Is it rational to love your neighbor, even if he does you harm? For negotiators, the question is central. How DO you respond to someone who is hurting you? Is negotiation uncharitable? Is love irrational? Is retaliation wise or foolish? An excellent PBS series recently presented a debate about these questions. Some thoughts from the debate, and some suggestions.^^

Beliefs and Doubts About Love The program, “Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis: The Question of God” brought together nine thoughtful people of different beliefs to discuss the question of love, among other things. Michael Shermer, a humanist who publishes Skeptic magazine, began the discussion by remembering the prisoner’s dilemma game which my students play in class. (That game, called “Win as Much as You Can” (a.k.a. the Coin Game) asks four students to silently decide whether to cooperate or cheat each other in each of ten rounds of play. ) Michael said, “It’s moral and good to start off cooperating and be altruistic, but if the other person defects and keeps cheating and lying or whatever, you’re just an idiot if you keep cooperating. There’s nothing moral about that. You’re a fool. The Jesus ethic sounds better and it’s a good way to start, but what people actually do is they start off cooperating, and if the other person defects, then they do a tit for tat thing, which is the wisest strategy in the long run.”

The Logic of Tit For Tat Michael is remembering a finding from Robert Axelrod’s famous work, The Evolution of Cooperation*which ran a computerized tournament version of the game and found that a ‘tit for tat’ strategy worked best. Margaret Klenck, a Jungian analyst, disagreed with Michael’s premise: “But cooperation’s not love. I mean I absolutely agree with you that if somebody’s kicking me in the shins I’m going to stop him. If somebody’s robbing me I’m going to call the police. That doesn’t mean I can’t love that person. I mean I think we’re talking about empathy here. I can still call the police on this guy, but I don’t say ‘you’re attacking me so you’re bad and I’m good.’”

What Is This Thing Called Agape? The panelists went on to discuss the idea that love in the highest sense- what the Greeks called “agape”- is not a feeling but an act of will. Their discussion raises questions we face daily: Is it rational to love someone who is hurting you? Is love a good strategy? Can you love someone without cooperating with him?

How Negotiation Training Grapples With These Questions In our full and half-semester courses, we indirectly look at these questions in a number of ways. • We learn to be hard on the problem, soft on the person with interest-based bargaining, an approach which allows you to love someone without accepting wrong behavior. • In our last moments, we talk about the idea of not negotiating wherever love or duty call for a different response. (for example, don’t respond to the question “Will you work late?” by saying, “OK, boss, if I can get a bonus.”) • When we play the Coin Game Michael refers to, we begin to explore the ideas of building relationship, substituting for trust, seeking a fair and mutually satisfying outcome, and discouraging bad behavior by being well-prepared • We look at constructive confrontation as a way to get someone to change unilaterally without needlessly destroying the relationship • Several of these ideas are in harmony with those practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who advocated non-violent confrontation instead of hate or passive submission.

A Farewell to Arms? – But the question of love is not simply answered with a few principles. Is war ever OK? What do you do when doing good in one sense is bad for business and for your career? If a winning strategy would have you retaliate, is there any reason not to? Do different cultures have different takes on the question? Here are some sites and titles that can shed practical and philosophical light on the question of love and negotiation Learn More If you’d like to read more about cooperation, retaliation, and wise cooperation, here are some items I’m familiar with that I can recommend: