Many of us have attended public meetings at which emotions run uncomfortably high. Each side is firmly, sometimes even fiercely, entrenched; voices are raised; tempers are frayed. People hurl verbal grenades at each other, refusing to concede an inch. Actual communication is rare, and the gathering often degenerates into chaos.

That’s where people like Lucy Moore come in. As a professional mediator and facilitator, she is charged with bringing some measure of understanding and perhaps peace (or what passes for it) to such meetings, persuading warring parties to dial down their emotions and truly listen to each other. A Santa Fe, N.M., resident, she’s been working in the West for more than 25 years, dealing with hot-button issues such as water rights, toxic waste, Indian education, grazing issues and reservoir management.

Her new book, Common Ground on Hostile Turf, is both a memoir and a primer on how mediation can work. Moore offers 10 fairly lengthy examples, presented chronologically, drawn directly from her experience with the nonprofit conflict-resolution firm Western Network, and her own firm, Lucy Moore Associates. In each story, she digs into her memory and walks the reader through each stage of the mediation, recounting the sometimes slow and difficult steps toward resolution.

It’s her job, she writes, to provide the space, “physical and emotional, where those in conflict can tell their stories,” listen to each other, and forge some human connection. This means that everyone involved “must be honest, vulnerable, open and respectful.”

That’s easier said than done, of course. Physical space at meetings may be scarce; distrust is often rampant; and the presence of “outsiders” may rankle locals. But Moore believes in using what might be described as a form of alchemy, transforming conflict into mutual respect, trust and eventually a path to a collective decision—something that comes not from her, she insists, but from the opposing parties.

Moore’s examples are varied and compelling, and offer instructive lessons on resolving the critical issues that face the West as population and mobility increase, and resources dwindle. Her voice is passionate, reasoned and articulate, yet seasoned throughout with the vulnerability she deems so essential to conflict resolution. Common Ground powerfully supports the art of mediation and the notion that consensus solutions are faster and fairer—and, ultimately, far cheaper—than legally imposed ones.

This review originally appeared in High Country News.

Common Ground on Hostile Turf: Stories From an Environmental Mediator

By Lucy Moore


216 pages, $19.95