We are plagued by “default thinking” here in Hawaii and around the world. Over and above every curse which the human race has had to contend with, there is one curse that stands out above all others: the curse of wanting to be right.

History has a dismal record of wars waged over the certainty that, “my religion is right.” The thought pattern is this: “If I am right, you cannot also be right.” So, “Because I am right, you need to think the way I think.”

How many millions have been killed because of this line of reasoning?

This need to be right is a “default thought pattern.” It is what we think automatically without thinking about it. This “default” has been ingrained in our automatic nervous system’s fight, flight or freeze response to perceived survival threats.

Thankfully, over the last 40 years, a new thought pattern has emerged that promises better outcomes. This new thought pattern is based on thinking about “what is in my long-term best interest?”

Or, even better, what needs do I have to address in order to make me feel more secure?

Senator Spark M. Matsunaga with his family at the U.S. Capitol. Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution is one of several mediation groups in the islands. Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution

I qualify “best interest” by acknowledging that the decision I choose must not only be in my and your long-term best interest, but must also satisfy my basic human need for security and safety. The Native American people believe that in making decisions now we must look ahead seven generations: how will present decisions impact the future interests and needs of my family, community, nation and planet?

So, it may be in my short-term best interest to lie. I may score an advantage in an argument or I may get more money.

However, lying can never be in my long-term best interest especially if my basic human needs for food, clothing, shelter, education, health and financial security go unmet. A lie will always be a burden I carry with me. It requires I make no future decisions that contradict my lie.

Lying is not consistent with living in a way that is pono.

We need to live by values that have stood the test of time and that we know intrinsically are “right.”

Values like not lying or even exaggerating in order to get an advantage. Values like thinking about mutual best interests, our respective needs and about how you and I can both benefit through reciprocal kindness.

This harks back to the ancient cooperative human value that ensured mutual survival. We need to honor values like taking responsibility when we make a mistake, and refraining from violence in word, thought and deed.

Identifying long-term best interests and needs to solve problems calls for mediation. The mediator helps each disputant to recognize what is in his or her long-term best interest, and whether their apparent and underlying needs are really being met.

Although the mediation process may be challenging for all involved, it is preferable to war, political division and protracted civil disputes.

Community Health Requires Mediation

It is time for the study of “long term needs-based best interest” to become a focus of our academic scholars. We need to train our young people to think in terms of clarifying the difference between their interests and needs, and the long-term consequences of how they settle conflicts that arise.

The mediation process will allow for conflicts — whether it’s a divorce, corporate, public policy, national or international disputes — to be resolved while being mindful of present and future consequences for all. We should look forward to a day when communities and nations finding themselves in a dispute instinctively reach out first to a mediator, not a lawyer.

Mediators can be our peace builders. We are blessed with an abundance of experienced and passionate private and public mediators here in Hawaii including the Mediation Center of the Pacific, the Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution, Conflict Resolution Alliance and the Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution.

At this time when businesses are shuttered, when government agencies are functioning partially or remotely, it is even more important that we all truly focus on what really addresses the community’s needs.

Listen To The Powerless

We must be attentive not just to those with power and access to power, but to those who are powerless, who do not have access to lawyers, lobbyists, financial resources or military might. The mediation process can help to bridge the gap between rich and poor that hinders justice in our courts and causes so much collateral damage.

It is easy to say: “We are all in this together.” Yet so many cannot afford to feed themselves or purchase needed medicine. The rising numbers of the unemployed, many of whom are falling into homelessness heightens the need to abandon shortsighted default thinking that spawns winners and losers.

Our elected leaders must set an example by using mediation in their deliberations and governance whenever possible. It is imperative that we think like mediators, like the peacemakers that we all are called to be.

Lying is not consistent with living in a way that is pono.

We must embrace mediation with urgency and commitment to nourish the human connection. Think about what we spend on armaments, lawsuits and Hollywood movies. Mediation deserves something approaching that degree of investment.

Post-pandemic, let’s reject the violence-begetting zero-sum, winner-take-all game as the default approach to settling disputes. At the heart of a creative transformation in the dispute resolution field is a commitment to the primary ethic of using nonviolent methods to resolve conflict.

Even the most vexing disputes can be settled if the flow of communication between the conflicted is maintained with the help of the mediator. This flow replaces being critical and judgmental with a sincere effort at understanding the interests and needs of others.

Legendary mediator and nonviolent communications educator Marshall Rosenberg said: “We can’t win at somebody else’s expense. We can only fully be satisfied when the other person’s needs are fulfilled as well as our own.”

The good health of our community on every dimension — economic, social and political — depends on our willingness to embrace this belief. It’s time.

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