The First Commandment of Conflict

Morton Deutsch

E.L. Thorndike Professor and Director Emeritus of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Teachers College, Columbia University

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 ???).

A: I would like to have a dialogue with bin Laden and see. I don't know if it would be possible, but when somebody has an attitude that requires your destruction for their happiness or survival, you are in a zero-sum conflict.

That's what one of my students call, "Deutsch's Commandments of Conflict."

My first is to know what kind of conflict you're in. There are some conflicts that are zero-sum.

Q: No matter how you cut it?

A: There are interpersonal relationships that you sometimes cannot separate, but in some relations, where I say, my values must dominate the world, or dominate you, and I will persist until you're dominated. And I don't want your values to dominate me, you don't want your values to be dominated by me. Then you may be in that kind of conflict. If separation is possible that's probably the best way to handle that kind of conflict. Let people who have that kind of belief, who want to spray their territory with some sort of thing to kill off gypsy moths, and those who don't. If they can do it only there, but not here, there's one way of resolving the conflict. But otherwise, if you have to do it one way everywhere, then it becomes zero-sum conflict.