To mollify is to bring peace, but it isn’t always seen as a positive thing. It is a word that comes from Old French, meaning “to soften,” often referring to such products as leather or dough.
In some cases, to mollify means to coddle, or give in to. If someone mollifies a dispute by abandoning principles or simply caving in, it is seen as a negative action, and deservedly so.
We live now in an age which honors the concept of mediation. It is the act of sitting down with disputing parties and helping them find the places where they agree in order to build a good decision upon those intersections. It is a practice which is popular in marriage conflict resolution , sports contract negotiations , labor disputes, and even international disagreements. There are trained and certified professionals who study mediation and develop techniques which speed the process along, not getting bogged down in the negatives identified in a disagreement, but highlighting the places where the parties agree.
To mediate is not the same thing as to mollify, however. Mediation is a positive factor which works hard to bring about a satisfactory solution to a difficult situation. To mollify, however, is simply to give in with the idea of maintaining a fragile friendship or to avoid dealing with the hard issues. It is clear, for instance, that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been a fantastic mediator over the past four years. Her engagement in difficult disputes between nations has diffused conflicts and allowed for peaceful negotiations to continue. Not all disputes are able to be resolved in a short time, and she acknowledges that as she leaves office there will be a number of conflicts left over that the next Secretary of State will have to pick up on. Former Senator George Mitchell has been a brilliant mediator in very, very tense situations, such as the conflicts between Ireland and Northern Ireland. He has also practiced his skills in sports negotiations and labor disputes.
But neither of these people would be comfortable with the concept of mollify. There may be some short-term concessions that need to take place in order to lower the temperature and allow for dialogue, but to simply mollify a conflict is not acceptable when the stakes are so great.
A friend of mine has been a mediator for several years in the arena of youth conflict. His work has been to bring conflicted parties to the point of talking with each other in a way that leads to resolution. When tempers are over-heated and turf battles between (or among) street gangs are raging, his task is to find the patience to work through the vitriol and tough talk to get to the point where concessions can be made which diffuse the dangerous talk of turf war. He has been very successful.
If all he sought was a way to mollify a situation, he would be right back on the task within hours. He must, however, find that short-term solution which allows the warring parties to talk with each other. But that is only the beginning of resolution. The real solutions will come after deeper and more significant issues can be identified and resolved. I don’t envy him his job.
Cartoon Credit: Peter Steiner