They met; they fell in love.
Or was it the other way around?
Did the buzz begin before they met? Was the prospect of meeting a stranger who might turn out to be that very special friend enough to send their heartbeats into rapid mode? If anticipation, as the saying goes, is half the fun, they were feeling the thrill, the adrenaline rush well before they ever set eyes on each other.
The meeting, they well understood, carried meanings beyond the personal. If they handled it well, people whose names they didn’t even know would be impressed. Their own reputations would be enhanced beyond measure. What was not to love – really love – about that?
They met; that much is clear. They had a great first date. They agreed to stay in touch.
Before the second date, Alpha male went public. “We fell in love,” was his flat-out announcement. There were references to “beautiful letters” sent, received, treasured.
Then came the second date. Suddenly everything turned sour. Alpha male walked out. Will there be more to come? Whatever happened to the love?
The story, as you may have figured out, is the story of Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-un, president of the United States and dictator of North Korea.
The question comes back: What happened? Most commentators view these momentous events through a lens of politics, economics or military strategy. Here’s another perspective: what happened is what always happens when sharply divergent worldviews collide.
Consider this example: Two persons are thrown together at a party. One, a fan of car racing, can pull up stats on c.c.’s of engine displacement, the comparative merits of one-foot vs. two-foot control, records set and broken on various tracks over the last 50 years. The other is totally focused on children with autism. This person can recite figures on the frequency of the disorder across nations, genders and cultures, explain the symptoms and why the ailment is known as a spectrum, both the burden and the opportunity caregivers accept. The challenge, then, is to find some common ground – not easy when even talk about the weather becomes a bridge to one person’s favorite subject while the other’s eyes glaze over. Too often, the result is unproductive, like a dialogue of the deaf.
For the sake of convenience let’s distinguish between dominators and negotiators as we evaluate the actions of nations, cultures and even individuals. Take a mix of these types; put them in a room together and charge them with the task of replacing a situation of conflict with cooperation and peace. One segment of the mix presents a “final offer,” a non-negotiable set of demands. “We offer the answers; just accept them and we’ve got a deal,” they shout. Others claim to see ways to improve the offer, ranging from total rejection to making minor modifications. Can the absolutists and the modifiers get along?
If such a situation seems like dictators ranged against those who support democracy, bear in mind that dictators typically wrap their decrees in the language of democracy: even the most repressive orders are “for the good of the people.” Sometimes they actually believe that; then the question becomes how to cut through such self-deception, that false but firmly held worldview?
Take the example one step further: play out in your mind what happens when all players are hell-bent on dominating. Can people whose hopes go in opposite directions ever agree? Are such meetings doomed in advance?
Not absolutely (my personal opinion). Even when a date goes sour, when hopes diverge or collide, surely it is better to try than to accept defeat in advance. Is it not better to spend time talking than to launch rockets and have ”bombs bursting in air.”? History seems to say that sometimes—surprisingly – there can be a breakthrough. A prime example comes out of World War II: the Western democracies and the Soviet Union – oceans apart in the way they treated their own citizens and in the goals they sought for the world – deep-sixed their differences for the sake of a larger good: self-preservation in the face of Nazi tyranny. In creating a common ground they challenged what was and moved the world closer to what could be.
In our day we are beginning to learn two things: first, that getting to the greater good is too important to be left to our leaders. The responsibility is ours; as global citizens we have been entrusted with a role no one else can take over. And second: we are learning that naively trusting everybody to make the right decisions is a road to disaster. Democracy without compassion is not our need; even if 100 percent of the people support worldwide white supremacy, that doesn’t make it right.
Underlying everything else must be a set of core values: respect for all people, commitment to high principles, the surpassing importance of fairness. If these are lacking, what‘s to be gained by developing world-class skills in negotiating or getting rich or falling in love or … ?
Whatever contributes to those core values is to be cherished and supported. Among the possibilities are: education, travel, cross-cultural contacts and relationships, joining a service club or faith group, promoting fair-to-all-peoples maps like the Peters, volunteering or contributing to support groups, simply offering support to a neighbor in need … and more. We won’t all fall in love with a former opponent, but who cares? Maybe what the world needs now is our loyal service to the common good.