I posted something on my political blog about two competing ballot propositions before California voters this November. Both aim to improve the state’s financial condition and raise money for education, but each attacks the problem in a somewhat different way. One is sponsored by the governor and the other by a private organization. Polling has indicated majority support for the governor’s proposition, but now there may be a real danger that both propositions go down to defeat. Why? Because the competition between the two measures has sparked negative messages by each side against the other.

As soon as we have two ideas before us on how to fix a problem, we naturally start comparing them to decide which one we like better. We might think one idea is good, but another is better. The human mind doesn’t always support that kind of subtle distinction, however. Once we start advocating for the idea we prefer, we can’t seem to keep from attacking the idea we don’t like as well. Instead of arguing that one idea might be good, but the other one is better, the argument starts to sound like one idea is good, and the other idea is bad. Supporters of each idea form two different camps, and point fingers at the other. The resulting negativity may result in enough “no” votes for each proposition, even from voters who support the general idea of more money for schools, that will cause both propositions to go down to defeat. If that happens, both camps will probably blame the other for the defeat.

We see this tendency among groups in all kinds of conflicts. Members of my family might support the general idea of going out to eat, but then break into warring camps over whether we should choose a Chinese or Italian restaurant. Parties in business disputes come up with two different solutions to a problem, each of which might be more advantageous to one side, but both of which are better than the continued conflict. If they cannot agree on a solution, however, the conflict continues, and the problem does not get solved at all.

With regard to the ballot controversy, one solution for voters who support the general idea of more funding for education, is to vote yes on both propositions; alternatively to vote yes on the one they prefer and abstain on the other. If you support one idea, that doesn’t necessarily require you to try to defeat a competing idea. That path can turn “win/lose” into “lose/lose.” It’s better to stay open-minded to allow an acceptable solution to succeed. To get to “win/win,” the proponents of two competing visions should work together to craft a joint solution they can both live with.

by Joe Markowitz

Also available at http://www.mediate-la.com/2012/10/competition.html

Joe Markowitz has practiced commercial litigation for more than 30 years, both in New York City and Los Angeles, and has served as a mediator for more than fifteen years. He is a member of the Mediation Panels in both the District Court and Bankruptcy Court in the Central District of California. He is currently the president-elect of the Southern California Mediation Association. Website: www.mediate-la.com/