Jay Rothman's Quick Answers to Our Questions


We sent Jay an introduction to the article and the discussion, along with a few "sample questions" — the same letter we sent many others who have been responding.  He sent us some quick answers before he read the materials, which I am posting below.  

by Heidi Burgess for Jay Rothman

1. Question: Why are so many societies abandoning power-with approaches to governance and decision making in favor of power-over approaches?  And, what can be done to reverse that trend? Jay's Answer: Because, among many other factors, paradoxically representative democracy is neither that inclusive nor that democratic. Participatory, civic engagement is much more so. Given participation is really a core of creative conflict engagement, we should have much to contribute to a reinvention for the future.

2.  Question: How can we get more people to abandon the prevailing "us-vs-them" mindset when even the suggestion of compromise is so widely seen as traitorous? Jay's Answer: By getting rid of the “field’s” inclination to first smooth differences, look for win-win “mutual gains” solutions, and instead promote deeper understanding and commitment to fundamental difference - or agonism (the root of successful democracy - participatory or otherwise) - as the beginning of wisdom and cooperation in protracted social/identity-based conflicts. 

3.  Question: How can we scale up our traditionally small-scale, table-oriented processes to deal with the size and complexity of conflicts that envelope entire societies? Jay's Answer: By further developing, refining and widely adopting the use of Action Evaluation - a proven and effective methodology for helping very large groups deal with complex social issues. It’s still available for the asking!

4.  Question: How can we better counter "bad faith actors" who are trying to advance their narrow interests by generating and inflaming tensions and hatred? Jay's Answer: By widening the powerful middle and marginalizing the weak and blustering (and therefore often violent) extremes.

5. Question: Can we be partisans (fighting for justice in the Progressive sense of the term) and neutrals at the same time?  How do we choose which role to play when? And how do we maintain our credibility and effectiveness when doing so? Jay's Answer: No. We are never neutrals so we can’t continue to be. But we can be wiser and more discriminating about our bias - to be disciplined about it - and therefore a more mature field practicing in more mature ways. Jay also referred us to his 2014 Negotiation Journal article, The Reflexive Mediator. which is summarized here.