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 ???).
A: There's a basic humanity in people, regardless of their labels, their ethic labels; if their black militants or white racists; and Republicans or Democrats.
There is a certain core humanity in people. If you can touch that core, you can turn people around. It's interesting that people want to be more Lockeian than Hobbesian in that sense. People really want to be good, that's my sense. People find a way. I found that oftentimes if you can help people find that way that's all they really needed. They didn't really need a lot else from you, but it took a lot of courage for them to be able to do that. And it took courage for people to say, "We know that discrimination is wrong," or "We know that the activities of such and such group in this community is not right, but we have no choice, because we have to stand behind them because if we don't, the political leadership will get on our backs."
They're confessing to you in effect, this is kind of a confidential revelation that they're engaging in, and to recognize that what keeps you going is this awareness that this is core of humanity in people; I think that's there for you to be able to reach out too. I think the same would be true here at ICAR, being able to sort of lay hands on people in situations, and see people actually change and come together, just Frank Blackman and I did an intervention in Des Moines, Iowa regarding issues of police use of excessive force. We did a large one-day problem solving workshop that had some problems with it, but the thing that struck me was the unintended results of your interventions are more important or more salient to you than the actual purpose that you went in for.
We had these breakout groups, and one group was a very influential white male business leader in Des Moines, and a Latina community worker. In their breakout group they got to talking, she said, "I'm frustrated, and I'm really concerned, because we just lost the storefront that we were using to run our program. They raised the rent, and we couldn't afford the rent." The business leader said,"I have some extra property, why don't you use my property gratis." That made my day. You walk away and you say to yourself, "That's what makes this work worthwhile. That's why I do this crazy stuff that we do."
Q: I have heard Frank say several times, "We know what works but we don't know why." That sounds like what you were saying.