Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An adversarial approach vs the aikido way

In my line of work, I occasionally deal with lawyers - often the type who spend a lot of time in a court room. When we have trouble working together on tackling community issues, its often because they approach things in the way they've been trained to practice law in a system that is designed to be adversarial. Too often the goal of our legal system is "winning" (or at least not losing) rather than finding the truth. And so facts that could hurt one's chance of winning are left out or distorted in order to go for the win.

It should come as no surprise then that Glenn Greenwald (a former lawyer) describes himself as an adversarial journalist. His job is to present information in such a way that he wins the argument. If you understand that about him, you've basically got his MO.

And so, when President Obama says that, despite the fact that what Edward Snowden did was illegal, he welcomes the conversation about US surveillance, that presents some real cognitive dissonance for folks like Greenwald. The response is often to declare a win and say this vindicates Snowden as a whistleblower with prosecution being nothing more than intimidation.

Jeffrey Toobin has a wonderful response to that argument.
The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy led directly to the passage of a historic law, the Gun Control Act of 1968. Does that change your view of the assassinations? Should we be grateful for the deaths of these two men?

Of course not. That’s lunatic logic. But the same reasoning is now being applied to the actions of Edward Snowden.
One of the issues this all raises is that adversarial approaches are often at odds with a democratic problem-solving process. When your only goal is to win and your opponent provides an opening for conversation/compromise, the response of an adversary is to "go in for the kill" rather than negotiate. That doesn't work if your opponent refuses to play the game.
There are no kicks and no punches within Aikido itself, though the person playing the role of the attacker may well use both, as well as weapon strikes. Instead, there is an emphasis on blending with a partner's attack and the use of techniques to lead that attack safely to a conclusion that is good for everyone.
What we're witnessing right now is Team Greenwald's adversarial approach against President Obama's aikido way. It will be fascinating to observe. But we've long known what the President's goal is.
Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.


  1. Take the force of your opponents attack and turn it towards achieving the goal you want to achieve.

    In this case, use the outrage (justified or not) about the NSA revelations and use them to push for reform.

  2. BTW, the Greenwald approach reminds me so much of the short-sighted planning of the GOP and the financial elite. What matters to them is immediate or near immediate results. The idea of "growing" towards a more viable solution is just foreign to their way of thinking.

    You either change or you die.

  3. I am always amazed at how consistent PBO is...when you read his words from can hear it echoed in clear focused....simply amazing!