Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Getting to Win-Win

Recently I heard this story:

"Two sisters were fighting over an apple. Each one desperately needed the apple. The third and oldest sister thought she would help the two younger sisters solve their conflict. She asked each sister to explain what the problem was. One sister and then the other explained that she MUST have the apple for herself, but that the other sister would not give up the apple! The third sister suggested cutting the apple in half. This solution was entirely unsatisfactory to both of the younger sisters and so they stomped off. Later in the afternoon a wise teacher came upon the two fighting sisters locked in their unresolvable conflict. The teacher asked each sister to explain the problem. One sister and then the other explained that she MUST have the apple for herself, but that the other sister would not give up the apple! The teacher then asked each sister why she was in such dire need of the apple. The first sister explained that she was baking an apple pie to take to her best friend's birthday party. The second sister explained that she was planting an apple tree to grow apples to give away to the hungry. The wise teacher then asked the sisters what they might do such that both girls could come out of the conflict happy. The sisters thought hard, but being the intelligent young women that they were, they didn't have to think very long. The solution was clear: one sister would take the meat of the apple to use in her apple pie and the other would take the seeds to plan her tree!"

This story is told as an illustration of a win-win outcome to a conflict. When a conflict is resolved such that both (or all) people involved get their needs met, then the outcome is considered a win-win outcome. Often times getting to win-win requires moving past people's "positions" (I musts have the apple!) and getting to their actual "needs" (I need to give my friend a birthday gift I know she'll love!).

In American capitalist culture we tend to believe that in order to win somebody must lose. The conflict resolution framework posits three potential outcomes: win-win, win-lose, and lose-lose. I find that frequently when we pursue a win-lose outcome we end up with a lose-lose instead. Thus, it is often in every one's best interest to seek a win-win. And besides, it's the kind thing to do.

The above story is a great parable illustrating a win-win outcome. However, when I do a Peacemaking 101 training, or present the idea of win-win to a class full of students (children or adults) I often face skepticism that win-win solutions really exist in the everyday world. We are so frequently reminded by everything around us that in order for us to win, somebody must lose - just think, sports, getting a job, grading on a curve - we're in constant competition. Not surprisingly, and as is frequently the case when it comes to working toward a more peaceful world, finding the win-win may take some extra work. Why not start by brainstorming some everyday win-win outcomes?

Here are a few I've come up with:

A student who is strong in a certain subject helps teach a student who is weaker in that subject: The weaker student gets some extra help from somebody who may have a different way of thinking about the subject matter; and the stronger student reinforces their own knowledge. As the famous saying goes "learn it, do it, teach it". It's the best way to truly ingrain something.

Service Learning: Students learns from doing service in/for their community. (This is the distinction I make between plain old "community service" and "community service learning". The latter focuses on the give and take (the win-win!) while the former tends to be thought of as a purely charitable or philanthropic endeavor).

Brainstorm more on your own or try this activity with your class. Let us know what you come up with!

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