The Third Side as a Container

William Ury

Director of the Global Negotiation Project, Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: And to be clear, even if the third side seems to be working it's not that there are not moments of tension.

A: Oh there are a lot of moments of tension; we're only still early in the conflict. The conflict will be running for years and years to come. The underlying conflict. And that's the thing. You've got to take that right perspective. Sometimes people just want it over with. And that would be nice, but it's like a couple that's having a very difficult relationship. They go away for a weekend marital workshop and say they come out with an agreement that says, "We've resolved all of our differences," everyone would laugh. But for some reason people expect that to happen with a complex social situation. It takes years. There's progress. And there's also genuine good to be found in conflict because you're engaging the real, live issues of a society instead of oppressing them.

Q: Right. Which is something I wanted to ask you about because the third side as a container for the level of conflict almost could be interpreted as suppressing a conflict.

A: Let me tell you something. My honest belief here is that world actually needs more conflict. And more actively engaged conflict. Because there is a lot of injustice, there is a lot of potential situations that have been suppressed, and therefore, because it needs more conflict, we need stronger containers. Containers are not which the third side is a container it's more like in Medieval ages they had these alchemists, they had these crucibles, and their whole idea was to turn lead into gold. The third side is like the crucible in which the lead of destructive conflict is turned into the gold of constructive conflict. And constructive confrontation and really engaging in the differences. But in order to do that, you really have to have a strong container. It's like, in order to make good soup, or good stew, you gotta have a strong pot. The pot doesn't suppress it, it contains it so that the energy and the work can actually be done.