As I watched ABC’s Diane Sawyer reporting from Korea several mornings recently, it occurred to me that the country’s leader Kim Jong Il might actually fear the United States and he’s testing nuclear devices to deter an attack he thinks we might launch. Some of that country’s citizens certainly fear us, based on what I saw during the controlled reporting – controlled in the sense that even casual interviews were set up by the Korean government officials who accompanied Ms. Sawyer and her crew.
It is hard for me to believe that people could fear our country. We’re the good guys, aren’t we? The world’s protector. Originators of global pop culture. But when you see some of the Korean children and their mothers literally running away from Diane Sawyer – because they are afraid of Americans – doesn’t that make you wonder if they think we’re the bad guys?
A strategy often used in successful negotiations is this: understand your opponent’s point of view. You don’t have to agree with the other side or even accept anything they say or feel. And it doesn’t necessarily matter who is right or wrong. But one can often achieve a better outcome in a negotiation if one understands the other side’s point of view.
Consider Korea’s possible point of view: the U.S. invaded Iraq, destroyed its infrastructure and captured its leader because the U.S. considered Iraq a threat; we thought they had nuclear weapons and we didn’t like their leader. This same United States is the only country on the planet that ever attacked another country, Japan, with a nuclear device. The justification for that might not be apparent to Koreans. And our president can appear to be a bully, regardless of his intentions.
If you follow that logic, at least you can understand why Korea might feel the U.S. is planning to attack. And Korea might believe they have the right to be prepared for such an attack. Or at least show some teeth and put us on guard.
The point, again: understand the other side’s point of view. Walk in their shoes for a few minutes. See the situation from their side.
The reverse is also true. Other countries should look at our point of view and try to understand why we’ve done what we’ve done over the years.
We fear them, they fear us. That cycle is a problem.
Another thing that concerns me is this: an opponent could look at historical facts and believe they have the right to remove from power someone they consider to be a dangerous leader, our own president, for example. If another country tried to do to us what we did to Iraq, we wouldn’t take it lightly.
News reports today say that North Korea wants to talk. That’s good. I hope that they and we realize conflict resolution isn’t always about who’s right or wrong. Sometimes it’s merely about understanding each other.
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