‘Cooperative Wisdom’

Despite our best efforts, our attempts to resolve conflict sometimes fall short, and that feeling of being stuck at a dead end can cause us to give up and walk away. Yet we are social beings, and are instinctively drawn to working together, say Dr. Donald Scherer, a professor emeritus of philosophy, and Carolyn Jabs, journalist, author and BGSU alumna.

When cooperation fails, “What is the missing ingredient and what steps can we take to supply it?” Scherer asked.

In their new book, “Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart,” published by Green Wave Press, Scherer and Jabs explore this vexing question and posit five virtues that can help jumpstart efforts at solving problems together. For each virtue, they include three concrete practices to use.

“There will always be conflict,” Scherer observed, whether in public or private life, among organizations and individuals. “We can’t prevent that, but we offer tools to resolve it and initiatives that show good faith — constructive steps that ameliorate the problem and help ward off further problems.”

The virtues he and Jabs present are:

  • Proactive Compassion: becoming more attuned to what is really distressing to the other party and attempting to foresee harm before it happens
  • Deep Discernment: discovering where the problem actually lies and realizing that sometimes it is simply the way things are arranged that produces the conflict, and not the values involved
  • Intentional Imagination: reconceiving what is possible, looking for the resources available and the connections to be made
  • Inclusive Integrity: looking holistically at how well potential solutions integrate with other aspects, on both sides of the conflict. “We have to think about what it is and what it is in the process of becoming,” Scherer said.
  • Creative Courage: recognizing that there will always be risks in any step and that not everything can be predicted, but still being willing to sort out which risks to take to achieve common purposes

In “Cooperative Wisdom,” Scherer and Jabs share the dialogue they engaged in over several years after Jabs, then a graduate student at BGSU, attended a 2006 seminar on the subject presented by Scherer, an applied ethicist who has devoted his life’s work to issues of peacemaking and environmentalism. Intrigued by what she heard, she suggested they pursue the topic.

The resulting book ties each of the virtues to specific practices and presents case histories and examples of how the method of conflict resolution has been applied to such widely varying situations as business, government, volunteer organizations, faith communities, schools and families.

Over his 40 years of teaching and research, Scherer said, his philosophy students interning everywhere from hospices to environmental restoration organizations have been able to use the technique to help achieve common purposes.

“I trained students to take the bigger view,” he said, an approach that he has long used to creative innovative partnerships that strengthen communities. The lead author of “Upstream/Downstream: Issues in Environmental Ethics” (Temple University Press), he has been active in promoting wind and solar energy in his community and the state of Ohio.

Jabs writes the award-winning column “Growing Up Online” and has published hundreds of articles on families, ethics, environmental issues and the Internet. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Working Mother and Family PC, among many others. She is also the author of “The Heirloom Gardener.”