A short news story caught my attention recently. President Biden was seen on his way to Camp David peace talks with Bill Ury’s newest book “Possible” under his arm.

Bill Ury is a big name in my world. He co-wrote the book “Getting to Yes” – the primer for interest-based negotiation and the foundation for much of the work that I do.

Ury co-founded the Harvard Negotiation Project in the late 1970s, a conflict resolution teaching centre located out of Harvard.

My own institutional home, the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute of BC, started in the mid-1980s, was influenced by the same curriculum at its start.

Ury also wrote one of my all-time favorite books: The Third Side. Because he’s an anthropologist, that book gave him a chance to share how peace-oriented cultures operate.

Check out my summary article on that book, called “Taking the Third Side” if you’re interested.

So, it was with anticipation that I was awaiting Ury’s newest book.

His first chapter didn’t disappoint, and in fact, had me in tears. Here’s why:

I’ve been suspecting for a few years now, that the work I do on a local and organizational level, translates to the political scene.

Growing up, I was impacted by war. As the daughter of a government-sponsored refugee. I wanted there to be a better way to resolve conflicts than war. That desire drove me to become a mediator.

Over the course of my career, I’ve mediated in the criminal court system, the civil court system, with families, neighbors, and, for the last 25, years, within organizations.

I’ve not worked at the political level, however, and as our world becomes increasingly polarized, the question of its political application kept pressing.

So, recently, I brought together four luminaries in my field, who I got to know through the onconflict podcast, to explore the question:

Can what we teach and practice at the local level transcend to the political?

The wise mediators I pulled together not only know it can, but they’ve worked at these political levels and seen it work.

That is the backdrop for me reading Ury’s words in chapter 1.

Like the global mediators I spoke with, Ury has also worked on the political level, and he is writing about it in this book.

He starts with how he got his start in the field. He was only a young anthropology student when he got a call from Roger Fisher, the law professor who would later be the co-author of Ury’s first book “Getting to Yes.”

Fisher called to tell Ury that Fisher was sending Ury’s anthropological paper on peace to the Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East. Oh, and, was Ury interested in coming to work for Fisher?

A life-long career in mediation was born.

From that political start, Ury has gone on to be a seminal influence in many political conflicts, all the while led by a question very similar to my own. His abiding inquiry has been:

What does it take to transform tough conflicts from destructive confrontation into collaborative negotiation?”

His book draws on his own stories, many from “intense political situations.” He tells us: “let me assure you that these conflicts in their essence share many similarities with the everyday family and work conflicts we all know.

The scale may be bigger, but the dynamics are similar. A conflict is a conflict; humans are humans; and the deeper lessons can be applied across the board.”

Yes! He answered my question too.

I read his acknowledgments at the end of the book and saw that one of the mediators I’d invited onto my Zoom call conversations, was also listed as one of Ury’s close friends.

More tears.

In reading Ury’s first chapter with his reasons for writing his new book, and seeing the connection with such a short degree of separation to my own quest, I felt the hand of something larger guiding me.

I know we are descending into more troubled times. We are still deep in the winter of our species and our beloved habitat.

But reading these words, feeling Bill’s presence and his wisdom at 70 years of age and 50 years as a high-level mediator, gave me his sense of the Possible.

If you are curious, his book is organized into 3 big ideas:

  1. Go to the balcony – start with yourself. In my language, I would say practice the art of how to Hold On To Yourself.
    Ury says: “The biggest obstacle to getting what I want is not the difficult person on the other side of the table; it is the person on this side of the table. It is me.
    When I react without thinking, I become my own worst enemy. I am the one who keeps getting in my own way.. The possibilist mindset is a curious, creative, and collaborative way of engaging with our differences in these divided times.” Yes!
  2. Move to building a golden bridge with the other. In my world, that’s learning how to have difficult conversations.
    Ury says “Here’s what I have learned from conflicts such as this: the deeper we go into motivations, the more possibilities we find for transforming conflict.
    So don’t just stop at positions or even interests. Keep zooming in until you reach basic human needs.” Yes!
  3. Enlist the third side community. For me, it’s the focus on building capacity so many of us can act as conflict coaches, educators, intervenors, and hosts to help others in their conflicts.
    Ury says:
    “At the core of almost every deep-seated conflict I have ever worked on is the wound of exclusion. The only remedy I know for the wound of exclusion is inclusion. That is what the Kua do when disputes arise They begin by forming a circle around the campfire, a circle in which everyone belongs and everyone can be heard. To include those who feel excluded is an ancient and time-tested way of dealing with differences.”

I want you to be moved to tears. I want you to feel the stirring in your own heart towards this incredible gift called conflict. Conflict is simply the creative abrasion that arises from the tension of differences.

I want us all to feel the energizing quality of holding the tension of difference.

We need to feed our collective passion for peace as the darker times descend.

We need all of us to join together to hold a higher vision.

Peace is Possible. It may not be achievable. But in every day and in every interaction and every community and culture, we can see the vision that peace is possible.

“Leaders and followers are following the invisible leader – the common purpose. The best executives put this common purpose clearly before their group. While leadership depends on the depth of conviction and the power coming from there, there must also be the ability to share that conviction with others, and the ability to make purpose articulate. And then that common purpose becomes the leader.”
… Mary Parker Follett, the mother of the academic conflict resolution field