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Victoria Pynchon

As the co-founder of She Negotiates Consulting and Training, I offer my services as a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant....

She Mediates

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She Negotiates

She Negotiates

The 33 cent wage and income gap is unacceptable and unnecessary. So is the cliché glass ceiling. Bottom line, our...

Do Interest-Based Negotiation and Mediation "Trade Justice for Harmony"?

Among the most frequently asked questions at my negotiation trainings are these:

  1. how do you negotiate with a sociopath?
  2. how do you negotiate with people who are:
    1. evil
    2. dishonest; or
    3. 100% irremediable jerks
  3. how do you negotiate when you are powerless (or simply weak)

Whenever someone asks me about negotiating evil, I think of Ken Cloke's brilliant book Conflict Revolution: Mediating Evil, War, Injustice and Terrorism – How Mediators Can Help Save the Planet (my review of that book here).  Some time ago, when I had the bright but failed idea of launching an online conflict resolution journal, Ken kindly let me publish his article Mediating Evil, War and Terrorism the Politics of Conflict, some of which I quote below.  I like the way Ken framed the problem in his earlier book, Mediating Dangerously, as follows:

For those who live under fascism, oppression, or tyranny, or face a fierce, unprincipled adversary, or are afraid even to exercise their own freedom, it may become necessary to engage in conflict, resist oppression, reject settlement, and raise their voices against the silence of acquiescence . . . . [T]here are limits to the desirability of ending [certain conflicts] prematurely, without a fair and honest examination of the underlying issues, and without the full participation of people whose lives will be irrevocably damaged by them . . . Collaboration implies mutuality and partnership, and even compromise involves give and take, but fascism merely [takes] giving nothing in return.

Those who recall the free speech movement on college campuses in the mid-sixties (most notably at U.C. Berkeley) will remember at least some of the words spoken by FSM leader Mario Savio:

There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all.

One might criticize this rhetoric as being a bit overblown for the context in which the students were operating but they were young; had been taught in public schools to believe in and cherish freedom; and, were stunned to find that their on-campus speech was regulated, controlled, and, punished.  Savio's voice is the voice of all peoples who find their freedom suppressed or denied altogether.

So what do we, mediators and interest-based negotiators, do when confronted with tyranny?  Cloke's partial response (see full article here) is as follows:

Genuine, lasting peace is impossible in the absence of justice. Where injustice prevails, peace becomes merely a way of masking and compounding prior crimes, impeding necessary changes, and rationalizing injustices. As the Trappist monk Thomas Merton presciently observed:

  To some men peace merely means the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference. To others peace means the freedom to rob others without interruption. To still others it means the leisure to devour the goods of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those whom their greed is starving. And to practically everybody peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and leisure.... [T]heir idea of peace was only another form of war.

When millions lack the essentials of life, peace becomes a sanction for continued suffering, and compromise a front for capitulation, passivity, and acceptance of injustice. This led anthropologist Laura Nader to criticize mediation for its willingness to “trade justice for harmony.”

True peace requires justice and a dedication to satisfying basic human needs, otherwise it is merely the self-interest of the satisfied, the ruling clique, the oppressors, the victors in search of further spoils.

For peace to be achieved in the Middle East or elsewhere, it is essential that we neither trivialize conflict nor become stuck in the language of good and evil, but work collaboratively and compassionately to redress the underlying injustices and pain each side caused the other. Ultimately, this means sharing power and resources, advantages and disadvantages, successes and failures, and satisfying everyone’s legitimate interests. It means collaborating and making decisions together. It means giving up being right and assuming others are wrong. It means taking the time to work through our differences, and making our opponents' interests our own.

In helping to make these shifts and move from Apartheid to integration, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that for people to reach forgiveness, they needed to exchange personal stories of anger, fear, pain, jealousy, guilt, grief, and shame; to empathize, recognize, and acknowledge each other’s interests; to engage in open, honest dialogue; to reorient themselves to the future; to participate in rituals of collective grief that released their pain and loss; and to mourn those who died because neither side had the wisdom or courage to apologize for their assumptions of evil, or the evil they caused their opponents and themselves.

At the same time, they also needed to improve the daily lives of those who suffered and were treated unjustly under apartheid. Where shanty towns coexist with country clubs, peace cannot be lasting or secure. Where some go hungry while others are well-fed, terror and violence are nourished. In the end, it comes down to a question of sharing wealth and power, realizing that we are all one family, and that an injury to one is genuinely an injury to all.

Making justice an integral part of conflict resolution and the search for peaceful solutions means not merely settling conflicts, but resolving, transforming, and transcending them by turning them into levers of social dialogue and learning, catalysts of community and collaboration, and commitments to political, economic, and social change. By failing to take these additional remedial steps, we make justice secondary to peace, undermine both, guarantee the continuation of our conflicts, and prepare the way for more to come.

By the way, tomorrow is Ken's birthday.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY KEN!!!


Comments (1)

Read through and enter the discussion by using the form at the end
John Folk-Williams - May 22, 2009 3:57 AM

Thanks for quoting this eloquent essay. In the public policy arena there are many opportunities to make justice an integral part of mediation, but the practical steps are not always clear. Many agency sponsors of collaborative processes are so pressured to show results that they're resistant to taking such a broad view of the process as a social change catalyst. The victims of injustice are usually those lacking the power to compel a place at the table and use adversarial tactics to gain that power. And those with such power not only tend to blame the victim but feel the need to fight back to retain their advantage as long as possible. It takes a lot of hard work to bring these groups around to see the potential benefits of trying to get beyond conflict into a collaborative frame of mind. It's at that point that groups, especially the less powerful, may believe they're being pushed prematurely toward harmony at the expense of justice. This is a conundrum in the public policy sector, but the ideals set out in Cloke's essay are a critical starting point.


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