To the milonga … we tango!

1441496_10202127114606917_1355058182_n[1]Someone posted this image and quote from former President Carter on my Facebook page, and ignited a firestorm there.

The opening salvo was:

Carter was the worst, after the present guy. Tax dollars have nothing to do with Christian values its a bunch of left wing BS. Christian values come from giving from the heart not the social justice the govt wants you to follow. I will give my money to whom I want not to whom the govt wants. The left thinks that paying taxes are part of giving…SORRY YOU ARE WRONG, GIVING IS VOLUNTARY NOT FORCED.

You know it’s going to be a romp when folks GO ALL CAPS LOCK right out of the gate.   Yikes!

There were dueling bible quotes and misquotes, cherry-picked history, misinformation about bigstock-Hear-No-Evil-4964652tax policy and economics, exaggeration, name-calling – the works.

Not only do you know it’s going to be a romp when folks go all caps lock, but you know there will be no movement in the conversation.   Nothing will be learned, no one will be convinced, nothing will be gained.   Everyone digs in, and stays dug in.

Such is the state of our public discourse, eh?

Sooo … if the Guinness World Records folks gave awards for the most hours watching You Tube videos of tango dancing, I might be in the running.

bigstock-one-caucasian-couple-man-woman-47156992If the dancers subtly affect combat, I am more drawn-in.   I like the dramatic arc of a tango to have the trajectory of a hard-fought romance between tough equals.   To differ, to oppose, to battle it out, and … finally to come together and resolve.   Resolution is everything.

In Alternative Dispute Resolution my law school professor, Jane Aiken said a simple thing that blew my mind wide open.   She said, “conflict is inevitable.”

Wait … … what?   Conflict is inevitable?   Think about that.  bigstock-Beautiful-young-surprised-woma-52599478

If that’s true … if conflict will arise at some point in every relationship for sure … make peace with that.   Roll with it.   There is no need to overreact to conflict, and there is every reason to develop the skills to resolve conflict peaceably and to positive ends.

To me that is profound … and liberating.

Conflict isn’t wrong … not to be feared.   It is a given.   It is to be expected.   You are not wrong or defective for being in conflict.   And, neither is the other guy.    There is no reason to vilify and demonize each other.

To me, this was a huge realization, and transformative.

In law school we were asked to assert an argument on Side A, and then switch and strenuously assert an argument for Side B.   I resisted this exercise because it seemed to develop a dangerous ability to fight for something you believe to be wrong.   I feared becoming a tool for wrong outcomes.   I feared losing my principled bearings.

What if my formidable lawyering skills were unleashed in the service of eee-vil?   Could the world survive such a foe … as me?

What it actually did was help me see there is validity, and legitimacy to the interests on both sides of issues.   It showed me I have biases too.   And I have a bad habit of thinking I see things quickly, clearly, and wholly.   And, not to pile on, but I commit too quickly to what seems like the obvious right answers … given my assessment of the problem.   bigstock-Thinking-As-A-Team-For-Success-39163165

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, the contributions by Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton and dozens of other scholars bent on teaching people how to … … tango … … how to move from conflict and disagreement to resolution would have us realize we need to understand more about the “other” side’s interests and concerns.

The Program on Negotiation’s Special Report, Dealing with Difficult People instructs that

if there is a common denominator in virtually all successful negotiations, it is to be an active listener, by which Ury means not only to hear what the other person is saying but also to listen to what is behind the words.   Active listening is something frequently talked about but rarely done well; it is a subtle skill that requires constant, thoughtful effort.   A good listener will disarm his opponent by stepping to his side, asking open-ended questions, and encouraging him to tell you everything that is bothering him.

As citizens we hear and read frightful, venomous speech, observe our political leaders’ complete inability to cooperate with the “other” to make decisions and come to resolution.   We look on as the United States government shuts down, as we repeatedly stand at the brink of failing to pay our debts.   Many of us fear encounters that betray our political beliefs with friends, family … neighbors because not only are conflicts inevitable, but we have few skills to resolve those conflicts.

We are all locked in to our positions.

This state of affairs is unacceptably detrimental to the country’s interests, and to citizens’ interests.   It is unsustainable and we must figure this out.

If we are ever going to make any headway and not just stay stuck, we are going to have to learn to … tango … … to differ, to oppose, to battle it out, and … finally to come together and resolve.   Resolution is everything.

If the common denominator in virtually all successful negotiations is active listening … perhaps bigstock-Cannot-Hear-You--24875327the first thing to do is ask open-ended questions, and understand what is behind this feeling of being “forced” to help.

This complaint was stated not only by my Facebook friend, “GIVING IS VOLUNTARY NOT FORCED” but also by John Stossel in his piece, Longing to Be a Victim  mentioned in the Disability Dunk Tank’s post Flatulence Stew.  

Mr. Stossel wrote,

These days, being seen as a victim can be useful.  You immediately claim the moral high ground.  Some people want to help you.  Lawyers and politicians brag that they force others to help you.  (Emphasis in original.)

In Getting to Yes:  Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, Fisher, Ury and Patton assert that

human beings are not computers.  We are creatures of strong emotions who often have radically different perceptions and have difficulty communicating clearly.  Emotions typically become entangled with the objective merits of the problem.

It is time to disentangle.

To the milonga … we tango!

Let me know what you're thinking ... I'm listening ....