A Champion of Mediation. Member Spotlight: Charles Crumpton

Charles W. (“Chuck”) Crumpton was a civil litigation attorney from 1978-2014 and has been a mediator and arbitrator since 1985 in well over 1,000 civil cases. Charles’s parents were both from a small town in northern Louisiana. His dad was a doctor and his mom was a social worker. He stated, “she was a hard-working, strong, welcoming, good-hearted progressive woman and did not want to raise her children in the south at that time.” Thus, his parents relocated to Madison, Wisconsin, a very international university town in the midwest. He attended high school at the university and had many more opportunities to interact with a great diversity of people than most of the people who grew up in the Midwest at that time.

Mediation Philosophy

When he finished his university years, he joined a voluntary service international group and taught in Vietnam for five years. He stated, “living in Vietnam for me was a wonderful experience. I did not know anything about the country except they were at war. I was there while a lot was happening.” He married a Vietnamese woman teaching colleague; he also spoke and wrote Vietnamese. He stated, “Vietnam is a second home for me.

Lessons from Vietnam

Charles has been going back at least once every year since 1993. He loves the culture, history, music, and food. He stated, For me, the countries I am most comfortable in, the countries I admire the most, have a strong sense of community – they are very collectivist societies.When it came to the virus, the lockdown has deferred returning. In Vietnam, isolation is still within a family and this includes an extended family. However, in the U.S, it is almost always only exclusive to one’s nuclear family. In some ways, the second wave is more frightening because it is increasing more quickly.

However, it is not just visitors and tourists transmitting the virus but Charles states that it is “the lack of respect by our own people for the rules and for each other.” He further states, “this ties into why conflict resolution is such an attractive choice for us in our lives because the only way to resolve conflict is to join with the people that are part of that conflict, to respect them and understand them and try to feel what it is like to be where they are at and what the consequences and possibilities might be. Thus, mediation is a very equalizing type of communication among people.”

Charles has learned a lot from Vietnam, especially the act of paying attention. He states that “with respect, understanding, without judgment and expectation, we can pay attention to the people, to their relationships, to their values, to their history, to what they live with,  and to their visions for themselves, and their children.” At the end of the day, respecting and appreciating the best problem-solving qualities, and visions of the people who are in the groups that will have to live with the results are key.

Rethinking Mediation

Charles’s experience in the field of mediation has offered him different angles into conflict settings. He states, “if you view people without understanding, intelligence or respect, I do not think you can have effective problem-solving communication because you are not recognizing all of their humanity, and we are all imperfect.” He has taught conflict resolution to international students in Hawaii and Vietnam, and they have almost all been business students. For them, conflict resolution is just one part of business problem-solving. However, there are internal and external parts of business management that they must understand and master, including human connection and relationships. Integrating relationships into leadership, business structuring and marketing is key.

He states, this helps us as mediators because we realize that even though my training is in law, most problems in the legal system are not legal problems. The law can move money from one place to another. If a person sues another person, the law will not fix that relationship, it is not going to bring the mutual understanding and respect in ways that might restore that relationship.” Therefore, by going outside of the courts and legal grounds, one gets the opportunity to start to try to understand people’s problems much more concretely and to understand that the solutions to those problems must come from the choices of the people involved in these issues. He stresses that throughout mediation, one gets a mini-history lesson of the context, the person, and their environment.

He asks, for the people involved in that problem, are they terminating their relationship with each other? Or “are they trying to rebuild or restore some type of relationship with each other that will enable each of them to have better choices if they stay in contact – it is always a learning experience.”

Memory Lane

His highest objective and dedication are to helping build respect and understanding among people in or subject to a conflict in order to help them have, see and make the choices that will be the most constructive for them and those in their work and personal lives and relationships, and to do everything possible and appropriate to level the negotiation and case resolution playing field to offer equal justice for all.

A few weeks ago, he mediated a case of a Filipino family’s property dispute. Throughout this entire process, he stressed thateverybody wanted the same results, but they started in a place of a lot of emotions and blame and a lot of misunderstandings.” He stated that some of the family members had an experienced business background which was helpful during the mediation process in light of the nature of the conflict. Charles mediated this whole session through zoom and stated that he needed to make sure that there was no exclusion. This was a key example of mediation because we have all read about power-based negotiations, rights-based negotiation, getting to yes (interest-based negotiations), but it goes beyond that.

Charles states, for me, the next stage is value-based negotiations. You cannot usually do it if it is a business dispute, but there are still some values and principles that are common to both sides. If you could identify those values, and help people understand that this agreement will serve those principles and values, you can feel like you have created a solution, and it is one that honors the principles and values you believe in your business and personal life. Value-based solutions are the most sustainable. That is what I love about MBBI”

Connecting to MBBI

Charles has been a long member of MBBI. He states, MBBI goes into societies, communities, countries, and areas that are completely different. Mediators bring respect and understanding and sincere curiosity. In fact, they learn about the people and their values; and the solutions that MBBI helps build are solutions that help and respect those values.” He further states that if one looks at MBBI and compares it to the commercial mediators, there are major differences. In fact, for sustainable solutions and for the people who live for the consequences, “there is nobody like MBBI.”

Within the context of today, MBBI has a lot of potential. In our society, Charles states, we have failed miserably. We have not only failed to resist inequality; we have actually created an increased inequality.” He goes on to say that the pandemic has put us in a state of vulnerability, not only because one cannot manage or control the spread of the virus; on the contrary, other countries with far less resources than the U.S are doing so, but what is really at stake is the fact that we are losing control of this pandemic because it is more complex than we think.

He states, it is not just a health pandemic – it is an economic pandemic, an education pandemic, and an environmental pandemic and every one of those pandemics has as its greatest weakness, the inequality that we have not only allowed but fed. It is growing and consuming the spirit of choice of this nation.” He poses the question, are we going to choose to move back to respecting human value with equality, or are we going to continue with greater inequality towards the most vulnerable?

The Legal Dimension of Mediation

Charles recognizes the assets that a legal background has brought to his career, but at the same time stresses that it is only part of the bigger puzzle. He references Robin Hood as an example to understand this relationship better. Robin Hood was in a family where he could have been a nobleman but instead chose to go into the forest and create a system where he stole from the rich to give to the poor. He was a fighter for equality.

Therefore, he states, the law can be like the arrows for Robin Hood, they can help shoot at some targets that are dangerous to common people, but I have learned kindness is at its core.” Charles attributes much of his knowledge and development as a mediator to this mother, who was a progressive woman from a small town in the south, whose humanity was so great that she welcomed everyone into her life no matter what their background or how different from her experience they were.

He states, she lived as a true equal to everyone she had ever met. Thus, the law can be a resource and we can learn from places like Vietnam” In other words, the law is a means to the end for serving our visions and values, as long as you understand which vision and values need to be part of the solution with the people you are working with. This includes knowing how to let them work together – to build a bridge to those values in ways that work for them. He states, “then, hopefully, your solution will be sustainable.”

He goes on to say, the tools, technique, and methods are the means to the end, but the true inspiration and motivation come from the vision and the values. And, if you can help people’s humanity in ways that honor their equal values as humans to the people who have abused their powers, that is the platinum standard.”

Article by Elizabeth Gamarra, MBBI Writer