Former CRS Mediator, New York and Washington, D.C. Offices; Associate Professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason 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 ???).
Q: Are there some important lessons that you've learned over the years that you'd like to share that we haven't covered yet?
A: Lessons. Authenticity is really important, you know, the importance of being authentic in a process where you are true to yourself and your values when you're involved in an intervention. I don't know if this is a lesson. A lesson implies that you've learned, and it probably is true. It's the idea of not getting involved in a situation where you are contorting your own values simply just to be involved in the intervention. If you don't believe in what you are doing, then I don't think you should do it. I think the field sometimes encourages us, if not explicitly, then certainly implicitly, to sort of set aside your personal values because you are this automaton, you are this as I said early, deux as machina kind of person that is a vessel for simply helping other people resolve disputes. I think this is probably an overstatement, that the agreement belongs to the parties, regardless of what they agree to, I think is one that is unethical. I think if it doesn't represent your values than I think you're involved, your intervention is inauthentic.
Q: That's a really interesting caveat to most of what you learn in conflict resolution 101, especially a 40 hour training course in mediation, where you are the neutral machine. You have values but you can't impose them on the people you are dealing with. So how do you reconcile
A: If you're involved in a situation where you don't agree, if you can't live with the values that you're likely to encounter, then you shouldn't do the intervention. You've heard me tell the story on the 7-13, the situation was, I got this this telephone call years ago from a missile base in the Washington area, and the fellow called because they wanted negotiation skills training. When people want negotiation skills I always get a little suspicious. I said, "Well, why do you want this?" He says, well we are up for the UN missile inspection team coming up, and we want to be able to negotiate what we have to disclose in terms of our missiles. I said, "Oh, really?" So I didn't say this to him, but I'm thinking, here we as a nation in a sense make scathing remarks about North Korea, Libya, the Soviet Union, but we're doing exactly the same thing. I said, "I don't think I can do it."
Now what I didn't do, is because I didn't have the courage; what I should have done, this is where I wasn't completely authentic. I said, "well I don't think I can do the work. I really don't feel very comfortable doing it. Let me suggest some other people you might want to talk to." Now, see, if I was really authentic, I would have said I don't agree with the values of doing this and that was the real reason I didn't do it. I could not see myself, simply to make a buck, engaging in a process where I'm encouraging this country's duplicity. How would I live with myself? I can't do that. That's an example of being authentic, or at least partially authentic.
Q: Why do you think it would have been better to tell him about your value-conflict?
A: It probably wouldn't have been, it probably would have been gratuitous: "Do I need to know this? I just need to know whether you can do the work or not."
A: I think it would have been perhaps valuable for him to know that the field, or people in the field of conflict analysis/resolution have values, and that's what I think I should have done. I think it's important for people who are users to understand that providers have values, and are willing to sort of share them with you, but I didn't do it.