“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, June 16,1858
Like most of you, I have been paying much attention to the protests by Black Lives Matter in response to the death of George Floyd ; as I write this, the protests have been occurring all over the world for the last 10 days and appear to be not ending anytime soon.
As I watch the protests, I can’t help but think like a mediator. Long ago, a more experienced mediator told me that parties will keep repeating themselves until they feel they have been heard. And I use the word “feel” purposely as our decisions are 95% emotional and 5% logical and rational. And so, the protests have continued for 10 days and counting because the protesters do not feel that they have been heard. While some police officers, chiefs of police and national guardsmen have taken a knee in solidarity or even marched a block or two with the protestors, in the main, the powers to be have not acknowledged that the protestors have been heard, that they are listening and that the protestors’ concerns have merit which must be addressed. In short, policing must change. It must indeed change, to “serve and protect” all citizens.
Instead, riot police and armed military personnel have been called out to quell the riots and “dominate” the protestors. This is akin to positional bargaining or playing a win/lose, zero sum game. The object is for the police/military to “win” by arresting everyone or otherwise quelling the protests and thus, the protestors “to lose” by ending up in jail or otherwise being afraid to continue their protests. While this may address the “symptoms,” it does not address the underlying “illness”.
Any mediator looking at this situation, will ask, “what about the protestors’ needs and interests?” “Shouldn’t we look at those?” Shouldn’t we go “below the line” to determine these needs and interests and find a way to satisfy both those needs and interests and those of the police and other government officials at the same time? That is, shouldn’t the parties engage in an integrative “win-win” approach?
I suspect that the protests will continue until those in power do start listening, acknowledging and considering the needs and interests of the protestors and how to meet those needs and interests while at the same time, satisfying their own goals of “serving and protecting the public.”
In their seminal book Beyond Reason, Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro (Penguin Books- 2005) pointed out that to resolve any conflict, five core concerns must be met:
Appreciation: Each of us has the desire to feel understood and honestly valued; our concerns must be acknowledged and accepted as having merit.
Respect Autonomy: Each of us must maintain the autonomy of the other person by respecting their freedom to affect or make decisions without the imposition of others.
Affiliation: We must build a sense of connectedness with others so that they have a sense of belonging.
Acknowledge Status: We must recognize the status of the other person within their community; each person’s status is entitled to respect; and
Role: Each person has a meaningful role to play in the negotiation which role we must understand and appreciate.
If the powers to be keep these core concerns in mind and work to meet the needs and interests of the Black Lives Matter protestors rather than simply sending in the police and military to dominate the protestors, the United States will be a much better nation for it.
… Just something to think about.
As always, I am available to mediate by telephone and video conference. Stay safe and healthy!
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