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  • Well, the subject of difficult negotiation

  • reminds me of one of my favorite stories from the Middle East,

  • of a man who left to his three sons, 17 camels.

  • To the first son, he left half the camels;

  • to the second son, he left a third of the camels;

  • and to the youngest son, he left a ninth of the camels.

  • The three sons got into a negotiation -- 17 doesn't divide by two.

  • It doesn't divide by three.

  • It doesn't divide by nine.

  • Brotherly tempers started to get strained.

  • Finally, in desperation,

  • they went and they consulted a wise old woman.

  • The wise old woman thought about their problem for a long time,

  • and finally she came back and said, "Well, I don't know if I can help you,

  • but at least, if you want, you can have my camel."

  • So then, they had 18 camels.

  • The first son took his half -- half of 18 is nine.

  • The second son took his third -- a third of 18 is six.

  • The youngest son took his ninth -- a ninth of 18 is two.

  • You get 17.

  • They had one camel left over.

  • They gave it back to the wise old woman.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, if you think about that story for a moment,

  • I think it resembles a lot of the difficult negotiations

  • we get involved in.

  • They start off like 17 camels, no way to resolve it.

  • Somehow, what we need to do

  • is step back from those situations, like that wise old woman,

  • look at the situation through fresh eyes

  • and come up with an 18th camel.

  • Finding that 18th camel in the world's conflicts

  • has been my life passion.

  • I basically see humanity a bit like those three brothers.

  • We're all one family.

  • We know that scientifically,

  • thanks to the communications revolution,

  • all the tribes on the planet -- all 15,000 tribes --

  • are in touch with each other.

  • And it's a big family reunion.

  • And yet, like many family reunions,

  • it's not all peace and light.

  • There's a lot of conflict,

  • and the question is: How do we deal with our differences?

  • How do we deal with our deepest differences,

  • given the human propensity for conflict

  • and the human genius at devising weapons of enormous destruction?

  • That's the question.

  • As I've spent the last better part of three decades, almost four,

  • traveling the world,

  • trying to work, getting involved in conflicts

  • ranging from Yugoslavia to the Middle East

  • to Chechnya to Venezuela --

  • some of the most difficult conflicts on the face of the planet --

  • I've been asking myself that question.

  • And I think I've found, in some ways, what is the secret to peace.

  • It's actually surprisingly simple.

  • It's not easy, but it's simple.

  • It's not even new.

  • It may be one of our most ancient human heritages.

  • The secret to peace is us.

  • It's us who act as a surrounding community around any conflict,

  • who can play a constructive role.

  • Let me give you just a story, an example.

  • About 20 years ago,

  • I was in South Africa, working with the parties in that conflict,

  • and I had an extra month,

  • so I spent some time living with several groups of San Bushmen.

  • I was curious about them, about the way in which they resolve conflict.

  • Because, after all, within living memory, they were hunters and gatherers,

  • living pretty much like our ancestors lived

  • for maybe 99 percent of the human story.

  • And all the men have these poison arrows that they use for hunting --

  • absolutely fatal.

  • So how do they deal with their differences?

  • Well, what I learned is, whenever tempers rise in those communities,

  • someone goes and hides the poison arrows out in the bush,

  • and then everyone sits around in a circle like this,

  • and they sit and they talk and they talk.

  • It may take two days, three days, four days,

  • but they don't rest until they find a resolution

  • or better yet -- a reconciliation.

  • And if tempers are still too high,

  • then they send someone off to visit some relatives,

  • as a cooling-off period.

  • Well, that system is, I think, probably the system

  • that kept us alive to this point,

  • given our human tendencies.

  • That system, I call "the third side."

  • Because if you think about it, normally when we think of conflict,

  • when we describe it,

  • there's always two sides --

  • it's Arabs versus Israelis, labor versus management,

  • husband versus wife, Republicans versus Democrats.

  • But what we don't often see

  • is that there's always a third side,

  • and the third side of the conflict is us, it's the surrounding community,

  • it's the friends, the allies,

  • the family members, the neighbors.

  • And we can play an incredibly constructive role.

  • Perhaps the most fundamental way in which the third side can help

  • is to remind the parties of what's really at stake.

  • For the sake of the kids, for the sake of the family,

  • for the sake of the community, for the sake of the future,

  • let's stop fighting for a moment and start talking.

  • Because, the thing is,

  • when we're involved in conflict,

  • it's very easy to lose perspective.

  • It's very easy to react.

  • Human beings -- we're reaction machines.

  • And as the saying goes,

  • when angry, you will make the best speech

  • you will ever regret.

  • (Laughter)

  • And so the third side reminds us of that.

  • The third side helps us go to the balcony,

  • which is a metaphor for a place of perspective,

  • where we can keep our eyes on the prize.

  • Let me tell you a little story from my own negotiating experience.

  • Some years ago, I was involved as a facilitator in some very tough talks

  • between the leaders of Russia and the leaders of Chechnya.

  • There was a war going on, as you know.

  • And we met in the Hague, in the Peace Palace,

  • in the same room where the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal was taking place.

  • And the talks got off to a rather rocky start

  • when the vice president of Chechnya began by pointing at the Russians

  • and said, "You should stay right here in your seats,

  • because you're going to be on trial for war crimes."

  • And then he turned to me and said,

  • "You're an American.

  • Look at what you Americans are doing in Puerto Rico."

  • And my mind started racing, "Puerto Rico? What do I know about Puerto Rico?"

  • I started reacting.

  • (Laughter)

  • But then, I tried to remember to go to the balcony.

  • And then when he paused

  • and everyone looked at me for a response,

  • from a balcony perspective, I was able to thank him for his remarks

  • and say, "I appreciate your criticism of my country

  • and I take it as a sign that we're among friends

  • and can speak candidly to one another."

  • (Laughter)

  • "And what we're here to do is not to talk about Puerto Rico or the past.

  • We're here to see if we can figure out a way

  • to stop the suffering and the bloodshed in Chechnya."

  • The conversation got back on track.

  • That's the role of the third side,

  • to help the parties go to the balcony.

  • Now let me take you, for a moment,

  • to what's widely regarded as the world's most difficult conflict,

  • or the most impossible conflict, the Middle East.

  • Question is: where's the third side there?

  • How could we possibly go to the balcony?

  • Now, I don't pretend to have an answer to the Middle East conflict,

  • but I think I've got a first step -- literally, a first step --

  • something that any one of us could do as third-siders.

  • Let me just ask you one question first.

  • How many of you in the last years

  • have ever found yourself worrying about the Middle East

  • and wondering what anyone could do?

  • Just out of curiosity, how many of you?

  • OK, so the great majority of us.

  • And here, it's so far away.

  • Why do we pay so much attention to this conflict?

  • Is it the number of deaths?

  • There are a hundred times more people who die in a conflict in Africa

  • than in the Middle East.

  • No, it's because of the story,

  • because we feel personally involved in that story.

  • Whether we're Christians, Muslims or Jews, religious or non-religious,

  • we feel we have a personal stake in it.

  • Stories matter;

  • as an anthropologist, I know that.

  • Stories are what we use to transmit knowledge.

  • They give meaning to our lives.

  • That's what we tell here at TED, we tell stories.

  • Stories are the key.

  • And so my question is --

  • yes, let's try and resolve the politics there in the Middle East,

  • but let's also take a look at the story.

  • Let's try to get at the root of what it's all about.

  • Let's see if we can apply the third side to it.

  • What would that mean? What is the story there?

  • Now, as anthropologists, we know that every culture has an origin story.

  • What's the origin story of the Middle East?

  • In a phrase, it's:

  • Four thousand years ago,

  • a man and his family walked across the Middle East,

  • and the world has never been the same since.

  • That man, of course, was Abraham.

  • And what he stood for was unity, the unity of the family;

  • he's the father of us all.

  • But it's not just what he stood for, it's what his message was.

  • His basic message was unity too,

  • the interconnectedness of it all, the unity of it all.

  • And his basic value was respect,

  • was kindness toward strangers.

  • That's what he's known for, his hospitality.

  • So in that sense,

  • he's the symbolic third side of the Middle East.

  • He's the one who reminds us that we're all part of a greater whole.

  • Now, think about that for a moment.

  • Today, we face the scourge of terrorism.

  • What is terrorism?

  • Terrorism is basically taking an innocent stranger

  • and treating them as an enemy whom you kill in order to create fear.

  • What's the opposite of terrorism?

  • It's taking an innocent stranger

  • and treating them as a friend whom you welcome into your home,

  • in order to sow and create understanding

  • or respect, or love.

  • So what if, then, you took the story of Abraham,

  • which is a third-side story,

  • what if that could be --

  • because Abraham stands for hospitality --

  • what if that could be an antidote to terrorism?

  • What if that could be a vaccine against religious intolerance?

  • How would you bring that story to life?

  • Now, it's not enough just to tell a story.

  • That's powerful, but people need to experience the story.

  • They need to be able to live the story.

  • How would you do that?

  • And that was my thinking of how would you do that.

  • And that's what comes to the first step here.

  • Because the simple way to do that is:

  • you go for a walk.

  • You go for a walk in the footsteps of Abraham.

  • You retrace the footsteps of Abraham.

  • Because walking has a real power.

  • You know, as an anthropologist, walking is what made us human.

  • It's funny -- when you walk, you walk side-by-side,

  • in the same common direction.

  • Now if I were to come to you face-to-face

  • and come this close to you,

  • you would feel threatened.

  • But if I walk shoulder-to-shoulder,

  • even touching shoulders,

  • it's no problem.

  • Who fights while they walk?

  • That's why in negotiations, often, when things get tough,

  • people go for walks in the woods.

  • So the idea came to me of, what about inspiring a path,

  • a route -- think the Silk Route, think the Appalachian Trail --

  • that followed in the footsteps of Abraham?

  • People said, "That's crazy. You can't.

  • You can't retrace the footsteps of Abraham -- it's too insecure,

  • you've got to cross all these borders,

  • it goes across 10 different countries in the Middle East,

  • because it unites them all."

  • And so we studied the idea at Harvard.

  • We did our due diligence.

  • And then a few years ago,

  • a group of us, about 25 of us from 10 different countries,