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It’s an outrage. Or it’s an understandable mistake. Or, as President Obama has called it, the professor v. the sergeant is a “teachable moment.”
As the parties prepare to meet later today, what is there to learn for conflict resolution, business or otherwise, from the July 16 incident where Harvard Prof.Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested in his Cambridge, Mass., home, and the ensuing media crossfire?
While the main point grabbing attention is the issue of race in America, and racial profiling, the encounter between Prof. Gates and Cambridge, Mass., Police Sgt. Joseph Crowley highlights several important features common to all disputes.
These underlying elements are valuable lessons for conflict resolution that can be gleaned from the coverage of the incident.
Despite the contextual differences, a careful examination of the incident and the media reaction points to several behavioral lessons that business executives can translate into their practice of commercial ADR.
Not everyone wants reconciliation—one prominent New York Times columnist wants dispute resolution through a Gates court filing. See "Should Henry Louis Gates Sip or Sue?" here.
But other coverage has been more hopeful about the mediation prospects.
At the very least, the parties will talk over beer at the White House tonight, with the president. Although President Obama’s involvement increased the controversy and hype surrounding this dispute, the prestige and neutrality he brings to the table will likely help diffuse the prickly situation.
Regardless of how this ordeal concludes, the tactics employed by the men thus far and the racial issues revealed by the story both provide important lessons for ADR providers and consumers everywhere.
Perhaps the media coverage of this incident was overblown. Undoubtedly, the debate has been fueled by unresolved racial tensions. Nevertheless, the high-profile dispute between the Cambridge police sergeant and Harvard professor provides a few nuggets of wisdom on interpersonal relations, setting and context that the dispute resolution field—business and otherwise—should absorb.
More related readings linked below.
--By Lucy McKinstry, CPR Intern
For further reading:
Brown, Robert J. “Picnic Table Summit: Obama, Gates, Crowley To Meet at White House,. Washington Post (July 29, 2009)(Available here).
Cooper, Christopher C. “Gates & Crowly, Patrol Officer’s Tool Box: Mandatory Conflict Resolution Skills for Police Officers.” Blog (July 2009)(Available here).
“Gates vs. Crowley.” Christian Science Monitor (July 23, 2009)(Available here).
“In Gatesgate, Might Mediation be the Answer?” WSJ Law Blog (July 24, 2009)(Available here).
“Varied Opinions on Gates Controversy Light Up the Web.” New York Times (July 24, 2009)(Available here).
“Getting to yes: What would it take for Gates, Crowley to shake hands.” Boston Globe (July 24, 2009)(Available here).
“Report: Sgt. Crowley Considering Defamation Lawsuit in Gates Controversy.” Jonathan Turley Blog (July 24, 2009)(Available here).
Warner, Judith. “A lot Said, and Unsaid, About Race.” New York Times (July 26, 2009)(Available here).