Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
I’ve been thinking lately of Fisher and Ury’s classic book on negotiation Getting to Yes. It is a book about reaching successful agreements, success being defined in part as an agreement that all parties to the agreement observe. (Here is a summary of the book’s main ideas.)
I know the very thought of negotiation and compromise on the matters that threaten to split our denomination is anathema to many. To both sides of the conflict, it is tantamount to turning away from God’s righteousness.
I understand that. I am exploring these questions, however, as one who is not persuaded that splintering is either God’s desire or the cure for what ails us.
Here is the book summary on the difference between positional and principled bargaining. Which one sounds like us?
Negotiations often take the form of positional bargaining. In positional bargaining each part opens with their position on an issue. The parties then bargain from their separate opening positions to agree on one position. Haggling over a price is a typical example of positional bargaining. Fisher and Ury argue that positional bargaining does not tend to produce good agreements. It is an inefficient means of reaching agreements, and the agreements tend to neglect the parties’ interests. It encourages stubbornness and so tends to harm the parties’ relationship.
Fisher and Ury argue that principled bargaining requires four steps:
- separate the people from the problem
- focus on interests rather than positions
- generate a variety of options before settling on an agreement
- insist that the agreement be based on objective criteria
Let’s look briefly at a few parts of that first step: separating people from the problem.
Fisher and Ury argue that a large problem in any negotiation is that people tend identify personally with their position, and so experience any non-favorable response to their issue as a personal attack. This tends to make it very hard to see the issues clearly and to speak about them rationally.
Fisher and Ury highlight three kinds of people problems: perception, emotion, and communication. (Read the summary of the book for a quick take on these.) The bottom line on the first step in the process is summed up nicely on the web page:
Generally the best way to deal with people problems is to prevent them from arising. People problems are less likely to come up if the parties have a good relationship, and think of each other as partners in negotiation rather than as adversaries.
And so, the impasse emerges. Are the two sides in our denominational crisis willing to come together as peacemakers seeking an agreement that speaks to the interests of everyone? Or are we locked in a struggle that both sides can cast only as a competition between angels of light and angels of darkness?
I know and greatly admire individuals on both sides of this conflict. I also am aware of people on both sides who would never be interested in unity. They see unity as a rag of shame when it requires compromise on the principles they hold most dear.
I understand that. But I still want to explore whether it is possible to be peacemakers in the midst of our conflict. Can we enter into a process — if not all of us then some of us — that does not seek to destroy each other but to make peace in the midst of our conflict?