Conflict Intervention in a Divided Nation

(An online conversation with Gail Bingham and Bernie Mayer)

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ADRHub is pleased to introduce a new online dialogue featuring two of the most experienced mediators in our field, Gail Bingham and Bernie Mayer.  Follow the conversation – and feel welcome to join in.

Gail Bingham is President Emeritus of RESOLVE and currently serves as Chair of the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee and as convener of the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative. 

Bernie Mayer is Professor of Conflict Studies at the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program at Creighton University and a Founding Partner at CDR Associates. 

Together, Bernie and Gail have over 80 years experience in working with environmental, public policy and other types of conflicts.

Gail and Bernie will be continuing a discussion with each other that they began in a webinar last May on the appropriate role of conflict specialists in these polarized times. 

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A note from Gail and Bernie

 In May 2017, the two of us participated in a webinar on the role of conflict specialists in the “Age of Trump” sponsored by the Environmental and Public Policy Sector of the Association of Conflict resolution and ably facilitated by Larry Schooler and Dana Goodson.  We discussed ways to contribute to constructive conflict engagement in this extremely polarized environment.  While we agreed on a lot (for example, that conflict specialists have an important role to play in challenging stereotypes that people have of one another), we also had some very different perspectives (for example, how important is it to stay neutral). 

We both felt that the challenges – even threats – of polarization will have a huge effect on public issues for years to come.  So, we thought it would be valuable to keep the conversation going. We have been friends and colleagues (and sometimes, competitors) for many years, and we look forward to this opportunity to continue to collaborate.  We hope many of you will join us in this discussion.

We have no set format or frequency planned—instead we will follow where the dialogue takes us. Please join in and make this a rich conversation.

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It's been an honor and a pleasure to partner with Bernie on this blog.  We do share so much, and our (somewhat) different ways of applying them have offered me much food for thought. 

I have been reminded that many things remain the same - no process is neutral and that I am not "neutral" about the processes for helping people engage with one another and about the principles that underlie them.  Returning to my original post, two choices are unavoidable in any dialogue or negotiation -- what questions are on the table and who is included at that table -- both of which are influenced by who frames those questions.  Bernie's inclination in today's world to use his skills to help those whose values and positions he shares will add much value to the world, and it is not my inclination.  I do try to reflect seriously and take responsibility for my choices of what processes to engage in and what the underlying framing and power dynamics imply. Bernie's perspective, however, inspires me to be more forthright in conversations with others about those choices and to continue to advocate for processes that are framed by those affected by the outcome. 

I hope as we go forward that we can avoid what I would consider false choices.  I don't think we need to decide which role is most important; they both are.  And, I don't think anyone ever said that consensus-building is the only tool or that listening alone is enough or that the goal is to get people across the full spectrum of our society into a dialogue. We might all benefit from re-reading the classic by Ury, Brett and Goldberg, Getting Disputes Resolved, where they make a useful distinction between Interest-based, rights-based, and power-based processes. 

Al Sample's post challenged me in my response to today's divided nation, however, namely my inclination to focus on interest-based dialogue (with the caveat above about shared framing of the conversation).  Where the very fabric of our democratic and Constitutional norms is being torn, then I am an advocate as well.

Finally (for this blog), I continue to advocate for the value of listening in any and all contexts.  It is not enough, but it is essential.  

Thanks all for being part of this.  In Peace, Gail 

It's been an honor and a pleasure to share this blog with Gail and Bernie, and  the others partakers. Many countries in the world are suffering situations of political, racial,   (and others) division. They are also suffering terrible environmental problems. The world needs more tolerance, more respect, more solidarity, more dialogue. and those of us who are dedicated to resolving conflicts have a great responsibility that grows with each step ..The reality that Greg has explained  is a big truth. Now, we have to add  Catalonia and.Spain of course, and Europe  (because it's a trouble for Spain and Europe too).

A special thanks to Bernie for his parting reflections, which are an inspiration for us and  I will use them  in my classes so that my students understand what means working in peacebuilding to get a better world for all ...

We'll go on building peace..

Thaks all.-

María Victoria

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