The Third Side: The Equalizer

Democratizing Power

An Equalizer's Guide to the Beyond Intractability Website

  • If you see that one of the parties to a conflict is clearly less powerful, do you try to provide strategies for "leveling the playing field"?
  • Have you ever engaged in nonviolent action, in order to respond to conflict or address an injustice?

If you answered "yes" to either of the above questions, then you may be an equalizer. This Web page is designed to provide you with information about how to address power imbalances, so that parties can resolve their conflict in more constructive ways.

Who are Equalizers?

Equalizers are people who work to empower low-power groups, so that these groups can negotiate effectively and attain justice for themselves and their cause.

Though we often don't think about it, every conflict takes place within the larger context of power. The strong often refuse to negotiate with the weak — why should they, they think, when they can win? However, imposing one's will on another side is seldom good — for either the powerful or the powerless.

  • Large power disparities are not good for low-power groups, because this tends to lead to discriminationinjustice, abuse, human rights violations, and sometimes even genocide.
  • Large power disparities are not good for the powerful, either, because they encourage the powerless to lash back — engaging in sabotage, violence, or even terrorism in an effort to increase their power and make the powerful pay attention to them.

This is where the equalizer has a contribution to make. Each of us holds a "packet of power," or a measure of influence over the parties around us. Individually, our influence may be small, but collectively, it can be considerable. Through networkingcoalition building, education and training, community organizing, and at times, nonviolent direct action, low-power groups can build up their influence, which enables them to negotiate with the powerful much more effectively. This makes it much more likely that conflicts will end by finding a mutually satisfactory solution that will last. When one powerful side imposes its will on a less powerful side, this solution is likely to be unstable. When the low-power group gains power, it is likely to seek redress for past grievances, and may well attempt to impose its will on the other.

People who play this role include:

  • Parents who equalize the power between a younger and an older child, so that they reach a fair agreement;
  • Bosses who direct a more powerful department head to negotiate an even-handed resolution with a weaker rival;
  • Newspaper editorial writers who promote talks between an unwilling company and its union; and
  • Neighbors of countries torn by civil war, who exercise diplomatic peer pressure on reluctant governments to negotiate with the rebel group(s).

For More Information

Much of the material on this user guide is drawn from Thanks to William Ury and Joshua Weiss for giving us permission to republish their material here.