Principled Negotiation in Pop Culture:
"I know there's still good in you. There's good in you, I can sense it.”
- Luke Skywalker to Darth Vader, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of The JediLast week, I discussed voices that mix in culture, but not that conflict. Conflict begins in the mind. Typically, when two different perceptions occur about the same problem, or when someone disagrees with what someone has decided. What someone has decided is called a position. Why someone has decided a position usually has to do with interests. Interests are human needs that express our deepest desires and vulnerabilities. These include: security; economic well-being; recognition; control of life. Since these vulnerabilities and desires include our deepest fears, our egos dig in to our positions, and we may assume that our position is natural and that the others’ position symbolizes not human interests, but our deepest fears. From Ury & Fisher’s Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In: “Egos tend to become involved in substantive positions.” (Ury et al. 1981 pg. 4)
One way to avoid conflict is by Ury and Fisher’s concept of “principled negotiation”:
“1. Separate the People from the Problem
2. Focus on Interests, Not Positions
3. Invent Options for Mutual Gain
4. Insist on Objective Criteria”
(Ury et al. 1981 pg. 15)
This concept called “principled negotiation” rests on setting objective criteria and establishing options for mutual understanding beyond what one has decided. Since culture operates from different ways of thinking, and pop culture aims at expressing human universals, there is actually no better tool for negotiating intercultural differences in a mutual way. Joseph Campbell notes: “When Ben Kenobi says, "May the Force be with you," he's speaking of the power and energy of life, not of programmed political intentions.” (Campbell: 1991 pg. 178-179) To become a hero, one must go beyond self-serving intentions, which is why the hero myths allow us to re-evaluate what we have decided through self-interest. Through their non-selfish actions, we may ask ourselves how to separate people from problems.
Towards the second end, focusing on interests, we see that the heroes of myth can usually do this with great ease, if only because in the myth the solution is obvious, or the hero is up against some evil foe. But, even against those odds, the hero does recognize himself in the villain. As the Joker says to Batman in The Dark Knight: “You complete me.” and you can recognize the entire interrogation scene as Batman’s “mirror image”; what he represents, and at the same time, is afraid he will become in his pursuit of justice. Which he stands in danger of doing.
Batman gravitated the interrogation to areas of common concern (Why Joker is out to kill him.), and in the process, discovered that he was his own worst enemy, fueled by revenge. And few would say that, given the The Dark Knight’s reception, (The highest grossing sequel of all time, and the highest-grossing “comic book movie”.) the villain didn’t at least have a point in highlighting Batman’s interests vs. his positions.
We don’t have the privilege of negotiating with evildoers in reality, because “evil” is a position created in the mind, whereas “principled negotiation” deals with objective criteria. While we may be entitled to an opinion that someone is evil, we must get down to the why, and there is no better model than that of mythology; which fundamentally deals with the use (and misuse) of power.
Power is the ability to influence or control Events. Power depends on resources parties can employ to influence and attain goals. The effectiveness of a power resource used depends on “endorsement” by the other party. Power exists in the relationship / interaction. As such, you need to be aware of your power as an active developing force, not as an end. You can tell the use/effectiveness of power through the outcome it produces. It can be expressed indirectly or directly through power resources. They supply options for mutual gain, as in “principled negotiation”. I prefer that method, because it’s goal-oriented, designed for mutual gain, and deals with objectivity. As such, it’s a good “cultural model”, since culture deals in part with how we’ve decided to interact with others, and why. And my position, is that heroes use that power for Good. (Non-selfish actions.)
We can think of the show Game of Thrones (I haven’t read the books.) as primarily a study of power imbalance. As one party gets weaker, (the Starks) the other weaker parties gain courage. Because everyone on the show has their own agenda, the primary problem is imbalance. There is no common goal to which everyone in the same House strives, though they may be a Lannister or a Doth’raki princess. What drives the show, is how they hold together when power changes. And who loses their head because of it?
As this demonstrates, sources of power come from people who wield influence, or groups of people who have influence. These are present in goal-oriented power structures, namely hierarchies, and determined by who has access to the top of the hierarchy. Is power shared by one source/equal? Or is there imbalance/coalitions of power. People can increase power by using skills to get up the hierarchy, or by arranging coalitions of shared power, or gathering allies to obtain their goals. Above all, invent options for mutual gain.
If anything, I would hope that this post will allow for people to critically evaluate pop culture, and that through that we create more heroes, so to speak. Too often. I’ve seen people become so involved in positions, that they go to the Dark Side. The hero myths are there to remind us to be critical of ideas, not people. To separate personal worth from criticism. We’re All in this together, sink or swim. Heroes encourage everyone to participate and master relevant information. They listen to everyone’s ideas even if they disagree, and differentiate interests before they integrate a position. What are your favorite hero stories, and how do they apply principled negotiation?