November 22, 2020
After watching President-Elect Joe Biden's victory speech on Saturday, November 7, where he said "I pledge to be a President who seeks not to divide, but to unify — who doesn’t see red and blue states, but a United States... And who will work with all my heart to win the confidence of the whole people,” I began thinking about how and whether reconciliation of the political divides in the U.S. was now possible and, if so, how? (Anyone who has been reading MBI materials knows we were thinking about this earlier too, but Biden's speech gave this topic a renewed sense of urgency.
I think reconciliation is possible—but perhaps not in the way that many of our conflict resolution colleagues are thinking about. In 2017, I wrote an "update" to Chip Hauss's original BI essay on Reconciliation which was published in 2003. I said in 2017 that Chip's 2003 essay was "one of the essays in the Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base that was especially in need of updating." I was reacting, particularly, to Chip's 2003 observation that reconciliation had recently become a "hot topic." It was not such a hot topic in 2017, I said then, although, I added, that it badly needed to be.
I now realize that that was a very insular view. Since my work primarily focused on U.S. conflict, I was reflecting on what was going on here—which was primarily focused on research and practice that was informed by values and ideology—viewing some values and ideology as right, and others wrong. There wasn't much effort going into finding ways, in the U.S., to reconcile competing ideologies. But there was much such work being done by many scholars and practitioners, who were focused on conflicts outside the United States.
In 2018, Chip wrote a blog post on his blog, responding to my 2017 assertion that his original essay, in some important ways, had become outdated. Chip gave us permission to republish his blog post on BI, and we added it to the original BI essay. I am also reprinting it here. It was entitled:
Reconciliation -- Thanks to Heidi Burgess
by Chip Hauss
As Doug Irvin-Erickson and I get deeper into writing our textbook, we find that reconciliation is a term we keep coming back to—and for good reason.
We are also finding that it is one of the most loosely-used terms in the field.
To see why both of those statements are true, I returned to a short article on reconciliation that I wrote for the Beyond Intractability web site fifteen years ago. When I opened it, I discovered that the site’s co-director, Heidi Burgess, had called it one of its most outdated articles.
I was surprised, but when I read her comments, I realized that she’s right. I had called it a “hot topic” in 2003. She makes the case that it isn’t so “hot” today but it should be. In her terms, we need to re-learn it.
So, let me do just that here in which I make a slightly different case in four steps. I think it’s one that Heidi would agree with even though I think most of what I wrote back then still applies as well.
I have no doubt that reconciliation still matters. We can never approach anything remotely like a permanent end to a dispute unless and until we address the four characteristics of reconciliation John Paul Lederach includes in his classic definition—truth, justice, mercy, and peace.
In that sense, reconciliation involves more than parties to a dispute sitting down with each other, talking things out, and somehow magically finding ways to get along. That is part of it. But only part.
In Lederach’s terms, reconciliation also requires achieving justice which includes addressing the issues that gave rise to the conflict in the first place.
I’m currently writing about Northern Ireland and South Africa. Progress has been made toward reconciliation in both places.
However, it will always be limited as long as the social and economic injustices that have limited the options of Catholics in the former and Blacks in the latter continue. Indeed, the peace in those two countries is still fragile to the degree that they haven’t made good on the policy implications of reconciliation despite all the progress they have made on the interpersonal and communal levels.
It Isn’t Cozy—Or Easy
Next, I have to reinforce one of the key points I made in the original article in which I used a phrase that Archbishop Desmond Tutu frequently used to describe the work of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission which he co-chaired. On dozens of occasions, he said “reconciliation isn’t cozy.” To see why, all you have to do is to watch the film on his role in the process.
And that’s before you get to the substantive inequalities that persist both in South Africa and Northern Ireland. Leaders in both countries have yet to summon the political will needed to address those inequalities, especially in South Africa where the economic gap between black and white may be larger than it was the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
Reconciliation isn't "cozy," and it isn't always appropriate--yet. But eventually it will become both appropriate and necessary, as we can never approach anything remotely like a permanent end to a dispute unless and until we address the four characteristics of reconciliation John Paul Lederach includes in his classic definition of reconciliation—truth, justice, mercy, and peace.
It Isn’t Always Appropriate—Yet
I’ve been sitting in on Doug’s classes on genocide prevention and human rights for the last couple of years. In that time, he has begun convincing me that reconciliation and many of the other tools my kind of peacebuilding relies on may not always be appropriate.
In one respect, Doug is right. Reconciliation is not a panacea that will heal every wound.
Two questions he poses are worth posing: How can survivors reconcile with the perpetrators of mass atrocities while they are still going on? And why should they?
On the other hand, we eventually have to get to reconciliation because we do eventually have to heal those wounds.
But, doing so often requires dealing with the substantive injustices (to use a Lederach term) first. That may mean using retributive rather than restorative justice in dealing with the perpetrators of mass atrocity. It may also involve pushing harder on the kinds of redistributive policies Tutu and his colleagues downplayed in the short term in South Africa.
That leads to the final point that—I think—that underlies Heidi’s comment about the original essay being out of date. Among other things, she says:
For example, living in the United States in 2017, there is a crying need for reconciliation between the various political, religious, and cultural groups. If we keep growing the divides between these groups further, the future is very dark for everyone.
On one level, I couldn’t agree with her more. We do have to talk with each other and understand the raw emotions that have led us to the political impasse we find ourselves in today. In that respect, I absolutely love the work of Living Room Conversations and other members of the Bridge Alliance.
On another level, I keep coming back to Doug’s concerns which I know my friends in the Bridge Alliance share. We can’t get to reconciliation unless we commit ourselves to the policy changes Lederach had in mind when he used the term "justice." That goes way beyond equality before the law and extends to the structural inequalities along racial, economic, social, environmental, and other lines that we all worry about today.
The hard part in doing so is remaining in relationship with those we disagree with so that we don’t drive each other farther apart in the process and deepen the mutual antagonisms. I wrote about that a few weeks ago by talking about the value of improv, but I know I’ve just scratched the surface.
Bringing Us Up To Date (in November 2020)
When I responded to Chip in 2018, I said that his last observation was perhaps the most important and also the most difficult. In that, he said that we need to work to provide justice "while remaining in relationship with those we disagree with." At the time, I responded that that was impossible, because the two sides didn't have a relationship to remain in. Though things have only gotten worse (perhaps much worse) since then, I am no longer so flippant. Most of us do, still, identify as "Americans." Most of us do want America to be "great again," and we agree it is not now great—although how we define "great," is very different.
|[Kenneth] Boulding's "First Law" said "if it exists, it must be possible." Cooperation and respect between the U.S. Right and Left existed before...can it again? Is reconciliation possible?|
Those of us who are older can remember when political relationships were much better, when Republicans and Democrats in Congress had meals together, recreated together, and even cooperated with each other to pass important legislation such as, for instance, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the act that created Medicare.  More recent examples include the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush-era tax increases, the Clinton-era crime and welfare reform bills, the PATRIOT act, and the authorization to use military force to fight terrorism. While all of the legislation involved difficult compromises and less-than-perfect decisions, it did get things done. So, following Kenneth Boulding's "First Law," if it exist[ed], it must be possible,  I am now a bit more optimistic that our political relationships can be repaired because I remember a time when they were much better.
A key question now, in November 2020, just after the U.S. Presidential election, is not how such repair should happen, (which I'll discuss in many more articles), but whether such repair should be a priority at this time. I have been involved in a number of conversations lately in which people (all liberals, I should note) have observed that now is not the time for "bridge-building," or "compromise," or "negotiation" with Trump voters or conservatives more broadly who oppose the progressive quest for "justice." Rather, they assert, this is the time for aggressive advocacy aimed at dismantling systemic racism and replacing it with a progressive version of a "just" society.
|What does "systemic racism" mean? Does it affect people other than Blacks? What about "justice"? Is it retributive, distributive, procedural, or restorative? If distributive, how is the distribution of benefits made...from Whites to Blacks? From Whites to all marginalized groups? What about marginalized Whites? The decisions aren't easy!|
What "systemic racism" and "justice" means is not always clear. But "systemic racism" generally seems to be used to describe the socio-economic and political institutions, processes, and personal attitudes and behaviors that, taken together, leave Blacks disproportionately suffering in many ways.  Surprising to me is that most of the literature (and indeed the conversations I've had) have not referenced such processes and attitudes as they disadvantage other marginalized groups.
"Justice" is likewise ambiguous. It clearly means ending racial profiling of Blacks in policing, but it usually is thought to be much broader than that, including distributional and policy changes that would eliminate disproportionate outcomes for Blacks on many measures—income, jobs, housing, education, etc. It is seen by some as requiring a revision of school curricula to include much more material about the history of Black oppression by Whites in the US. (For instance, the New York Times's "1619 Project "aims to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative."  Again, these changes tend to focus on the problems faced by Blacks, while downplaying or even ignoring completely problems faced by other marginalized groups (and struggling Whites). Progressive "justice" is also often is framed in ways that are zero-sum with the redistribution of resources from Whites to Blacks. Among poor Whites and other marginalized groups who also see themselves as victims of society's wealthy elites, this approach is often seen as unfair and is resented.
|Blacks and all other people of color certainly deserve much better treatment than they have been getting. But if this comes from disrespecting Whites and other marginalized groups, and treating them in a way that large numbers of them think is "unjust," both racial and political reconciliation will be impossible.|
No doubt, blacks and all other people of color certainly deserve much better treatment than they have been getting. But if this comes from disrespecting Whites and other marginalized groups, and treating them in a way that large numbers of them think is "unjust," both racial and political reconciliation will be impossible. Polarization will continue to grow, and the risk of violence, along with the rise of another divisive political leader like President Trump, is highly likely.
Another problem I have with the progressive agenda is that it is essentially trying to use power to impose one political view on another very large group of people who do not agree with it. It does not advocate finding out why those on the right doesn't agree with it, and does not suggest there is any benefit to or reason for working with the right to develop a notion of "justice" with which most everyone can agree. The assumption seems to be, rather, that anyone who does not agree with the progressive view of "justice" and "racism" is a "racist" or "white supremacist" and, as such, does not deserve to have his or her beliefs taken into account.
|When fundamental human needs are denied, deep-rooted, intractable conflict is likely to occur. When one summarily dismisses another group as "racists," denying them legitimacy and a voice in decision making, this is denying that group's identity and their security and as such, is likely to further inflame the already intractable conflicts between the Left and the Right.|
This view has two problems. First is a philosophical one. Conflict resolvers have always preached that people in conflict, as well as third parties, need to make great efforts to actively listen to the other side to determine their how they see the conflict, learn about their underlying interests, and the degree to which they believe their fundamental human needs are being met or denied. We know when fundamental human needs are denied, deep-rooted, intractable conflict is likely to occur.  When one summarily dismisses another group as "racists," denying them legitimacy and a voice in decision making, this is denying that group's identity and their security. If one agrees with John Burton and other human needs theorists' (as I do), one recognizes that this is not a good way to resolve our racial conflicts, or indeed, reach any kind of reconciliation.
The second problem is practical. It looks quite likely that the Republicans are going to maintain control of the Senate. If they do, the progressive approach to "justice" stands very little chance of becoming law, as all proposals will die on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's desk. A more promising way to make progress on very real problems (though admittedly still very difficult in today's political climate) is to figure out a way to work with people who don't agree with the progressive notions of "justice" and "systemic racism."
Despite deep philosophical difference, most people on both sides of the aisle are likely to agree that what happened last summer with George Floyd's death (and other similar incidents) was shameful, and they might be willing to look at ways to reduce the frequency of such events in the future. An August 2020 report "Common Ground of the American People" released by the nonpartisan organizations Common Ground Solutions and Voice of the People reported on in-depth surveys of more than 80,000 Americans. They found that "majorities from both parties agree on nearly 150 key policy positions across more than a dozen top policy areas. The research suggests that Americans are eager for their elected representatives to cross party lines to start tackling the nation’s toughest problems." 
|Now IS the time to pursue reconciliation—as we also work simultaneously to dismantle systemic racism and to put everyone (Blacks, Browns, Whites, and all other discriminated-against groups) on a path toward a society in which everyone's human needs are met and we truly have "justice for all."|
The bottom line: now IS the time to pursue reconciliation—as we also work simultaneously to dismantle systemic racism and to put everyone (Blacks, Browns, Whites, and all other discriminated-against groups) on a path toward a society in which everyone's human needs are met and we truly have "justice for all." (One promising strategy for doing this, Guy Burgess asserts, is diminishing the focus on the disproportionate distribution of social problems and replacing it with a focus on addressing those problems for the benefit of ALL groups. To be successful, of course, such an approach must disproportionately focus problem-solving efforts on the marginalized groups that need it most.)
In both his original article, and his blog post, Chip referred to John Paul Lederach's formulation of reconciliation as being the "meeting place between truth, justice, peace, and mercy." All four are needed, Lederach argues, to bring about reconciliation. So this, too, illustrates that the choice between justice and reconciliation is not an either-or. Rather it is a "both-and" relationship.
|John Paul Lederach's "Meeting Place Exercise" (perhaps the best conflict resolution exercise every developed!) helps people explore the intricacies of his four elements of reconciliation: peace, justice, truth, and mercy.|
The tricky issue, however, is deciding what each of these concepts means in practice, and how to balance their implementation when the goals they seek are sometimes in conflict. Lederach developed a training exercise to explore these ideas, which to my mind is the best conflict resolution exercise ever developed. I refer to it as "The Meeting Place Exercise," and it is described on BI, and originally in both Building Peace  and Journey Toward Reconciliation .
Participants in this exercise break up into groups, one for each of the four component concepts of reconciliation and try to figure out what each concept means. In Lederach's original description, he personifies each of the concepts and asks participants "what are you ["you" being peace, justice, truth, or mercy] most concerned with in the midst of conflict?" When I've done this exercise, I find participants understand what I'm asking more clearly if I put them on the board of organizations: Truth First!, Justice Now, United Clergy for Mercy and Forgiveness, and Advocates for Peace. I then ask them to define their organization's mission statement, goals and objectives. Then I ask them (as Lederach did in his original), which of the other organizations (or "people" in Lederach's approach) are most likely to be your allies and your opponents and why. This gets participants thinking about the conflicts between these concepts, as well as the compatibilities. Lastly we both ask about ordering. In Lederach's personified approach, he asks, "which is the great grandparent, which the grandparent, which the parent, and which the child. By this he is trying to get the participants to consider if one of these attributes is a pre-requisite for another.
Although this exercise comes out differently every time I do it, the Justice group typically gets bogged down trying to decide if "justice" is distributive, procedural, retributive, or restorative--or some combination of those four. When considering distributive justice, they also debate how one decides what distribution is "fair." Is it equality— where everyone gets the same amount—fair, or equity fairer—in which people are given benefits in proportion to what they have given to society? Another choice is distributing according to one's need, in which people who need benefits more get more than those who are already doing well. Each of these has a reasonable philosophical justification, but they have very different outcomes.
The Truth group quickly gets bogged down in the question of "whose truth?" Is "truth" determined by the dominant parties in society, or is it determined by the marginalized and traditionally "unheard"? Is there always (or ever) "objective truth"? Put another way, is there only "one true answer" to any question, or are there multiple "truths?" If you answer that there is only one "objective truth," can it be found? Will it be believed if it is found?
The Peace group stumbles over the difference between "positive peace" and "negative peace." Is peace just the absence of war or conflict--or does it have positive attributes in addition to the absence of things? If so, what are these additional attributes? And is conflict actually absent in peace? Or is it just hidden? Or is it present, but conducted in a constructive, rather than destructive way?
Lastly the Mercy group tries to decide what Mercy is and who should get it. Most often they decide it is forgiveness, and then the question becomes, who should be forgiven? Only those who admit the truth of what they have done and apologize? Or should mercy be given to all, regardless of admissions of guilt or apologies? Should Mercy be withheld from the worst perpetrators of violence? Where do you draw the line?
|After struggling for a couple of hours, Meeting Place participants usually come to some kind of consensus, and decide that reconciliation is possible, if each "organization" or "person" is willing to give up its most extreme desires in the interest of reaching "the meeting place of reconciliation."|
This exercise quickly illustrates how very thorny these concepts are, but after a couple of hours of conversation and the facilitator "mediating" between representatives of each group, the participants usually come to some kind of consensus, and decide that reconciliation is possible, if each "organization" or "person" is willing to give up its most extreme desires in the interest of reaching "the meeting place of reconciliation."
I am now writing this latest update two weeks after the U.S. 2020 Presidential Election, one week since the election was called by the media for Joe Biden. (The U.S. election process is very odd—the media always "calls" the results of the election first, while the official government process takes over a month to do so.) The events since then have been odd and striking. As I indicated at the very beginning of this article, Biden is trying hard reconcile the interests and needs of the whole electorate. He has asked his staff to reach out to Trump voters to try to find out what their needs and interests are (beyond seeing Trump re-elected). He is talking to and working with the progressives of his own party, but is taking care to not take positions that will alienate conservatives right off the bat. Such that we can tell, he is trying hard to be a voice of reconciliation, not division.
In the meantime, President Trump, whose leadership style for his full four years in office was focused on exacerbating tensions as part of a divide-and-conquer political strategy, is continuing to deny the outcome, asserting repeatedly that he won "by A LOT!" and he is engaging in every judicial and political maneuver he can think of to get the certification of Biden's election overturned. Meanwhile, as of this writing (on November 22,) almost all of the Republican establishment is either silent or is actively supporting Trump's claim.  The result is further government dysfunction, still escalating divisions, and most certainly a lack of progress towards healing. Some assert that the stymied transition process is making the U.S. vulnerable to attack from abroad, while it most certainly is making us more vulnerable to attack from within--both in terms of the raging coronavirus, and in terms of increasingly angry Trump voters.
Before the election, many political observers noted that political polarization had reached unprecedented levels in the U.S.  Many experts on civil strife and civil war had been issuing warning statements for quite some time that America looked ripe for significant civil violence.  While election day itself came and ended without violence, we still have a long way to go from now until Inauguration Day on January 20, and from there into an unknown future. The longer Trump and social media spread the notion that the election was "stolen," the more likely that a small number of radicalized Trump supporters (who own guns to a much greater degree than do Democrats) will decide to take matters into their own hands and try to use guns to force the outcome they believe is "right."  Even if we avoid this fate, it seems clear that a substantial portion of the country will, at least to start with, regard the next President of the United States as illegitimate.
|Can we afford to continue to fight these political wars and culture wars until we really do have extensive violence? Is it possible to inflict "winner's justice" on the losers of the election and expect peace?|
So, in that sense, the time is even less ripe for reconciliation now than it was in 2017 or 2018. But can we afford to continue to fight these political wars and culture wars until we really do have extensive violence? Is it possible to inflict "winner's justice" on the losers of the election and expect peace?
I don't think so.
We need to begin Lederach's "journey towards reconciliation." We need to start working across the political divide to agree on a notion of justice that works for everyone. Years ago, we were part of a book project that explored ways of pursuing Justice without Violence. Not surprisingly, defining what we meant by "justice" was at the core of our deliberations. After hours of discussion and consultation with many "experts," the editors of the book and the authors of the chapters could still not agree on what we meant by "justice." However, we could easily agree on what constituted "intolerable injustice." So we decided to focus the book on the task of eliminating intolerable injustice (which is, unfortunately, still a distant goal). We think that that is still a good approach--and one that might well be agreeable to both conservatives and liberals, if they are willing to let go of their more extreme goals in the interest of reaching partial reconciliation (and in a very practical sense, avoiding political violence.)
We also need to grapple with the concepts of truth, mercy, and peace. It is clearly important to recognize the truth of what has been done to Blacks and other people of color, to LGBTQs, to minority religions, to women, and to other persecuted groups. But it is also important to recognize that whites are not necessarily racist, just because of the color of their skin and men are not necessarily sexist, and many Whites have not been "privileged," but rather have struggled and been mistreated by the elite as well. We need to recognize that while much harm was done to many groups of people in the past, U.S. history also has much to be proud of. Dismissing all the real accomplishments of White Americans just because they are White is both faulty history, and perhaps more importantly, is so alarming to many conservatives that they use that as a reason to reject all progressive ideas out of hand.
We need to grapple with the concept of mercy, which means to me that many people (with the exception of the very worst perpetrators) should probably be forgiven for whatever mistakes they have made in the past with relation to prejudice and discrimination. They they should be given the chance to treat everyone fairly in the future and be so treated themselves. That suggests to me, among other things, that people should not be "canceled"—be fired, or have their reputation destroyed— because of something they said or wrote in the past that didn't live up to today's strict progressive standards. Rather, they should be granted mercy and we should remember that a fundamental bedrock of the American creed is freedom—freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. If we are to avoid further political meltdown and quite possibly violence, we need to re-establish our commitment to those ideals, even when the speech is not to our liking.
And lastly reconciliation involves peace. That means, to me, that we stop labeling "the other" in hostile and demeaning ways. We should not pursue the goal of winning at all costs—and hurting "the other" as much as we can in the process. Instead, we need to begin thinking about how we can work with the other side so everyone can flourish.
|Pursuing all four goals: truth, peace, justice, and mercy is not giving up on justice. And once we get rid of behaviors that most can agree on are profoundly unjust (such as the killing of innocent Blacks by the police) we can then start to struggle with more nuanced definitions of justice.|
Pursuing all four goals: truth, peace, justice, and mercy is not giving up on justice. And once we get rid of behaviors that most can agree on are profoundly unjust (such as the killing of innocent Blacks by the police) we can then start to struggle with more nuanced definitions of justice—whether it involves retributive, restorative, distributive, or procedural changes (or all of the above), and within the distributive category, how distributional choices are made. These are all important questions. But they will not be successfully decided or implemented unless some degree of cooperation exists, and that requires some degree of reconciliation.
Similarly, pursuing all four goals is not giving up on truth. But it is, likely, giving up on "truth" as written by one side alone. For hundreds of years, the dominant narrative of U.S. history has glossed over slavery; it has glossed over the stealing of Native American land; it has certainly ignored the many accomplishments of Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other marginalized groups. That should be remedied. But if we are to reach "the place called reconciliation," we cannot remedy those oversights by denying the very real suffering of many Whites throughout American history, who toiled in mines, in sweatshops, in other dangerous occupations, to make their lives better, and to make America a better country to live in. We also should not overlook the many accomplishments of Whites, starting with the Founding Fathers who did create a document—the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights—which while clearly flawed, particularly by today's standards, was a remarkable document for its time. That it has needed updating after 200 years of change is not surprising. It has been updated several times. It still needs updating now. But just because times and values change, doesn't mean we shouldn't give credit to remarkable acheivements of the past, regardless of who made them.
|The type of reconciliation that is appropriate and feasible in a particular circumstance depends upon the current status of the larger conflict—particularly regarding whether or not the conflict has reached some sort of resolution or not.|
Guy Burgess raised one last cluster of issues worth considering in this context. He argues that the type of reconciliation that is appropriate and feasible in a particular circumstance depends upon the current status of the larger conflict. Usually, when we think about reconciliation, we think about something like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission---a process that attempts to reconcile a society after the fall of an illegitimate regime (in this case Apartheid). This is a situation in which the "good guys" have won and they get to write the history of the conflict and undertake the laudable task of trying to build a genuinely equitable society. There are, of course, also cases in which the "bad guys" win. Then one tends to get things like re-education camps which tyrants use to tighten their grip on society by forcing everyone to accept their self-serving history of events.
In the United States, at the moment, you have a third kind of situation—an unresolved conflict in which the two sides both see themselves as the "good guys" (and they see the other side as the "bad guys"). While those on the political Left (liberals and progressives) tend to see the conflict as a battle against systemic racism (which is the United States' special brand of Apartheid), those on the Right (conservatives) see it as an effort to unfairly redistribute wealth and power to Blacks and other Democratic constituencies (women, immigrants, other people of color, and the LBGTQ communities). This they see happening at the expense of typical Republican constituencies (largely poor and middle class whites) who have suffered mightily as a result of the globalization of the economy. In practice, of course, the merits of these competing arguments are lost in the chaos of today's fake facts-filled media landscape in which everyone tunes in to only those information sources that tell them what they want to hear.
Regardless of your personal views on who is right and what the true history of America should be, it's pretty clear that we are a long long way from resolving the issue to the satisfaction of competing constituencies. So a South African-style TRC is unlikely to be successful. Yet, there still is a crying need for reconciliation. However, in this case, reconciliation efforts have to occur in the middle of an intense, hyper-polarized conflict, not after the big issues have been resolved.
This is something that, to our knowledge, nobody has ever successfully done before on a large scale. (If you know if such a case we would sure love to hear about it!) It is done frequently at a small scale in the form of 10-20 people dialogues, in which participants may not change each others' minds about the contested issue, but they typically do learn to respect the people in the dialogue whose views differ from their own, and they come to see the people on the other side less as "bad guys" and more as simply "honest, well-meaning people with different backgrounds and different views." As such, dialogue is very successful at a small scale. But it typically only involves 10-20 people at a time, and there are about 325 million people in the United States. 325 million divided by 20 equals 16, 250,000 -- over sixteen million. There are a lot of organizations in the Bridge Alliance doing dialogues, but there aren't even 1/1000th of the number we would need to do 16 million dialogues! It is also hard to sustain the worldview transformations that dialogues can produce once participants return to their communities where they are again immersed in destructive-conflict-as-usual interactions.
Still, it ought to be possible to find larger-scale ways to bring the two sides together in ways that identify and build on areas of common ground, constructively address differences, and de-escalate ongoing confrontations. While virtually all of the principles embodied in traditional (South African-style) reconciliation efforts apply, as do the principles of dialogue. they will have to be substantially modified before they can be successfully applied in such a larges-scale, contentious and morally fraught environment. In the coming months, we will be sharing more detailed thoughts on how we think this might be accomplished.
 Adam Nagourney "Five Takeaways from President-Elect Biden's Victory Speech" New York Times Nov. 8, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/08/us/politics/biden-victory-speech-takeaways.html
 Jeffrey D. Grynaviski, "Congress used to pass bipartisan legislation--will it ever again?" The Conversation. January 4, 2019. https://theconversation.com/congress-used-to-pass-bipartisan-legislation-will-it-ever-again-107134
 "Boulding's First Law" Mettacenter. https://mettacenter.org/definitions/gloss-concepts/bouldings-first-law/. I should note that the actual law stated "if it exists [present tense] it must be possible. It could be argued, perhaps correctly, that while bipartisanship was possible in the 1980s, it isn't anymore due to the extremely high level of polarization, including the highly polarized media environment that did not exist in the 1980s. I prefer to be optimistic, however, and hope that bipartisanship might be possible again.
 See, for example: Andrew Koppelman "What is systemic racism, anyway?" USA Today Sept. 23, 2020 https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/09/23/systemic-racism-how-really-define-column/5845788002/, "United We Stand. Together We Act." Until Justice Just Is. https://untiljusticejustis.org/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAhs79BRD0ARIsAC6XpaVai3cVLwkArc0_PjyBSe8jt64xssJe2kPKN1PPrYqcK0fx_xYmXQcaAlbNEALw_wcB. Shayanne Gal , Andy Kiersz , Michelle Mark , Ruobing Su , and Marguerite Ward. "26 simple charts to show friends and family who aren't convinced racism is still a problem in America" Business Insider. July 8, 2020. https://www.businessinsider.com/us-systemic-racism-in-charts-graphs-data-2020-6?
 The 1619 Project by the New York Times Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html
 Kevin Avruch and Christopher Mitchell (eds.) Conflict Resolution and Human Needs (Routledge Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution) 2015. https://amzn.to/371k2Tw
 Program for Public Consultation, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland. "Major Report Shows Nearly 150 Issues on Which Majorities of Republicans & Democrats Agree" August 7. 2020. https://publicconsultation.org/defense-budget/major-report-shows-nearly-...
 John Paul Lederach, Building Peace United States Institute of Peace (February 1998
 John Paul Lederach, JourneyToward Reconciliation. Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press. 1999.
 Andrew Solender. "Trump Falsely Claims He Won ‘By A Lot After Telling Biden Not To ‘Wrongfully’ Declare Victory: Forbes.com, Nov. 7, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewsolender/2020/11/07/trump-falsely-claims-he-won-by-a-lot-after-telling-biden-not-to-wrongfully-declare-victory/?sh=1b7b4c6e7d33
 Janine Di Giovanni "America Shows Troubling Warning Signs of a Slide Into Civil War" Gen Medium. Oct. 26, 2020. https://gen.medium.com/i-cover-civil-wars-the-state-of-america-right-now-makes-me-anxious-59320249de03. See also: Guy Burgess "The Election that Both Sides Believes they ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY Cannot Afford to Lose" Beyond Intractability. November 2, 2020. https://www.beyondintractability.org/moos/burgess-the-election-no-one-can-lose-compiled
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Use the following to cite this article:
Hauss, Charles (Chip). "Reconciliation." with Update and Current Implications by Heidi Burgess. Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 <https://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/reconciliation>.