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The recent terrorist attack on the World Trade Center has forced me to evaluate the thinking that has gone on in regards to resolving the dispute. Of course the dispute in this case has taken on proportions that have been unknown in recent times. War is the ultimate result of poor dispute resolution. The idea that a fringe fanatical group can destroy the lives of so many innocents in the name of religion and righteousness is completely absurd – ask any Muslim.
However the idea that one side in a dispute can become so entrenched and emotionally attached to a course of action, no matter how destructive, is well known and frequently documented. In Canada, there is a segment of Quebec society that is bent on destroying the confederation through separation. In the U.K., the I.R.A. would like Northern Ireland to separate from the U.K. In Mexico, there exists Zapatista separatists, and the list goes on, including the various “militias” that operate with the intention of creating anarchy in the United States. I use these examples to exemplify how close all this is to home, as each has examples of terrorist activities.
From a philosophical point of view, it is very difficult to understand how and why situations of war develop in what should, by now, be a world that is tired of death and destruction and that has the intellectual capacity to avoid war. However, as humans, we are programmed to look for and exploit weakness for our own advantage.
Our organizational and personal well-being are dependent on our survival instincts. That is, our institutions and we as people are geared towards self-perpetuation and preservation. It is only quite recent that the world has become a global village and we can’t yet comprehend the norms and customs of our new global neighbors, let alone the effects of our actions on neighbors that live a half a world away.
History of the relationship
The sources of conflict are found in the history of the relationship. Between two people, this history can be short and acrimonious leading to criminal violence. For nations, cultures, religions and ethnic groups, the relationship can be ancient and can lead to acts of terrorism and war.
The basis of most disputes lie in different perceptions of the roles (including power), emotions, misinformation (and misinterpretation), and values of the parties. When we take the time to examine the history of the disputants, we can usually point to one or more of these as the root cause.
When a position is deeply held with an emotional attachment, it is very rare that that position can be changed, no matter how rational the argument. Emotions lead to a sense of righteousness that blinds. Blindness leads to an inability to see the world in any way but through the darkness of your emotions. Tolerance is impossible in this scenario.
Tolerance is knowledge. Knowledge is gained through the exploration of the other’s view of the world and their circumstance. Knowledge leads to empathy, which allows you to see the other person’s point of view, though you are not required to agree. Empathy is understanding. Understanding allows you to formulate creative solutions that will develop into mutual gains. Mutual gains lead to caring. By developing a win-win solution you are saying I care about you.
Unilateral Decision Making
When a decision is imposed on another party, the outcome is usually of questionable value and duration. The perception of the roles of the parties is important when examining the value and acceptance of a unilateral decision. A group of people who define themselves as being equals in a relationship will never accept an imposed decision. This is the case in Israel with the Palestinians and in Canada with the Quebec separatists. Both of these groups define themselves as a culturally separate race of people who are “deserving of their own country”. These are excellent examples of an emotional attachment to an ideal.
Alternatives to negotiation
When considering a course of action, it is important to think about what the best alternatives are to a negotiated settlement – perhaps the status quo. It is also important to think about what the worst alternatives are to a negotiated settlement – perhaps war.
The root cause of man made disaster and terror is very complex and I don’t mean to trivialize the importance of what has recently occurred or the need for developing creative solutions to the global problem of terrorism.
What is necessary is an intellectual debate of the history of the relationships that result in extreme action. Somewhere along the line, I chance a guess to say that, a solution was possible before the need for radical terrorism and ultimately war.
As we move ever closer to war, we should keep in mind that terror comes from many sources and is not a central Asian problem. It has occurred in Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico and the United States. Terrorism in these countries has been both international and domestic in nature. As I have said many times, it is very dangerous to apply generalities to specifics and this case is no different.
This should not be a war on Muslim terrorists; it should be a war on global terrorism, as the potential problem exists in all nations of the world. If the fight is to be credible, it is incumbent upon all nations of any coalition to begin the fight at home by eliminating the structures that allow terrorist cells to operate and fund international and domestic terror.
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