Walk a mile in my moccasins, diplomacy at the end of the world

 November 29, 2010

 When I was going to graduate university, conflict and peace programs were not an option, but now there are 199 graduate conflict and peace programs in the country.  Mediation for families has become the norm. Anger management.  Conflict resolution on the job.  The idea that people should be able to sit down and work out their differences in a peaceful way. 

 Obviously, one of the areas of the world where humans can’t seem to work out our differences is the state of Israel. Statistics point to the 124 Israeli children who have been killed since 2000 and the 1,452 Palestinian children, but the facts are that killing any children is unacceptable.


 That area of the world seems nearly unsolvable as does the ongoing crisis in Tibet.  My son says that traveling to Tibet would be very tricky from where he is although the Tibet border is so close.  Apparently, there isn’t exactly an open border policy there, and he doesn’t have a visa for China.  The genocides in Africa, one after another, like the war in  India after the British pulled out point to the post colonial world we live in.

 So, perhaps it’s better to look at peace on a microcosm level first.  Can you achieve peace with a friend, neighbor, spouse, ex-spouse?  Can you live your life with grace in all these situations even when you make mistakes? Or be gracious when others do?

 There are three ways human beings deal with conflict and we each have a tendency to gravitate toward one:  Some are made for flight, some are made for fight, some are made for negotiation.  I used to have a theory that pear shaped people are made for negotiation, but that’s not always true.  Sometimes you see some skinny assed negotiators.  If you want to know who you are, imagine you ask your mother for a cookie and she says no.  Do you move past your mother and grab the cookie?  Tell your mother she’s beautiful and talk her out of it? Or run to your room crying?  (And don’t say I’d make my own cookies, you’re four for Christ’s sake.)

 So… the fact is that in any situation, you should choose the appropriate conflict resolution, sometimes leaving is good, (drunk football player threatens to take your wife,) sometimes fighting is good (idiotic principal threatens to expel your son for standing up to school bully for using the n word,) sometimes negotiation is good, (your spouse wants you to fix the door now, you want to finish Full Metal Jacket.)

 I believe that fighting only works when you know that you are right and you are willing to completely lose all respect and relationship with the other person.  So, you see a man punching your son who’s five. Jump in there, grab the guy, toss him back, physically stop him.  You aren’t chatting him up.  You are not this guy’s friend. He is beating on your little kid.

 Running away.  If you cannot negotiate because the person’s an idiot and you don’t need to, and who cares about the conflict, leave.  There’s no reason to go down fighting with a bloody nose.  “You got to know when to walk away, know when to run…,” sorry but it does come to mind.

 Negotiation.  This is the most under-utilized form of conflict resolution.  You come to the table expecting the relationship to continue, so you are nice to the person.  You tell them that you are going to try to see this from their side.  You agree to meet on their terms. 

 I remember one time my ex and I were in a spat when my son was in high school. Frankly my son was being a jerk and we both wanted him to pull it together and somehow got pissed at each other as exes sometimes do. 

 My ex called and said, look, let’s meet, Mexican restaurant of your choice, I know how you like your margaritas.  Halfway between our houses.  Neutral ground.  I’ll bring my wife, I know you like her better than me and you bring your husband, I know you feel safe with him.  (He didn’t mention it, but I think my ex thinks my husband is saner than me.) We met, had margaritas, had dinner, talked it all out, then shook hands in the parking lot, it was all good.  There were things we still didn’t agree on, but we agreed to disagree and it was all good.  I look back on that as very good conflict resolution. 

 Negotiation ideally starts with the idea that you could be wrong.  That you are willing to see the other person’s side.  That you are going into it with the attitude that you want to walk around the table and see the world from the other person’s angle and maybe even try to get them to see it from yours.  But that you don’t want to be a jerk.  You want to come out of it at the end, not right but on the same side.  If you really just want to be right, there’s no point, just tell them you’re right and they’re wrong and they’re a jerk and don’t even go.  Negotiation is about going to the other side of the table and maybe that’s why it’s so difficult.  Especially for men.  Who are used to women doing exactly as they say.


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