What do you value,
value? Family? Faith? Environmental Stewardship? Fairness?
It is no secret that values and perceptions shape our approaches to, and opinions about, natural resource management. Should Florida allow bear hunting? Should the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline be built? Should the Rodman Dam be removed? Should we spend money on beach renourishment?
As NRLI Fellows travel the state learning about important natural resources issues, they listen, observe, and discuss ideas with those they meet - and with each other. They see and hear things that raise eyebrows; they also encounter stories that inspire and offer hope. Both reactions are linked to deeply held values that shape individual beliefs about what is right or wrong or good or bad.
The aqua blue waters of Silver Springs have drawn people for decades. Now that these waters are threatened, differing opinions about the causes and solutions have led to accusations and contention.
In NRLI, we promote dialogue and negotiation as an effective strategy for addressing differences. If parties in a dispute consider
others want or don't want something, opportunities often arise to find common ground and/or make trade-offs. But how do we negotiate when
are at stake? For example, negotiations over how much water can be withdrawn from the Floridan aquifer involve issues such as timing and quantity, but, at the same time, values are entwined in the process. Decisions regarding "who gets how much" are shaped by beliefs related to fairness, cultural survival and economic well-being, and the importance of ecosystem health. Values can and do change, but they are not something we trust to the give and take of a negotiation. What can we do if the problem, at least in part, is about values? One option is to let our legal system make ultimate decisions about natural resource issues, as our laws are designed to represent the values of the people as a whole. However, legal decisions can take years and cost enormous amounts of money and are themselves susceptible to accusations of bias. The court system is a vital tool in managing disputes, but it is important to realize that it is not the only tool.
Negotiation expert Lawrence Susskind has spent his entire career studying conflict. There are no simple solutions, but he does offer the following suggestions for dealing with values conflicts (CBI, 2010).
- Consider interests and values separately. First, analyze the situation and look for components of the dispute that can be negotiated; what pieces do we agree on that can be addressed? Once initial progress is made, it may be easier to discuss values.
- Engage in relationship-building dialogue. Find ways to work on building relationships and trust. Even incremental increases in mutual respect can reduce anger and facilitate listening.
- Appeal to overarching values. There are always things that we can all agree on. If we start with that which brings us together, it can be easier to discuss the things we disagree about. Ask any given group about values and common themes will emerge at some level.
- Confront value differences directly. As noted, values are not set in stone, and we all grow and change. However, "educating" the other side rarely works better than attacks if it is not preceded by trust-building and some level of mutual respect. Even agreeing to disagree can allow for a return to focusing on interests.
So, who should get how much water in Marion County? In Silver Springs, we saw signs of what Susskind recommends as well as signs of deep distrust. The
science is improving, so what might help to bridge differences in values?