By Kirstin Lindstrom for EDR Blog.org.
In reflecting on the most important things she learned in the seven years of writing her literary blog, brainpickings.org, author Maria Popova wrote, “Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.” Admittedly, the idea that mind-changing is a luxurious experience is a bit elusive. But in thinking it through in the context of dispute resolution, it makes a lot of sense.
We have all experienced the discomfort of having our closely held beliefs effectively challenged. We become angry, unmoored, lost. Humans do not deal well with grey areas. In reaction to these feelings, we create black and white paths with defined borders on which we confidently amble without fear of getting lost. Religion creates a path for understanding life and death, morality creates a path that lends structure to relativism.
We tend to admire those who excel in black and white: the headstrong, the loudest individuals with the most steadfast beliefs, and those with unwavering convictions. Effectively and artfully defending your position against attack is an admirable quality (one for which attorneys are highly paid and politicians obtain votes and fame).
With conviction and certainty (in religion, in science, in relationships), we can easily vanquish fear of the unknown. Conviction creates a steel armor with which we protect ourselves from contrary beliefs, value systems and even scientific facts.
Finding direction in a sea of uncertainty can be courageous. But in the eyes of this author at least, more admirable is the human who considers that their conviction may not be absolute, that their truth can be challenged and changed.
The ability to accept differences and change our opinions adds richness to our thoughts and lives. It gives us a wider range of knowledge from which to make intelligent decisions, it helps us to be more adaptable during crisis. Most importantly, it fosters better relationships with others.
Anyone with environmental mediation or facilitation experience understands that the most common roadblock to progress is a participant’s inability to accept different viewpoints. You cannot always fault the participant for this; most of them are individuals representing thousands of constituents who share one generally cohesive idea of right and wrong. Like politicians, these representatives are mouthpieces for a certain path of thought in business, government or environmentalism.
However, unwavering commitment to an idea without compromise narrows the pool of options available and inhibits progress. So how do we move forward?
First, these representatives need to be open to new ideas. Second, they can ask their constituents to continue to demand change while concurrently demanding exploration of their own thought process. There is no harm in asking your community to find wiggle room in their idea of right and wrong, or asking them to re-evaluate alternatives from a different point of view.
To do their jobs well, advocates need to be able to understand that there is more than one perspective and more than one solution to an environmental problem. They also need to be able to relay this to their communities. This is not a betrayal of the people and ideas they represent, but respect for progress unmired by stagnant thought.
Though uncomfortable at first, the little luxury of changing your mind has the ability to dissolve conflict and with a little practice, can lead to great results.
Kirstin Lindstrom is an attorney at Lear and Lear, LP in Salt Lake City. In her spare time she enjoys wandering around the forests and deserts of Utah thinking about the philosophy of dispute resolution. She is also the EDRblog coordinator.
Photo: Photo: by Wee Sen Goh, 2011, licensed under CC by 2.0