Associate Professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
Topics: leadership, role of the mediator, negotiation
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Listen/Read Selected Interview Segments on the Following Topics
- Leadership and Gangs
- Role of the Mediator
- Mediator's Guidance
- Mediation Techniques
- Self Humanizing
- Opposition to Caucuses
- Obstacles to Mediation
- Human Needs
- Training Tools
Q: Can you me give a brief overview of your work?
A: My work has expanded in at least two ways, in terms of the kinds of work I've done, and the geographical scope of my work. I started out working with street gangs. My early work started with working with gangs - trying to stop them from gang fighting, which were the principle activities they were involved in. I think that the work started out working in small neighborhoods then I went to the Justice Department's Community Relations Service, where I began working in regions and then across the country. My scope expanded both in terms of the unit of analysis, in terms of working with small members of gangs, interpersonal, in a small group, to larger community conflict in the Community Relations Service. Then I came to ICAR and began working internationally, working with groups who represented nations in a conflict, or large community groups that were in conflicts of an international basis. It's interesting I think that my work has expanded both in terms of the scope of the work, in the human dimensions I've worked with, but also in terms of the geographical scope.The political impact of the work has increased along with the scope.
Q: Where did you start, which gangs?
A: I began on the west side of New York working with the Young Sinners. That was the first gang I worked with. Later, I worked with another one, the Royal Bishops.
Q: What did you do with them? How did you start talking with them?
A: In those days, if it wasn't a prior youth worker, or street worker, working with them, you had to make what was called a cold contact. Going out to the territory that was controlled by the Young Sinners, which was between 106th St. and 110th St. on Columbus Ave. and Amsterdam Ave., in that part of lower Harlem as it were, the Upper West Side. I began standing out in front of a pizza shop, which is where they used to hang out, for four or five days no one spoke to me. They just walked around me. I just kept eating pizza, so finally one of the guys walked up and said, "Who the hell are you?" After I told him, he said, "Why didn't you say something before then? We didn't know if you were a narc, an undercover police officer, we didn't know what you were." So that was how I broke in.
Q: A little lesson on entry there.
A: I suppose so.
Q: So what happened with those guys? Were they willing to listen to you? What did you say?
A: Well, it was a combination of things. They were fighting gangs, but it was at the point at which fighting gangs were about to phase out. This was in the early 60s, phasing out of being fighting gangs, and into drug gangs. So I entered right in that transition period. So my work was twofold. The easier part was to stop the gang fighting. Some of the negotiations between the groups were between the street club workers, not between the gang members themselves. I was mainly working with the gangs on an intra-gang approach, in terms of dealing with their attitudes and values. I tried getting them to see that there was life outside of the gangs, and life outside of their neighborhoods. Many of these kids at that time, really weren't that much younger than I was when I came out of college. I tried to show them that there was life outside of this five square block area. Many of these kids had never left New York, and not only had the not left New York, they'd rarely left their neighborhood, because they couldn't afford it, and it wasn't safe. They had a kind of concept of threat that anything outside of their neighborhood was unknown, was "the other." It was us and "the other." They had interesting ways of defining it.
I'll never forget having a conversation with them one day, standing out on the corner and talking, which is what you spend a lot of your time doing, buying sodas, refreshments, and pizza, just talking. Somehow they got into a conversation about the world, and how they conceptualized themselves in the larger context of the world. They said there are three kinds of people, Puertoricanos, Morenos, and there are Americans. I said, "Americans?" They said, "Yeah, white people." I was dumbstruck that whites are the only people who are Americans, and blacks and Puerto Ricans were other kinds of people. It was incredible how they visualized the world, and how going out from the sense of themselves as being Puertoricanos was kind of an unknown territory. We went on a bus trip to a resort area in upstate New York, and the bus had to go through Central Harlem. They'd never been to Central Harlem. Central Harlem is conceptually, realistically 10 blocks, or a half-mile north. They had never been across 110th St, which is the DMZ, and they're saying, "Morenos, morenos, morenos." Anyways, so that was the experience.
My time really was working, not stopping the fighting, they didn't gang fight all of the time, a lot of it was just show, flashing weapons. I can actually think of the six years I worked with street gangs, there were only three or four occasions when I actually experienced, or was seen, anywhere around a gang fight. A gang fight, not like West Side Story, actually lasts 15 seconds. Someone starts shooting, everyone starts ducking and running, and then it's over. That's it. So there's not much you can do once the stuff goes down, because it happens so quickly. Most of my time was spent counseling, really trying to work with the leaders of the gangs. Subsequently, we realized that our approach was a mistake, because these were very hierarchical gangs with a president, vice-president, war councilor, and so forth. If you could turn the leadership around, which meant getting jobs, changing the mindset of the leadership, you could affect the whole gang. Typically what tended to happen, if you were able to do this, if you turned the leadership around, they would be siphoned off, and the gang would be headless. Since the gang was a form of community and family, in affect what you did was destroy the family. So you saved a few kids, but you didn't do anything for the rest of the membership. I think that was a mistake, our approach was perhaps not the best way to deal with this issue. So that was that.
Then I sort of moved from there, I skipped a term of employment where I worked for one of the early anti-poverty agencies under the Great Society Programs of Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. They weren't directly involved in conflict, but there was much conflict between community groups who were fighting over the distribution of scarce resources, of anti-poverty funds, and so much of the conflict resolution work was implicit of the work I was doing there. There was a lot of advocacy work. Your group was out there on the streets with the barricades demonstrating against slum landlords, welfare rights, not to say, "Yo, one, two, three, we want to free." Oh my god, that stuff was a lot of fun.
Q: Moving conflicts from latent to manifest.
A: Yeah, exactly.
Q: And then you worked for CRS for a long time?
A: About twenty years, as a conciliator and mediator in the New York office. I was a deputy regional director, then acting regional director, and then I came to Washington in 1979 to be the associate director for field coordination. At that point, I was acting director of the agency for almost 2 years, 18 months.
Q: Then you came here to ICAR?
A: No, there was an interim step. When it was clear that I wasn't going to be appointed the formal director of the agency - no hard feelings, we think you're doing a terrific job, you're just not a Latino and you're not a Republican, which is what they're looking for.
Q: Which isn't going to change.
A: No, it's not going to change. Which is ironic, given my background. They weren't ready to trade my cultural associations for the biological reality, that according to them I wasn't Latino - mainly Mexican American Latino - mainly Mexican American Republican on top of that.
Q: Where are you going to find one of those in 1979?
A: Well, this wasn't 1979. This was actually '86. By then there were a few. I decided I wasn't going to run the agency. I was going back as an associate, for a political act. So, we the then deputy attorney general, CRS was in the Justice Department, who liked me, sort of siphoned me out of CRS and got me a job in this relatively small, equally arcane agency called the Administrative Conference of the United States.
Q: Administrative Conference?
A: Conference of the United States, called ACUS. It was a twenty person shop, mainly composed of lawyers who mainly worked in administrative law disputes, and were just coming into the knowledge frame of conflict resolution, ADR. They were looking for ways to make administrative disputes less litigious and less costly. I came over as distinguished visiting fellow. The funny thing is I left the position as acting director of CRS, where I had a huge office with my own bathroom, I had a car, I had a driver, I had two secretaries, a personal executive assistant. I came to an office about half the size of this office, with nothing. It was a real cultural shock in that sense. It was fun because I think that it demonstrated that I can take my community conflict background, and transition it into administrative law. I had worked with lawyers in the Justice Department, so I'm familiar with the law and how to get around researching within the law. I found that much of the, I wouldn't call it so much theory, but a lot of the models we were working with were transferable to administrative law disputes.
We were doing a lot of work with government contract disputes. I was involved in helping to draft the then omnibus, the 1990 ADR Act, which has since been adopted, ratified by Congress, which means that every federal agency has to have a point person. Well I helped to draft this legislation. I did a lot of training with administrative law judges, federal agency representatives, and then while I was doing that, (it actually may have been when I was done working with CRS)I heard about this agency called the Center for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. I knew about it because of my old colleague Jim Lowry, who used to be with CRS. He had left the agency shortly after I got there, and went to the University of Washington in St Louis, Missouri. Then Jim was hired to come here, followed by Chris Mitchell from the University of Maryland, and John Burton; and this is how the group got started. Dennis Sandole came also. He had already been working at Mason in public and international affairs, and Dennis heard about my work when I was still with CRS and asked me would I come over to teach a class. This is like 1985 or 84. I said, "Sure." And I loved it. This is a lot of fun. I felt I had an affinity for teaching. So serendipity, being what it is, I decided I had about 21 years of federal service, and at the same time, I was getting tired of working for the federal government, ICAR, or then CCAR, in its clinical role offered me a position to join the faculty and I did, in 1990. I've been here ever since.
Q: Thirteen years later. You've mentioned leadership. I know you did some work with leadership since then, you even taught a course in leadership. Talk about the role of leadership in conflict resolution.
A: Interesting that you raised that, because leadership has been a feature and a factor in all the different kinds of permutations of conflicts I've been involved in throughout my career. I really hadn't thought about it at the time I was involved with it, I obviously worked with leaders, but it was only retrospectively that I began to look at the role of leadership in conflict. I think that the gang conflict makes for a good example with the stratification of leadership, and how they had ceremonial leadership. Many of the gangs in those days, the president of the gang was more a ceremonial position, more a representation of the gang than a functional one. They had some decision-making authority, but when it came down to fighting, the decision-making authority had transferred to the war councilor. The war councilor really became the president of the gang during the time that there were hostilities, even though the actual fighting was fairly intermittent and short-lived. In the gangs I worked with, the vice-president of the gang was more of a social coordinator, in many ways. This is the individual who pulled together the dances and the parties and things of that sort. Roughly a triumvirate, but they played these functional roles at different stages of the gangs' activity.
It's interesting to think of it in that way, and how forms the decision-making, and how they are shaped up around these kinds of roles. Clearly, in all the other kinds of disputes and conflicts I've been involved in, leadership has been a factor. Even in community conflicts there were titular leadership and then there was situational leadership, similar to the gang thing but in a different kind of format. Then there was the importance of knowing who was who in what leadership capacity. Being able to assess that before you begin your intervention I think was really quite important, it still is.
Q: So leadership is not as simple as it may appear right off the bat?
Q: And what benefit does it have to know which leaders are where?
A: No, I think it's important, because you don't want to get involved a series of facilitated negotiations, mediation, problem solving workshops, if you've identified the wrong leadership to be there, if you've identified the wrong people, particularly with some of the international work. Even in American community spheres, where people put themselves out as the leaders, and you find out after you've been at the table for two or three sessions that they are not the real leader. You get a phone call saying the real leader is so and so, and you're blowing it by not having him or her at the table. It is important, and this takes courage, to be able to answer, to be responsive to the opposing party, who will try to tell you who should be at the table for the other side. This is particularly true for power and balance kinds of community conflicts, where you're dealing with a kind of largely non-minority, male, white authoritarian leadership group - police chief, mayor, city council, business leaders, who are involved in some kind of conflict situation where people of color are involved. They will tell you when you are doing your pre-intervention assessments, "Well, you really ought to have so and so, they're terrific." It sounds good, and seems like this is going to be easy. They're agreeing, they're actually suggesting people that they can work with. I like this.
You need to stop and think but wait a minute, this is too easy. Then you start talking to the people in the community. Well, the reason they suggested him is because they have this thing going. There is a pattern of relationships that's been going on in this community long before you came to intervene in this particular community conflict. The leadership associations and the leadership elites are important to know. It's important to realize, if you think about it from the standpoint of Lederach's three levels of leadership, that you need to look at who's in this middle level, who's at the grassroots, who needs to be at the table, and if not at the table, finding ways for leadership voices to be heard. The successful implementation is not going to be up there, it's going to be down in the middle/grassroots level. That's where the rubber meets the road so to speak. By looking at success, I mean looking at the outcomes beyond simply just the agreement. So it's easy for leadership elites to reach agreements, such as Sharon and Abu Mazen in the Middle East. The real trick is to get the militants, the people down in the communities, those are the ones that are really going to be able to implement the agreement so the outcomes will be more sustained than simply what people sign off on at the physical table.
Q: That's interesting, because when you were talking about leadership, I instantly envisioned the top third of that pyramid, but you actually referring to leadership at each level, including the leaders in the middle and the grassroots levels.
A: I think the important part for conflict resolvers, and I want to reiterate that, it's not simply just what happens at the table, but having a sense of responsibility for the outcome. Saying okay, now my role has been to intervene, to help them reach their agreement, but do I have a role, do others have a role, post-agreement to see that there's a kind of leadership diversity that really is functioning from a standpoint of the implementation of the agreement. That's where you get into Mitchell's 13 roles, Fisher Kesley's complementariaty of roles, or where you look at all Bill Ury's thirdsiders notion. Bill puts it a lot more simply than the others do. That there's a multiplicity of roles that people can play, and oftentimes leadership people can play roles of intervention, containment, and resolution. Think of a resolution as a longitudinal process that tracks, Lederach talks about seven, eight years, fifteen years down the road. Then these diversified leadership roles are important down that path. I think that we need to take - we as external conflict resolvers - need to take more responsibility to help communities, using that in a broad sense of the term, think through what the leadership roles should be. Implementation is a whole other area of work that we tend to get involved in.
Q: Identifying people responsible for certain pieces of the process, after you've gone through, basically?
A: Right, exactly.
Q: Is there an experience or some experiences in your work that you can remember have especially inspired you?
A: I don't know why this came to mind. This is a funny anecdote. I was involved in a community conflict over the use of excessive police force. I wasn't even the principle person involved, I was the regional director in New York at the time. I wanted to sign off on the agreement, I don't know why, there was this cub reporter from the local newspaper, who was in awe of the fact that we had come in and done this thing, that people were shaking hands, reaching agreement. As we were wrapping things up, the reporter comes over to me, and says, "Where will you go from here?" I'm sort of riding into the sunset.
Q: Like you were a superhero?
A: Leaping tall buildings in a single bound. There's that aspect of it. As I think about each segment of my career, things sort of come to me. One is really even though I criticize the approach I think we used in the youth board with the street gangs, there were some memorable moments. I was talking with the president of the Royal Bishops, who in one situation where I was involved in got into a gang fight, where they were insulted. It was just nonsense. It was just bullshit, but someone hurled an insult. This was a gang much less structured, just a group of guys that hang out, hurled an insult at the vice-president, who was kind of a psychotic personality anyway. And they wanted revenge. You're supposed to call the police. You let them know in the very beginning that there are protocols that you have to adhere to. If you hear of them engaging in an act of violence, than you have a responsibility as a public official and as a citizen, to let law enforcement know. If this is a problem for them, let them know not to discuss these things with you. Your ego ends up getting in the way, so the situation happens, "We're gonna get theseblah blah blah." Packing stuff up, this other group, sort of wannabes, were eight blocks south of where the main territory of the Royal Bishops. They knew these guys were down there, they hung out on the stoop of this particular building. Part of the group, about 15 of these groups, goes straight down Columbus Avenue, another section of the gang do you know New York at all?
A: All right, so you know where Columbus Avenue is, on the West Side? One segment of the gang is going straight down Columbus Avenue. This gang is literally nine blocks south on Columbus Avenue. Another section of the gang is going south on Amsterdam Avenue, and they're going to cut across on 81st Street, and a third segment of the gang is going down Central Park West. I'm saying call the police. I know these guys. I can talk them out of this. I was saying, "This is stupid, you shouldn't be doing this. You're ruining your careers. You know this is crazy. Someone is going to get really hurt. It was a ridiculous insult. If it was an insult, pick up the guy, and have a, what we used to call, a fair one, or a one on one." Then I'm saying, "Okay, Wallace, you're at 78th Street. You're at 77th Street. Call the police." I'm so torn. All of a sudden realize we're at 71st Street, and the gang is there. Frankie Gonzalez pulls out this pistol, and shoots right across my line of vision. I'm like right here, and he shoots: Bam, bam. Fortunately it didn't hit anybody, amazingly. The groups converge on the other side. They pull out knives and stab people. Two years later, he had quit that gang and had not gotten caught. I brought him up to my house in Queens, in the suburbs. Gave him driving lessons, showed him how I lived. Modeled a new persona for him. He actually became a police officer.
So the notion that I actually reached out and touched somebody, with all the ambiguity of that work, all the frustration. For those six years I laid hands on this one person, and I don't know what he's doing now. I like to feel that I had a hand in turning his life around that's really quite something. For CRS, it's more like a composite to me, than it is a single thing I can think of. I mean there are lots of things that happened. It's funny I can tell these stories in class, but I feel uncomfortable doing it this way. Let's talk about the composite, rather than getting involved in another war story. I think the composite experience for me was the realization that there's a basic humanity in people, regardless of their labels, their ethic labels; if their black militants or white racists; and Republicans or Democrats.
There is a certain core humanity in people. If you can touch that core, you can turn people around. It's interesting that people want to be more Lockeian than Hobbesian in that sense. People really want to be good, that's my sense. People find a way. I found that oftentimes if you can help people find that way that's all they really needed. They didn't really need a lot else from you, but it took a lot of courage for them to be able to do that. And it took courage for people to say, "We know that discrimination is wrong," or "We know that the activities of such and such group in this community is not right, but we have no choice, because we have to stand behind them because if we don't, the political leadership will get on our backs."
They're confessing to you in effect, this is kind of a confidential revelation that they're engaging in, and to recognize that what keeps you going is this awareness that this is core of humanity in people; I think that's there for you to be able to reach out too. I think the same would be true here at ICAR, being able to sort of lay hands on people in situations, and see people actually change and come together, just Frank Blackman and I did an intervention in Des Moines, Iowa regarding issues of police use of excessive force. We did a large one-day problem solving workshop that had some problems with it, but the thing that struck me was the unintended results of your interventions are more important or more salient to you than the actual purpose that you went in for.
We had these breakout groups, and one group was a very influential white male business leader in Des Moines, and a Latina community worker. In their breakout group they got to talking, she said, "I'm frustrated, and I'm really concerned, because I just lost the storefront that we were using to run our program. They raised the rent, and we couldn't afford the rent. The business leader said, "I have some extra property, why don't you use my property gratis." That made my day. You walk away and you say to yourself, "That's what makes this work worthwhile. That's why I do this crazy stuff that we do."
Q: I have heard Frank say several times, "We know what works but we don't know why." That sounds like what you were saying. What individual qualities do you think are most useful for accomplishing goals?
A: That's the number one quality I would pick out, to tell you the truth. If you don't have humility, it's just going to get you into a lot of trouble. If you take this experience I just described, and think because of this experience that can I walk on water, you will be in for a very ugly surprise very shortly, because it's a mistake. Another quality I would pick out is perseverance, in saying not to give up. It is really important to understand thy self with relationships to whatever conflict situation you're involved in. Who are you? You're not some kind of tabula rasa, I mean you come into this situation with your own identity, personality, faults, and your own conflicts. That's also part of the humility piece, Julian.
If you don't understand your flaws and your relationship to the conflict situation you're about to intervene in, my experience is that they have surprising ways of revealing themselves at very uncomfortable moments. The ability to be reflective, this whole notion of reflective practice, is more than just what you could have done in the Donald and Chris Rogers sense, better, in a technical sense. Really thinking of yourself reflectively, who you are in relationship to the situation. So I think those are the qualities that I think perhaps are most important.
Q: What about techniques that you find useful?
A: One technique that I do, and Frank knows because he's worked with me and seen me do it on several occasions, is that there are times when I just don't know what's going on. I don't know what to do next. So I'll stop whatever group I'm working with, and say, "There's something happening here. What do you think is actually going on?" I do this in class sometimes, too. I'll say, "What's going on here?" and what it does is it gets people to pause, and think, "What is going on here?" Then people start talking, and it gives you just this precious moment to say, "Okay, people are talking." Now, I think I know what's going on here. People are taking control of the situation themselves. In other words, they are at that moment, for that transitional period, being self-facilitative in a manner of speaking. They themselves are being reflective as well. So I just stop and say, "What's going on here? What do you think is happening?" I've found that this works across cultures, in several different kinds of situations.
Another technique is humanizing the self as part of a process, and serving to a certain degree in revelation. It's more than revelation, it's vulnerability of coming in like I'm not some sort of deux es machina, but I really am a human being that has my own problems that I'm working with. While I have some authority, and you can't deny you have authority as the intervenor, but I also have faults. I also have my own concerns and fears. I find myself sometimes revealing parts of me to them saying, "I'm not feeling very good this morning, I just feel like I'm not really with it." They say, "Well what's wrong?" "I don't know. I'm just kind of shaky." People start identifying with you, and there's a trust that gets built up, because you sharing with them.I guess sharing would be a faicial way of putting it, but it's actually more than that. So that's another, if you want to call it technique. I don't want to call them techniques because it seems like it cheapens them.
Q: What would you call them?
A: I don't know. They're contingencies or contingent moves, but even that sounds very manipulative. I don't really like that term either. I can't chose a language and a phrase that I feel comfortable with, that describes how I really feel about what it is. Now, sometimes they are manipulative. Sometimes you are conscious of what it is you are dong, there is a strategy for saying, "Well what's going on here?" If you've done it before, you know you're trying to create it, you're in trouble, you're trying get out of it by creating a moment of space. If you're conscious of that, then there's a cognition that's taking place. It's manipulative in a sense; I don't think it's particularly negative. It's something you sort of think you need to do.My approach to mediation is not the same approach I think my colleagues use, which is controlling. You have your opening comments, and then you immediately break people up into caucuses.
You can be less impartial, more manipulative, and think you can work out an agreement, and you hope and pray that when they come together they will have the basics of the agreement. I don't particularly care for that, because I think that's manipulative. I think also that you're getting agreements, but you're not really building relationships. You're not really helping people in dealing with their lives, in terms of the outcomes, down the road, when they're likely to have other types of conflict in their lives that are occurring. You've given them no tools to be able to handle that. So my preference, I don't know if you'd call this a technique, is to sort of keep people at the table, even at the risk of it being fairly explosive. They can hear each other, and they have the opportunity to be able to say, "Now I know how you feel."
Hopefully, they'll inculcate this as a kind of lesson learned, long after you're gone. For example, if this is a situation in which it's an ongoing relationship, they've learned something of how to handle this relationship in the future. You can't do that if you've got people constantly in separate caucus sessions. My preference if you want to call it a technique, is to kind of keep people at the table as long as I think I can stand it, as long as they can stand it. At some points you may have to break them into caucuses. Now, that becomes a given that you're doing something like a problem solving workshop, because the process is different. You know you don't break people into caucuses because that would cause huge suspicion. I suppose a technique is a certain kind of risk-taking that I will do to sort of tell people what I think and what I'm hearing. Kind of a reframing, but it's being also one where I will take a chance and suggest to people what a certain vision of what the outcome could look like, just to give them some idea. Lots and lots of third parties don't like to do that, because they think their vision belongs to the people.
I think in some instances you have to take some responsibility to help people create a vision, and being able to speak to that in terms of why you feel that is important. So you take some ownership of that, as opposed to saying oh let the parties do that work. I think it's important, at least for me, that I take some ownership, because actually this vision is a world that I'm also living in as well. It's not just the world that they live in; it's also the world I'm living in. I think, pragmatically speaking, it's going to have some impact in my own life.
Q: So you would take an active role in creating the ideal with the people you were working with? A vision?
A: I think so.
Q: If I understand you correctly about the previous point, while having a caucus can be useful for moving the immediate negotiation at hand forward, it kind of detracts from the ability of the parties to deal with each other.
Q: What about obstacles? What are the most common obstacles to success with your work, this kind of work?
A: One such obstacle is constituent groups who don't support the people who are at the table. Implementation is the biggest obstacle with the kinds of work that we're doing now. How do you get people who are involved in problem solving workshops, earnestly struggling to reach agreements? This has been true throughout the Middle East. Oslo is a perfect example of that. Following through and implementation is the biggest obstacle, because there are variables that you can't control. It's hard to control the people who aren't at the table., and you can't get everybody at the table. What do you do when there's a situation like the case of West Africa? Where it was important in the case of Rwanda, Central Africa, where the United States is eventually going to be a player in the outcome, in terms of the implementation of whatever gets done? If they don't agree to come to the table, in some form or fashion, what do you do about that? I don't have an answer for that type of situation. In a global society, where there's so much interconnectedness between layers of parties in a conflict the obstacle is how do you get representation and willingness to be participants in a process, and in the outcome?
This is really quite the challenge that we face nowadays. Particularly for those of who are Africans pushing beyond agreements. I think that in the work that we are doing at ICAR is we have a responsibility for moving parties beyond just simply the agreement. If you do that, then it gets really complicated, in terms of how it gets implemented; who has responsibilities in the outcome; and getting people to own up to those things is really difficult. So that's a big obstacle I find. The other obstacle is one that's fairly obvious, which is resources. How do we get the resources as conflict resolvers who believe in a longitudinal approach, to stay in a situation as long as it is needed? John Paul talks about interventions that last five, six, seven years. Where do you get the resources to be able to do that? That's a really difficult part. We get resources to do, if we're lucky, in a given conflict situation, two or three problem solving workshops. Well, that's not enough, for the kinds of conflicts that we're involved in. You need something that is much more longitudinal than that.
How do you get funding sources who can look beyond a quick fix that they in turn can say to their board, well you need to give us more money because we just resolved this dispute in Sierra Leone, and all we've gotten is a kind of temporary agreement because they're only trying to impress the funding sources and the funding sources are trying to impress their boards. To say, no, it's important for the Hewlett Foundation to realize that it's going to look very ugly and ambiguous, it's going to be unclear but you need to sort of hang in there because this process is going to take a long time. It's not going to happen over night. So that's a problem.
Q: We're moving to the where would you go next?
A: The ??? approach.
Q: Okay, you mentioned that you had the notion of stopping and saying, "What's going on here works across cultures." How do you know what will workacross cultures? What should you consider when dealing with other cultures, when you are intervening in new places where the cultures are different from your own?
A: Kevin Avruch talks about understanding the common sense logic of a culture. You're not going to understand all cultures. It's impossible in our field. There are thousands of different cultures. You're not going to know the nuances of thousands of different cultures. But I would argue, that every culture has a logical common sense about itself. If you can understand that common sense logic in that culture, then that is a different story. I'm not satisfied that the debate is settled between human nature and culture. The Avruch/Burton debate: does culture trump basic human needs? Kevin's argument is that it is okay to know that parties in deep rooted conflicts are motivated by certain basic human needs, whatever that may be: identity, security, recognition and so on. If you don't understand the cultural manifestations of that then you're going to be in trouble. Okay, fine, Kevin, but I'm dealing with the southern Sudanese tribe - how am I going to learn this so I can do this? I think I come back to a Burtonian perspective, that, okay, everybody has these human needs. I don't care who you are, if you're a human being you've got them.
Now, not culture, in terms of the manifestations in a particular nuance sense, but what's the common sense the group has about itself? If you can get to that, what motivates people, from the bases, than I think you can operate and function from there. I think you can get that by simply - and I think you can't do it all in an assessment, that's not going to give you the tools - but you can get some of it by simply talking to people, and being with people, understanding and talking about lots of different things.
I spent some time before getting deeply involved in a situation, if I can get somebody to translate the papers for me, the newspapers, periodicals, the television programs that people watch in those cultures. It gives me a sense of what the common sense logic of that culture is. This is how they reason in that particular culture. What can I take from that? I may not know literally, because I don't know what's going to happen. When people value these kinds of things in these sorts of ways, I'm going to see if I can use that. I'll look for that manifestation or an opportunity to use that knowledge and information in the situation we'll be involved in.
Also, there's a part of that that says that there are more things that we think of models. In fact, I'm writing an article now that's a response to Carrie Menkel-Meadows' article that she wrote for the Missouri Journal of Dispute Resolution, a couple of months ago. Actually that'll be published in the journal that's coming out in the fall. Carrie's argument is that there is no unifying field theory for conflict resolution that you can't take essentially Western models and Western techniques and make them work in international settings and different cultures. While I think there is a certain amount of truth to that I'm getting tired of hearing about the kind of berating of the so-called western model. What are people saying when they say "western model?" They're talking about the U.S. They're not talking about Canada, they're not talking about Germany, they are not talking about anything but America, and those Americans who are kind of colonizing the world with their western models of conflict resolution. Well, this is a bit of the baby with the bath water in that.
???, Larissa Fast and myself are working in Rwanda. We're doing, planning the workshops with the leadership groups we're working with there in Rwanda. We're debating whether or not we should do a training piece on interest based negotiation skills. Oh, this can't work because this is a different culture, and ??? is concerned, he's an African, this won't work. We think they need it, we think this is an important tool for them to have, and we agonize for days over this. It really didn't get settled until one o'clock in the morning on the day we were supposed to do the training, we decided to it, and they got it. And we said, "Well, how did this happen?" It's a whole different culture, Hutus and Tutsis. Because their leadership people heading up NGO organizations, they're in a post-modern environment, they're all educated people, their middle class culture - France - their local culture. So this is really quite interesting. So there was a revelation there
A: So there was a common sense logicthere that they were involved in running and heading up organizations that had to collaborate with each other on the distribution of scarce resources. They had to also know as leadership people how they might need to negotiate with the government. So negotiations are negotiations. There is a common sense logic there. Now, could we have done this on one of the back villages of Rwanda? No, it wouldn't have worked; But it worked with this particular group.
Q: So the idea of culture isn't such a wide blanket as it may have first seemed when we were talking about it. There are class differences within cultures that may be more Western looking than we assume. That's a really interesting example.
Q: Let's talk about a lot of these, but are there some important lessons that you've learned over the years that you'd like to share that we haven't covered yet?
A: Lessons. Authenticity is really important, you know, the importance of being authentic in a process where you are true to yourself and your values when you're involved in an intervention. I don't know if this is a lesson. A lesson implies that you've learned, and it probably is true. It's the idea of not getting involved in a situation where you are contorting your own values simply just to be involved in the intervention. If you don't believe in what you are doing, then I don't think you should do it. I think the field sometimes encourages us, if not explicitly, then certainly implicitly, to sort of set aside your personal values because you are this automaton, you are this as I said early, deux as machina kind of person that is a vessel for simply helping other people solve disputes. I think if it doesn't represent your values than I think you're involved, your intervention is inauthentic.
Q: That's a really interesting caveat to most of what you learn in conflict resolution 101, especially a 40 hour training course in mediation, where you are the neutral machine. You have values but you can't impose them on the people you are dealing with. So how do you reconcile ?
A: If you're involved in a situation where you don't agree, if you can't live with the values that you're likely to encounter than you shouldn't do the intervention. You've heard me tell the story??? The situation was, I got this this telephone call years ago from a missile base in the Washington area, and the fellow called because they wanted negotiation skills training. When people want negotiation skills I always get a little suspicious. I said, "Well, why do you want this?" He says, well we are up for the UN missile inspection team coming up, and we want to be able to negotiate what we have to disclose in terms of our missiles. I said, "Oh, really?" So I didn't say this to him, but I'm thinking, here we as a nation in a sense make scathing remarks about North Korea, Libya, the Soviet Union, but we're doing exactly the same thing. I said I don't think I can do it.
Now what I didn't do, is because I didn't have the courage; what I should have done, this is where I wasn't completely authentic. I said, well I don't think I can do the work. I really don't feel very comfortable doing it. Let me suggest some other people you might want to talk to. Now, see, if I was really authentic, I would have said I don't agree with the values of doing this and that was the real reason I didn't do it. I could not see myself, simply to make a buck, engaging in a process where I'm encouraging this country's duplicity. How would I live with myself? I can't do that. That's an example of being authentic, or at least partially authentic.
Q: Why do you think it would have been better to tell him about your value-conflict?
A: It probably wouldn't have been, it probably would have been gratuitous. Do I need to know this? I just need to know whether you can do the work or not.
A: I think it would have been perhaps valuable for him to know that the field, or people in the field of conflict analysis/resolution have values, and that's what I think I should have done. I think it's important for people who are users to understand that providers have values, and are willing to sort of share them with you, but I didn't do it.
Q: What advice, and this is for the flipside of the last question. What advice would you give to someone beginning this line of work?
A: Oh. Did you read my chapter in Lederach?
Q: The new Lederach book?
A: Know thy self. Know who you are as a person, because if you don't, that will reveal itself in the interventions that you do. Knowing thy self, means knowing the ethics that guide you, and it's important to understand how your personal ethics square with the ethics of the field that you're working in, whether conflict resolution or conflict analysis field. Another is to be able to understand where my ethics depart from the field on this area. For example, I think for many of us in this program, we are increasingly bolder in saying that Carbon Riffkin did this eleven years ago, and saying that we feel that the notion that one is strictly adherent to neutrality is a sham. It's just simply not true, not even useful, and not even expected in the kind of conflicts that we're involved in. Understanding the fact that the field at large still holds on tenaciously to certain kinds of concepts and ethical values is important. You need to know where you depart from the field, because at some point, if you don't know that, you may find yourself having to answer to the inquisition coming out of the field about what you did. You need to know where you stand on that basis. So that's one relational aspect of your work. The other part of that is how you stand with the values of the groups you're intervening with as I just mentioned a little while ago.