Conflict Resolution|systems design

The Secretary and the Professor

(Scene:  White Horse Tavern, Hudson Street and 11th Avenue in the Village in New York City.  Roger Fisher is having a beer with Alexander Hamilton, who is nursing a brandy.)

 Roger Fisher:  Hamilton, I’ve been thinking….

 Alexander Hamilton:  That does not surprise me.  You are after all a Professor. 

 Fisher:  …about this theme in your book, the Federalist Papers.

 Hamilton: (Delighted) You’ve read my book?

 Fisher:  Of course I have.  And in Federalist 10, this discussion you do of “faction,” there is an idea that I find uniquely American and that goes right to the core of my own work.

 Hamilton: (Wary) Yes?

 Fisher:  Your write that factions, groups of conflicting interests, are a danger to self-government….

 Hamilton: (Even more wary) Well, that was Madison actually….

 Fisher: (Oblivious) And you concede that it is impossible that every citizen would have the same interests…

 Hamilton: …while it is also unacceptable to deny them the liberty to pursue their factional interests, yes…

 Fisher:  So, you say, the cure is to embrace the process itself – the dual forum of the state and the federal legislatures – and ensure that every faction, whether in the majority or the minority, shares an overarching interest in preserving the process itself.

 Hamilton: (Eyeing his brandy)  Right.  As I say, Madison was actually the one who wrote that….

 Fisher:  Well, this is just great!  (Slaps Hamilton on the back with hearty good will.) 

 Hamilton: (Wincing) You liked it?

 Fisher:  Boy do I ever!!

 Hamilton:  (Blushing modestly) Well, I must say I did coach Madison quite a bit on that part….

 Fisher:  This is the same process that I wrote about in Getting to Yes!  Don’t you see the connection?  It’s a process of identifying and then enlarging the shared interests of the disputing parties, yes?

 Hamilton: You could put it that way I suppose.

 Fisher:  It’s so interesting to me that America gave rise to both the concept of republican democracy and the theory of interest-based conflict management!

 Hamilton:  (Lost) I beg your pardon?

 Fisher:  Well, America, in large part through you, was the great experiment of the Enlightenment, having faith in self-determination and adopting a system that allows public decisions to be made as the result of expressed disputes among representatives of self interested factions…

 Hamilton:  I believe you will find that Rome made some slight contribution, but….

 Fisher:  And in my book, I proposed that the process of expressing underlying interests could yield a zone of possible agreement that the mere assertion of conflicting positions would not.

 Hamilton:  Your book, again… (Lost)

 FisherGetting to Yes.  It’s a classic.  (Pause)  You haven’t read it, have you?

 Hamilton: (Uncomfortable) I have not had the pleasure.  (Hastily)  Yet.

 Fisher:  Well there is a remarkable resonance between your thought and mine.  Really remarkable.  We are both saying, I suppose, that with a modicum of skill, and the application of a few principles, people can indeed govern their own affairs, even though they may seem to directly conflict.

 Hamilton:  What principles are these?

 Fisher:  Well, as I said, the first one is to emphasize one’s interests, and not just take argumentative positions all the time.

 Hamilton.  Yes, that makes sense.  Gets to the nub of it, not just the wrappings.

 Fisher:  Right!  Phrasemaker!! The second is to generate options that will benefit both parties.

 Hamilton:  I like that idea.  I like it very much.  Have you read, by the way, Madison’s minutes of the convention on June 18 when I introduced the “Hamilton Plan”?  Now there was a piece of work!  I was proposing….

 Fisher:  The third is to use objective criteria to assess the value of suggested offers….

 Hamilton: Yes, I’m sure that’s….

 Fisher:  And the fourth is to separate the people from the problem.

 Hamilton: (Takes a beat)  I’m afraid you’ve lost me there.

 Fisher:  Keep your eye on the problem being discussed, don’t be distracted by the irritation you may develop with the person propounding it.

 Hamilton: (Long pause)  I think not.  The distinction is unclear to me.  For example, take Col. Burr.  Col. Burr is the problem.  In his own right.  He is not merely irritating; his very existence is the issue that needs to be corrected.

 Fisher: (Slapping him on the back) I like that!  I like it!

 Hamilton: (Extricating himself politely) My dear Professor, I once made a bet with Gouverneur Morris: Dinner and wine for the company if he would dare to slap George Washington on the back.  He did so, but though I paid for dinner, Morris lost more than I.  “Washington just looked at me,” he kept muttering “He just… looked at me!”  (Laughing at the memory)

 Fisher:  Huh.  Whaddya know?

 Hamilton:  (Fixing Fisher steadily with beady eye) Washington was not an informal man.

 Fisher:  Oh.  (Getting up to go to the bar)  Beer?

 Hamilton: Brandy. (Under his breath)  Thank you.

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