I often find myself wishing I lived in California, if only to be able to regularly attend the magnificent events the Southern California Mediation Association plans and presents each year. These programs showcase the talents and intellectual achievements of some of the greatest thinkers and leaders that the field of conflict resolution can boast.
This past weekend attendees of SCMA’s annual conference fell under the spell of the magisterial Kenneth Cloke, who spoke eloquently about “conflict revolution” and the role that mediators can play in effecting global change. Victoria Pynchon has kindly posted Cloke’s PowerPoint presentation on her negotiation and ADR blog, Settle It Now.
Reading his presentation, I was moved by the power of Cloke’s words. If you read them, too, no doubt like me you will shake your head with weary recognition as you ponder the elements of demonization, mechanisms of moral disengagement, and the early warning signs of fascism. Alternatively, you will nod with approval as you read about the proposals for change that Cloke lays out – the 12 conflict resolution methodologies, the Mediators Without Borders 12-step program to address conflict systematically, and the personal choices in social change.
But I am also left uneasy, troubled by questions that have haunted me for many months. And I raise these questions now, not in disrespect or to impugn the message that Cloke delivered to mediators this past weekend.
There is no doubt that our inspiring leaders and, yes, our foot soldiers, too, command prodigious skills in negotiation and persuasion. Why then do negotiation and conflict resolution remain in such disrepute here in the U.S.? Why, despite the Ivy League credentials and access to the corridors of power that the best and brightest among us enjoy, have we failed to influence political discourse on American soil? We remain mired in incivility, fallacy, and fear, as daunting problems confound and oppress us, whether health care, climate change, unemployment, or threats to national security.
Negotiate with terrorists? Okay. But first we’d better figure out fast how we can talk with our opponents here at home.