Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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There is a lot in Daniel Kahneman‘s book Thinking, Fast and Slow of interest to mediators and other people involved in conflict. The book sums up a lifetime of work in psychology and economics, and serves almost as a catalog of cognitive biases we encounter in business, the legal system and elsewhere. One chapter describes the optimism bias, which may be essential to making capitalism function, but which also leads to many costly decisions for individuals. For example, the optimism bias leads entrepreneurs to expect success in opening their own small business such as a restaurant, despite the knowledge that the majority of such businesses fail within a few years. Kahneman also describes a similar bias he calls the planning […]

Joshua Goldstein has an article in Foreign Policy (and apparently a book coming out on this topic) in which he proves that, as President Obama announced in June, and contrary to popular belief, the tide of war in fact is receding, and has been for some time. Compared even to the 1990’s, we are seeing about half the number of deaths worldwide from war. The U.S. has substantially reduced troop levels in places like Korea and Europe, and when withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan are finally complete, will have fewer troops abroad than at any time since the 1930’s. There are far fewer civilian casualties from war than in decades past. Some intractable conflicts (e.g., Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kashmir) have […]

Last night I had the chance to hear Adam Hochschild talking about his new book To End All Wars, which is mainly about the conflicts between pro and anti-war leaders in Great Britain during World War I. The first World War is a particularly hard war to justify or glamorize, since it cost so many millions of lives, in such pointless slaughter. Part of the reason for that was the state of technology of the time. Offensive charges led by cavalry, the formula for success for hundreds of years, were rendered useless by machine guns and barbed wire. Until the invention of the tank, armies could no longer mount an effective offense. But the warring parties persisted in the attempt, […]

Mediators often become evangelists for negotiated resolution of conflict, believing mediation or other forms of diplomacy to be superior to all other forms of conflict resolution in all circumstances, and with the potential of solving all problems. We should probably be more humble. We should understand that some conflicts cannot be resolved at all, and some can only be resolved by other means. President Obama, who most of the time stands for making every effort to achieve consensus, and who even won the Nobel Peace Prize(!), reminded us of that with his announcement last night that he had ordered, and the military had carried out, the killing of Osama Bin Laden. In this case, we were dealing with a character […]

Each time we are forced to deal with another attempted or successful political assassination or other violent act, we react in a slightly different way, depending on the political concerns of the moment.  Some past incidents have sparked calls for stricter gun controls.  Sometimes we have heard cries for more law and order.  You used to hear people blame overly permissive child-rearing practices for violent or disruptive behavior.  Sometimes violence has been explained as the result of injustice or prejudice in society.  This time, in the wake of the attempted Giffords assassination, we have heard a lot of talk identifying the high level of violent rhetoric among politicians and the media as a source of the problem. Attempts to draw […]