I just finished reading Becoming by Michelle Obama (Crown Publishing 2018).   While the book is an autobiography of the former First Lady, its theme is more than just a story about how some African American kid from the Southside of Chicago broke multiple barriers to become a world known public figure. It is about empathy, compassion, listening to others, treating others with dignity and respect and all those other traits good negotiators and mediators use daily.

The last part of the last paragraph of the Epilogue sums it up:

…And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become. (Id. at 421). 

I think we will all agree that we are not all the same. Yet, disputes arise because the other person “does not see it our way”. We all have a naïve realism that everyone sees the world the way we do, and if they do not, they are stupid, ignorant and uneducated. But, deep down, we know that is not true. Every one of us is different. We each have our own biases and erroneous assumptions.  We should recognize them and in doing so, we should listen to each other (aka active listening) and break down the stereotypes and learn how much we have wrongly assumed about each other.  We each have our own stories, unique to us. And we each should be willing to listen to others tell their own stories. That is what a dispute is all about. I have my version and you have your version and neither of us is right or wrong. And as Mrs. Obama notes, we should be able to listen to the other and truly hear what the other is saying with grace. It is not about winning or losing; it is about listening to others to learn what are their needs and interests and finding a solution that meets not only our needs and interests but theirs as well; in short, a compromise.

I hope that in 2019, disputants will find peaceful and quick resolutions to their disputes which will be accomplished solely by listening to others and molding the disparate versions of the dispute into a narrative that allows everyone to move forward with grace, dignity and respect.

Happy 2019!

…Just something to think about!


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