When I think about conflict that tends to festers in disagreement I also think about the possibility. I think about the potential opportunity of working together and finding a way to discover an agreed upon common good. I know that that many might find my thinking “soft” and “wishful thinking”. I know that the whole idea of focusing on the potential good that can come from people working together is often considered futile and unrealistic.
William Ury in his book, The Third Side tackles the whole concept of what it means to try to make the world a safer place for differences. What follows are his words from the pages viii & ix of The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop published in 2000.
Over the last two decades, I have served as a third party and its disputes ranging from family feuds to wildcat strikes in the Kentucky coal mine and from corporate turf battles to ethnic wars in the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East. I’ve also worked on the problem of how to prevent nuclear war, both as a researcher and as a consultant to the White House Crisis Management Center.
As long as I could remember, I’ve always wondered about the question of how we can all get along despite our deep differences.
I am an anthropologist, a concerned anthropologist. I am concerned it because the tribe I study is in danger. While it is not at all unusual for an anthropologist to study an endangered tribe, this tribe is not foreign. It is my own. It is not a small band of people. It is the human tribe. The danger comes not from the outside world. It comes from the inside – from the human habit of falling into and destructive, often deadly conflict whenever a serious difference arises between two people, two groups, or two nations.
The situations vary, but the underlying question remained the same: Are we humanly capable of living together without constantly falling into destructive conflict? Is peace a possibility –or a pipe dream?
Our present challenge is to change the culture of conflict itself within our families, our workplaces, our communities, in our world. It is to create a culture were even the most serious disputes are handled on a basis not of force and coercion but of mutual interest and coexistence. Far from eliminating differences, our challenge is to make the world safe for differences.
I believe that we all need to find ways to: listen to each other deeply, to understand the point of view of the other person and to work respectfully and productively together. It is essential for mankind to tackle our problems of communication and develop common understandings. When we do this – all our grandchildren will benefit.