by Joseph de Rivera

Conflicts may involve the priority of different values. The value of a fetus as a potential human being may conflict with the value of a woman to control what happens within her body. The value of initiative, and a flexible labor force may conflict with job security and full employment. Controversies about values are potentially threatening because they are about what is good or bad rather than mere tastes or preferences. Differences in values are usually expressed in the rhetoric of political parties and typically are debated by having opponents state their conflicting views, extolling the benefits of their own and rebutting the views of their opponent. Both sides attempt to create a rhetoric that will influence undecided third parties and capture their support. Unfortunately, this competition often prevents the crafting of creative compromises that might advance the values of both groups. Such debates may be contrasted with dialogues in which disagreeing parties attempt to understand the point of view of the other.

Dialogues usually begin with an attempt to decrease the threat posed by the difference in values. One method, which can be used by individuals who wish to begin a dialogue, is the reverse of the typical debate. It begins with a person attempting to state the others point of view, persisting until the other agrees that there point of view has been correctly presented. Since the discussion is focused on the other’s position the threat of difference is minimized. The first attempts to do this are usually only partly successful. A person may not capture an important value, misrepresent important points, or fail to qualify a statement that the other wants to qualify. However, others are usually more than willing to help someone understand their point of view, and with their help a person will soon be successful in stating their viewpoint to their satisfaction. Then, rather than rebutting the others view by pointing out errors and difficulties, the person attempts to state everything with which he or she honestly agrees. One does not role play the other’s position, but finds points of agreement or creates ways to honestly agree with the other’s position. An aspect of this procedure is the idea that any statement has a region of validity. It holds true within this region and is false outside of it. Hence, it is always possible to discover some region of agreement. Suppose one discovers that the other person believes that “11+2 is 1.” Rather than vehemently disagreeing, one may respond by agreeing that when one is referring to clock time eleven hours plus one leads to one. Such a statement opens up an area of agreement, and reduces threat at the same time that it suggests that there may be regions in which the statement is not true. At this point a person may truthfully say that he or she has learned a great a deal, thank the other, and invite the other to see if he or she might want to see if they can understand one’s own position. It seems probable that such a method has the possibility of producing creative solutions and minimizing devaluation of an opponent. Preliminary studies have shown that the method is useable, and it would be interesting to see if it could be used to create acceptable public policies for divisive issues such as legalized abortion. [This method was articulated by Anatol Rapoport in Fights, games , and debates]