Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Even though we may aspire to hold only peaceful intentions, we still have trouble controlling our violent natures. That was proven in last night’s Lakers game against Oklahoma City, a game marred by the shocking act by the recently-minted  Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest), of sharply elbowing opposing player James Harden in the head. Harden may have suffered serious injury, and World Peace will no doubt be suspended for a period of time.

World Peace has a history of aggressive tendencies, but showed a genuine desire to change his nature by changing his name. That may prove a more difficult task than he might have anticipated. First, we’re dealing with human nature, which is not so easy to change. And second, we’re dealing with human nature in a competitive environment. An environment that rewards aggressive play within the rules, and sometimes rewards overstepping the rules.

The legal world also rewards aggressive play within the rules, or even overstepping the rules when you can get away with it. (I’m not advocating overstepping the rules; just noting that you don’t always get caught for crossing the line.) The legal system is based as much on controlled violence as basketball is. It evolved from violent beginnings, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, from the ancient cycle of revenge killings, to the medieval trial by battle and trial by ordeal, to our current adversarial system of non-violent combat on the floor of the courtroom. Those of us who are interested in alternative dispute resolution sometimes think we can change the fundamental nature of the process. But our competitive natures, the competing desires of the participants, and the competitive stakes of the conflicts we are involved in, often get the better of us.

Hardly anyone involved in mediation has fully bought into the idea that we are all supposed to work together with the other side in a collaborative effort to solve a destructive problem in a mutually beneficial way. More often, the participants are just trying to win by negotiation as much or more as they can gain in the courtroom, which is only natural. And they know that if they can’t achieve their goals in mediation, they retain the right to go back to slugging it out in court with their adversaries. We have all encountered parties in mediation who view every part of the process as a sport. They view mediation as merely a continuation of the conflict by other means. If fighting is natural to you, if you see the world as hostile and competitive, and if you’re already engaged in an adversarial process, it is extremely difficult to adopt the mantle of peace. Remember what the president says near the end of Dr. Strangelove when a scuffle breaks out involving the Russian ambassador? “Gentlemen, you can’t fight here. This is the war room!” Well, even if you call it the peace room, a fight might still break out once in a while.