David Brooks has an interesting op-ed in today’s NYT about Better Angels, a 2016 “bipartisan citizen’s movement” seeking to bridge Red-Blue divides through more skillful, thoughtful dialogue. He argues that we will not make progress on the debate over gun violence without more respectful discourse and an honest desire to understand the competing views and values at stake.
I applaud these efforts and agree that if people engage sincerely, then we may be able to make progress in this contentious debate. For my part, though, I’ve become increasingly concerned with “gaslighting” and other strategies (remember the president’s “many sides” comment after Charlottesville?) that use ADR tools and vocabulary to obstruct progress or to suggest that there is no right/wrong in these kinds of matters. Our commitment to neutrality and process may create moral loopholes when facilitating, mediating, or even participating in value-based conflicts.
Along these lines, I recommend Jim Coben’s excellent essay, Gollum, Meet Smeagel: A Schizophrenic Rumination on Mediator Values Beyond Self-Determination and Neutrality. How do we teach our students to retain a moral compass without imposing their own culturally-determined, highly subjective normative vision on others?