“Culture is everything. It determines who we are and how we relate to the world, how we interact with other people, and how we organize our social life. It is something we are born into and learn throughout our lives. It is so embedded into us that our way of seeing the world might appear as the “normal” and only way”.

Dr. Mayte Martín holds degrees in Philology, International Relations and Communications, and Sociology. She is co-founder with Lisa Rose of the consultancy Martin Rose which supports youth, communities, professionals, politicians, and civil servants in working towards more equitable and peaceful societies through training, research, mediation, and advice. She started her journey with cultural mediation, and her current interests consist of polarization, collective responsibility, use of the democratic process, as expressed in her latest article The language and rhetoric of polarization.

A journey to cultural mediation

“There wasn’t any particular moment of inspiration for me. I think mediation found me rather than I found mediation.” Mayte’s adventure with mediation started a long time ago, in 2004-2005, when she started working on projects coordinated and funded by European Commission, which were aimed at combating discrimination. Witnessing the lack of preparation of Irish services, to work with migrants representing different cultural backgrounds, she decided to get involved in cultural mediation. “It is a little bit different to mediation, Mayte says, “but still related to mediating conflict caused by the parties´ cultural differences. Working in projects with the goal of improving access to services among minorities I came across cultural mediation, I started working in an organization that was beginning to think about cultural aspects, but it was a little too early. At that time people were not talking about cultural mediation so much, here in Ireland.” 

Recognizing the role of culture in mediation, Mayte obtained a Ph.D. in Cultural Sociology from the University College Dublin, Ireland. “Sometimes our values, the most important core of who we are depends on cultural background,” she says “of course I do not want to fall into cultural relativity, that nothing is wrong or right, that for me is extreme, but culture plays a huge role into how we behave and what do we believe, how we interact, what we expect.” Sometimes even little things and gestures might be perceived completely differently by people from different backgrounds and interpreted as polite or offensive. People do not pay enough attention to cultural differences, and here is where cultural mediation comes into place. Its role is not only to resolve conflict but also to prevent it from ever happening by educating both parties, the service providers and service users who might come from different cultures. Sometimes people think that the problem comes from the fact that they do not speak the same language, and it is not always true. Sometimes it is only the language, but sometimes it is also the cultural background 

Discovering MBBI

“I got introduced to MBBI when I did some work in the Council of Europe and met Lisa Rose who is a very active member,” says Mayte about the beginning of her involvement, and underlines that she is especially interested in the project of Democracy, Politics, and Conflict Engagement Initiative. DPACE is committed to enhancing the capacity of social movements, political organizations, and communities to engage with conflict creatively and constructively in order to strengthen democracy and create a more just society. The goal is not simply to increase civility but to explore the differences without losing touch with the common humanity. To turn our political passions in the direction of social and political problem-solving, making change easier, more effective, more inclusive, and less painful.

“Now I still work with Lisa, we do intercultural training as well as research and mediation. I also write a little bit about several things, but especially about group dynamics and polarization in society. One of my interests is decoding language and looking at how we construct narratives that give meaning to our lives, but also trigger polarization and conflict”. Mayte once again draws attention to the importance of understanding people’s perspectives. We cannot judge others by saying they are irrational because people also have their own reasons for certain beliefs and behaviors. Cultural mediators’ role is to recognize and accept diversity and facilitate dialogue. They have an important role in providing a voice for minorities who might have recently arrived in the country and feel confused in a system they don’t understand and with service providers with whom they cannot interact.

Making a change

Asked about things she is proud of, Mayte mentions the projects related to Romani families that she coordinated. “I think the projects made a difference to some of the people who participated as trainees. They went on to work as cultural mediators and do other things. I learned a lot from them, and I believe I contributed to building their capacity and agency, and perhaps that is what I am most proud of.” The project also contributed to changing the view of many service providers in schools and other places on minorities, and how they understood their role in providing services. Mayte says that some became more tolerant and open to accept diversity, and more willing to offer services in a different way. “I am happy I had the opportunity to participate and contribute to projects that were instrumental in opening a dialogue between culturally diverse groups, that helped to foster inclusion and equity” she concludes.

A Message for mediators

Mayte also comes with a final warning for mediators and everyone interested in following the mediator’s path. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot how the world and people work in groups. On one hand, we have become closer to our communities, but on the other, we have become much more hostile to those outside, more exclusive. The pandemic has shown that our society is unequal, polarized, and too individualistic to adequately care for the most vulnerable and to adequately fight against the effects of COVID which require collective responses and collaboration.  “I would encourage people to go into mediation. Diversity does not imply disunity. Mediation has an important role to play in facilitating dialogue with the “other” and in promoting the social advantages of diversity. It should be taught in schools, so kids have the opportunity to learn how to deal with conflict and understand the importance of social cohesion and develop a sense of collective responsibility.”

Article by Maciej Witek, MBBI Writer