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Religion and Society

When to Mediate is to Point to the Common Good

The risk of fragmentation and permanent conflict appears to be the fact that characterises in a pervasive way our post-modern societies, and in an even more dramatic way those societies that find themselves exposed to difficult processes of socio-cultural transition and innovation when they come into contact with modernity. Around and beyond the Mediterranean, indeed, we are witnessing phenomena of intolerance, and difficult interaction and dialogue between different cultures, between different social groups, between people who are the bearers of 'apparently' irreconcilable values, and between men and women.



What causes worry today are above all the conflicts that arise in the sphere of socialisation, social integration and cultural production: conflicts between neighbours, in neighbourhoods, within the family, at school, at places of work, intercultural conflicts, and environmental conflicts. Here we are referring to a dynamic that in this paper cannot be addressed in an analytical way, yet they turn our attention to the 'need' for peoples to create a complex form of citizenship that is more able to recognise the multiplicity of forms of belonging and of loyalty and thus to tolerate a very high level of differentiation as well.



There are various hypotheses as regard integration which have directed the policies of those European countries that were the first to address the presence of minorities which were 'diverse' at the level of language, religion and culture. In particular, I would like to recall the assimilative model which sought to transform immigrants into citizens of the host society and which found expression in the French path to integration (1); the temporary model which sees immigrants as guest workers and denies citizenship in the absence of ties of blood with native citizens (2); and the multicultural model which attributes, albeit in a very different way, areas of autonomy to minorities who are recognised as having the right to difference and to their own identity(3). This last model, which at the present time is at the centre of a major debate, has relevant internal differences. In the liberal version, which is proposed by Kymlicka (4), we are presented with a society with a strong 'monocultural' centre in whose construction the various groups participate, whereas in the communicative version of Habermas (5) society is identified with an 'unlimited community of discourse'. This is a situation that involves discussion at the level of ideas, and which the author outlines as being the solution to the problems of society and politics in the contemporary world. The possibility that all social groups communicate freely and participate to an equal degree in the debate about social problems is seen by Habermas as the best defence there is against phenomena such as ideologies, the crisis of individual identity, and the risks involved in globalisation. In communication, therefore, both individual freedom and solidarity-inspired empathy for each person towards the situation of others has to find a suitable influence.



But for this situation at the level of ideas to arise it is indispensable, in my view, for each community of membership to be ready to dialogue with others, that is to say to be ready to keep the relationship open according to a complex relational dynamic in which identity and difference are safeguarded and access is allowed to a society of multiple loyalties (6).



This is a complex pathway and this readiness cannot be generated spontaneously but requires each 'community of membership' whether territorial, ethnic, based on meaning or based on work to be present in a process of elaboration that allows an understanding of the 'common' universal in the particular (the concrete other) without the aim of producing a unity of a syncretic kind which would end up by eliminating all differences.



From a relational point of view (7) interpersonal conflict always contains in a addition to the experience of being in a condition of opposition between the satisfaction of my needs and those that others claim for themselves also the need to find a third way which, in going beyond the aut aut of mere polarisation, opens up to a creative ('generative') operation that is certainly complex, and at the same time allows neither ourselves nor others to be lost, nor indeed the relationship itself.



At the level of facts what one can observe when we are faced with a conflict this constructs a 'real risk for relationships', a risk that can be fatal (as the situation of nations at war constantly reminds us), from which it is impossible to exit without looking at a third party, without reintroducing the ethical dimension, that is to say the subject of the common good and citizenship.



The conflict, whether it is manifest or latent, spreads within the surrounding environment and makes the relational climate heavy, also provoking a decrease in readiness to help and in trust towards others. One thus observes an increase in aggression (whether oral or otherwise), the prevailing of opposition to the detriment of cooperation, and a decrease in the possibility of subjects engaging in self-expression.



Within human relationships it is indispensable to 'know how to be' in a conflict, in the sense of seeing it first of all as an opportunity for growth through an understanding of what at the deepest level springs from relationships of conflict. We well know that many conflicts cannot be resolved, although they can be transformed, that is to say one can learn to live with conflict within a transformative perspective which, on the one hand, seeks to reduce the damage that it causes and, on the other, tries to use it as a resource for development.



The Request to be Judged



There thus emerges a growing need to find an area of negotiating encounter in which the presence of a 'third' can facilitate the autonomous and creative development of agreements that satisfy people in conflict within a framework of values that refer to the needs for community and solidarity of human nature.



At an international level (8) and more recently at an Italian level as well (9) there has been discussion of the 'need for mediation' that is present in our communities, specifically because from the fragmentation of experiences and the concern about a capacity to find meaning there arises the perception on the part of people to be 'guided' in conflict situations and in the reacquisition of their own role as social subjects.



This process, which is essentially symbolic, envisages the involvement of individuals and groups in the difficult task of distinction and connection that often is not able to emerge without the implementation of suitable instruments.



It is as though the competences that each person possesses were shown to be totally insufficient in managing the complexity of situations, and often the result of this is the lack of success of those that feel that they are the victims of artifices. One thus becomes an impotent witness to the fact that conflicts degenerate into exaggerated fights and paralyse many of the organs that are entrusted with taking decisions, albeit in the present of competent subjects who are suitably trained.



Community mediation as we have experienced and practiced it (10) can put itself forward as being one of the instruments that can express the widespread fear that the pervasiveness of conflicts induces, specifically because by establishing itself in a clear way with the figure of a 'speaking' third, the mediator, it allows work to be carried out on the emergence of conflict so as to promote greater belonging and the recognition of the other. In particular, its application within the cultural and linguistic frame can constitute a useful practice in the promotion of the ability of groups to define a new meaning and new regulative forms in social relationships.



In the intercultural sphere we are generally in the presence of a dyssymmetry between natives and foreigners that can provoke conflicts which are not always explicit but which are able to produce an authentic malaise in those who are involved.



In these situations mediation comes to touch in an evident way on the interaction between cultures, indeed living between different languages and cultural models has always required the use of translators, interpreters and intermediaries.



Frontier Actions



From the point of the view of the project hypothesis, the mediator, who works in an intercultural field, is defined as a 'third' who has a particular interest in all 'border' situations, whether of individuals or of groups, that encounter difficulty in constructing positive links with the wider social context, which is extraneous and often incomprehensible, and at the same time promotes exchange and dialogue with the host culture within a perspective which is as reciprocal as possible. From the point of view of the intervention engaged in, these projects are often supported by mediators with the same origins as the users who have undergone emigration and when they are suitably trained can construct a 'bridge' between the two cultures. One is dealing here, therefore, with a 'border' intervention designed to increase understanding of meanings, the management of different conceptions of the world. Today, the most significant experiences in this area are linked to initiatives within schools and in services for individuals, above all in the field of health care. In these cases the cultural mediator works within a triad made up of the foreign user, a psychologist, medical doctor or social worker, and a teacher, with the aim of allowing an exchange and a dialogue in relation to knowledge, learning practices and ways of acting, that are channelled by linguistic, metalinguistic and cultural skills and expertise.



The inter-cultural encounter presupposes, on the one hand, a recognition of the forms of resistance that exist in the consideration of values that different from those to be found in the culture to which a person belongs, and, on the other hand, managing them and going beyond them.



I believe that the field of cultural mediation should, however, open itself to the community as a whole and not confine itself solely to acting in situations of emergency, being entrusted to professional figures who are valuable but are also certainly too 'weak' within the professional world of the social sphere.



A community perspective could allow this action to move out of a condition of being on the margins and linked to questions and issues which are to varying degrees connected with health and education and to open itself up to the questions and issues of civil co-existence in neighbourhoods and cities where minority social groups are present and have different ethical-religious configurations and different models of life.



'The rescuing of membership in difference' could be the authentic mission of actions involving mediation within the community in the intercultural sphere, but this means taking responsibility for social ties within a perspective of reciprocity.






1) Cf. on this subject Catherine Withol de Wenden, 'Il caso francese', in A. Bastenier, F. Dassetto (ed.), Italia, Europa e nuove immigrazioni (Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli, 1990).



2) This model, which is based upon the conferring of citizenship on ius sanguinis, has been followed for years in Germany which for years has refused to see itself as a country of immigration. This model is now being reconsidered in favour of the introduction of the ius soli, a transformation which is to be located in the wider European debate about the acquisition of citizenship.



3) One goes from the English model of 'unequal pluralism' which starts from the belief that immigrants by tradition and culture, even if they wanted to, could never become 'good Britons' (Umberto Melotti, L'immigrazione una sfida per l'Europa, Edizioni Associate, Roma 1992) to the Dutch model of 'positive discrimination' which is designed to introduce a system of preferential measures intended to remove the differences between natives and immigrants in the implementation of rights, and on to the Spanish model which centres around the recognition of social rights.



4) Cf. Will Kymlicka, La cittadinanza multiculturale (Il Mulino, Bologna, 1999).



5) Cf. Jürgen Habermas, Fatti e norme: contributi a una teoria discorsiva del diritto e della democrazia, (Guerini e Associati, Milan, 1996).



6) Pierpaolo Donati 'The Challenge of Universalism in a Multicultural Postmodern Society: A Relational Approach', in E. Halas (ed.), Florian Znaniecki's sociological theory and the challenges of 21 century, (Peter Lang, Frankfurt, 2000).



7) The relational theory in the complex elaboration of Donati allows a reading of social phenomena essentially as relationships that can be always read according to three semantics the structural, the symbolic and the generative (Cf. P. Donati, Teoria relazionale della società, Franco Angeli, Milan 1991).



8) The reference is to the Fifth World Forum on Mediation which was held in Crans-Montana in September 2005.



9) Reference should be made, inter alia, to the commitment to these subjects in the Università Cattolica Alta Scuola di Psicologia Agostino Gemelli through the masters' degree in 'Family Mediation and Community Mediation', which is now at its seventh edition.



10) A systematic analysis of the subject can be found in Donatella Bramanti, Sociologia della mediazione di comunità, (Franco Angeli, Milan, 2005).