From Confrontation to Cooperation

(The Nationalist, 22 June 2001)


In our courts we have a confrontational, or adversarial, system. It’s the prosecution or the plaintiff versus the defence. Sometimes the best lawyer wins, even at the expense of justice. And perjury is far from uncommon. This is matched by a penal system which focusses more on punishment than on rehabilitation. Why not focus on reconciliation based on truth, justice (not vengeance) and, yes, forgiveness? Shift the penal system to rehabilitation based on acknow-ledgement by the culprit of responsibility for the crime. This has been tried in New Zealand and it works.

In politics, we have a government and an opposition. The confrontational style is illustrated by the seating arrangements in many parliaments. They sit opposite each other, fostering a them-versus-us mentality. We know the results: posturing, pretence and the scoring of petty party points at the expense of the public good. Why not have dialogue instead of argument, and learn to compromise by changing the party system to one that promotes bipartisanship? Americans such as George Mitchell could teach us a lot on this.

In education, the exam system is competitive. It fosters the idea that a gain for the other person means a loss for me. Instead, why not learn to compete against oneself while cooperating with others?

In industrial relations, we were accustomed to think of employers and workers as being on opposite sides of the fence. But the partnership process brought us from the near bankruptcy of the eighties to the Celtic Tiger. Extend and deepen that process in sectors such as health, food production and education. We could come to accept that producers and consumers have common cause with each other. We could give workers a greater share in the ownership and management of their companies. We have learned that it is possible to structure society so that social justice and self-interest are in harmony. Let’s take a good idea further.

In international affairs, we have seen the Cold War with its confrontation between the East and the West in communist and capitalist blocs. We are now moving from that mentality to cooperation in disarmament, environmental control, Third World poverty and debt relief. What is lacking is enough political will, and that boils down to you and I caring.

Is all this idealistic and impractical? We have already come part of the way in each of those areas. We have seen a win-win situation develop in the Irish economy by working together in partnership. Is it not the confrontational mentality that is not only impractical but wasteful and even dangerous in our world? Cooperation, not confrontation.