Someone asked me recently what I do. When I said one of the things I do is “teach” – the next logical question was “Teach what?” I said “conflict… conflict resolution and how to have difficult conversations.” That didn’t seem like a very satisfying answer – and the look on the other person’s face appeared, to me, to be one of abstraction.
What does that mean to be a teacher of conflict resolution? What is at the heart of it and what is it that I am teaching?
As I reflect on this question, where I arrive is that I’m teaching how to “make love, not war. “ This phrase was popularized in the 1960s and, more specifically, as a protest against the Vietnam War.
The links of this phrase to an antidote to war works well for me, as my core motivation for being in this field is linked, indirectly, to war as well. As anyone who has been touched by violence and war, whether as a refugee immigrant like my mother or a first generation Canadian like me, or a survivor of a school shooting like so many young people in the US: war is no solution to problems.
War is, in negotiation terms, the “worse alternative to a negotiated agreement.” This concept comes from the seminal conflict resolution book, Getting to Yes, written by international diplomatic negotiators, Fisher and Ury. A “worst alternative to a negotiated agreement” is the idea that we need to think through our options in any given conflict.
What are our “best alternatives to a negotiated agreement” (our “BATNAs”) and what are our “worst alternatives to a negotiated agreement” (our “WATNAs). This concept forces us to think through our options if cooperation fails. What if we can’t find agreement, what else can we do? What is our “best” option (or “alternative”) and what is the worst one?
That idea of WATNAs is a driving force in everything I do. I know the cost of war, of violence, of displacement. And I don’t want that cost for anyone. I also know the factors that contribute to increasing the likelihood of violence and war, and the factors that contribute to decreasing the likelihood of violence and war.
And, after a quarter century in the field, I would say the number one force that increases the likelihood of cooperation, agreement, peace – is love.
The love I speak of in conflict is not a kind of “anemic” love, where we accommodate and “turn the other cheek.” To truly “make love, not war” we need to be equipped with the ability to love our enemies even as we are setting limits, being assertive, saying what is not okay with us.
To me, the heroes of his kind of approach to love are Gandhi and Martin Luther King, to name a few. They fought for what they believed in and yet, did it in a way that respected the person and called for peaceful action.
That is what I most want to teach. In fact, I can see a reworking of the phrase “make love, not war” – to “make love to war.”
What have you learned about the art of making love not war?