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Peace Talks Radio Host Suzanne Kryder talks with Dr. William Ury, co-founder of Harvard's Program on Negotiation and currently Senior Fellow of the Harvard Negotiation Project. Author of "The Third Side"
Suzanne Kryder: You've spent time with the Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert. What did you learn about peace making from them?
William Ury: Well the Bushmen who are otherwise called the San who live in Namibia and Southern Africa, what I learned from them from the time I spend with them, which was a time ago, was what I call the third side which is to me the secret of peace which is the most ancient human heritage that we all share for transforming conflict from its destructive form into constructive peacemaking.
Kryder: How did you come up with this term “third side” and how would you define it?
Ury: What I noticed Suzanne is that we always tend to see conflict as two sided. It's the Arab's versus the Israelis. It's the union versus management. It's husband versus wife. It's one child versus another child. But in reality there is always a third side which is the people around the parties; the community, the friends, the allies, the bystanders, the siblings and that larger community constitutes what I call the third side and that is actually the key to helping to prevent resolve and contain conflict. The third side is the surrounding community that stands up for the peaceful transformation of the conflict. In other words the third side is us.
The San, the Bushmen live, they're really one of the last groups of hunter gatherers living on the planet. The hunting gathering was the form of life had for over 99% of our time on earth. So they live in small communities of about 500, networks of 500, usually in small groups of around 25 or 30 at any one time and they have conflicts. They all actually have also for their hunting they use poison arrows that are tipped and so each man who is hunting actually has the equivalent of what we might consider to be a nuclear bomb because their ability to use the poison is absolutely fatal. If it enters someone's blood they die within two days. And so they're all walking around with these weapons that can kill a human being. At that scale of a society you kill one or two or three people it's a huge catastrophe.
So I was really curious how do they deal with their disputes. How do they deal when emotions get high and they have jealousies and they have conflicts and what I learned from them is they have a very sophisticated system where it's almost like everyone in the community, the third side is really us, it's the community itself, everyone in the community kind of pays attention and when emotions start to go high, they notice conflicts starting to escalate, someone goes and hides the poison arrows out in the middle of the desert and then the whole group gathers together in a circle and they sit around and they talk and they listen. They may talk and listen for a day, for two days, for three days or however long it takes. At night they dance and they try to kind of invoke the spirits to give them guidance and they don't rest until they resolve the conflict and it's not enough to just kind of reach a resolution but they need to have a reconciliation between the parties who are in conflict and so there has to be some forgiveness and if people aren't ready for that then they have a system where someone goes and visits their relatives over in another water hole for a few months. They have a whole complicated, very sophisticated system for catching conflict before it escalates, for resolving it and for containing it if it threatens to escalate. It's been very successful. To me it's that kind of system that probably explains why we human beings are still alive today.
Kryder: So this complicated system involves these three pieces; they catch it, they resolve it and somehow they contain it. What are some ways that they can catch it more quickly?
Ury: They pay attention. They pay attention to, it's the friends, the neighbors, the relatives. No conflict ever comes right out of the blue. Every conflict has early warning signals. People get upset, they get angry, they take it out, they talk to their friends and so they pay attention to those early signals and they make sure that things get talked out and that it gets the attention that it needs. People's needs which are often being somehow dissatisfied get addressed in time before the conflict gets out of control.
Kryder: In your book, The Third Side you talk about these three levels of peacemaking. Talk about the roles that are under prevention. There's the provider, the teacher and the bridge builder. Let's use for example like in a school if we wanted to get a better handle on bullying.
Ury: The provider plays the role of addressing the basic needs like needs for security, needs for attention, needs for recognition and often times you find that bullying, what motivates a bully, what motivates a bully is usually insecurity. It's a kind of feeling of not getting attention and not being acknowledged, of not having power, of not having control which are all basic human needs but are more highly accentuated in people who are given to bullying behavior and so one you can try and make sure that the students in the classroom do get the attention that they need because bullying is a kind of way of kind of reaching out in that sense in a destructive way. But the other thing you do is you make sure that everyone in the class gets respect that you establish in the beginning. The teachers who are most successful I find are the ones who establish from the very beginning that they don't tolerate disrespect in the classroom either towards the teacher or between students and it may take a little bit of going to get that working but the teachers that I've spoken to that seems to be the key. And then the key to bullying, because bullying again often happens between the bully and the victim but the key to reversing bullying is for the community, for the other students, for the teachers to pay attention, to watch what's going on, to look for those signals and to catch it before it escalates into abusive behavior.
Kryder: And so the teacher is going to be instructing them on how to prevent conflict I'm assuming as part of bullying programs.
Ury: And that's another role of prevention which is the teacher is actually helping the children learn how to deal with conflict in constructive ways and so schools, a lot of schools for example, have these programs; conflict resolution programs where they help children learn these skills and children are even trained to be pure mediators and to catch the conflicts and the children themselves learn to resolve them among themselves which of course is best of all.
Kryder: Well I don't want to be a downer but we've created this culture where we can put a man on the moon or a computer in the palm of your hand, why can't we prevent school violence?
Ury: Well I think we can. It's a good question of why we haven't thus far, but we're definitely capable of it. If we take the same amount of dedication and talent and attention and resources and put it into preventing conflict, I'm absolutely persuaded that we can stop school violence and in fact it's not just something that we can say in the future you can actually see examples where schools have turned this around. I remember I used to live in Boston and Boston had in the 90's, in the 1990's had a spade of youth murders, homicides, just dozens and dozens and then at some point, the community, the third side got together and said: enough is enough. It was initially led by a group of ministers called The Ten Point Coalition but they worked together with the police, with parents, with teachers in the schools to begin to play these third side roles of working with youth, identifying the youth who were most likely to be vulnerable to this kind of violence or perpetrators of this kind of violence and one by one over five years they brought the rate of homicide in Boston from dozens a year to zero. How? By giving it the proper attention. So we're definitely capable of eliminating school violence.
Kryder: What exactly did they do? Give me three things they did, the ministers.
Ury: Well what they did was they organized the community. They involved the parents. They involved the teachers. They involved the police. They got everyone collaborating working together because everyone of those people, everyone of those constituencies had information or had abilities to play a kind of a third side role and so they worked with the police because the police had a good idea of who was doing this. They then went to the families and talked with the families. They worked with the parents about what the parents could do, what the teachers could do in the classroom and particularly worked with the youth and actually looked at why are the youth engaging in this kind of behavior. For example they had nothing to do after school. So they started organizing basketball programs after school, even midnight basketball for instance. Or the young people had no self esteem so they began to offer jobs to the youth so that they could develop their self esteem, those kinds of things and it was not any one single magic bullet but it was all of those things put together and everyone working together that made it work.
Kryder: If you could give our listeners a pep talk, just three short simple things they can do or they can be, what would they be to resolve conflict or to make peace?
Ury: Well to realize that peace is in your hands. It's something that you can do. It's not something far off. It's possible because it takes place in daily life and just to kind of open our eyes to that. That would be one.
A second thing is to learn to, I use the phrase sometimes “to go to the balcony,” which is to learn to kind of detach ourselves a little bit, to go to a mental and emotional balcony, a place of calm. We all have our ways of doing that whether it's to go for a walk if we get upset or we're in a moment of high emotion or it might be to breath or it might be to talk to a friend or it might be to go work out, but learn to keep on going to the balcony where we can keep our eyes on the prize and remember what's truly important for us and for the community in that regard; that ability to separate for a moment and then to come back with a new perspective of what's needed and what do you really want and what do the parties really want. An ability to work from the balcony is key.
And then the third thing would be to look behind the positions in other words the positions, the things that people say they want that they're insisting on. But what do they really want using the magical question “why.” Why do you want that? Because often times you can't reconcile the positions because one person wants to take their vacations in the mountains and one person wants to take their vacation by the sea, but if you understand they want to go to Colorado and they want to go to California but then you say: wait a minute. What is it that you really want? What are the underlying interests? Well, I really want to have a good time with you. I want to have fresh air and so on. Then you can be creative and come up with a solution that might work for both sides. You might even be able to find a place that there are mountains by the sea. So the idea is to always probe behind positions. Don't just take positions for granted at face value but look behind them for what are the real underlying needs and see if you can come up with solutions that meet both sides needs and the needs of the larger community which is the third side.
Violence is a preventable disease. We need to get that in our heads. It's not something that's inherent that's necessary. There is no way because after all if you look around you, most of us don't see much physical violence around us. Yes you read about it in the papers and you may hear about an occasional episode but it's not like human beings are violent at any moment. It's something that happens. It's a fraction of human activity, but it's something that we can learn how to prevent to resolve the underlying conflict and to contain.
Kryder: You're right, the scale is so different though. We're not talking about a couple of people or even 500 people having poison arrows, we're talking about weapons of massive destruction. So how would you like to see the global third side reinvented?
Ury: Well let me just also say this Suzanne: when I began working in the field of peace over 30 years ago, the kind of conflicts I was working on were for example the conflict in South Africa, the conflict in Northern Ireland, the cold war; the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. A lot of conflicts. And people at that time said those were impossible conflicts. There was never going to be peace in South Africa. You were going to see civil war for as long as you could. The Catholics were always going to be killing the Protestants in Northern Ireland. The Berlin wall would always stand. The cold war was going to go on for generations. So I've watched over the last 30 years how conflicts that were previously considered absolutely impossible and extractible. I went to the Soviet Union, I went to South Africa, I went to Northern Ireland. I saw for myself. I worked in those areas and I saw how those conflicts yielded to patient, persistent negotiation and in each case the third side played a decisive role. In South Africa the world kind of organized around the youth, the churches, the United Nations and then within South Africa, individuals, churches, women's groups, youth groups, the labor movement, the business movement. Everyone got involved in helping to transform destructive conflict into constructive contention and cooperation. The same thing in Northern Ireland and right now we're faced on the planet with this challenge of how do we reinvent, as you mentioned, the third side for this time and place when right now we have to reinvent the third side for all of humanity so that all of humanity has this communal voice. And we have the very first form showing up. The United Nations for example was one experiment but now with the internet and with the ability of civil society and NGO's, we need to think about how to organize the third side in an effective way using the media, using civil society, using individuals to form that effective really what is a social immune system against the virus of destructive conflict.
Peace Talks Radio Host Suzanne Kryder talks with Danna Smith, who helped neogitate an agreement with the office chain Staples to reduce their use of endangered forests for paper goods.
Suzanne Kryder: How do you feel about the role that the protest played (in your negotiations with Staples) and how you will continue to use them in the future?
Danna Smith: Well I think the role of protest in the context of this issue was critical in getting us to the table with Staples where there is a very obvious imbalance of power, it's important to go into the negotiations with power and sometimes in the society that we live in protest is a very valuable tool for getting the attention of companies and what we've seen is that we don't have to do as much protesting as we had to do in the past. Once we demonstrated the power that we had behind us, we were able to negotiate commitments with other companies without as much protest involved and to this day we continue to negotiate with companies without any campaign but we still find that protesting is essential at times when you've got a company like the situation we're in right now with KFC that is not responding and is not moving on the issue and is not willing to talk with us. You've got to get their attention somehow and protest can be a very valuable tool. It's not the only tool though.
Kryder: Right and the protests are calm, they're non-violent and they show how many people you all represent.
Smith: Absolutely and beyond protesting there are ways to communicate with companies. We're in the process right now of leveraging video and internet to communicate the concerns of thousands of people across the region and across the country about the impacts of KFC's paper packaging on our forests. So there are a lot of ways to build your power beyond protesting but organizing and building support and leveraging that support of the decision makers is a critical part of building the power to get to the table so that you can negotiate.
Kryder: That definitely got the attention of Staples. How did you begin to build bridges with them?
Smith: Well it was my personal intent in the process of meeting with Staples so they I think realized that there was something important that we had to say that they needed to listen to if we were going to resolve this and it was my personal intention in those conversations to really build a personal relationship with the people at Staples to help them understand why people were out there protesting them and that the stakes were high and why people were so concerned about the Southern U.S. and paper production in our region and to help them understand that we were there because we saw Staples as a key player in having a tremendous opportunity to make a difference and at the end of the day we stood side by side with staples and publicly supported them when they came out with the first ever comprehensive environmental paper policy among the office supply retailers and to this day we have a very collaborative relationship with Staples and they continue to be a leader driving change within the office supply sector and even beyond that driving change in the entire paper industry here in the U.S.
Kryder: To summarize, what would you say to our listeners who might be involved in some kind of negotiation or third side process are the three key things to remember?
Smith: I think the three key things are to one make sure that you're addressing issues related to the imbalance of power. It's very very important to go into negotiations from a place of strength. The second thing is that it's equally as important not to get frustrated personally with the people that you're negotiating with and to really work hard to build personal relationships, find areas of common interest and talk about those outside of the issues. And the third thing I think is to remember to step out of your box and to really look to find solutions that work for both parties as much as possible that don't compromise your core interests.
Peace Talks Radio Host Suzanne Kryder talks with Gachi Tapia, who helped negotiate agreements between the Venezuelan government, the media and other stake-holders during Venezuelan elections.
Suzanne Kryder: Talk about the specific things you did as a third sider to build trust. How do you do that?
Gachi Tapia: Well it was necessary to clarify that the effort should be focused on being able to generate if not confidence between them at least confidence in the negotiation process. My intervention was focused on procuring this shift through stimulating his ability to understand the views of his opponent and shift the confrontation dynamics into a scenario of respect and transform the context and prevent the violence to escalate. So I was doing this through some role plays and through some very deep conflict analyses, through trying to prove that we cause to put the people in the shoes of the opponent and try to really be clear in terms of separating the person from the problem which are always confused and the commonly belief is that the problem is the person which does not help solve it. It maybe helps perpetrating it, to encouraging that the management of the relation not allow managing the complete issue. My effort was focused on stimulating the capacity of this man standing in the other's shoes and how the communication plays a key role. How to bring concrete signs of recognition and respect and this will bring a different space, a different kind of environment, a different kind of differentiation among them. Of course the presence of Jimmy Carther was key for this but also preparation of the people in trying to move them in this mood is also very important.
Kryder: So Gachi, what could you tell our listeners to do when they're in a situation, it's certainly not as complex as the one you are in in Venezuela, but what are some specific things that you did or you said that helped people understand what it's like to be in the other persons' shoes.
Tapia: Well one of the things that I think is most useful is to really be an observer of our own thoughts. We are usually and consciously driven by this idea of putting others at negative connotations. Attributing bad intentions without confirming they are so. Now I think communication and the quality of connection with the person are key. If we could really go out through our own ego and try to go and connect the very deep of the self of the other person and then we can use very concrete tools that we can deepen our listening. We need to talk in a way in which the other one will like to continue speaking. And we need to listen in a way in which the other one wants to continue speaking and we need to talk in a way that the other one wants to continue listening and I think that's the key thing. Communication is a key tool but it also has to do with our own capacity of influencing ourselves and influencing our natural reactions. So I think that it seems very sophisticated outside of these processes and techniques but actually they started very inner in the way we put ourselves in front of the other person and tried to suspend our fear reactions and try to understand that we cannot understand why the others behaviors and the thoughts of the other person. We will not be able to influence them. It's about working a lot with ourselves not only with the other.
Kryder: Gachi Tapia, what are one or two tips you can give to our listeners for how to use the third side to make peace.
Tapia: Well I think a very simple tool is just to listen, but to listen not to respond but to listen just to really understand the other one. Peace is something you can do every day. It's a day to day work and it's not about very complex systems. It's about the very little systems in which you are moving. It's about home. It's about your community. It's about your work and the quality of connection to the peoples thoughts by recognizing the other one, listening and respecting them. When you are really truly respecting others, this equality of connection starts moving on and that makes a difference.