“For nobody would understand,
And you kill what you fear,
And you fear what you don’t understand.”

Powerful words. As a progressive rock music aficionado, these lyrics taken from the song “Duke’s Travels” by my favourite band, Genesis, have often brought me up short as I listen to the album from which they come, 1980’s “Duke”.

You fear what you don’t understand.” And you kill it. Whatever “it” is. A person, a group, a philosophy, an institution, an idea.

The lyricist concludes:
“You’re on your own until the end.
There was a choice but now it’s gone,
I said you wouldn’t understand,
Take what’s yours and be damned.”

Lack of understanding, bequeathing a zero-sum outcome. Be damned.

We are all losers. How familiar is that?

As we head for a “do or die” Brexit in the UK, these words have a poignant resonance. Let’s kill it. Death is now perceived to be better than working really hard to face the realities of our complex situation. How did we get here?

And what happened to the art of conflict resolution? Where was mediation – or at least a mediative approach? Was it tried? Did it fail? In this most important of issues for post-World War 2 Europe, why did we not Get to Yes? Why have we failed to Get Past No? Where was The Third Side? Did anyone try to Mediate Dangerously? Books with these titles adorn my bookshelves. Must the ideas contained in them always stay there, on the shelf?

The need for a “Conflict Revolution” is clear. We have a Negotiation Emergency at the same time as we have a Climate Emergency. Perhaps mediators need their own Extinction Rebellion.


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  1. It is interesting how many of the thoughts and messages in our blogposts are triggered by music and lyrics that have meaning for us. A tool worthy of further exploration.
    I am also prepared to sign up for the Extinction Rebellion when you are seeking members John.

  2. Dear John, dear Rosemary
    I read great disappointment in your post, John, and I share that sentiment. Looking at what is going on in London from Scotland must make it even worse.
    Mediators know that some matters are not made for mediation, and I would not want to overstate the expectations we have of mediation. The UK-internal side of the Brexit negotiations has probably always fallen under the category of “not suited for mediation,” since many of the main protagonists in the UK (or should I say England) seem to be most interested in outcomes that will keep them in or gain them power, and are now more than ever gambling on any number of procedures that will deliver that. Whereas you note that we are all losers, people at the top of Westminster politics are probably among those with the least to lose, whatever happens. You cannot mediate, or negotiate an interests-based collaborative outcome, unless parties (including political parties) are willing to try that in good faith.
    It is not over yet. Back to The Beatles and “Let It Be” – a very powerful text which both accepts “times of trouble” and refuses to give up at the same time: “And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me / Shine until tomorrow, let it be.”
    All best wishes

    1. It is indeed a Long and Winding Road, Greg. My favourite response is the B side to a 1974 single by the Scottish band Pilot, with the title, “Never Give Up”….
      It is a lovely little song, apart from the sentiment it expresses.
      It is indeed not over yet and we have things (potentially) happening here in Scotland which are interesting, if we can just get the interest based approach to be a priority…
      Thank you for your kind words.

  3. Am seeing this play out at so many levels – from the local politician willing to sacrifice community unity just to be right, to the school P&Cs and ruthless commercial conflicts. It seems a resurgence of “better to be right than to reach a solution”, “better to blame than to vulnerably engage” and “better to divide than to problem solve together”. Now more than ever those of us who specialise in the hard conversations, need to be able to step up, speak up and show an alternative! The challenge is to do it in a way that manages the fear because if we let fear drive there is little room for hope.

    1. Thank you Sarah.
      You have hit a nail on the head. Fear, which underlies most things.
      I have presented at two fairly high level government meetings recently and have used a phrase from my recent NHS report: “Fear cannot be the driver”. We need to understand what lies beneath…

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