Picking Asparagus across the Political Divide

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center Survey, we are now living in the first time that majorities of both parties have very unfavorable views of the other party. Worse yet,

More than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican Party makes them “afraid,” while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party. Among those highly engaged in politics – those who say they vote regularly and either volunteer for or donate to campaigns – fully 70% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans say they are afraid of the other party.

These fears of each other are leading to greater social polarization and distrust, making interactions across the political divide increasingly difficult. No wonder that Congress and state legislatures find it so challenging to forge a consensus on difficult political issues.

Every year, as my wife and I drive through Wisconsin’s countryside, we pass by a local small farm where the farmer sells delicious fresh asparagus. We have bought dozens of pounds (maybe hundreds!) over the past 20 years and enjoyed it thoroughly. Last year, however, we noticed that the asparagus farmer, who has always been very friendly to us, wore an NRA hat. As the Presidential election heated up, we also noticed that he posted a Trump/Pence sign in his yard.

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Readers of my blog should not be surprised that I abhor the policies of the NRA and the Trump/Pence administration. Indeed, I spend a great deal of time and energy working to combat the destructive policies supported by both of them. So, when asparagus season arrived, my wife and I had to ask ourselves whether we still felt comfortable buying asparagus from a supporter of politicians and a lobby organization whom we both abhor.

While we have not yet talked politics or gun rights with the asparagus farmer, we realized that our best chance of understanding where he comes from and possibly coming to a common understanding was to continue to buy asparagus from him. So, we continue to do so.

Please do not misunderstand. I have no problem with people who choose to boycott large corporate entities who take abhorrent political positions, treat their workers unfairly or do other destructive things. In fact, I participate in many of those boycotts. However, I see those corporate boycotts as vastly different from a person to person interaction of buying fresh asparagus from a small farmer. I am quite confident that if we stopped buying asparagus from him, he would not change his political views in any way. In fact, if we specifically told him that we would no longer buy asparagus  from him due to his political views, it would probably make him angry and embolden and harden his political positions.

So, last weekend we picked 9 pounds of delicious asparagus and had a lovely chat with the asparagus farmer and his son about how his crop was doing and his decision to start allowing customers to pick their own asparagus for half the price of the pre-picked asparagus. We will continue to pick and buy his asparagus and perhaps one day, at the right moment, we will have an opportunity to have an honest political conversation that does not degrade into hate and fear. These conversations need to be borne in trust and we can only gain that trust by engaging with people who disagree with us.

I will be sure to let my readers know how the conversation goes if and when we have that political conversation with the asparagus farmer. In the mean time, we will continue to build trust with someone whom we know disagrees with our views.

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

Violence Begets Violence–Time to Repeal the 2nd Amendment

Like most Americans, ever since the massacre at Sandy Hook, the issue of the place of guns in American society has been ever present in my mind.  President Obama declared that we must change, but he has yet to offer concrete changes.  Sen. Feinstein has introduced a bill to outlaw assault weapons prospectively, which would do nothing to get those weapons off our streets.  The NRA says it will propose concrete actions, but has yet to offer any particulars.

While politicians and pundits discuss ways to regulate lethal weapons, at Systems Change Consulting, our purpose is to change systems so that we do not have the same tired conversations again and again, resulting in remaining mired in an unsatisfactory status quo.  It would be nice to think that legislation would be sufficient to  end the violence which guns have wrought on American society.  Yes, we do have more gun related deaths than any country in the world, other than Mexico, with nearly 10,000 homicides committed in the US in the most recent reporting year.

Our Supreme Court has completely distorted this simple amendment which reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Not only is this Amendment an antiquated artifact directly resulting from the Colonial revolution against the British, but the Supreme Court ruled in its 2008 decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, that the militia clause has nothing to do with the right of the people to bear arms.  In that case, the Supreme Court found that the District of Columbia’s handgun and trigger lock ban violated the 2nd Amendment.

The Supreme Court then expanded that misguided logic in 2010, in its McDonald v. Chicago decision applying the 2nd Amendment to state and local governments, declaring the City of Chicago’s handgun ban unconstitutional.

With Supreme Court decisions like these, and the never ending onslaught of violence  and death caused by guns, it is time for this nation to repeal the 2nd Amendment.

Some may declare that such a proposal is unrealistic.  That may be true, given the strength of the NRA and the inherent difficulties of amending our Constitution, as any amendment must be passed by 2/3 of the members of both Houses of Congress, and then approved by 3/4 of the states.  This is, indeed, challenging.

However, if Sandy Hook is the wake up call that our nation needs to get out of our cycle of violence begetting more violence, then now is probably the best time to repeal the 2nd Amendment.  Even if the amendment is not ultimately ratified, it will put the NRA on the defensive and allow ever stronger gun control legislation to pass and may even cause the Supreme Court to re-think its most recent decisions which make most sensible gun control legislation virtually impossible.

Since amending the Constitution is necessarily a long and difficult process, let me suggest one other piece of legislation that has yet to be raised and should raise no Constitutional concerns.  While the 2nd Amendment arguably allows citizens to own weapons, there is no Constitutional right to manufacture lethal weapons.  So, let’s start by banning the manufacture and importation of assault weapons.  It is too easy to buy these weapons.  You can even do it on-line from Tactical Arms Manufacturer, which brags on its web site that its assault weapons, the same ones used by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, are Made in the USA.

So, let’s get serious about stopping the cycle of violence.  Let’s repeal the 2nd Amendment and in the mean time ban the manufacture and importation of assault weapons in the USA.

Or, we could just follow this simple 12 step program.

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For more information e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.