Hamilton gives primer on conflict resolution
Jan 30, 2013 (Herald-Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Longtime U.S. Rep Lee Hamilton left little doubt about where he stood on the theme of conflict resolution and consensus building from the outset of the inaugural lecture in the Global Perspectives Speaker series at Indiana University Tuesday afternoon.
Barely a minute into his talk, Hamilton said "the single most important political skill is to be able to resolve conflict and build consensus," adding, "it's tougher than most people think."
The 17-term congressman, director of the Center on Congress at IU and distinguished scholar in the School of Global and International Studies, then outlined a primer on conflict resolution and consensus building for an overflow audience in State Room East of the Indiana Memorial Union.
"You begin with attitude," Hamilton said. "It has to be an attitude of cooperation and not confrontation." He gave as an example his co-chairmanship of the 9/11 Commission and the mutual decision with colleague Tom Kean to not begin their work by issuing more than 100 subpoenas, as attorneys recommended. Hamilton said that in the end, the commission probably did a better job of achieving its goals by convincing interview subjects the commission was seeking facts and not scapegoats.
"Getting the facts right" was his next point. Hamilton described it as a deliberative process and quoted the famous Daniel Moynihan line that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not his own set of facts.
The distinguished scholar at IU then moved to collegiality. "Do not ignore the social amenities," he said. That was tough for him, he said, when he saw he had to work with former Attorney General Edwin Meese -- someone he admittedly did not care for -- on the 9/11 commission. "I kept thinking about Will Rogers and how he said he'd never met a man he didn't like," Hamilton said to chuckles from the audience.
Hamilton said the commission started its work by having a party, with a rule that no one was to talk about work or the mission ahead but simply get to know each other and talk about families and other interests. "It's very hard to get mad at somebody you know well," he said.
He said it's also important with any working group to ensure that no one feels left out or unheard. "Social amenities are very important in human interaction," he said.
Communication and fairness were Hamilton's next two talking points. "Communication is not just talking. It's listening," he said. Related to that, fairness includes genuine consideration of other points of view and giving credit to others.
Hamilton invoked the current domestic political climate when he emphasized the value of compromise in conflict resolution. "Few words are more important than compromise. Without it, few will succeed," he said. "I know some people think it's selling out," he said, noting that compromise is not the same thing as capitulation.
"TV talk shows don't like the idea of compromise," he said, noting that people on most shows "are like sumo wrestlers trying verbally to push one another outside the ring."
Compromise also involves inclusion -- another subject hotly debated in both domestic and international relations. He said it's easy to denounce adversaries or refuse to talk to them, but said, ultimately, dialogue has to occur, even if it means a lengthy progression of intermediaries working through issues before leaders sit down together.
Leadership always is critical, Hamilton said. "Failure is almost certain if leadership is weak and uncertain."
Ultimately, the one-time chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs said, implementation is as critical a factor as any in the chain of conflict resolution. "Reaching an agreement is not the end. It's the beginning of the road," he said.
And failure That sometimes is unavoidable, he said. The key point is to realize that best efforts sometimes fail for a variety of reasons and the step after that is to analyze why there was failure, learn from it, and use the lessons learned in the future.
The College of Arts and Sciences' Global Perspectives Speaker Series will embrace the theme of "Coexistence and Conflict Mediation Across the Globe" this spring. Other events will include a March 7 presentation by Maya Jasanoff, professor of history at Harvard; and lectures by Michael Guest, former U.S. ambassador to Romania, on April 4 and 5.
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