Must We Fight?

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Ury’s New Book Offers New Perspective on Violence.

Is war on earth inevitable? Is violence a universal and invincible fact of human nature? As our nation grapples with the reality of terrorism and military retaliation, these questions take on new relevance and urgency. William L. Ury, world-renowned bestselling author and top-level negotiator, offers surprising answers–and a viable alternative to destructive confrontation–in his provocative and encouraging new book, Must We Fight? (Jossey-Bass, January 2002, $19.95 Cloth). The volume is the second in a series published in cooperation with the Program on Negotiation.

Scrupulously examining entrenched beliefs about humanity’s natural instinct for aggression and annihilation, Ury presents a radically different story than the common brutal one of our primate and prehistoric heritage. Drawing on leading-edge investigations in the fields of anthropology, primatology, and conflict resolution, he provides compelling evidence of humanity’s powerful innate mechanisms for cooperation and negotiation, for suppressing aggressive impulses and solving disputes without coming to blows or going to battle. As the author makes clear: “Violence is a choice.”

Putting the human legacy of violence in a fresh, liberating light, MUST WE FIGHT? shatters the conventional notion of conflict as strictly between two adversaries. Based on his extensive fieldwork and incisive observations, ranging from the Bushmen of the Kalahari to inner city Boston, Ury offers a dynamic new theory of healthy conflict: The Third Side. No conflict, Ury contends, takes place in a vacuum; whether the two fighting factions are families, corporations, or nations, there is always the opportunity for third parties to intervene. Containing the contention and promoting peaceful resolution, the third side goes beyond professional mediators, government officials, and business managers to encompass civic institutions–churches, political activists, labor unions, civic groups–and ordinary citizens.

“In a nutshell,” Ury explains, “the third side is composed of people from the community using a certain kind of power, the power of peers, from a certain perspective, which is a perspective of common ground; supporting a certain process, which is the process of dialogue and nonviolence; and aiming for a certain product, which is a triple win–a solution that’s good for the community and good for both of the parties.” The author crystallizes his concept in a metaphor: “The third side is a kind of social immune system that prevents the spread of the virus of violence.”

Illuminating the third side in action, Ury identifies ten concrete roles its wide-ranging members play to prevent, thwart, and resolve raging confrontation:

1. Provider, helping people meet their frustrated needs
2. Teacher, instilling skills or attitudes to defuse tensions
3. Bridge Builder, fostering good relationships across potential lines of conflict
4. Mediator, helping people reconcile their opposite interests
5. Arbiter, delineating the disputed rights
6. Equalizer, balancing the power between clashing parties
7. Healer, repairing injured relationships and defusing wounded emotions
8. Witness, taking heed and note of early warning signs of dispute
9. Referee, establishing objective rules for conflict
10. Peace Keeper, stepping in to separate the fighting parties, even physically

The book culminates with a simulation designed for classroom use. Based on actual events, this stimulating exercise challenges students with an all too common scenario–an explosive racial incident at a public high school. The simulation was developed by 2000-2001 PON Graduate Research Fellows Joshua Weiss, now Associate Director of the Global Negotiation Project, Brian Blancke, and Chang In Shin.

Featuring contributions from Frans de Waal, award-winning author of Peacemaking Among Primates; Brian Ferguson, eminent anthropologist of war; and Chris Winship, chair of the Department of Sociology at Harvard University, MUST WE FIGHT? offers practical guidance, proven strategies, and rousing encouragement for bringing people together to bring an end to violent, devastating conflicts.

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