Saturday, October 24, 2009

Unknown Knowns — A Survey of Assumptions, Biases, and Bigotry

“The bigot is not he who knows he is right; every sane man knows he is right. The bigot is he whose emotions and imagination are too weak to feel how it is that other men go wrong.”

- G. K. Chesterton, Alarms and Discursions, 1910

Last week, we explored Donald Rumsfeld’s observation about “unknown unknowns.” Unknown unknowns aren't just about what you don't know, they're about what you don't even know that you don't know. The other categories, of course, are known knowns (things you know and know you know) and known unknowns (things you know that you don't know).

But there is one missing combination: unknown knowns, the things you don't know that you really do know. How could you not know something that you actually do know? The answer involves cognitive biases, the ways in which your mind deceives you. Cognitive biases can blind you to what is in fact right in front of you, and also can make you see things that really aren't there.

In looking at cognitive bias, the essential first step is to realize that no one is immune. It's easier to see the mote of self-deception in someone else's eye than it is to see the big heavy curtains that are draped over our own perceptions. None of us can completely escape the trap, but we can (and must) stay aware that what we think isn't necessarily the whole or complete picture. As once was famously said of Vietnam, "Anybody who knows what's going on clearly doesn't understand the situation."

Project managers are taught how important it is to document the range of assumptions on a project, but the PMBOK® Guide doesn't go into much detail about how to discover them or what to do about them. And it's wrong to assume (*ahem*) that all assumptions are bad for your project. They don't always make an "ass + u + me."

Some assumptions are, of course, clearly bad. Common project assumptions include the idea that everybody's on board; that people will always play nice; and that the proposed project will actually solve the underlying problem. "Bad" in this context doesn't mean these assumptions are necessarily or always wrong; it means it's dangerous to take for granted that they're right.

Other assumptions are more useful: if you see a gun, it's wise to assume it's loaded and act accordingly, even if you have good reason to believe it probably isn't. The consequences of an error in one direction don't have the same impact as the consequences of an error in the other. Still other assumptions may change over time. Assume the gun is loaded unless you need to use it; in the latter case, it might be safer to assume it isn't loaded and check to make sure there's a round in the chamber.

The big problem in assumptions comes from assumptions that are held so deeply in the subconscious mind that we (or other stakeholders) aren't even aware they exist -- the “unknown knowns" of our title.

Prejudices and biases are a normal part of the makeup of human beings. They have a certain utility; they permit us to filter and organize and simplify the complex flood of data we get from everyday existence. The danger comes when prejudices are confused with facts. A good general assumption turns into an iron-clad rule; “some” is equated with “all,” and it’s one short step to the idea that if someone sees it differently, they must be either stupid or venal. That, as G. K. Chesterton points out, is the essence of bigotry.

It is both humbling and fascinating to read the extensive and exhaustive lists of biases and cognitive distortions that have been identified over the years. There are far too many for a single blog post, so we'll have fun with these for the next few weeks. If you'd like to jump into discussion, please feel free. SideWise thinkers know they have to battle their own biases as well as those of others, and understanding the list is the essential first step.

Let’s start with five common biases.

Decision-Making and Behavioral Biases

Bias Blind Spot — "Bias blind spot" is a recursive bias, the bias of failing to compensate for one's own cognitive biases. Some 80% of drivers think they are substantially better than the average driver. That's called the "better than average effect." Here, the vast majority of people think they are less subject to bias than the average person.

Confirmation Bias — Evidence is seldom completely clean and clear. If a mass of facts argue against our position and one fact supports it, guess which fact we focus on? When confronted by a mass of data, we tend to be selective in the evidence we collect; we tend to interpret the evidence in a biased way; and when we recall evidence, we often do so selectively. This is why a search for facts isn't as persuasive as logic might suggest.

Déformation professionnelle — Your training as a professional carries with it an intrinsic bias that's often expressed by the phrase "When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems look like nails." We probably know IT professionals who think every problem can be best solved with software, HR professionals who think every problem yields to training and human capital development, and project managers who think all problems lie inside the confines of the triple constraints. Each profession, of course, provides enormous value, but no single profession has all the answers.

Denomination Effect — One way to limit your daily spending is to carry only large denomination bills. Research shows that people are less likely to spend larger bills than their equivalent value in smaller ones. (This could also be called the Starbucks Effect.)

Moral Credential Effect — If you develop a track record as a moral and ethical person, you can actually increase your likelihood of making less ethical decisions in the future, as if you have given yourself a "Get out of jail free" card. For example, in a 2001 study, individuals who have had the opportunity to recruit a woman or an African-American in one setting were more likely to say later that a different particular job would be better suited for a man or a Caucasian.

More next week...

[Illustration © 2009 Mark Hill, used with permission.]

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Unknown Unknowns

“There are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns,” Donald Rumsfeld famously observed. He was talking about an issue close to the heart of every serious project manager: managing risks and making decisions when you don’t always have data to back them up.

Classical risk management is based on the law of large numbers. A creation of famous mathematicians of the 18th century, classical risk is based on statistics. We don’t know if your house will burn down, but in a pool of 100,000 houses, we can make a pretty good prediction about how many houses will. In many ways, classical risk management is at the heart of modern economic civilization. From insurance to interest rates, the ability to analyze and measure risk is essential. At the root of our current economic crisis is the unfortunate fact that risk analysts sometimes get it wrong.

The classic risk formula R=PxI (risk equals probability times impact) measures the severity of risk and provides a guideline for determining how much you should spend in dealing with the risk. If there is a 10% chance, for example, of an event that will cost you $10,000 if it happens, the risk score is $1000. That means if you can get rid of the risk for under $1000, you are better off.

But in project management, you often have no idea what the probability is. “We’ve never done this before! What’s the chance of Event A happening?” Clearly, we have no idea. What do we do now?

Rumsfeld’s answer, basically, was to do nothing. Known knowns and known unknowns fall into the universe of planning, but the set of unknown unknowns was too far outside the box. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out in practice. If you go to your boss and say, “Sorry that project failed, but it was because of an unknown unknown,” that doesn’t work very well as an excuse. Someone else, after the fact, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, gets to decide whether it was reasonable for you to have missed it. You are a hostage to fate.

Fortunately, there are a great many things project managers and planners can do even in the face of unknown unknowns.
  1. Establish a reserve. Military planners know this well. As the elder von Moltke famously observed, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. No project plan survives first contact with reality. The total reserve should be proportional to the estimated risk, but the real secret is that reserve can be created in three dimensions: extra resources, extra time, and optional scope.
  2. Think backwards. The triple constraints – the interplay of time, cost, and performance – form a powerful tool for insight. Any negative event can only do three things to your project: it can make you late, it can drive up your cost, or it can degrade your performance. If it does none of those things, it’s not an issue. If you have generic strategies for recovering lost time, recouping lost resources, or patching up problems in scope, you don’t need to know every possible direction from which trouble can appear. You already know what to do.
  3. Define the range of outcomes. There are six possible outcomes for any given project. The baseline outcome is “fully satisfactory.” That’s the level of meaningful good enough. Another outcome is “barely adequate.” That’s the worst you can do and not have to call the outcome of failure. Above “fully satisfactory” is “exceeds expectations,” a traditional operational definition of quality. At the top is “outstanding,” and below “barely adequate” are the levels of “failure” and “catastrophe.” (Failure just takes down your project; catastrophe takes other stuff down along with it.) The reason you want to define failure and catastrophe is for risk management. The reason to define the higher grades is to improve quality. While it’s easy to provide quality as long as you don’t care how much you spend, that’s not so good for business. Find the elements of outstanding that cost very little, and you’ll deliver high quality performance even on a shoestring budget.
  4. Work harder and dig deeper. At the beginning of the project just about everything is an unknown unknown, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Have you really analyzed your project risk environment? In a number of organizations, thinking about failure causes people to be branded as “not a team player.” Unfortunately, the failure to think about failure increases the likelihood of failure. The more you obsess about the reasons for failure, the more powerful you’ll be at preventing it.
SideWise thinkers don't fall to pieces in the face of uncertainty. Uncertainty and the unknown is quite real, and denying its reality doesn't make your life better. Unknown unknowns are part of projects and of life in general. You can prepare even if you can't know.

Next week, Unknown Knowns — What you don't know that you really do know.

Monday, October 12, 2009

War and Peace

This is the third and final part of my blog series on conflict resolution. The first article defined the conventional conflict resolution space, and the range of options available. The second discussed what happens when conflict breaks the boundaries of the box. In this installment, let’s look at war (and peace) in more detail.

If you're in an office or an organization in which people have points of view — and who among us isn't? — you may feel you live in a warzone each and every day. Some people feel that way when they get home. War is, unfortunately, an all too common experience. Violence can take a lot of forms other than the physical, and psychic violence has been known to cause deep wounds.

So let's look at the personal by way of the political. How do official wars work, and what can we learn that might be useful to us in our day-to-day lives?

In the second part of this series, we established that the first element that leads to war is that each side has a need or desire so overwhelmingly important to them that they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goal, even committing violence if necessary. The second element is that the two sides haven’t been able to negotiate a win/win resolution to the conflict.

What about peace? Well, peace is always achievable if you’re willing to surrender to what the other side wants, and you can’t do that if the stakes are high enough and the issue vital enough.
Peace, you see, isn’t the alternative to war. It’s the goal of war. If you win, you get an acceptable peace. If you lose, the other side gets an acceptable peace. (It’s also possible for both parties to lose.)

The alternative to war is negotiation, a resolution to the conflict that meets the fundamental needs of both parties.

To have a war, you need a situation intolerable to both sides that can’t be (or at least hasn’t been) resolved in a mutually satisfactory manner by negotiation. As a result, both parties to the conflict firmly believe they are right and justified in trying to resolve the conflict with force.

A war, according to the military theorist and historian Karl von Clausewitz, is the process of using force to impose your will on your adversary. You win a war by breaking the enemy’s moral will to resist, and thus gain the ability to force your will upon them. That leads us to three important ideas.

  1. The loser, not the winner, decides when the war is over
  2. The war ends when the loser’s moral will to resist is broken
  3. The winner wins by imposing his or her will on the loser, thus resolving the conflict

A war isn’t like a football game. You don’t decide who wins by how many points you get on the scoreboard, or whether your army kills more than the other side. In Vietnam, the US won virtually every major battle. Far more Vietnamese (North and South) died than did Americans. However, the conflict was about whether the government of North Vietnam would extend its rule over South Vietnam. They did. That means they won, and we lost.

Body counts don’t determine outcomes, at least not all by themselves. What often matters more is will. It was more important to the North Vietnamese that they won than it was important to the United States that we won, and that was enough.

Did US antiwar protests and pressure make it easier for the North Vietnamese to win? Well, yes, but that’s the point. If the US population as a whole had believed the stakes were high enough and that the price was worth it, the outcome in Vietnam would have likely been different. If the military strength and will of the South Vietnamese to self-determination under their government had been greater than the North Vietnamese drive for unification under their government, the outcome would likely have also been different.

War is a political act, or, according to von Clausewitz, “the continuation of diplomacy with the addition of other means.” This is often misquoted as “war is diplomacy by other means,” and the difference is instructive. Diplomacy is part of the process: we seek United Nations approval even as the tanks roll and the missiles fly. We may break off diplomatic relations, but through back channels dialogue goes on.

The aftermath of war is often as important as the war itself in deciding the ultimate outcome. The fundamental Allied goal of World War II was to stop the aggression of Germany and Japan, and especially the atrocities they committed against their captive populations. Both Germany and Japan were devastated, but that wasn’t enough to ensure that the Allied objective had been met. After all, both nations could rebuild. If nothing changed, it was altogether likely we’d be fighting World War III against the Axis in a generation or so.

One possible solution was to finish the job militarily: destroy each nation so thoroughly they’d never be able to rebuild. ("Before we're through with them, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell," Admiral Bill Halsey, USN.) Another solution was to rebuild the countries to remove their incentive to commit war. Both ideas received serious consideration among the Allied powers.

In the end, the choice was to remove their incentive to wage war. In Europe, the Marshall Plan was every bit as much a part of World War II as the combat portion. In Japan, the shogunate of Gen. Douglas MacArthur forced major cultural changes upon the Japanese. Both nations are now peaceful, and war with either Axis power is highly unlikely. The German economic engine is today a force for stability in Europe, and Japan has achieved a version of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere by economic means that it failed to achieve by military means.

Military victory alone is usually not enough. In the American Civil War two issues were at stake: whether the southern states could unilaterally terminate their membership in the United States, and whether the Union could continue to be half slave and half free. (Southern apologists still argue that the conflict was solely about “state’s rights” and not about the institution of slavery, but the chief right in question was the right to keep slaves, as a quick perusal of the South Carolina Declaration of Secession will show.)

The United States won on the first issue. The southern states were brought forcibly back into the Union. On the other issue, it was a mixed decision. Slavery was outlawed, but the move toward full citizenship for the former slaves was derailed in the infamous Presidential election of 1876 (in which a disputed Florida vote count—among other factors—resulted in the election of a president who had lost the popular vote). Reconstruction ended and Jim Crow laws flourished for nearly a hundred more years.

In that sense, both sides lost. The South lost its bid for independence, and the North lost the battle against slavery and racism.

In our current adventure in Iraq, there are two important questions. First, was this war necessary? In other words, was there, from the US perspective, an intolerable situation that could not be resolved through negotiation? Yes, argued the Bush Administration. If we did not act quickly and decisively, it would be only a matter of time before Iraqi nuclear missiles were heading our way.

This turned out not to be the case, as we all now know. The rationale for war has shifted several times since. And even if Iraq had turned out to have weapons of mass destruction, it’s not nearly certain that negotiation was doomed to failure. War might have been inevitable, but hurrying into it is no virtue. As Colin Powell informed the President’s advisors before the war began, when it comes to Iraq, “You break it, you bought it.”

“If war is part of policy, policy will determine its character,” wrote von Clausewitz. In World War II, the doctrine of “unconditional surrender” supported the policy aim of eliminating the Axis powers’ ability to wage war. This had the advantage of military simplicity.

When the objective is more nuanced, however, military options are restricted to those that help achieve the political goal. Should we befriend the conquered civilians or terrorize them so they’ll more easily bend to our will? It depends on the objective.

What were the Bush objectives in Iraq? According to the Bush White House website’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” one goal was to achieve “an Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country…integrated into the international community, an engine for regional economic growth, and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region.” There are short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals to be met, but that’s the desired ultimate outcome.

The Iraqi insurgents saw the goal pretty much the same way, but their definition of “peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure” was a little bit different. There is, after all, nothing more peaceful than a dead enemy.

Is there a purely military solution to Iraq? When Gaius Julius Caesar defeated the Gauls at Uxellodunum in 51 BC, he cut off the hands of all the defeated soldiers and scattered the victims throughout the country. His goal was to pacify the Gauls, who had repeatedly fought Roman domination. Although Caesar had previously shown mercy to his defeated enemies (at least by the standards of the day), he understood that he had to send a lesson that would stop further uprisings. It worked; there were no more revolts against Roman rule.

As awful as chopping off tens of thousands of hands sounds, there is some logic to it. If you want to pacify the enemy for once and for all, it often takes an action of this horrific magnitude. Sherman’s march to the sea and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima are more modern examples.

In the same sense that a surgeon does you no favor by cutting with a dull knife, a leader who commits his or her nation to war had better be absolutely clear about what has to be done to achieve the goal. If you don’t want to chop off hands, pillage the landscape, or vaporize cities, you’d better not go to war in the first place. If you go to war because the other alternatives seem even worse, you can’t afford to shrink from the actions necessary to win.

The reverse is true as well. If violence is bad, then counterproductive or unnecessary violence is clearly worse. Some acts (see: torture memo) seem expedient and even courageous at the time, the mark of a leader willing to do what it takes. A little perspective, however, reveals the underlying flaw. War exists across a wide spectrum of activities — diplomacy, nation building, foreign aid, economic sanctions, and more. The military portion is often a small part, and not infrequently the highest and best purpose of the military is to sit around and look tough in hopes of discouraging the opposition.

War is about force, but force isn’t automatically the same thing as violence. A lawsuit, for example, is a way to settle a conflict by force. If the two sides settle, the court doesn’t have to act. If neither side can reach an acceptable settlement, then the court imposes a solution by using the force of law. There’s economic warfare, in which the power of one economy is used to dominate and subjugate other nations.

Here's one more option for a different kind of war. A London-educated Indian lawyer named Mohandas K. Gandhi reinterpreted von Clausewitz in a new light. The situation for Indians in the British raj was, as far as he was concerned, unacceptable, nor did it seem to yield to negotiation, fulfilling the basic requirements for war. Violence had been tried many times, but the superbly trained British forces had regularly defeated numerically stronger Indian armies ever since the Battle of Plassey (1757), when fewer than 1,000 British troops defeated an army of over 50,000 Indians through a combination of political intrigue and a fortuitous rainstorm.

The first step to imposing your will on your adversary is to deprive them of their weapons. The British had more and better weapons than the Indians. The British also considered themselves morally and racially superior, and Gandhi saw in that an opportunity. If the Indians fought, the British could shoot them. But if the Indians ostentatiously eschewed the use of violence, it would become progressively more difficult for the British to use their military might. World opinion and their own sense of moral superiority both worked against the British. By refusing to use the relatively few guns on the Indian side, Gandhi forced the British to put aside a far greater number of guns.

But make no mistake: this was war. The British had no intention of abandoning the “jewel in the crown.” It took force—in this case moral force—to bring them to the negotiating table.

A black pastor in Montgomery, Alabama, took Gandhi’s lessons to heart. White southern segregationists were happy to use violence to maintain the status quo, and believed they were morally right in so doing. If southern blacks attempted to use violence to improve their position, they would surely lose.

As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., began to apply the techniques of Gandhi’s nonviolence in the struggle for civil rights, the white segregationists responded violently. However, as the pictures of that violence spread, moral outrage cost the segregationist cause far more than their guns, dynamite and dogs achieved. Ultimately, moral force trumped physical force, and the legal structures of segregation fell.

Nonviolence and peace aren’t synonyms. Neither Gandhi nor King were willing to accept peace on any terms other than their own, and both ultimately won victory for their cause—even though both paid for that victory with their own lives.

The nonviolence strategy works better for the side that wants a change in the status quo. In the Israeli-Palestine conflict, regardless of your personal opinion of who’s right and who’s wrong, the Palestinians are the side that wants change (their own nation, the destruction of the “Zionist entity,” or simple self-determination) and the Israelis are the side that wants status quo (nationhood, secure borders) — and the Israelis are militarily far more powerful.

By using violence against Israel, regardless of whether that violence is justified or unjustified, the Palestinians ultimately weaken their chance of success. Israel can point to Palestinian acts in support of their own behavior, and as noted, they have greater military might. If the Palestinians adopted the methods of Gandhi and King, they would neutralize a lot of Israel’s military advantage, and ultimately be more likely to achieve their goals.

If you’re against this war (or, as the bumper sticker has it, already against the next war), talk is cheap. What you need is to apply moral and political force, and to do that, you have to think like a general. Gandhi and King led forces into battle, both physical and moral, and if you want to achieve your goals, so do you. A mere protest march is unlikely to achieve anything more than moral satisfaction to the marchers, but if you get enough of the people (or the right people) on your side, the equation changes.

Nicolo Machiavelli famously advised, “A Prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline.” Singing you “ain’t gonna study war no more” won’t achieve your goals. The more you’re against war and violence, the more you need to understand it. You must counter (physical) force with (moral) force, and you must be willing to impose your will upon your adversaries. Sentiment and good thoughts aren’t a substitute for meaningful action.

Squeamishness isn’t principle. A meat-eater cannot morally despise the butcher. When it comes to war, averting your eyes and avoiding understanding isn’t pacifism. Sometimes justice matters more than “peace at any price.” When conflict can be resolved by negotiation, everyone wins. When negotiation fails, you can surrender or you can fight. If you fight, you have to fight in a way that helps you achieve your goals; otherwise, you're probably going to make things worse.

Going to war is always a bad idea, although it may not always be the worst idea.

If possible, negotiate your way out.

If not possible, plan to win.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

When Conflict Breaks the Box

In my previous blog entry, “The Rules of Conflict,” I identified the conflict resolution styles that are inside the box: smoothing, withdrawal, compromise, forcing, and negotiation. Sometimes, sadly, conflict breaks the bounds, and turns into war.

Not all war is violent. If you’ve ever been in a bad work situation, there’s war all around you, even if nobody’s getting killed. (Fired, maybe.)

But if you extend the “concern for my needs” line high enough, forcing can turn violent, and eventually becomes a war. War is an extreme form of conflict resolution, but it’s still part of the grid.

So, let’s define war. Why go to war? The first reason why people sometimes choose war (the violent or nonviolent kind) is that their perceived need is so overwhelmingly important that they must achieve it, no matter what the cost. Conflict avoidance isn’t an option, and withdrawal or surrender is morally repugnant.

What can possibly be that important? Well, perhaps the other side is committing genocide against my people, or invading my nation. Perhaps the other side is threatening my religion or my fundamental values or poses a long-term threat to the security and welfare of my nation. Here’s a list of common reasons offered by those who support any given war. Which reasons (or cases) do you think justifies war?

Traditional Reasons for Going to War

  1. We have been attacked militarily (Pearl Harbor).
  2. We have been violently attacked through a proxy force (9-11, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand).
  3. We believe we are in imminent danger of being attacked (the Cuban Missile Crisis).
  4. We believe there is a long-term military threat that will be substantially easier to eliminate at the present time (the suspected Iraqi WMDs, the Iranian nuclear program).
  5. We believe our national security interests are threatened (Vietnam).
  6. We believe our national economic interests are threatened (“gunboat diplomacy” in Central America).
  7. We believe our national economic or security interests can be advanced through military action (the creation of Panama, annexation of the Phillippines).
  8. We believe our moral, political, or religious ideals are at stake (supporting anticommunist forces in Nicaragua, stopping potential genocide in Kosovo, or any of the Crusades).
  9. We believe we are being subjected to intolerable pressures, laws, or demands. (Revolutions and revolts against existing power structures.)

No one agrees in all cases. Some people find no justification for war under any circumstances; others allow limited circumstances, opposing most but not all wars; still others set a threshold for military action at a much lower level.

Others agree on principles, but disagree on cases. The United States was born out of a Reason #9 scenario, but four score and seven years later opposed the Confederate states when they tried the same thing. Individual cases matter far more than general principles.

The reason for going to war matters, but it's not enough. Going to the extreme on the "forcing" axis doesn't make sense if other options remain. While smoothing/conflict avoidance and withdrawal/surrender are out, two other strategies remain: compromise and negotiation.

Is compromise possible? If we’re disputing ownership of territory, perhaps we can split the difference and both walk away with part of what we want. If the issue is genocide, compromising is much less of an option.

That leaves negotiation, the search for a win/win answer.

“Win/win” is an idea that sounds impractical, no matter how desirable it might be. How can both sides win? Harvard negotiation experts Roger Fisher and William Ury in their seminal work Getting to Yes tell the story of the two sisters fighting over the last orange. They decide to settle the argument by compromise, cutting the orange down the middle and each taking half. One sister is hungry. She peels her half, eats the fruit, and throws the peel away. The other sister, however, is baking. She takes her half, peels it, throws the fruit away and carries the peel into the kitchen to grate for her recipe.

Interests are different from positions. The position is what we’re asking for. (“I want the orange,” or “I want to eat Thai food.”) The interest, on the other hand, is why you want it. (“I need some grated orange peel,” or “I can’t eat fish.”)

You can’t negotiate positions. You get the orange, you don’t get the orange, or you cut it up and each take a piece. Interests, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily reciprocal. If you want the fruit and I want the peel, we can split the orange and each get 100 percent of what we want. If you want to buy something from me, you want my stuff more than you want to keep your money. I want your money more than I want to keep all my stuff. We both win. That's SideWise thinking.

Unfortunately, negotiation is more difficult when the parties don’t trust each other. In American politics, one side proposes something that sounds reasonable on the surface (a restriction on handgun ownership by felons, or providing vouchers that enable poor children to attend better schools), but the other side angrily rejects it as being a stalking horse for a hidden agenda (gun confiscation, the destruction of the public school system). Neither side believes the other is being honest about the goal, and negotiations that might possibly have produced good outcomes instead fail miserably.

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” Michael Corleone said (quoting his father) in The Godfather II. Most people interpret that as making sure you keep an eye on them. That’s not a bad reason, but it begs the question of why they should let you get close in the first place.

The real reason to keep your enemies close is to build the relationship. It may be unrealistic to think all war can be avoided, but certainly some wars can be. Settling issues short of extreme means is challenging, but it has been done before. Let's keep trying.