Honing the fine art of give-and-take. The real world is the laboratory for Prof. Roger Fisher and his students
Cambridge, Mass. — Peace education, says Roger Fisher, begins with Machiavelli. What advice do you give a prince? -- that's what the 15th-century statesman and writer wanted to know. ``It's a very important question,'' says Fisher with a smile, ``even if you don't agree with the advice.''
Professor Fisher, who heads the Harvard Law School's ``Negotiation Project,'' an experiment in researching and teaching the principles of effective negotiation, says academia needs to look harder at Machiavelli's question. It's important to desire peace and to study politics among nations, he acknowledges, but students also need to be trained to deal in more immediate terms: ``What do you tell P. W. Botha tomorrow morning?'' asks Fisher, who has recently returned from his second trip to South Africa in as many months. ``That's what I want to know.''
Fisher has been asked by an independent sponsor to take several trips to South Africa this year to help groups of both blacks and whites find nonviolent approaches to solving problems. What he hopes these groups will eventually say to each other is yes.
For Fisher, finding proposals that both parties can agree to is the place where thinking about peace and doing something that will help ensure it come together. The book Fisher co-authored on the subject, ``Getting to Yes,'' has sold more than 750,000 copies in 12 languages. His negotiation techniques, which were instrumental in fashioning the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel in 1978, are a standard study in colleges ranging from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, to the Program in Non-Violent Conflict and Change at Syracuse University.
Fisher says the goal a negotiator must hold uppermost is to rise above the common foibles of overreaction and entrenched self-interest to ask: ``What would an impartial party say is a good solution to the problem?''
About the situation in South Africa, Fisher says the confrontation tactics have backed Botha into a corner. ``Right now,'' says Fisher, ``I think Botha correctly perceives that, if he took a major move to end apartheid, the situation would get worse.'' Blacks would say violence is working; foreigners would say sanctions are working; right-wingers would say he'd gone too far; left-wingers would say he hadn't done enough.
Fisher says he would like to construct a choice for Botha, where it would be in his interest -- as well as the interests of South Africa's black population -- to say yes. For example: ``Can we get the banks, Burroughs, IBM to say that if you do these five things in '86, we'll get off your back? The bankers will rollover your commercial credit and will give you another year of your loan? That might be a start.'' Solutions from students
Besides overseeing the Negotiation Project -- an undertaking that combines both research and practice -- Fisher also teaches an intensive course on the subject each quarter at Harvard. Students learn by doing -- by negotiating case studies with lawyers, heads of business, and others who agree to participate in the exercise. Students end by writing a detailed memo to someone in the real world.
Last year, for example, one student developed a proposal for how a town in West Germany could meet the hidden costs of housing American soldiers and then sent it to the town. The solution was debated in the local press and finally adopted. Fisher cites this as one case where the student ``had learned what to tell both parties the next morning.''