The Tipping Point

Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference in 2000. In his book, he discusses how “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses.” He defines the tipping point as  “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” From a systems change perspective, the concept of a tipping point is important when analyzing both how to create sufficient momentum behind a policy change to bring the change into fruition.

One of the most frustrating failures in American public policy has been the complete ineptitude of our nation’s leaders to enact reasonable reform to combat gun violence. Many gun reform advocates believed that our nation would finally overcome the opposition by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to all efforts at reasonable gun reform, after 20 children and 6 adults were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. However, as we all know, the NRA and too many politicians simply offered their thoughts and prayers, and no meaningful gun reform was enacted.


But then came the high school students who lost 14 fellow students and 3 staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. While the NRA and Congressional leaders continued to send thoughts and prayers, and the President and many legislators would rather arm teachers than enact meaningful gun reform, on behalf of her fellow Parkland students, Emma Gonzalez called BS on these unhelpful ideas. As one of the students, Cameron Kaspy, stated quite simply, My generation won’t stand for this.”

But why might this event be different than Sandy Hook or the many other gun massacres and become a tipping point to lead to meaningful gun reform, when the other horrific incidents did not? While it is too soon to know whether the results will be different, and we truly cannot expect meaningful change until after the November mid-term elections, there are indications that a number of different dynamics are in play that did not exist before, such that we may be approaching a tipping point which could impact the November mid-term elections culminating in meaningful gun reform in the next Congress.

Of course, the first new dynamic is the bold, energized leadership of the Parkland High School students. But since they cannot vote, high school students alone will not have sufficient impact to reach the tipping point. Ironically, the callousness of our President who appears to be devoid of empathy, combined with the energy of these high school students may be what energizes voters to impact the November mid-term elections in a meaningful way on this issue.

There are many signs that a shift in the gun reform dynamic is in play, such as:

  • Republicans who recognize that their day of reckoning on guns is here.
  • A well organized campaign targeted at politicians beholden to the gun lobby to throw them out.
  • A recognition that women could be the undoing of the President.
  • The March 24th March for Our Lives to demand that lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings.
  • Poll results showing American voters support stricter gun laws 66 – 31 percent, the highest level of support ever, including 50 – 44 percent support among gun owners.
    Support for universal background checks is almost universal, 97 – 2 percent, including 97 – 3 percent among gun owners. Support is also at its highest level with:

    • 67 percent favoring a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons;
    • 83 percent favoring a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases and
    • 75 percent believe Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence.

Of course, tipping points are reached by many actions, and as Gladwell pointed out, many of those actions are small actions taken by individuals. So, if you want to be part of the change that leads to a tipping point to achieve meaningful gun reform, here are some things you can do.

  • Investigate how your members of Congress vote on gun reform bills. You can check their votes here.
  • Check to see whether your members of Congress receive contributions from the NRA, and if so, how much they receive, here.
  • Tell your state legislators to support a law that exists in five states that allows guns to be seized from those whom a judge deems a threat to themselves or others.
  • Tell your members of Congress to support laws that evidence demonstrates will save lives including:
    • Requiring permits to purchase all guns by eliminating the exemption for private sales;
    • Banning individuals convicted of any violent crime from gun purchase;
    • Making all serious domestic violence offenders surrender firearms;
    • Banning active alcohol abusers from firearms; and
    • Banning assault weapons.
  • Join and/or contribute to an organization that is working on these issues such as Everytown for Gun Safety or Moms Demand Action  for Gun Sense in America.

Finally, the tipping point will not be reached if politicians believe that NRA support will preserve their power in office. Since the vast majority of Americans support meaningful gun reform, they must translate this into votes that change the calculation of politicians and make them realize that NRA support will become a liability instead of an asset. The only way to make that happen is for gun reform advocates to support gun reform candidates and to vote for them. As Justin Dart, considered as the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), said so eloquently in a way that gun reform advocates must take to heart:

Vote as if your life depended on it, because it does.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.



Getting to Yes in the 21st Century

In their seminal book, Getting to Yes, originally published in 1981, Roger Fisher and William Ury’s subtitle, Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, only begins to describe how this fairly short 200 page book, gives valuable lessons on the art of negotiating Win-Win solutions, instead the more commonly experienced Win-Lose, or worse yet, Lose-Lose solutions.  These lessons are needed today more than ever before.

As I previously described in, The Great Dysfunction or Lessons in how Not to Govern, our political environment is poisoned by politicians and their funders who believe that their sole goal is to obtain or retain the political majority.  Sadly, the recent failure of the U.S. Senate to pass the mildest of gun control reforms when it allowed a minority of Senators to block the background checks that roughly 90% of Americans want, demonstrated that the desire to obtain a Win-Win solution was unable to carry the day in the face of the NRA’s desire to “win” at all costs.

While there are numerous other examples of the failure of our political leaders to obtain palatable outcomes on the important issues of our day, rather than point fingers and accuse one side or the other of their responsibility for this miserable failure of leadership, the lessons taught so well in Getting to Yes need revisiting in order to change the unfortunate dynamic we are currently experiencing.

Fisher and Ury explain that we all negotiate on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not.  We negotiate with our families, our co-workers, those with whom we do business, as well as in the legal and political arenas.  While it may feel good to “win” when one negotiates, the long term outcome of having someone you deal with on a regular basis “lose” the negotiation, may not be worth it in the end.

I regularly explain this to parents of children with disabilities, whom I represent, when they want to “win” their legal claim against a wrongdoing school district, but may end up destroying relationships with the very educators whom they need to provide a quality education to their children.  Thus, I regularly remind them to “keep their eye on the prize,” which is the quality education they seek for their children, and not the pound of flesh which their anger may cause them to desire.

Many people who are in the midst of a dispute assume that there will always be a winner and a loser when the dispute is resolved.  This assumption is patently false, as there are two other possible outcomes:

  1. Neither side wins because the dispute remains unresolved (e.g., Israel and Palestine); and
  2. Both sides lose because though the dispute is resolved, neither side is happy with the outcome (e.g., a lawsuit results in a Pyrrhic victory for one side because that side obtains a fraction of what it sought and spent more money on attorneys than it gained through the resolved dispute).

So, how do Fisher & Ury suggest obtaining Win-Win solutions?  They do so by focusing on five key elements of principled negotiations:

  • “Separate the people from the problem.”  In other words,  the goal in negotiating should not be beating the other side.  It should be solving the problem at hand. Successful negotiation should not be considered the equivalent of a competitive sport if the parties are truly interested in solving the problem.
  • “Focus on interests, not positions.”  In the special education advocacy example mentioned earlier, the parents’ interest is in getting their children a quality education, not in having a judge rule in their favor to prove to the school district that they were right.
  • “Invent options for mutual gain.”  This is where win-win negotiating really becomes an art form.  Creative negotiators seek opportunities where both sides can gain from the outcome.  For example, when a school is dealing with a difficult behavioral situation, the win-lose situation is the child either stays in school with continued misbehavior, or the child is expelled, relieving the school from having to deal with the child, but putting the child on the Schools to Prison Pipeline.  The win-win solution involves bringing in a behavioral expert to observe the child in school and to provide sound suggestions to educators on how to improve teaching techniques and behavioral interventions to teach the child appropriate behaviors.
  • “Insist on using objective criteria.”  All too often, negotiation takes place on emotional terms or even outright falsehoods.  We saw this in the recent background check debate where the opponents to background checks simply lied about the bill before the Senate by raising false fears that the bill would prevent sales between family members.  No problems are successfully resolved by relying on falsehoods or emotions alone.
  • “Know your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement)”  On a regular basis, I must counsel clients on what the likely outcome is if they fail to come to a negotiated agreement.  Without knowing this, the client (or politician) cannot truly make an informed decision as to whether to accept the offer presented.

This is not to suggest that Getting to Yes is easy.  In fact, it takes hard work, checking egos at the door, and regular reminders of what you are really seeking in the midst of your negotiation.  For nearly 28 years, I have had the professional privilege of assisting clients, non-profits and policymakers negotiate Win-Win solutions with the assistance of Getting to Yes principles.  Perhaps it is time for our political leaders to read and follow the rules of this invaluable book.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.