Why Relationships Matter


Heidi Burgess
Guy M. Burgess


This video fist talks about John Paul Lederach's notion that peacebuilding must start with and focus primarily on relationships between the people in conflict.  He sees the formation of relationships -- even between enemies -- as what must come first; the development of peace processes and formulae for solutions flows out of the relationships that exist and are built.  We then go on to discuss Ben Sasse's new book Them: Why We Hate Each Other -- and How to Heal that looks at the destruction that social media is causing to relationships.  Sasse, like Lederach, sees the strengthening of "real, human relationships" to be core healing America's deep divisions. 

Referenced Resources

Slide 2: Fisher, Ury, and Patton. Getting to Yes. and Moore, The Mediation Process. 

Slide 4:Lederach. Building Peace.

Slides 5-8: Lederach. The Moral Imagination.

Slide 9 Sasse.  Them: Why We Hate Each Other -- and How to Heal

Slides 10 - 15 Will. "We have an epidemic of loneliness. How can we fix it?"

Slide 16: Reagan: Democrats are the party of evil. . Watson: BREAKING: Most Republicans Pure Evil.

Slide 17: Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess. Promote Escalation Awareness

Slide 18: Pipe Bombs Sent to Trump Critics: What We Know and Don’t KnowTrump hails body slamming Congressman Greg Gianforte in Montana

Full Transcript

Slide 1. Hi, this is Heidi Burgess. In this video, I want to talk about why relationships matter. This might seem like a pretty obvious question, but it's not. Let me explain.

Slide 2. When I first got into this field, I learned about negotiation from Roger Fisher and Bill Ury in their book Getting to Yes which talks about principled negotiation, and I learned about mediation processes through Chris Moore.

Slide 3. Both of those books and people talked about negotiating and mediating on the basis of interests and positions. They talked about identifying your BATNA, which stood for your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, and finding options for mutual gain. The focus was on process and solutions, option identification, option analysis, and agreement.

Slide 4. Then I met John Paul Lederach. He said that interests and positions and BATNAs and options aren't nearly as important as relationships. Relationships, according to Lederach, are everything. In his book Building Peace, he says, "relationship is the basis of both conflict "and its long-term solution. "Reconciliation is not pursued by seeking innovative ways to disengage or minimizing the conflict groups' affiliations," or, I would add, negotiating about interests and positions and BATNAs. "Instead, it is built on mechanisms that engage the sides of a conflict with each other 'as humans-in-relationship.'"

Slide 5. In his book, Moral Imagination in 2005, he explains where this approach to conflict came from. It came from his work with people in Central America when he was helping negotiate the end of the Sandinista war. He said that, "the people with whom I was working had a natural inclination to think 'who' first and often. And it makes common sense. You can have the perfect substantive solution to a problem, but if you do not have the right people in place and connected in the right way, that solution collapses. On the other hand, if you have the right people in place and connected, both processes and solutions can be generated. (Moral Imagination, p. 77.) So the who will lead to the how and the what, the process and the solution. But there aren't arrows going the other way around.

Slide 6: In the Moral Imagination, Lederach lays out four "capacities" that he says are necessary for successful peace building. The first is "the capacity to imagine ourselves "in a web of relationships, one that includes even our enemies."(Moral Imagination, p. 5) He has an entire chapter focused on webs and web building.

Slide 7: In that, he says, "think, feel, and follow relationships. Relationships are at the heart of social change. Relationships require that we understand how and where things connect and how this web of connections occupies the social space where processes of change are birthed and hope to live."

This is why I like conflict mapping, graphical conflict mapping, because it is essentially drawing the web of connections. It helps us understand how and where things connect, and understand the social space where process of change are birthed.

Going on, I'm paraphrasing a little bit, he says, peacebuilding fails when we think too much about process and solutions and too little about, this is now a direct quote, "social spaces and the nature of interdependent and strategic relationships."

Slide 8. In this chapter, he also shows three doodles of the way spiders build webs. They start by setting anchor points and they cross at a hub and then they strengthen the web with concentric circles and adding radii and they solidify it with more circles, filling in the gaps, but always building and reinforcing the hubs.

He points out that that's what people need to do, as well, in their relationships if they're going to successfully build peace. We need to figure out what the hubs are, we need to draw circles between the hubs, we need to have radii that hold everything together, and we draw more and more and more connections between the interior and the periphery, between different elements and the different conflict interest groups-- drawing lines and connections and getting everybody to work together so that the social structure becomes strong.

Slide 9. I've known about John Paul's thoughts about relationship for a long time, but I was spurred to make this video when I read about a book that has just come out written by Republican Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska who's just published a book called Them: Why We Hate Each Other - and How to Heal. I haven't had time to read the book yet, but I did read a review of it by George Will.

Slide 10. I became quite struck by the ideas that Will and Sasse put forth and I know I'll be reading the book soon. Let me talk a little bit about what Will tells us about Sasse's book. "Sasse's subject is the evaporation of social capital, the satisfactions of work and community." This made me think of Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone. He, too, talks about the evaporation of social capital. Sasse goes on, "This reflects a perverse phenomenon. What has come to count as connectedness is displacing the real thing. And matters might quickly become worse."

Here, he's talking about something that has developed since Putnam's book Bowling Alone…

Slide 11. …and that is our devices, our electronic devices. When I read this, I immediately thought of the scene that I've seen so often when I go out to a restaurant, where there's a family at a table next to m,e not engaging with each other at all, but all independently engaging with their phones. I tried to find a picture of that in the free images on the web and I couldn't find anybody in a restaurant, but I did find this picture. They're probably waiting to go into a restaurant, and indeed, isn't this a common scene? A family, nobody looking at each other.

Sasse argues that people have far fewer physical friends than they used to and he cites a Pew Poll that says, if I remember right, that everybody, on average, has only a couple of friends, yet they're checking their devices every four minutes while they're awake to check in with all of their thousands, tens of thousands, of electronic friends, and that word "friends" is being used in quotes, because his point is they aren't really friends and they don't serve us well.

Slide 12. "Social media, these tendrils of resentment that Sasse calls accelerants for political anger, create a nuance-free outrage loop for professional rage-peddlers. People without other meaning in their lives use this rage against their enemies to give their life coherence.

Slide 13. And then there's work. "Work, says Sasse, is "arguably the most fundamental anchor of human identity," but he points out that, "it's at the beginning of a staggering level of cultural disruption, swifter and more radical, even, than America's transformation from a rural and agricultural society to an urban and industrial nation." But, he points out, that "50% of jobs could be automated with currently existing technologies." For instance, all of the driving jobs can be automated by self-driving cars, which we already have.

Slide 14. According to Will, "the future of accelerating flux exhilarates the educated and the socially nimble, but it frightens those who, their work identities erased and their communities atomized, are tempted not by what Sasse calls 'healthy local tribes,' but by political tribalism of grievances or by chemical oblivion, or both."

Slide 15. Where does this end? Well, Sasse argues, and I'm persuaded, that it ends with the political polarization and hatred that we see today.

Slide 16. It ends with both sides of the political divide seeing the other side as "evil" and he quotes, a poll that says, "40% of the people on each side define their opponents as evil. Where does this lead? It leads to intense conflict escalation. Slide 17. This is a diagram from the escalation video that I've used in several videos because it related so widely. All of this hatred, all of this othering, all of this identifying the other side as evil, gets us madder and madder, frightened to the point where violence occurs.

Slide 18. We've just seen that. This week, a Trump supporter sent pipe bombs to at least 13 high-profile Democratic opponents of Trump. And we saw Trump, himself, at a rally praising a Republican congressman who body slammed a journalist, referring to him as, "my kind of guy." Where is this going to take America? Nowhere good.

Slide 19. That's why Sasse argues that real relationships are important. Family outings, community outings, civic meetings, we need to get to know our neighbors. We need to pay attention to the people closest to us. We need to have a raison d'être besides the political anger that we are ingesting from the internet.

Slide 20. Sasse says we need "new habits of mind and heart, "new practices of neighborliness." In other words, he's calling for real human relationships to turn around the polarization and the hatred and the fear that is so strong in America today. I think he's right and the rest of this unit is going to be talking about ways to build those real human relationships.


Photo Credits

Slide 9: Book cover from: https://www.amazon.com/Them-Hate-Each-Other-Heal/dp/B07BN4W5GY.  Sasse portrait: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Ben_Sasse_official_p.... By US Senate Photography [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Slide 11: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/15586907748.  By Ed Yourdon. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Slide 14 and 15: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/da/Peru%2C_Nebraska_dow... Ammodramus [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

Slide 19-20: Camping: picture credit Evan Burgess.  Block party: https://www.flickr.com/photos/reallyboring/5924526068 by Eric Allix Rogers. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Town meeting: http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/16448. Public Domain