Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I had a flashback yesterday. No, it had nothing to do with use of LSD or any other hallucinogen. It concerned taking a course in negotiation at Syracuse University.

Off and on through the afternoon, I had been conducting an on-line “discussion” with a conservative distant relative. The discussion was centered around the health care legislation that is before the US Congress. I am in favor of very substantial changes in the system, even more substantial than that called for in the legislation. He thinks the system needs to be tweaked, at most.

The scope of our disagreement was clear before we started corresponding, but toward the end, perhaps from weariness, we found our area of agreement. He posited that he believes that government is simply too big, too powerful and too intrusive. I could agree with this in general, although we probably disagree about in which areas it’s too big and too intrusive. I posited that I also believe that private corporations are too big, too powerful, and too intrusive. And he agreed with that.

My flashback occurred when I realized that we unwittingly had followed instructions that I learned in a university classroom nearly a decade ago. First, find the areas of agreement. Then expand them. This approach is much more constructive than the demonizing and anger that is so seductive.

(One of the textbooks for the class, by the way, was Getting to Yes. I highly recommend it!)

As I was thinking this morning about the experience, however, I wondered what can we do when our negotiation partners do not cooperate in a constructive approach. This is a very real possibility, and I think we face that situation in the current debate over health care. (Two chapters of Getting to Yes, in fact, are entitled What If They Won’t Play and What If They Use Dirty Tricks.)

In the course of this on-line debate yesterday, for example, I visited Rush Limbaugh’s web page. I read the diatribes and distortions, and thought about their purpose and effect. I thought about motivations. I don’t think that Rush Limbaugh really cares much about anything ideologically. The main - and quite understandable - motivation is to make money. He makes money selling hate. And the people consuming his content get a rush from indulging in the hatred he sells. Years ago, I remember a young man trying to live without cocaine. He wasn’t doing cocaine, but he used his anger like a drug. Rush and others like him sell anger, just like Larry Flynt sells pornography. I don’t think either product is socially constructive, but anger may, in fact, be more destructive.

One of my favorite quotes came to mind when I was thinking about this:
“I let no man drag me down so low as to make me hate him.” - Booker T. Washington

This is good advice for contentious times. I must recognize hatred and anger for what they are, but I must also recognize that these are not entities that are separate from myself. I have that a capacity for anger and hatred too. It’s my choice whether I want to cultivate that capacity within myself or not.


On a completely different subject, I haven’t posted any random links here in awhile. No reason, really. Anyway, here are the sites of Dianne Hodack, a local painter; Matt McGuire, a local writer; and Seth Feinberg, who is an animator who is not local.