Quick access:
Go directly to content (Alt 1)Go directly to second-level navigation (Alt 3)Go directly to first-level navigation (Alt 2)

Frankly … social
Mediation and revolution

Three schoolchildren communicate in class
Conflict resolution competence: when children approach problems sensibly | Photo (detail): Uwe Umstätter; © picture alliance/imageBROKER

Arguing in a rational and civilized manner while actually resolving problems: why “mediation” and “revolution” may be important characteristics of the coming Generation Alpha.

By Maximilian Buddenbohm

While the first word has a nice ring to it of peace and solutions, the second sounds more like insurgency and problems. I see a correlation between the two, though only because I have two sons. My sons were born in 2007 and 2009. I checked to see which generation this puts them in. They are at the end of Generation Z, which almost puts them in the next generation, which some experts believe will be known as Generation Alpha. One can read in prophetic articles what these generations are or will be like. They explain which values can be attributed to them and what their attitudes to society are – it’s all quite amusing. And why is it amusing? Because the authors of these articles did not predict Greta Thunberg or the Fridays for Future movement. There are long analyses of the attitudes of these young people, written just last year, in which the terms environment and climate do not appear a single time. It’s not easy being a trend researcher.

Strangely sensible and cool

But let’s get back to our heading. These days, schools do a lot to promote social peace; my sons for instance were already taught mediation techniques at primary school. At first I thought this was just a nice-sounding but empty word until I noticed that the kids were actually discussing problems, looking for their reasons and successfully resolving them – even when no adults were present. And they were doing so in a strangely sensible and cool way. They get together in class or group meetings to think about what the problem is about, who has which interests and needs in the conflict, and how the problem can best be tackled.
I now firmly believe that this means they are growing up with other skills than we did. In many cases they find it perfectly normal to resolve problems without any great drama, and more by giving them thorough consideration. It is hard to imagine just what this means! And it has consequences that one would not have expected. Incidentally, this was something teachers only realized when they suddenly found themselves confronted by children who also wanted to resolve conflicts with adults in the same way. Children, in other words, who complained if they found rules, tasks or other impositions illogical, unfair or arbitrary. I have had discussions with teachers who did not like this at all, and who claimed that all that business with mediation and intelligent conflict resolution had not been intended like that. Teachers wanted their pupils to discuss and resolve everything in a rational manner – everything except their own instructions. 

The best possible approach 

But nobody can get the genie back into the bottle now. These young people can now tackle conflicts with a surprising rationality – not always, of course, but often. They are alienated by the way politicians argue and take decisions, and frequently find it childish. They are amazed to see adults who clearly lack basic communicational skills. My wife and I have been corrected on occasions when we have not behaved quite appropriately in a dispute, and suddenly found ourselves receiving constructive criticism from our children. However, it’s impossible to have a good argument when your kids are critically appraising your arguments; it’s simply no fun at all so we decided to leave it for now.
The Fridays for Future movement is based on logic and science and wants to see solutions and measures that appear feasible and reasonable to the protesters. They want to tackle the world’s most pressing problems in a sensible way, and are simply interested in finding the best possible approach, they claim – so yes, I do feel there is a certain correlation there.

“Frankly …”

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly ...” column series is written by Maximilian Buddenbohm, Qin Liwen, Dominic Otiang’a and Gerasimos Bekas. In “Frankly ... social”, Maximilian Buddenbohm reports on the big picture – society as a whole – and on its smallest units: family, friendships, relationships.