Saturday, August 1, 2009
The dispute resolution community is delighted that Obama, the Mediator in Chief, employed a common dispute resolution tool when he hosted Professor Gates and Officer Crowley to a beer in the garden. Changing the venue, taking the disputants to the balcony, discussing problems over a meal, making a toast --this approach to peace-making is as old as the hills, as the saying goes. Calling this attempt at dialogue, a 'teachable moment,' is a good, neutral method of turning the page and getting the disputants and the audience to move forward. Whether this 'teachable moment' becomes a sustainable opportunity for better race relations and inter-group and interpersonal cooperation depends on individuals and the media. In my town, a suburb just 30 minutes from New York City, known for its quick commute and high-income earners, I am struck by the responses to a survey conducted by Todd Sliss of The Scarsdale Inquirer newspaper: Sliss asked passers-by in the village, "What can we learn from the incident between the Harvard professor and the police officer in Cambridge?" each of the six interviewees stressed the importance of 'letting cooler heads prevail,' 'look for positives in one another' rather than differences, 'people should take a step back for a second and think,' etc. In this world of instant messaging and the 24-7 news cycle, if each of us can pause even slightly, choose our words more carefully, and consider the perspective of the other, we will have benefited from a 'teachable moment' and move into 'wiser century.'