March 16, 2021
Contact: Office of Advancement and External Relations
Sarah Federman, assistant professor in The University of Baltimore's School of Public and International Affairs, has been accepted to the Fulbright Specialist Program Roster for a tenure of four years.
The highly selective Fulbright Specialist Program is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs that sends U.S. faculty and professionals to serve as researchers and expert consultants on curriculum, faculty development, institutional planning and related subjects at overseas academic institutions. Acceptance to the roster places Professor Federman among a competitive pool of candidates who are eligible to be matched with projects designed by host institutions in more than 150 countries around the world, at any time during their four-year tenure on the roster. The Fulbright Specialist Program offers year-round project opportunities of two to six weeks in length.
As a Peace and Conflict Specialist, Prof. Federman will draw on her research and conflict facilitation experience to support developing curriculum, peace dialogues, emerging scholars, as well as other inclusion efforts around the world. Her pedagogical approach to the field is outlined in her co-authored textbook, Introduction to Conflict Resolution: Discourses and Dynamics. Her other publications—and forthcoming book—consider how businesses can make amends for participation in mass atrocity.
"A rising scholar in the negotiations and conflict management field, Prof. Federman will have an opportunity to leverage her background in peace and conflict studies to make contributions to universities, NGOs, or cultural centers looking to develop conflict resolution programming as a Fulbright Specialist," said Ivan Sascha Sheehan, associate professor and executive director of the School of Public and International Affairs.
Fulbright Specialists are a diverse group of highly experienced, well-established faculty members and professionals who represent a wide variety of academic disciplines and professions. In order to be eligible to serve as a Fulbright Specialist, candidates must have significant experience in their respective field demonstrated by professional, academic, or artistic achievements. Prof. Federman earned admission to the roster after a lengthy application process and the recommendation of a peer review panel.
"That Professor Federman is now eligible to serve as a Fulbright Specialist in a host country is a testament to the value of her expertise and an illustration of the leading reputation of our school," Sheehan added. With the addition of Professor Federman, the School of Public and International Affairs now has five Fulbright-eligible faculty members, including Professor Alan Lyles, Associate Professor Lorenda Naylor, Assistant Professor Kelechi Uzochukwu and Assistant Professor Al Gourrier.
While the standard Fulbright Specialist tenure is three years, Professor Federman was approved for a four-year tenure to ensure that they receive a full-term on the roster, as the U.S. Department of State and World Learning take steps together to restart participant travel on a country-by-country basis following a temporary postponement of Fulbright Specialist projects due to COVID-19.
Learn more about Professor Federman. Learn more about the Fulbright Specialist Program.
French translation below / Version française ci-dessous
Throughout the Central Sahara and Western African Sahel region, the Tuareg, Fulani, Dogon, and Songhay tribes have long struggled over territory and resources, but increasing radicalization supported by Al-Qaeda and other Salafist groups has swept across their respective lands, taking numerous lives and undermining states.
States, along with international peacekeepers and local leaders and supporting NGOs, work to resist the pillaging of their people and resources by extremist movements, yet the violence continues. These efforts tend to be state or tribe-centric, whereas the jihadist groups operate in well-organized networks that transcend national and tribal lands.
The event sought to connect peacebuilding efforts transnationally (Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso) and across tribes during our Sahel Peace Dialogues, held March 1-6, 2020 at McGill University’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism in Montreal, Canada.
Professors Ronald Niezen and Sarah Federman invited seven leaders from across the region for a week of dialogue and strategic exercises designed to augment their individual and collective efforts.
Based broadly on Herbert Kelman’s Problem Solving Workshops, we also engaged in conflict mapping, scenario planning, and simulations that allowed us to explore narratives about self and other. Drawing from his forthcoming book, #HumanRights, Niezen led a session on social media and new technologies as tools of resistance and accountability. Participants then designed social media campaigns aimed at deterring young people from radicalizing. Federman discussed conflict approaches based on her co-authored book, Introduction to Conflict Resolution. The meeting was conducted in French.
Participants told us the sessions offered them the opportunity to think differently about the conflict and strategies for intervention as well as to better coordinate their actions across the Sahel region. Relationships between the participants were strengthened and they are eager to return. We are now in the process of planning the next dialogue. We will continue to ensure inclusion of local women. We will also continue to reach out to emerging youth leaders across the region.
Dr. Adal Rhoubeid, Special Ministerial Advisor to the President of Niger on matters of terrorism and radicalization.
Halima Amadou Sanda, General Director of the NGO, ONG-AFIS Niger, Aide et Formation pour l’Insertion Sociale (help and training for social integration).
Maiga Seydou-Kaocen, cyberactivist, former spokesperson for the Mouvement Nigérien pour la Justice.
Dr. Mariam Wallet Med Aboubakrine, former chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Anatole France R. Pitroipa, PhD student, works with the interfaith organization, Union Fraternelle Croyant.
Rahama Nantoumé, project officer at Think Peace, Preventing Radicalization in [Malian] Prisons.
Armel Sanhouidi, economist from Burkina Faso and a masters student in Global Affairs and Human Security at the University of Baltimore.
Thank you to our sponsors and team!
A special thanks to McGill University’s Robin Rugenius, who worked out all travel details and many other pragmatics, Nandini Ramanujam for her support, and to our astonishing McGill law student assistants Jennifer Lachance and Marie-Denise Vane. We also greatly appreciate the contributions of Armel Sanhouidi who also worked as intern throughout the process.
Thank you to our advisors: Professors Donna Hicks, Daniel Shapiro, Darren Kew, Karen Ross and Dave Joseph.
Funding was generously provided by the Katherine A. Pearson Chair at McGill University and CICADA (Centre for Indigenous Conservation and Development Alternatives).
Tout au long de la région du Sahara central et du Sahel ouest-africain, les tribus touareg, peul, dogon et songhay se débattent depuis des années pour préserver leurs territoires et leurs ressources, mais la radicalisation croissante soutenue par al-Qaïda et d'autres groupes salafistes a envahi leurs terres respectives, faisant de nombreuses victimes et en les forçant à se déplacer vers d’autres zones. Les États, ainsi que les soldats de maintien de la paix, les forces armées nationales, les dirigeants locaux et les ONG s'emploient à résister contre le pillage de leurs populations et de leurs ressources par des mouvements extrémistes, mais la violence continue.
Ces efforts tendent à être centrés sur l'État ou les tribus, tandis que les groupes djihadistes opèrent dans des réseaux bien organisés qui transcendent les territoires nationaux et tribaux. Nous avons cherché à relier les efforts de consolidation de la paix au niveau transnational (Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso) et entre les tribus lors de nos Dialogues de paix sur le Sahel, qui se sont déroulés du 1er au 6 mars 2020 au Centre des droits de l'homme et du pluralisme juridique de l'Université McGill à Montréal, au Canada. Les professeurs Ronald Niezen et Sarah Federman ont invité sept responsables au niveau des régions concernées pour une semaine de dialogue et d'exercices stratégiques destinés à accroître leurs efforts individuels et collectifs.
Sur la base des ateliers de résolution de problèmes d'Herbert Kelman, nous nous sommes également engagés dans la cartographie des conflits, la planification de scénarios et des simulations qui nous ont permis d'explorer des récits sur soi-même et sur les autres. En s'inspirant de son prochain livre, #HumanRights, Niezen a dirigé une session sur les médias sociaux et les nouvelles technologies comme outils de résistance et de responsabilité. Les participants ont ensuite conçu des campagnes sur les réseaux sociaux visant à dissuader les jeunes de se radicaliser. Par la suite, le Professeur Federman a partagé différentes approches de conflit sur la base de son livre co-écrit, Introduction to Conflict Resolution: Discourses and Dynamics. Il est à noter que l’ensemble des travaux se sont déroulés en français.
Selon les participants, les séances leur ont offert l'opportunité de penser différemment sur le conflit et sur les stratégies d'intervention afin de mieux coordonner leurs actions à travers la région du Sahel. Ils ont également déclaré avoir acquis de nouvelles compétences en matière de prévention de la violence et de consolidation de la paix.
Les relations entre les participants ont été renforcées et ils sont impatients de revenir. L’équipe s’attelle à planifier la seconde édition Dialogue qui devrait se tenir l’an prochain. A cet effet, l'inclusion des femmes dirigeantes et des jeunes leaders qui émergent dans la région sera renforcée.
Dr Adal Rhoubeid, Ministre conseiller spécial du président de la république du Niger sur les questions de terrorisme et de radicalisation.
Halima Amadou Sanda, Responsable de l’ONG AFIS Niger, Aide et Formation pour l’Insertion Sociale
Maiga Seydou-Kaocen, PhD, cyber-activiste, ex-rebelle et ancien porte-parole du MNJ (Mouvement Nigérien pour la Justice)
Dr. Mariam Wallet Med Aboubakrine, ancienne présidente de l'Instance permanente des Nations Unies sur les questions autochtones
Anatole France R. Pitroipa, doctorant, travaille avec l'organisation interconfessionnelle Union Fraternelle des Croyants (UFC) de Dori, Burkina Faso
Rahama Nantoumé, Chargée de projet à Think Peace, Mali
Armel Sanhouidi, Économiste, étudiant Burkinabé en master, Affaires globales et Sécurité Humaine à l'Université de Baltimore, Etats Unis d’Amérique.
Un grand merci à...
Robyn Rugenius de l'Université McGill, qui a apporté un appui dans l’organisation du volet logistique, à Nandini Ramanujam pour son assistance, et à nos étudiantes assistantes en droit de McGill Jennifer Lachance et Marie-Denise Vane. Nous apprécions également grandement les contributions d'Armel Sanhouidi qui a également travaillé comme assistant stagiaire tout au long du processus.
Nos personnes ressources : les professeurs Donna Hicks, Daniel Shapiro, Darren Kew, Karen Ross et Dave Joseph.
Le financement a été généreusement offert par la chaire Katherine A. Pearson de l'Université McGill et le CICADA/CCDAA (Centre pour la Conservation et le Développement Autochtone Alternatif).
Message to my negotiation masters students
We've spoken a bit about the importance of emotional mastery in negotiation. When we feel calm, sure, and clear we can influence others for their own benefit and our own. We can also come up with more creative solutions. This is a critical time to practice these skills. As the conflict resolvers, peace makers, service agents and healers people look to you. You're in this program because you already offer hope, wisdom, and clarity to many people in your lives.
That said, even the healers sometimes go into a tailspin. During this time, as schedules change and our lives change tempo, care for yourselves and stop, breathe and nap when you need to. We're all in this together.
Remember, people around you might not be as in control of their emotions. Stress often amplifies how people are: depressed people become more depressed, angry people get angrier, anxious people get anxious. One way to redirect this energy is to help someone else. (I learned this from my Robbins-Madanes coach training) There are plenty of opportunities to do so. Reach out (to the strong friends too). If you all have ideas about how we can serve during this time, please share them.
Challenge #1: Inbox Colonic
In the downtime that's sure to arise, I still encourage you to clean out your email. See if you can get your inboxes down to 50! In past semesters, people have found money, jobs and connected with old friends.
This article will help inspire you. Connecting with others, thinking about a compelling future, and honoring your obligations can help you feel a sense of stability.
Challenge #2: Keep Imagining
One more challenge to keep your spirits up and moving forward. For 10 minutes a day (literally with a timer) sit and imagine that all of your dreams have come true. Do it for at least a month. I learned this from Martha Beck and it's strangely powerful and part of our "keep imagining" theme.
Sometimes when you bring a group of leaders together, you end up in a sadistic power struggle. I guess that pretty much describes our daily headlines. I first experienced this phenomenon during a month-long trek through southwest wilderness with fifteen other male and female leaders. I avoided leadership related events since. Well, until last week. The Graduate Public Administration Student Association at the University of Baltimore organized a panel of women leaders working for positive change. Unlike teen trekking struggle, I wanted to keep exploring the world with these folks. Because the other panelists and audience responded positively to my message, I wanted to share it. Note: I'm writing this from the context of a women's leadership meeting that put patriarchy on trial. The LGBTQIA+ community and others helping challenge gender binaries can surely enrich this discussion as can women of color or others with experiences of marginality. I simply speak here from my experience.
It Matters What You're the Leader Of
Once upon a time, we thought that putting women in positions of power would change the world. Well, at least I thought that. If women were CEOs, politicians, etc. then the world would be well. Underneath that believe lay an incorrect assumption: that women are good and men are often not. Of course, we want women in positions of power, but I think we want them in charge of organizations working for betterment of all people or at least doing no harm. If you're the CEO of a big Pharma company that floods the market with drugs to create opioid addicts, you're not doing us any good. If you're working within the food industry and pushing products that promote sugar addiction, then that's pretty questionable too, especially if your company lobbies to prevent policies that work to protect folks. If you're the CEO of an organization that poisons rivers with its pollutants, you also might want to think again. Yes, change can happen on the inside, but only if you work towards that change. Many people get in and become so wrapped up in getting to the top, they lose sight of the ladder they've been climbing. It matters what you're the leader of...
The feminist manifesto, Feminism for the 99%, says it this way, don't break the class ceiling and leave everyone else to pick up the pieces.
Support Great Women
I absorbed another myth: in the professional world women want other women to fulfill their potential. Throughout my adult life, men often opened doors for men while women metaphorically tripped me on my way to a meeting. In my twenties, I vowed to support younger women especially if I perceive them to be more talented than I. Women can be so tough on other women. Male friends in tech observed a number of senior women closed the door when they reached the top. Moms can also judge each other harshly. Why fight for women power just to turn and criticize an exhausted parent? Come on, women, let's be good to each other. I understand that working within systems of patriarchy doesn't always bring out the best in us, but let's be mindful of absorbing and perpetuating that system.
Note: If you have a daughter, consider sending her to Fleur de Lis Camp in New Hampshire. Four-generations of my family have attended where I continue to find such beautiful expressions of girl & womanhood. I'm sure there are others, I just know this one.
Shine the Light on Great Men Too!
There are a lot of really great men on this planet, men who trade their lives to save lives. Men of integrity, wisdom, and deep strength. During this #MeToo era in which women expose those who abuse their power, it is more important than ever to shine a light on the men who do NOT do this. Women can help bring out the best in men, no longer just with pompoms on the sidelines while wearing short skirts. We can do it at the negotiation table or dinner table.
It's common for an oppressed group to simply want to replace the existing power structure with their own. Many women want to rule now; they're sick of the patriarchy. Though, I warn just swapping patriarchy with matriarchy. Our world is filled with examples of victims becoming perpetrators. So often the oppressed becomes the oppressor. The way out of cycles of violence (structural & physical) is building new systems of equality. Instead of simply swapping roles, let's create a culture promotes the healthy expressions of humanity. The audience laughed when I said, "Don't beat down great men on your way to the top and then wonder why there's no one to date when you get there!" They can relate. A lot of talented women struggle to find partners, but we all have a role in helping create these men. A number of women in my classes talk about the struggle to raise black boys in this still painfully racist world. We need to support the moms raising boys. We need to support those boys and those men. The book, Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood and the American Dream, talks about a generation of young men opting out in part because we have the women's movement failure to acknowledge we still want them.
That's all for now....
If you've struggled with a protracted personal conflict or ruminated over social/political/environmental conflicts you've likely realized the myriad of approaches available. You could take a hard negotiation approach, a collaborative mediation approach, or perhaps engage in a larger problem solving process that involves multiple people. You may take a reflexive approach that asks you to consider how you or your company, nation, family, etc. has contributed to the creation of the problem. Perhaps you understand the conflict as the outcome of multi-generational abuses.
You could spend a lifetime reading books about these approaches, attending seminars, getting coaching etc. At times the advice will disagree. So what to do? How can anyone navigate all these approaches. Even if you pick one approach, someone may challenge you asking why you're not engaging in the others.
We, the authors of this new conflict resolution resource, understood this conundrum and wanted to provide a textbook that offers a genealogy of the field that contextualizes the different approaches. By breaking the field in to three eras, or epochs (as we call them), we show how the various approaches you've heard about developed in response to various crises faced by the western world. This is not to say that other civilizations and cultures do not have their own approaches. They have and continue to develop forms of resolution that address conundrums they face. The field of conflict resolution as a discipline, however grew in response to contemporary challenges; how to prevent nuclear war, genocide, terrorist activities?
The book discusses three epochs that shape the field; Epoch 1 (1945-1989), Epoch 2 (1990-2001), Epoch 3 (2002-today). We consider the theories, approaches and research methodologies of each epoch through articles written either by some of the founders of these approaches or those who articulate clearly the discourses of that approach.
Understanding these approaches as discourses developed in response to certain events (nuclear arms race, inter-ethnic warfare, terrorism, etc) allows us to think through whether an approach makes sense for a particular situation and, if we engage in the approach we can understand the limitations. For example, negotiated settlements might hold off a war, but they do not alone resolve tensions between peoples. Without addressing these tensions, the violence may return and upend the settlement.
We are excited to present this interdisciplinary anthology useful for a wide range of undergrad through graduate conflict-related courses. We tested the book's concept with students at; George Mason University, University of Colorado Boulder, SciencesPo (France), University of Baltimore, and others. The book's approach are also being shared at conferences around the world and to a wide variety of organizations and governmental organizations such as the U.S. Department of State.
For more information or to order a copy click here.
To request a presentation of the book or schedule a talk please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
(This letter was sent May 31st, 2019 to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan)
Dear Governor Hogan,
I just learned the orchestra has been shut down for the summer and am writing to request that you approve the $3.2 million dollars in fiscal funding already earmarked to support the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra over the next two years. This “fenced off” money needs to be released or we will continue to contribute to the financial and moral collapse of our city.
As a resident of Mount Vernon, a professor at the University of Baltimore, and former corporate executive who lived in Manhattan and central Paris, I know the value of the symphony for the neighborhood and the city more broadly. When we deplete the arts, we create a vacuum which is often filled with more of what we don’t want and less of what we do. This neighborhood, anchored by the train station, the University of Baltimore, Peabody Music School, the Lyric Theatre and MICA is an artistic and energetic center of the city.
While planned the revitalization of the Amtrak station offers great promise, fewer businesses will be attracted if we show no respect for our musicians and what they offer the city and our civilization more broadly. Many local businesses will suffer if we allow this to happen this summer. I suspect a number could close as a result.
The Mount Vernon neighborhood delivers a pulse to the rest of the city. If you allow the orchestra to fall, you’ve let Maryland fall off the map as an artistic center of the eastern corridor, travelers will more readily skip Baltimore to visit Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
You probably have not had too much time to play video games, but if you ever played with the game “CIVILIZATION” you will know that you lose the game if you only have military/police force and financial wealth. You cannot win the game without having the arts. While just a game, I believe the game designers recognized something quite significant. Under Armour and a police force does not a thriving municipality make. We are a wealthy state, so please take down the fence holding back the funding and support for the orchestra.
The prosperity of our city is in your hands.
Sarah Federman, PhD
Assistant Professor, University of Baltimore
Negotiations and Conflict Management
In my Approaches to Conflict class at the University of Baltimore, students must write a letter to someone in power, requesting something that matters to them. I always participate. So when, the Bay Area BART rail system allowed advertisements from a group that promoted Holocaust denial and white nationalism, I wrote expressing my concern. They said nothing could be done because of the Bill of Rights. This week, however, I received a wonderful email from BART telling me the Board of Directors will meet Tuesday December 4th, 2018 to consider revising their advertising policy. They asked me to comment on this new policy that gives them discretion over the messaging on their platforms. Here is my response....
Dear Board of Directors,
Thank you for bringing this proposal about the possible changes to your Advertising Policy to the Board of Director’s meeting this Tuesday, December 4th.
A former San Francisco resident, I reached out about this issue based on two areas of expertise. Firstly, as a decade-long senior global advertising executive and now as a scholar working on corporate accountability for massive human rights violations.
I study trains as sites of socio-political contestation, specifically the French National Railways’ role in the WWII deportation of Jews and the debates in the U.S. over whether the company has made sufficient amends to do business in the U.S. (especially California where it bids for high-speed rail projects). (For more on this research click here).
You face a conundrum faced by all Americans. As a nation, we want to preserve free speech and yet we all know the power of propaganda to promote the hate which leads to violences. We are torn: freedom of speech or peace?
The U.S. has long prioritized freedom over peace. Few leaders, except the likes of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., have been able to lead us through these complicated moral waters.
I can share with you the following from my own knowledge and experience. Emotions are contagious. Hate spreads like your California wildfires, especially when people are distressed or in fear. Every genocide on this planet is born of this propaganda.
If you are familiar with the Rwandan genocide, you may be aware of the crucial role the local radio station played by promoting the hate of Tutsis. The genocide could likely not have occurred without their assistance. Raul Hilberg, the father of Holocaust research, says that while many organizations contributed to the Holocaust, trains were vital. The Holocaust likely could not have occurred without their assistance. I’m sure you are aware of the Dutch National Railways recent announcement that it will pay descendants.
Though the U.S. remains largely auto-centric, trains have not diminished as sites of socio-political importance. The recent refusal of Washington D.C. metro drivers to operate a special train for those attending an alt-right rally, demonstrates the awareness of the members of the union.
As historian Howard Zinn so aptly noted, “You cannot be neutral on a moving train.” With this in mind, I encourage you to use your power wisely and be discerning regarding the messages you allow on your train platforms.
Advertising works— it can sell products or lay the groundwork for mass violence and political polarization.
I support the new policy.
Please keep me posted regarding what you choose.
Sarah Federman, PhD
Negotiations and Conflict Management
College of Public Affairs
University of Baltimore
Published in, The Negotiation Society, Issue Three, November 2018. Click here for digital edition.
My first semester at the University of Baltimore, I taught masters students the negotiation strategies I had learned from the Harvard Business School and from my decade-long career as a senior global advertising executive. Students enjoyed the lectures, discussions, and simulations.
During individuals meetings and after reading their reflection papers, however, I started to rethink the course. The financial precarity of many of their lives concerned me, causing me to ask myself, what good is it to help people save $5,000 on a car, if they don’t have a retirement account or any savings? That money will disappear in a month.
A deaf student who worked in construction, for example, had no health insurance. Without health insurance in the United States, one broken leg will eat up anything saved in a car negotiation. His vulnerability put him as well as his loved ones at great financial risk. Students also did not understand the nature of school loans. In the United States, even personal bankruptcy cannot free one from these loans. People can be haunted by them their entire lives.
Knowing many students had taken on these loans to be in my classes, I felt a responsibility to help them find a way out of debt.
Taking Stock as Preparation
Over the winter break, I quickly redesigned the course. Now early in the semester, we talk about building a strong financial ship. Students figure out their net worth, which requires calculating their credit card debt, home loans, etc. They also look at their retirement plan and think about their health coverage. Then, a financial advisor speaks to the class about financial basics and explains the difference between a fiduciary and a stockbroker, the former being required by law to make decisions which serve the client before themselves.
This ought to be the first step in any negotiation class. You have to first know what you have.
Adding this personal financial component to the class had immediate results. One student turned down a job offer promising her an easier commute and greater vacation time. She said no because the salary would not be enough to pay off her school loans while also covering her monthly expenses. She said learning about the loans helped her make this decision.
The idea of preparation is a standard in any negotiation book or seminar. By “preparation” the negotiation experts mean taking time to figure out what you are willing to pay, your alternatives and your counterpart’s interests and alternatives. What many negotiation resources neglect to discuss is how you know. You need to know where you are and where you are going.
This is as true for companies as it is for individuals. When salespeople understand, for example, their company’s operating costs, they can feel more confident when negotiating with potential customers.
Negotiating helps you cover your costs while securing money to invest in your future. So, how do you know your future?
Knowing what you really want
The course now adds a second component to “preparation” rarely addressed deeply in negotiation classes. Course participants spend time clarifying not only what they want, but why they want it. When they think about the why they consider how the acquired object or resource will contribute to their lives. Unless grounded in what matters most to us, we can too easily find ourselves in caught up in ego-based negotiations in which we try to capture more of whatever happens to be on the table, whether or not we really want it.
Getting to Yes with Yourself, negotiation guru William Ury’s latest book, talks about the importance of taking time for this introspection. After decades of helping people acquire what they thought they wanted, only to find they still were not happy, inspired him to write this book. He now urges political leaders, business owners and individuals to really stop and think about what fulfills them.
Students like Ury’s book, but often tell me they need more help figuring out exactly what they want. A decade working in advertising, helped me understand how marketers work to tell people what they should want. Few can be totally immune to how culture and marketing shapes us, but we can stop and consider the kinds of messages we receive.
People receive far more marketing messages, for example, to acquire something new than to say, pay off their debt. In January 2018, Experian estimated the average American carries at least $6,375 in credit card debt. This is a 3% increase from 2017. With a U.S. national average of 17% interest on these loans, many folks can barely pay off the interest each month. But people continue to buy. Advertising encourages consumers to that whatever they are selling will be worth the expense. At the very least the new acquisition can be distraction from the uncomfortable feeling of the debt at their heels.
One of our students described well the trap of consumption,
“I used to spend my money buying all these fancy things to impress my friends. Then I became annoyed they did not come over very often and when they did they did not seem sufficiently impressed with what I acquired. I worked all week earning money to acquire possessions I spent my weekends taking care of. Eventually, I cleaned it all out and started taking care of myself.”
It might be a shock to accept that our ‘wants’ may actually not even be our own. How do we know if what want came from ourselves or was planted in our minds by advertisers, parents, colleagues, our religious community or even by a business competitor? In class we do some of the difficult work of disentangling that. I remind students of psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s profound observation,“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”
Yes, we go deep. But by thinking critically about what influences us, we have a better chance of being fulfilled when we succeed.
So now, in addition to thinking about their financial situation, students also write an essay about what they want and why they want it. They continue to think about and refine their goals throughout the semester. Their efforts culminate in the last class which is held in my home. Their final assignment is to prepare for and attend a “Come As You Will Be” party. Students come as they will be in five years, dressing up and bringing props like business cards, book covers, and wedding rings. They try to stay in character for four hours and ask each other questions about their personal and professional lives. Students have created fascinating consulting companies, talked about their improved health and shared funny stories about their children, partner and homes. The goals is to be as convincing as possible.
This celebratory event can be challenging because it puts everyone back into the driver seat of their own lives and disrupts the unconscious chasing of something “out there” that will presumably increase their happiness.
While this discussion has largely been about individuals, the same strategies are useful in business or in politics. Businesses also need to know who they are and what matters most to them. “Money” as a single answer is a lazy and will not be enough to inspire the best out of employees. This is why some companies invest so much time in quality mission statements.
A salad shop, sweetgreen, has the mission to “inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.” Patagonia, an outdoor equipment and clothing company, goes even further with mission to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
These are goals big enough to inspire employees of all levels to move through the occasional drudgery of the day-to-day of production and delivery of their products. Notice that being wealthy and number one were not the mission; they may be the outcome of fulfilling their mission, but it is not the primary goal. Without being grounded in a deep knowing of who they are and what they want it, businesses may find themselves mindlessly pursuing the competitor which can lead them in the wrong direction. Business leaders can miss untapped markets when too focused on capturing their competitor’s clients. Additionally, focusing solely on beating the competitor can distract from creating innovative solutions, leading companies to be effectively knock-offs of one another.
A simply sailing metaphor can help negotiators get on the right track. Know the status of your vessel and be clear about the destination. Then, use negotiation tactics to move you swiftly along your way.
 Ury, William. Getting to Yes with Yourself: (And Other Worthy Opponents). HarperCollins, 2015.
 Dickler, Jessica. “Credit card debt hits a record high. It's time to make a payoff plan.” CNBC.com Published January 23, 2018. Accessed August 28, 2018.