Mediation Lessons From “Seinfeld”

In a famous episode of Seinfeld, there was a scenario that actually involved mediation. And it was an interesting approach to mediation because even though it was a sitcom and fictional, it actually approached mediation in a realistic way. 

In the episode, Elaine had a bike and also, a problem with her neck. Kramer offered to help Elaine’s neck pain with a massage or adjustment, and in return, Elaine gives him the bike. So Kramer fixes her neck problem, and Elaine gives him the bike. A day later, her neck problems return and she asks for the bike back, but Kramer said he did what he was supposed to do. So there was a dispute over who gets the bike.

They had to resolve the issue, but they needed a neutral third party. Jerry Seinfeld couldn’t do it because he was involved with both parties. So they got Newman, who was described as impartial, logical, and having no empathy toward either side. 

Newman’s first resolution is to cut the bike down the middle, which is funny but doesn’t really work, which is part of the joke. However, the final solution isn’t too far from mediation. The bike ended up going to Kramer, but because of his approach to the scenario.

Of course, this is designed to be fiction and comedic, but it does give some insight into the value of mediation. The parties wouldn’t resolve the problem themselves. Jerry couldn’t get involved because of his interests, so they found a real neutral third party, Newman. Now, Newman isn’t exactly the model mediator, but his ability to distance himself from the feelings of others in order to create a solution to a problem is an ideal trait for mediation.

Regardless of fiction, this episode shows there is value in having a logical, neutral third party that can understand the emotions and perspectives, but not let themselves get swept up in them. Although, maybe not as cold-hearted as Newman.

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