electric batteries. I have cycled with vigour and enthusiasm all my life. The idea I might now need some help to do so was not welcome. I still want to show the world (and myself) that I have the ability to cycle just as I always have. It was lost on me that a different approach might enable us to explore new places, enjoy cycling over longer distances together, expand our travel options, add value to our holidays and share new, enriching experiences.
However, we tried out e-bikes at the cycle shop with the help of an excellent salesman and I began to see that this could be a game-changer. “Go for a ride,” he said, “take your time. It’s up to you”. His experience and quiet authority gave us confidence; enough confidence, as it turned out, to make a purchase there and then.
We took the bikes on holiday and cycled for distances and to places we would never have contemplated under our own steam. The result was longer, tougher, more exhilarating cycle rides in the windswept Outer Hebrides. The penny dropped. This was a game-changer. And then another penny dropped: my experience was probably similar to that of many reluctant to use mediation. We assume change will not be good for us, that we will lose control.
Having a battery on your bike does not mean you don’t need to expend effort. You can cycle under your own steam for as long as you wish. You use your gears as normal. You retain complete physical control – and use the power in the battery only when you want to or really need it.
You have choices. On my bike, I have “eco” (minimal additional power, just to help a little when the going gets slightly tougher, making travel a bit more pleasurable), “tour” (for a longer ride, maybe with a good bit of headwind or a gradual incline over hundreds of metres), and “sport” (when you need a good boost in city traffic).
And then there is “turbo”: it’s a gravel path, the wheels are spinning, the gradient is 1:4 and, frankly, the alternative is to get off and push – or give up. “Turbo” is impressive and can make a real difference just when you need it. But if you rely on it overmuch, it loses its value.
The analogy with mediation is obvious. Mediation is something which still seems new to many experienced professionals. They know what they are doing. They have done it for years. To seek additional help feels like weakness. Mediation looks like an additional cost. It probably feels easier to reject it than take the risk of apparently handing over control to something new and untested.
But of course, in mediation, people still have full control and need to work with considerable effort to make progress. However, they can also utilise a bit of extra assistance from the mediator when things might be getting tough, or to inject some real pace when it is needed. A light touch “eco” mode may be all that is required to ease the negotiations along. If a crisis occurs and the wheels are coming off (or perhaps just spinning too much), the mediator can bring stability and forward momentum to keep the show on the road.
At the end of the day, it is still all about choice. How far to go. What mode to use. How much help to engage. When to apply the brakes and say: enough.
Those who promote mediation need to appreciate that helping people to feel in control is probably critical. Any hint of condescension (“I know what is good for you”) wouldn’t have worked for us in the bike sale. How many of us have been guilty of over-pushing mediation because we know it is so much better?
Now all I need to do is overcome the embarrassment of powering past those lycra-dressed athletes on racing bikes on Edinburgh hills. And remember to charge the battery…
Originally published in The Scotsman on Monday 26 August 2019.