Why We Write

Our own Sarah Cole, Jill Gross, and Andrea Schneider, along with Tim Hedeen and Nancy Welsh, led an excellent session at the ABA conference entitled, “How Being Angry Leads to Good Research.”

They said that perceptions of “injustice, bias, discrimination and wrongdoing” have motivated them and others to do valuable research.  Jean Sternlight, when accepting her well-deserved award for her scholarship, said that she was motivated to deal with problems of injustice.

I have a somewhat similar motivation, which I think of as expressing concerns about problems in scholarship and practice, and suggesting ideas for better ways to deal with the issues.  I don’t think of my goal as promoting just outcomes as such, but rather as helping people manage disputes by avoiding common conceptual or practical problems.  While this is a different form of justice, I have a similar interest in identifying and solving significant problems in our field.

Indeed, the impetus for my session with Alyson, Jim, and Noam, “Everything You Know About Dispute Resolution is Wrong,” was to prompt us to think more carefully and hopefully solve some problems in our field. For example, I have written about what I see as problems with traditional negotiation theory and suggested ideas for improving our understanding and practice of negotiation.

It can feel awkward to suggest problems in the work of our friends and colleagues in our community. Yet, that is how our field grows.

It should be a compliment to take people’s work seriously enough to invest the time to continue their conversation and raise issues about their work. Hopefully, we can do this respectfully and constructively. When suggesting problems with colleagues’ approaches, we can fairly acknowledge their efforts to grapple with important issues and celebrate their helpful contributions to advance our common purposes.

In one of George Bernard Shaw’s plays, a character said, “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”

Good scholarship, particularly in our field, asks both why and why not.


April 27 update:  Added the reference to Jean Sternlight, elaboration about my motivations, and other tinkering edits.

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