Eastern Mennonite University
Topics: cultural and worldview frames, rationality, complexity, trust building
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
Listen/Read Selected Interview Segments on the Following Topics
- Worldview Problem
- Self-Analysis Exercises
- Seeing and Not Seeing Reality
- Worldview Conflicts
- Small Pieces of a Larger System
- Never Forget Your Own Worldview
- Advice to Interveners
Q: Can you give me a brief overview of your work?
A: My interests have always been in the kind of conflicts where you get people to the table and you start negotiating and you realize they may not even live on the same planet because they have such different senses of reality. The first place that I began looking at were environmental conflicts. These types of conflicts were where it seemed that a lot of people couldn't get to the table. Or when they got to the table they couldn't say what they wanted to say within the guidelines of an interest based negotiation and a lot of important issues were being pushed aside. Later, I had an opportunity to think about that problem while analyzing the transcripts from the FBI branch Davidian negotiations in Waco in 1993, looking very closely at 12,000 pages of transcripts and analyzing this very complicated case where obviously they had very different world views but they were also negotiating a crisis. They had some successes as well as the ultimate failure. Thirty-five people came out during that 51-day standoff. So I started the analysis with well, what went wrong and what went right and why. I also looked at how the negotiation part of that work and how they did the negotiation in reality. And so I developed a theory around that and looked at it and drew some lessons that I think apply to the field as a whole.
That is always kind of at the forefront of every practice that I go into. I start with the assumption that the parties must negotiate reality as well as negotiate their problem and in some cases that work is already very well done. They actually share enough of a sense of reality or at least a coordinated sense of reality that that's not a big issue for them. So they are able to just focus on an interest based negotiation. But in many cases, particularly complex cases, you find some problems that have a shared sense of reality and some problems come up that you realize they don't have a shared sense of what's going on and how the world is organized. Therefore you have to stop and see the interest based part of the negotiation and do a different kind of negotiation, which involves a different kind of language. This different kind of language has to do with storytelling, and it has to do with exploring people's assumptions about the world and how it's organized. In a lot of the processes that we teach and that we learn, there isn't much space for that. We really need to rethink how we do our work in complicated cases, it's all tied to identity as well.
Q: How do you know when it is a conflict when people have different worldviews?
A: There are a number of indicators if you're in the middle of a negotiation that you have a worldview problem. One is that the parties cannot feed back to one another the other parties perspective to their satisfaction. Then there's probably something deeper going on. The other indicator is when one party references some part of reality and the other party never acknowledges that, so, let me think of an example. If in an environmental negotiation, one party is referencing western culture, I've done some recent work with a student on rangeland management issues in the far west. If one party is talking about the need to sustain western culture and rural communities in the west and another party is treating that whole issue as a non issue because western culture is sort of not a reality for them, they may say it very directly or they may not. They may just never acknowledge the need to look at the issues for those communities and focus only on the environmental issues and never on the interface between rural communities and the environment. This is when you have a worldview problem. You've got one party who does not recognize human communities as being in the environment and part of the environment. You have also got another party that recognizes itself or considers itself to be apart of the eco-system. So when people can't hear parts of the other person's story or they keep pushing elements of reality off the table then you have a worldview problem.
Q: So how is intervening in a conflict of worldviews different from other conflicts?
A: I think it's different in that you have to realize that you have a dual process going on at the same time. It's not a step 1, step 2. You dont say, ok, we're going to negotiate a reality and next week when we have a shared reality then we will do problem solving. It's actually a process that goes back and forth because as you're facing a particular problem; you frame it. Framing has a lot to do with this. As you frame the negotiation problem, then you are negotiating reality because you are pushing some things off as irrelevant to this process, and others as not. So you have to spend a lot of the time thinking about the agenda and the framing of the problem that you are addressing. You may get part way down the road and discover that you and the parties framing it to begin with was not adequate. You then have to circle back to the reframing and you have to help the parties understand why they need to do that. The language that you do that in is more narrative and symbolic language rather than more problem solving, rational, analytical, language. So you have to get people actively involved in the process, you can't just say, what are your underlying interests?
Q: So framing and reframing are things that happen in any negotiation, right? The difference between reframing in a regular negotiation and a negotiation with differing worldviews is the language or the type of language that you use?
A: Well, first of all, I don't think there's any negotiation that doesn't have differing worldviews. Let's be really clear about that. Every negotiation process includes a negotiated reality, the only time the whole negotiated reality disappears is when you're working in a context where the parties have either worked together often enough or they share enough of a sense of reality that that remains unspoken. So part of the problem with all negotiation research, in my opinion, or most negotiation research is that it's been done in a context where people actually already had a shared sense of reality. Most of the research is done in the business community or in the diplomatic world, which has it's own culture and it's own sense of shared reality. In a laboratory simulations using undergraduates, whom also have a sense of what they're doing and why they're doing it. Very little research on negotiation has been done in the cases where people's sense of reality is not very shared. So we haven't paid enough attention of what's going on all the time, simultaneously back and forth between negotiating reality and negotiating the problem.
It's not a question of what's different. It's a question of foreground and background. In cases where the parties haven't managed their worldview differences and similarities, it's a complex package, where they haven't managed those differences and similarities adequately to hold an issue-based negotiation process, then you have to flip back into the the reality framing issues and then back to the problem at hand. This is a little abstract for your project.
Q: Well, let's contextualize it a little bit, if you could give an example. Usually what I ask for is an inspiring moment that leads to some kind of story generally. So if there's not one that is inspiring, maybe you have one that's illustrative, although I'm sure that you have one that is inspiring.
A: Let's talk about the Waco negotiation as a case that had some successes. The point in there I think illustrates that it isn't a question of sharing worldviews but simply of managing complex similarities and differences. Everyone says, well of course the FBI and the Branch Davidians had different worldviews. However they also had similar worldview elements. It was the combination of similarities and differences that actually fueled that conflict. The similarities include, a good-evil narrative, you know, a good dichotomous worldview but split between good and evil. Also, understanding that guns are OK, and it's ok to use them. A sense of their own rightness and the other person's wrongness and those similarities in worldview, combined with their differences, with the law enforcement community and this apocalyptic sect, fueled the escalation. So how did they get children out?
They got something like twenty children out through negotiation. They did it by the FBI coming in and assuming that David Koresh and the community would want fame and acknowledgement and publicity. So they made an offer saying that they would play a tape of a sermon by David Koresh for every 2 children that you send out and they would play that tape on the radio. The FBI's sense of reality was that David Koresh was in charge of this and that it was a cult. They believed that he was the mind control guy and if they gave him this, and since he's got a huge ego and if they gave him his fame, he'll send kids out. Now, under that whole bargaining, that whole narrative is a story that says David Koresh owns and controls all these people and is willing to treat these children as commodities for his own benefit. When you look at the transcripts and you read into the rest of the material, it becomes very clear that David Koresh was not in control of these children and was not making these decisions. It's actually articulated very clearly in the transcripts that the kids' own parents were making these decisions to send them out, you know, send them to Grandma, send them to Uncle so and so and they will be safe. The whole bargaining thing, for trading it for the radio was sort of like well, if that's how the FBI needs to think about it to get this done, then we can cooperate with that. So there was this whole exchange that went on, that looks like a strict bargaining but they were playing two different narratives the whole time.
Then when they got to David Koresh's own children, the bargaining broke down. The FBI said, "See! David Koresh is untrustworthy. He doesn't keep his word. He's now telling us he won't send us these children." Koresh kept getting on the phone and saying, "You don't understand, these are my children, these are special children." And the FBI would say, "Yes, we understand that you're concerned about your children," and he's going, "No! You don't understand. These are my children, these are special children." And then there were all kinds of biblical explanations for why they were special. It wasn't just David who said it, it was all the adults in the community and they all would keep repeating the story. And that has to do with their belief system. These were the children of the New Light Doctrine and they were in this narrative that was playing out in this community that were supposed to play a special role during the End Time, during the Apocalypse and so what they were saying wasn't just, these are David's children. It was that these are special children with a special destiny, we cannot cooperate with you treating them as commodities, you know, we can't even play along with that script that we were playing along with before. And it's all really clear in the transcripts.
You know, they're not as clear as I am in saying it and I'm sorry we can't play with your script anymore because... but it's all there. So they hit this impasse and the instinct on the part of the negotiators was to blame the Branch Davidians and say they're not bargaining in good faith, they're not participating in the process as we designed it as it has been going on. But in fact they were, but to bargain, you have to treat something as a commodity. The underlying reality behind a bargaining process is that something is a commodity and you can trade it. And if something is not a commodity, it is sacred to you, you can't bargain it. I think that happens in a lot of negotiations, where bargaining breaks down and people then point the finger at the party who won't bargain and say they're not behaving properly because they're not negotiating right. When in fact at least one question you should ask is "Why can't those things, or that thing, or that be treated as a commodity?" because under that is some sense of reality that you've hit up against.
Q: So, you ask the question, you try to get a sense of that person's sense of reality?
A: Right, and if I had been there during the FBI's thing, I would have said, "Whoa, apparently these children can't play along with this bargaining script, so these children need something else. Back off on the bargaining and stop getting on the phone and doing the kinds of things they did right up to the end; we'll send you 6 gallons of milk if you send us 4 women and 2 children or 2 women and 4 children." The women were all saying, "Nobody can trade us away, we have to make a moral and spiritual decision about where we're going to stay, this is the end time." And they were still being treated as these victims.
That was another worldview gap, you know, who could be traded around like victims of Koresh and as soon as the FBI put them in the category as victim then they didn't treat them as full human beings and as moral agents. Even though they talked with them on the phone they still treated them in the mediation process, in the negotiation process as commodities. This was even though the women themselves weren't treating themselves that way and Koresh wasn't actually treating them that way in relation to this negotiation, regardless of what had happened before sexually or any other way. So what do you have to do?
You have to recognize, I think that in the Waco case for example that when you're dealing with a group, a sect or a community that has a very different understanding of reality that you can't convince them, you can't speak their language well enough. I don't mean Spanish or French; I mean their reality. You can't speak their reality enough to persuade them to do anything. The only thing you can do is create the space and the environment in which they can persuade themselves to do something that will save their lives, to get them out of this situation, or you, that's one option. And the other option is that you need to find third parties that are sort of relevant, worldview audiences. People who don't necessarily fully share their language or their sense of reality but they have enough of it that they can do some reality testing or they can feed in some new ideas that might get processed a little differently and then that community can make a different decision. But that takes a lot of patience.
Q: Yes, both of those things sound pretty hard.
A: They are, but the FBI did it later, with the Freemen, several years later in 1996, I think. They didn't cross the boundary of the sacred space for the Freemen; they allowed people to go in. In Waco, the FBI had refused to let a couple of scholars who had done a different interpretation of the Book of Revelation in. The Branch Davidians asked for those two scholars, it was Phil Arnold and Jim Tabor. They had asked those two men to mediate and the FBI said "No." Mediate isn't the right word, it wasn't a mediation, but they could've been used as a good set of third parties, intermediaries, or worldview translators. I think worldview translator is actually a 3rd role we need to think about in situations that you have a significant worldview problem, you really need those worldview translators.
But in Montana, they allowed people who were sympathetic to the Freeman, yet they did not allow members to spend time or to actually go in and talk with the Freemen. You know we don't have transcripts, I have wanted to do this research project, but we haven't had any cooperation or luck doing it. I think that those people played what I call a "relevant audience" and were able to listen and ask critical enough questions that it put new energy and new meaning into making processes play inside the community that they could then persuade themselves that they could come out within their own reality, without sacrificing their own identity or their reality. Because in Waco, essentially what the FBI was asking the Branch Davidians to do was to stop being Branch Davidians, long enough to end the standoff. Basically, to give up their entire sense of reality, their entire sense of identity, "Come out and then you can go back to being Branch Davidians." It's a very different sense of how important this sense of identity was for them
Q: It sounds like that approach is doomed from the outset?
A: Quite doomed, I don't think it will work, and I think we're going to see more and more of these crises. We're starting to see some of them in the occupied territories with [Isreali] settlers as we're trying to think about how we're going to remove settlers as a part of the peace plan. It's going to be a major problem.
Q: Let's talk about that. That's a great one. Everyone's always puzzled by the settler phenomenon. They don't seem to have a ton of support in Israel and yet they expand, and obviously the Palestinians aren't big fans. Yet they are a huge issue in the whole peace process. So what's going on with that and how do you deal with such vastly different worldviews there?
A: Well, I think this whole worldview form of analysis doesn't replace other forms of analysis. You do have to look at where they're getting their base of support at; you have to look at where they're getting their monetary resources. And that needs to be dealt with. A lot of that money is coming from Evangelical Christians, who have their own understanding of what's going to happen. Once the boundaries of Israel are expanded to the biblical area and the temple is rebuilt, so it's sort of a cooperation between the...
Q: When the red heifer is born...
A: Right. Exactly and it's a cooperation between two very different worldviews and I think it's very fascinating for these evangelical Christians. These Jews are never going to make it to heaven but it's important that they do what they do but it's important for the rapture to happen and the whole second coming and their whole funding of money and where they're getting their support. I also think they gain a lot of their energy and power by the virtue that people are afraid of them because of their religious fanaticism and people don't know what to make of that because it doesn't operate in the rules of interest based, rational analytical behavior. Its meaning making behavior. It's identity based behavior in its extreme and they are part of the problem, but in the same way the radical Palestinian terrorists are apart of the problem and the way Islamic fundamentalists are a part of the problem. We are not going to address that issue world wide of the rise in fundamentalisms and extremisms by dismissing them as crazy and irrelevant and some how non-modern throwbacks to some other thing. We have to deal with that and they have to be apart of the solution.
Q: Which brings us to terrorism and the future war maybe, as we know it. So include terrorists in the solution?
A: I don't think you include the hard-line settlers or the hard-line terrorists at the negotiation table, but I think you do recognize that those two groups are the radical expression of a much bigger narrative about reality and they depend very much on communities of support. Terrorist organizations cannot operate in the absence of communities that support them. And support them in different ways.
I mean in this country in the early 1980s, we had the Posse Comitatus, running across the Midwest, in hiding, being chased down by the FBI. It was one of those cases where farmers were in the middle of the farm crisis and farms were being sold off and auctioned and all kinds of issues going on. A lot of people in the rural Midwest would see them, know where they were and kind of do the thing where the cops would come in and these people would say "They went that way" and point right, when they really went left. Or say, "Don't know, haven't seen them, don't know where they are." That kind of support system is absolutely necessary for a violent, armed group to operate and that's where the energy should be. Both in terms of trying to bring people in to a dialogue about why they feel threatened, about what their world feels like and how we can do it, and looking at the structural sources of their own insecurity, because this rise in fundamentalisms of all stripes, including secular and political and not just religious, is coming out of the globalization and the turmoil created by major structural upheavals in people's lives. People feel very threatened.
Q: A sort of counter-reaction to globalization in a sense?
A: Well, I think, let's just take it down to Harrisonburg, Virginia for instance. Little old rural Harrisonburg, Virginia in the middle of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. It is the fastest growing city in the state of Virginia and is now up to a population of 42,000. It is becoming increasingly diverse, ethnically for a lot of reasons, and situated in the middle of the middle of the largest agricultural county in the state of Virginia. So we have farmers, including older Mennonite farmers who drive buggies, but who have electricity in their chicken houses because their tied to multi-national corporations for raising poultry, but they don't have electricity in their own houses.
So everything's tied to this global agricultural economy. Part of the increase in the diversity of the population has a lot to do with people coming up from Latin American to work in the poultry processing plants, as well as with the beef cattle and some dairy. So, you have this microcosm of the world and everything's very not like it was twenty years ago, and everybody knows that. There are the daily discomforts of having people who speak a strange language, people who behave differently, the growth, the pressure on the land crisis for the agricultural community because the city isn't managing its growth very well. All of these things create huge instability in people's sense of identity and stability. Then they got Evian flu last year. We had to execute 6 million birds and not put them to market, because of Evian flu in the county here. Six million chickens and turkeys.
Q: So, it's like the mad cow,
A: It is, except there's no indication. I want to make that really clear on the tape, there's no indication that Evian flu transfers to human beings in any way but as a safety precaution, they will not take those birds to market. So 6 million birds were not taken to market and 170 plus farmers took a real hit. Japan and Russia shut their markets down to Virginia poultry and it put a big hit on us, in portions of this community, it had a ripple out effect. That's what I mean by a global economy and a global sense that you're not in control of your own life, because you know, along comes Evian flu, we've had that before, but now it has this huge impact on us economically and culturally and our whole county and the city. That's our tax base, a lot of things. So when people experience life that way, and they don't feel that they're in control of their destiny anymore, one place that they turn is to religion and a sense of their must be some sort of order to this world, parts of this feel very unjust, but don't worry, justice is coming. One of the things we see is an increase in apocalyptic thinking that there will be one last big battle. Then the good guys and the bad guys will be sorted out and the world will be ok again.
And I think we're seeing that all over the world in every religious tradition. In political systems as well that were allegedly secular that still have that end time, battle between good and evil and that's what's shaping the global war on terrorism. If you look at the Bush administration's rhetoric, if you look at bin Ladin's rhetoric, if you look at the settlers, if you look at Christian fundamentalists, if you look at Buddhist fundamentalists, any of them, you're seeing a lot of those same themes cropping up and I don't think it's coincidental. I think it has to do with the change in structures that we live in. Does this make any sense?
Q: Absolutely, and let me get this straight, you said the way to work through that is with the support basis of your, what will eventually turn out to be your armed groups or with guns or bombs tied to their bodies, etc. So how do you go about doing that, how do you work with those communities of support? Those extremists?
A: I think one thing we have to recognize, is that anything we do to deal with the extremists, the armed extremists, isn't just a problem solving activity, like let's go get these guys. Anything and everything we do has meaning to those who are watching. If we go in and we bomb people into the stone age because we're looking for terrorists, they may well have thought, that it might not be such a bad idea to get rid of some of these armed guys. But you're reinforcing the part of the narrative that says we're the evil, we're the out of control evil that needs to be resisted.
Q: So, like we the people who are the extremists, or we the people who are doing the bombing
A: We are the people who are doing the bombing. So if the US goes in and bombs somebody, in other words we have to think really carefully, is this a police operation or is this a war? Because you're going to handle it quite differently. If it's primarily a law enforcement problem, are we going to use community policing tactics which involve making relationships with the community and helping nurture good solid relationships that allow or encourage people to turn in these people who are dangerous? Thus allowing them to hold their own communities as safe as well as in relationships that build capacity in the community to meet its own needs and strengthen its own economy and place in the world.
Or are we going to use a SWAT team kind of approach to policing and present an attitude that says we don't care if the neighbors get hurt or it's collateral damage if the neighbors get hurt, while we're going in to get these bad guys, sorry about that. Because if we take that approach, the SWAT team approach and that's what we think we're doing, exterminating bad guys, other people might get hurt in the long run, sorry about that, or in the short term, sorry about that. Then we are reinforcing the narrative of the extremists that says we are evil, we will harm people, and we don't have the real interests of this community at heart. We is the operative word: we the SWAT team, we the US, we the whoever who is going in to arrest the terrorists or to kill them. And all of that matters
Q: So you end up polarizing the community that might have been sympathetic to our goals or the SWAT teams' goals in that case but then ultimately, you come out in favor of the extremists.
A: The key I think is to recognize that the communities that extremists come out of are very complex. They are not all in agreement with the extremists, in terms of the tactics they use even though some of them will say yes, in your analysis the west is being very oppressive and that they are suffering under this new system and that they're harming us and that they want to undo our culture, and that they really hate us. We agree with your analysis but we don't necessarily agree with your tactics. Then there are people who say, no, it's not that bad, there are parts of western culture that we really should be thinking how do we work that in. We should be nurturing the roots of democracy in our own culture. All of those nuances get completely lost in this, and keep driving the people who are more moderate to the more extreme position by behaving like the terrible bad guy that the extremists say you are. There is an example from WACO that illustrates this.
The negotiators kept saying to the Branch Davidians, "Come out, we'll take care of you. We'll make sure you're not harmed," and while they were saying that and building the good relationships and trying to encourage people to think this through, the hostage rescue team was running military vehicles and tanks across the front yard, crushing their cars. So the Branch Davidians would listen to this and say "OK, we think we trust you and we kind of like some of the negotiators, you're ok, and then they'd look out the window and say, "Looks like Armageddon to me, looks like the beast of the book of revelations is running across. And in fact the US government is the beast in the book of revelation."
They were trying to make meaning the whole time. You have to understand that communities that are motivated by meaning making and by a narrative like this are very dynamic in their meaning making, so everything you do is interpreted through the text. So everything the FBI did, the Branch Davidians would go back to the book of revelations and the prophet and say, "What does that mean? What did that action mean? Ok, tanks, ok, chariots spitting fire," and it was all in the transcripts. The big reality dilemma for them was, "Is the US this good nation at the end time, the sort of nation without being fully saved? It is a little complicated Or is it the beast?" And that was the constant, are you the good or the beast, the good or the beast? Of course when you keep running tanks across their yard and when you renege on agreements that you've made about giving their children who'd come out to the families they requested and instead you gave them to child protective services, and you get these betrayals, ok, you're the beast of negotiation.
We're seeing that same scenario play out globally right now. A lot of people in the Islamic world, a lot of people all over the world, see the US as this beacon of light and democracy or is it a tyrant gone mad? You know, the Roman Empire run amuck with high-tech 21st century weapons. The beacon of democracy or was this a tyrant? Every time we go and we're doing what we're doing right now, we're reinforcing the tyrant image. It doesn't matter how many food packages we drop. It doesn't matter; we are reinforcing that image.
Q: So basically, the same principles that apply to the interest based stuff like trust building, also applies to the relationship confidence building measures. It's just that you need to understand the context from which people are defining how you build trust?
A: Right, it's very anthropological in its orientation. You have to get inside the worldview, inside the other culture of the other party in order to understand as a trust-building activity actually resonates, what meaning it has for them because it may not mean what you think.
Q: Ok, so let's see here, so, this might be an obvious question. What would be the most common obstacles in dealing with a conflict in which there are different worldviews?
A: I would say that there are two things. I think there are process obstacles for 3rd party neutrals or interveners. I don't like the word neutrals, for obvious reasons, having to do with worldview, but there are obstacles that we bring which include trying to push people to act as rational interest based actors.
Another obstacle would be to not recognize fully that everybody in a conflict is a meaning making creature and giving space for the meaning making process and activities inside of the negotiation process. So there are problems that we bring procedurally and those include things like shutting down the discussion of reality so quickly to a narrowly defined problem to be solved that people are left with, either they can't say what they want to say, or the real issues for them are not on the table.
Q: So, what does that sound like, can you contextualize that?
A: It sounds like an environmental negotiation process where you are trying to decide what to do about managing rangeland and the 3rd party facilitators who've been brought in focus on "how do we determine the condition of the land, how many people can be brought on? They turn it into a very technical problem. So the case is treated as a technical problem primarily where at the deeper level, the real pressing question for the larger area that we are talking about is how do human beings live in relationship to a fragile ecosystem and where do ranchers fit into that? And you never get that hard question on the table.
Another thing that it looks like in process is that we can convene processes where we basically push people into a single identity. So you can convene a large scale process to talk about forestry management issues or range land management issues and people participate as ranchers or environmentalists or land management agency personnel or citizens in the local city, you even get urban people involved in there. And they put that identity hat on and they come to the table with that sort of identity. The reality in those rural communities is that people have multiple identities. The person, who's the rancher, may also be the head of the school board and has to worry about the tax base for this rural community school district. He may see the need for sustainable ranching and he's the kind of person who says, my grandfather managed for beef, my father managed for grass, with beef just being a by-product of grass, and now I'm trying to learn how to manage for eco-system health because my community won't live. My children won't have a place to be and my grandchildren won't have a place to be if we don't do it that way. And he's told, you know we'll speak for the ranchers on this technical problem when what he's really wanting to do is negotiate for the long term life of his community. A lot of the way our work is done, as a problem, bounded shaped by this, doesn't allow us to engage those larger discussions.
Q: The image that I'm getting from this is a camera with a very big zoom lens and that normally as intervenors we're going to zoom in as tight as we can, and you're saying we may need to pull back a bit before you can get there?
A: And to make sure that eventually, you do have to come up with some like, how are we going to decide how many cattle, how are we going to decide what's good practice in range land management, but don't turn it into a technical problem too quickly because that will just exacerbate the long term conflict in cases where really worldviews are really significant. I would like to see us in this country thinking about some of these large scale resource management conflicts using peacebuilding models that we use over seas for post-conflict kind of reconstruction which includes community development work, capacity building work, in a very hierarchical kind of from top level all the way down to grassroots.
We need to face the facts that these communities are traumatized, that there's a lot of trauma recovery work that needs to happen, similar to what we do in Liberia, or in post-conflict settings. When you whip the financials base under a rural community by changing the environmental laws, you throw the whole community into a traumatic reaction. It impacts their schools, their churches; their whole economy. You see tremendous increase in alcoholism, domestic violence, suicide, those are all trauma responses and we're not constructing processes for looking at those rangeland management issues, forestry management issues, that include all of those interventions in a coordinated fashion.
Because they are technical issues and part of it is because the environmental policy of the conflict resolution field is the most highly developed and professionalized, that it is actually working against us now, in terms of doing the best possible practice in some of these instances. I don't know what people are going to say when they hear this. It's professionalized; people can make a living at it, that's great. But are those practices becoming so disconnected with the real long-term problems of the communities that we're working with that they are running the risk of becoming a Track I/ Oslo Accord that never gets wired down into a community and you end up with Intifada.
Q: Other obstacles?
A: I said two, so there are process obstacles that we bring, then there are the cognitive obstacles that everybody brings, including third party practitioners, and the parties involved, which is the worst cognitive thinking obstacle because you can't see your own worldview, it's just lived. "Well, of course the world is that way, how else would it be?!"
So, you can't see your own worldview until it bumps up against somebody's that's different. When that happens, we have the tendency to other the other person, and to demonize the other person and to demonize their worldview. We're not taught very well in our culture to say, "Oh is that how you see the worldview, how interesting!" We find it very threatening that somebody doesn't see the same reality that we do, so there's that problem. Then there's the worldview that's blind to world viewing, which is the worldview that tends to dominate a lot of policy and practice, which says, there's a reality and people may have different perceptions of that reality. We don't start very often with the assumption, people actually build different realities and occupy different realities. So this is a whole social constructionist orientation that most people in western culture are really not comfortable with.
Q: When you're sitting in a room and it's clear to you that people have different worldviews, how do you begin to get them to see their own worldviews and to identify how that is different from the other person's worldviews?
A: Or similar, or both. A lot of this involves some creative practices, inviting people to work with image, to work with metaphors, to take the metaphors they're using and ask them to think carefully about well, what does that metaphor imply? If you take the dominant metaphor for the forest right now, that the forest service has used, as the forest as a farm, and you take people back through the development of that metaphor and you say, "Gosh, the forest is a farm, do you think that might be why the Forest Service is in the Department of Agriculture? Do you think that might be why schools of forestry are in colleges of agriculture? Do you think that might be why we talk about weed trees? OK, let's start with that premise, the forest as a farm, what kind of farm is it? Is it a 19th century family farm with rotating crops, holistic practices or is it major agro-business in the mid-west with huge combines running across it? Oh!"
You invite people to think through what that metaphor allows them to see and what it doesn't allow them to see because every way of talking about the world is a way of seeing and a way of not seeing reality. And very often it's what we're not seeing that is the key to figuring out how wer are getting out of wherever we are. But you have to see that you're not seeing it. So a lot of imagery, a lot of playing with language, inviting people to try on new hats, not just positional hats like, "you pretend you are the rancher, and you say the rancher's interests." It's more like let's look at the reality of the rancher's world, let's play with the idea that if you're the rancher and you're trying to manage for eco-system health what would you need to do differently, what knowledge do you need that you don't have now, what information/ research needs to happen and how could we work towards a reality that includes ranchers as stewards of an eco-system and can we create structures that would pay them to run fewer cattle, but to do eco-system restoration work? Where does that happen? So what has to happen is you really have to unlock creativity.
Q: In terms of the language that you can use in this kind of a process; people have a hard time, especially those who are not in academics using words like reality very casually, like we do.
A: I don't use that with them.
Q: Right, can you use metaphor? What language can you use and what language can't you use?
A: Actually, you can actually use any of this, if you illustrate it. The one that seems to resonate with everybody I've ever tried it with is thinking of the forest as a farm. Say, ok when the pilgrims arrived here and the European settlers arrived here, they talked about the forest as a farm. And most have had, if they are US based and have grown up in this country, can go back to that early American literature that they were forced to read in high school or wherever and say oh wilderness, city on a hill, what do you do with a wilderness? You tame it. Ok we did that. Then we needed charcoal and charcoal comes from trees, so the forest became a mine, and these mining metaphors dominated. You can show how our talking about it over time, European settlers talking about it changed and then we hit the west coast and we got the forest as a farm and we got the forest service and the creation of all the national forest lands.
And people go, wow, oh that's a metaphor, that's how it shapes reality and then they go kind of oh, ok. So, if you can illustrate it and then you can invite them to play because there is an element of playfulness in this that we often loose sight of. We get so intense in the work that we do, "we really have to be focused on problem solving" and let's keep on track, you have to let people come back and play a little bit. And there are people who feel threatened by this. They get threatened because of the recognition that we shape reality; we don't just occupy it. But most people in my experience actually find it very liberating. OH! I'm not a prisoner of this box that I was born into, or this world as it is presented!
Q: How hard is it for people to come up with their metaphors?
A: Oh, they use them all the time. You just pull it out while you're talking to them and then you feed it back to them. It doesn't even have to be a conscious thing. If you're facilitating and you become very metaphor sensitive, and that's something we should be training ourselves, as practitioners to be metaphor sensitive and it's something I work with some of my students on. When you hear the metaphor, and you feed it back and you say let's explore that a little bit more, you just say, ok, if the world really is X let's talk about what that means.
Q: Finding the parallels where they might be appropriate?
A: Yes, what don't we know about that. And every metaphor has things that fit and things that don't. So one thing that's interesting to do is to take some of the solution language that people are using. Metaphors can also be used to paper over differences. The stewardship metaphor is one that everybody's tossing around, kind of we have to be, stewardship is the solution, you have everyone leaving the room going, year brother, right you got it sister, we're all going to be good stewards of the land. No one asked them to explore the steward and the whole concept of stewardship and the missing the dimension of stewardship. The metaphor of the steward that people haven't explored in the environmental world is to whom does the steward answer? A steward is always employed by somebody and answers to somebody. And when you start pulling people down and saying, ok, when you start thinking of yourself as the steward, who's the master? Who's coming back that you answer to? And then you start getting a whole range of different answers.
One person may say, its' the forest service official and they say it's the American people. Whatever they want. That's who we answer to. Somebody else may say, the planet, Mother Nature. We answer to Mother Nature and if we don't answer right, she's going to kick us in the but. And they have all kinds of stories to tell you when that happened, fires, floods, and etcetera.. OK, that's a little problem there. Someone may say, the future, 7 generations out. And then you say well, how do we know what 7 generations out will need, what their interests are, how do we do that? A whole level of conversation that hasn't happened
Q: Ok, so I have two questions that are farily similar here, one in the beginning, one in the end that you've sort of touched on them both. The earlier question I asked was what techniques that you have found most useful to accomplish the goals of your work, which I started with that. And I'll go ahead and tell you the other question; maybe you can answer them both together. And that is important lessons that you have learned from your work over the years, one is a little more specific, the other is broader, but you can mix them up as you like, but you can mix them up, as you like.
A: I think the important lesson that I've learned, is that worldview conflicts are not a separate category of conflict. Every conflict has a worldview dimension. And there may be some conflicts where it's not as relevant to the parties and you don't have to deal with it directly but that doesn't mean that dimension of their interaction isn't there. If something breaks down in the negotiation process we have to ask ourselves if we just hit a worldview block of some kind? As opposed to an integrity block, when parties are not operating with integrity or miscommunicating or something. You better go back and look to see if there's some sort of underlying reality problem. So that would be one key lesson that I've learned.
The other is that the most complicated and the most pressing conflicts that we deal with are so multi-dimensional, that any intervention that we do as small problem solving we must see it as only part of a much bigger set of coordinated interventions that needed to take place. We must learn to be more aware of what other things need to happen. So for example if you do an environmental conflict dialogue around land management issues in the far west you must think about the overall agricultural economy. You can't do land allocation resources without talking about water; all of these things have to be brought into the open. It's not that you have to do everything in a single intervention; but you must not sell a single intervention as the magic bullet that's going to fix everything.
We must also think about how we work with other people, not necessarily conflict resolution people, community development people, that kind of cross. What are we calling it now? Internationally, we call it, there's a whole new slogan, inter-field. We're now talking at the international level about sort of inter-field collaboration between development work and conflict resolution, and conflict transformation work. We have to take that same approach domestically, here in the US. And we're way behind. So what else was there?
Q: Lessons and advice? Oh, actually there is a question that is lessons and techniques, and the last question is what advice you would give to someone who was beginning to do this kind of work.
A: Never forget your own worldview. If there are two parties in the room and you enter, there are now three worldviews in the room. And so you have to constantly be aware of that. And there's a large part of power that has to do with worldviewing, so that a third party that comes in who's worldview assumptions are more like one party then the other will inadvertently push the process in favor of that party if they aren't self aware.There is this whole element of self-reflection and self-awareness that has to be a constant part of our work.
Q: How does one become aware of one's own worldview without someone like you?
A: Well, you can become aware of it by training. I think we've got to develop some trainings to help advance practitioners, reflective practitioners become more aware of this. We do a lot of it in this program because we are so aware of this culture, worldview stuff. It's really about culture; it's what a lot of people would put under the broad category of culture. I prefer the word worldview and I actually prefer world viewing as opposed to a noun because it's really an activity. It's not like we have this worldview and if we don't like it we take it and we put it on the shelf and pick another one. And another part of it has to do with self-reflection too and becoming very self-reflective practitioners. And we don't always train for that; in fact we hardly ever train for that.
Q: But if you did train for it, what would it look like?
A: If we did train for it, it would probably look like a lot of the trainings that we do now, except we would say, you know, why did you do that? For example, lets say there is a mediation training and everybody's doing their role play and you stop it and say the parties said, "Let's bring in granny for this divorce negotiation and let's talk about these issues that didn't come up." How would that have resonated with you? What would you have done? How would you have responded and why? What would your assumptions be about reality? It's hard for me to think about doing this in training, as opposed to doing it in the kind of program that we run here. It's a pretty advanced technique.
Although, I've done 2 or 3 shorter trainings where I've simply shown people the forestry example and some other things and then invited them to say, ok, what are the assumptions in your working environment. These have been in organizations, what happens when you change this a little bit? Where do you like them and where don't you like them and where would you push them? It resonates with people and then they become more conscious of it. Actually at one point I just did a guest lecture in a biology class that was associated with an environmental public policy program at George Mason University and two weeks later the professor came running across the green yelling at me, I hate you, I hate you and I was like I didn't think my class was that bad! And she said, you know, I was trained as a hard scientist, I thought I was looking at reality and now everywhere I turn I see metaphors and you have shaken my whole world and I hate you for it. And she was half joking.
Q: Ok, so one needs to work on defining one's own worldviews, other advice?
A: Think creatively and don't just follow a script. Really try to expand your understanding of human beings to include more than just interests based, positional kind of behaviors and rational actor behaviors. Become very aware of different forms of rationality. That may answer the other question. You know we work in a society that tends to define rationality in only one way. People are rational when they are goal oriented, and they use instrumental rationality, I'm at point A and I want to get to point B and the most efficient, the most effective way to accomplish that end is this, and that is rational behavior. But in reality, that is only one form of rationality, Max Weber defined 3 other types of rationality besides that.
There is affective rationality, where relationships are central and everything that flows out of your life is about sustaining those relationships and that has its own logic if we use rationality to mean internal logic it makes for your behavior to make sense and this is your core, most deepest commitment, and that's relationships then you can predict people's behaviors in that sense, that's rational.
Then there's value rationality, I have these core values and I will do everything to sustain those. Even if it seems irrational, it's just differently rational.
The third one is traditional rationality, we have always done it this way, this is the way the world is and this is the way we must do it. Everything follows logically.
The truth of the matter is that every one of us uses those three forms of rationality in combination at different times in our lives and even in the same negotiation we may use smatterings of each kind of rationality. For example, the police negotiators may decide that the value commitment is to protect innocent lives, try to end this barricade without violence if at all possible, and then the instrumental of that is use a combination of pressure from the hostage rescue team or the SWAT team and talk to do that. Yes, carrots and sticks. But you notice the value part; that rationality is there too. It's not one or the other. And people, like the Branch Davidians, that you think are perfectly always oriented towards their ultimate value. They actually demonstrate that they can be quite problem solving oriented. As long as it doesn't offend and disrupt their deepest value commitments. They can be rational and analytical but know that people operate with those 4 types of rationality so that when they flip away from instrumental rationality as you have defined it in this case, you don't say, "Oh my god, they've gone crazy! They're no longer rational." Rather you say, "What form of rationality are they operating with now?" And that's a window into their world.
Q: That's great.
A: I think it's perfectly possible to work that into a training manual; I've taught my students that. I think it is perfectly possible to work that into a training manual. And to show people and to ask them to reflect after a role-play, what the different types of rationality are that they saw? The hardest thing about doing role-plays is that it's very hard to get the full nuance of getting those 4 forms of rationality if it's not you for real, if you're acting it. That's one of the reasons that role-plays are so hard to do and everybody tends to go to that instrumental "that's easy."
Q: Other advice?
A: Be creative, think hard, don't think you're ever going to do the perfect process; nobody ever will. One of the things I've tried to be extremely clear with the FBI negotiators, is they were using in 1993 the very best barricade negotiating processes and practices that were available. We didn't know what we know now. If we had gone to negotiation literature, if they'd gone to the Harvard negotiation project, if they'd gone to George Mason's Conflict Resolution Program, nobody had a step-by-step easy answer for them. And the difference between their failure and the mistakes that they made and the mistakes that I might make in an environmental conflict is that they have dead people and I have dead trees and nobody notices the dead trees, and everybody notices the dead people. So let us all be clear that we will never run the perfect process.
Q: The difference between Montana and Waco, is that Waco happened first and there were new learnings later?
A: And personnel changes and there were people who really did that. The problem is will those learning's be sustained in the new process, when those FBI agents begin to retire in their early 50s, so a lot of the guys who learned the hard lessons of Waco and then ran to Montana, are now out of the FBI. And the new people who are coming in haven't gotten all of those lessons. So...
Q: Probably in that chapter about interviewing, about sustainability
A: Exactly, so those are kind of my lessons.
Q: Well, anything else in general?
A: No, I don't know, this was fun.
Q: Ok, good