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Kenneth Cloke: Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution on Sprinting To Success Podcast
 
Kenneth Cloke
 
Kenneth Cloke has been a mediator, arbitrator, coach, consultant and trainer for over forty years, specializing in communication, collaborative negotiation, dialogue, resolving disputes, and designing preventative conflict resolution systems. He has done conflict resolution work in over 20 countries, and is founder and first President of Mediators Beyond Borders.
 
 
“The big lesson here is, “Who am I in relationship to others, the ones who I really don’t understand, who I’m even a little afraid of, how do I deal with that fear?” And that’s where it comes in because when you have empathy, it breaks down that fear.” –Kenneth Cloke
 
 
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Show Notes:
Esmie Lawrence:
My guest is a lawyer, mediator, arbitrator, coach, consultant and trainer for over 40 years specializing in communication, collaborative negotiation, dialogue, resolving disputes and designing preventative conflict resolution systems. He has done conflict resolution work in over 20 countries and a founder and first president of Mediators Beyond Borders. My guest today is Kenneth Cloke. Welcome, Ken.

Kenneth Cloke:
Thank you.

Esmie Lawrence:
It’s a pleasure to have you on the show.

Kenneth Cloke:
The same for me. Thank you for inviting me.

Esmie Lawrence:
Oh, you’re welcome. I am going to take you back to some of the challenges you had as a child.

Kenneth Cloke:
Okay, well let’s see. I would say the first one was growing up in a relatively poor family and we had a chicken ranch out in the San Fernando Valley and I started working when I was about 9, 10 years old. I loved it and earned enough money to buy a horse. I grew up on horseback, but also I had problems because of conflicts within my family, conflicts with my father who was alcoholic even though he wasn’t drinking regularly.

Kenneth Cloke:
I became a mediator at a pretty young age, but my mother was also a mediator. She was a nursery school teacher, which requires a lot of conflict resolution skills. She was the director of Head Start and set up Head Start centers, one on Skid Row, one in Nickerson Gardens and various places around the city. So, I grew up with a work ethic. My parents were also very progressive politically, so we grew up very much opposed to discrimination of all kinds and committed to supporting people, just people generally. There was, I would say, even though we were relatively poor, there was a lot of happiness in our family, a lot of pulling together. I think a lot of that was really due to my mother.

Esmie Lawrence:
You at nine years old bought a horse.

Kenneth Cloke:
Well, I started working at 9 and I think I was 10 when I bought the horse.

Esmie Lawrence:
Wow. That says a lot about your character because you grew up poor and then you worked to save and make sure that you can actually buy a horse and take care of a horse.

Kenneth Cloke:
Exactly. Yeah.

Esmie Lawrence:
I think that’s amazing to be so young and to be able to buy a horse. Now fast-forward, what are some of the challenges that you had as a teenager now?

Kenneth Cloke:
Well, I think all teenagers have tremendous challenges around love and creating relationships with other people. I started going steady with a girl when I was in junior high and we went steady for four years, if you can imagine that.

Esmie Lawrence:
Yes.

Kenneth Cloke:
A large part of it is just trying to figure out who you are and trying to figure out what the rules are and how you learn what to do when you’re interested in somebody and you don’t know whether they’re interested in you or not. I realized, I would say early on, that a large part of what the rules were didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’m trying to figure out [inaudible 00:05:35] in the world. Initially sort of reading about different religions, reading about philosophy, reading about science, about people, about political issues. I just started thinking about those things when I was a kid.

Esmie Lawrence:
Wow. As a kid you were thinking about the world?

Kenneth Cloke:
I was, right.

Esmie Lawrence:
Not just about your immediate family, but how you fit in the world.

Kenneth Cloke:
Yes.

Esmie Lawrence:
Right. Now, move forward now. As an adult, what were some of the issues? Because we all have issues as adults, right?

Kenneth Cloke:
Absolutely. All our lives.

Esmie Lawrence:
All our lives.

Kenneth Cloke:
I went to school, to college in Berkeley and the 1960s. I don’t think I need to say much more.

Esmie Lawrence:
No, you don’t.

Kenneth Cloke:
I was very active in the student movement at Berkeley. I worked in the civil rights movement in the South and in the North. I worked in Selma and Montgomery and Southern Alabama and South Georgia.

Esmie Lawrence:
Wow.

Kenneth Cloke:
Then came back and worked in the North in the San Francisco Bay area. I was the head of the principal liberal student organization at Berkeley. I served in student government. I then went to law school and in order to try to be of service to the various political principles that I believed in and this was pretty much full-time. Being a student was really my second job. But my first job really was working, trying to create change in the world.

Kenneth Cloke:
It was an incredibly exciting period to grow up in because there were great challenges. But there were also, there was a, well, there was a movement. There was a group of people who were in motion who were discovering and standing up for the things that they believed in. I had to confront my fear of being arrested, my fear of being blacklisted or whatever it might happen to be. I probably learned more in the South in a week that I’d learned in a year.

Esmie Lawrence:
In what regards? What do you mean?

Kenneth Cloke:
Well, I learned about courage and I learned about dedication and commitment from the people who I worked with in the mass movements and the … These were young kids. There were sharecroppers. They were people who against unbelievable odds stood up for the things that they believed in. It taught me an enormous lesson about how important it is to have integrity and principles and to stand by them, and how what you think is difficult ends up being the easiest thing there is. The easy thing is the most difficult. The easy thing is to bow out and not do anything, but you end up knowing that you weren’t there when it counted. If you were there when it counted that really makes a difference for you.

Esmie Lawrence:
When I look at conflict at night on TV in the 60s and when we see black people getting beaten and just that’s treated like they’re not humans at all, I wonder would I have the courage to actually go and stand up and do that? I don’t know if I would have the courage to do that. Well, the people who actually did that, Martin Luther King, yourself included, actually marching for change, that’s really commended. Because you guys did that and stood up and say, “I’m not going to turn a blind eye to this,” there’s actually change in the U.S. You brought in so many different good things, even though there’s still a struggle.

Kenneth Cloke:
Yes. [crosstalk 00:09:27] struggle, but when you see what it actually means to people, what it means in their daily lives, then you know you don’t have any choice. You have to do this because a lot hangs in the balance, not just for them but for you too.

Esmie Lawrence:
Right, because silence is consent.

Kenneth Cloke:
Yeah. I also learned to figure out things about racism, what that was all about. Partly because I lived in the black community and there was a complete flip that took place. If I saw somebody who was black, I felt safe and if I saw-

Esmie Lawrence:
Wow.

Kenneth Cloke:
… anybody who was white, I felt like I was in danger.

Esmie Lawrence:
Is it because you felt in danger when you’re around the white people back then? Is it because that they knew your history then you stood up for civil rights, is that the reason why?

Kenneth Cloke:
No. The reason why was because they hated me and hated all of the things that we were doing. They were really, I mean, what you were describing in terms of being tear gassed and beaten and arrested and all of that, that was what was happening. We confronted the Ku Klux Klan. They were right there.

Esmie Lawrence:
Wow.

Kenneth Cloke:
But what you discover is the power of nonviolence, the power of being there together. It wasn’t just me standing there alone by myself against an angry mob, it was, even though there were times when I was alone, I knew that I wasn’t really alone, that we were all there together.

Esmie Lawrence:
When I watch the news, sometimes I feel so depressed when I watch the news because when you’re watching news and you see all the conflict going on in the world with immigrants and people of color and just so many different conflicts happening, you wonder what kind of world is this? Is there even a solution to end all the conflicts going on in the world and where do you start?

Kenneth Cloke:
Yes, well there is a solution and the solution is for us to figure out what skills we need in order to work with people who are different from us. That’s it. That’s conflict resolution skills, it’s listening skills, it’s collaborative negotiation skills, it’s dialogue skills, nonviolent communication, lots and lots of different skills. The fact that there are skills means that it’s just easier for people to slip into hatred than is for them to do the hard work of learning how to get along. But that’s the solution, we have to pull together. My way of saying this is all those conflicts that you describe, they’re ‘us versus them’ conflicts. But there’s a secret.

Esmie Lawrence:
What’s the secret?

Kenneth Cloke:
There is no them.

Esmie Lawrence:
There’s just us.

Kenneth Cloke:
There’s just us. That’s a beautiful idea and it’s true. Another way of saying it is, “It doesn’t matter whose end of the boat is sinking, we’re all in the boat together.”

Esmie Lawrence:
We’re all in the boat together and no man is an island. Then how do you bring these people who are having different conflicts, how do you bring them to the table? How do you bring them together so they can even discuss what the issues are?

Kenneth Cloke:
This is the hard work that we are doing and we are … I started an organization called Mediators Beyond Borders that is working in a lot of different countries. Right now we are working in Kenya and Nigeria and Rwanda and also in Ecuador and Colombia. We’ve done work in Greece. For example, I went for three years teaching Greek mediators how to conduct dialogues between immigrants and Greek citizens.

Esmie Lawrence:
How do you teach them to conduct dialogue?

Kenneth Cloke:
You learn facilitation skills, how to design a dialogue, what questions would be useful to ask? For example, we started with two questions. Question one to each person to be answered in a small group, so you don’t do it in the big group. You break down into smaller groups where it’s easy for people to relate to each other. First question is, have you personally in your life ever been the new one on a block, in a neighborhood, in a family, in a school, in a workplace? What did it feel like to be the new one? Everybody had been there before. How were you treated? What happened?

Kenneth Cloke:
Then second question, have you ever been in your life, the one who’s been there for a while in a family or neighborhood or school or workplace? Now these new people are coming in and changing everything. What did that feel like? Now everybody can start to imagine what it might feel like to be an immigrant or a Greek citizen.

Esmie Lawrence:
Then you can empathize with people and actually say, “Yeah, because I’ve been you, we’ve all have been you in a situation.” Then we can say we can see the situation from somebody else’s perspective.

Kenneth Cloke:
Exactly right. That’s the key thing. There are two elements to it, which are empathy and honesty. Empathy without honesty, and you’re a wimp and honesty without empathy and you’re brutal. It’s the combination of having an open and honest relationship with each other, where everybody gets to say what’s happening to them and where we will look for ways of understanding each other because we are all diverse from one another multiple, multiple ways.

Kenneth Cloke:
The big lesson here is, “Who am I in relationship to others, the ones who I really don’t understand, who I’m even a little afraid of, how do I deal with that fear?” And that’s where it comes in because when you have empathy, it breaks down that fear.

Esmie Lawrence:
Wow. If you have empathy, yes, it breaks down fear so then because you can relate now. It’s not us against them.

Kenneth Cloke:
Yes.

Esmie Lawrence:
It’s us together. Wow. The work that you’re doing is just amazing. What’s the best way to communicate?

Kenneth Cloke:
The best? George Bernard Shaw, who was a playwright in England and wrote in the 19th century said, “The greatest difficulty or the greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” The idea that you’ve communicated, that ends up not necessarily being true. The best way of working with somebody who you don’t necessarily understand or don’t agree with is to ask questions, heartfelt questions, to come from your own heart and to ask a question from your heart to their heart.

Kenneth Cloke:
Why you feel that way? What life experiences have you had that have led you to feel so deeply about this issue? Why do you care so much about this? What does it mean to you? Those kinds of questions and those are what we do in mediation. We ask those kinds of questions. Another thing that people can do is they can get trained in mediation, conflict resolution, those kinds of skills. That’s where a large part of what it is about. It’s about asking questions, real questions.

Esmie Lawrence:
If you go into the workplace and you feel that somebody doesn’t like you, how do you resolve that? How do you get them to like you or be able to feel that it’s not them, it’s you? How do you go about that?

Kenneth Cloke:
Well, I think the first thing is to acknowledge the fact that there’s a little part inside of you that doesn’t understand them, that doesn’t get what they’re about. The very first question I asked myself is, “What would have had to have happened to you, to me, to make me act like that?” The purpose of that is to lead me to a question that I can then ask that person.

Kenneth Cloke:
Even a question that says, “Do you hate me? Why is it that you won’t say hello to me?” Or, “What is it that you think I’m thinking about you?” But the reality is everybody is coming from a place of self-defense, self-doubt, wondering what’s going on with other people. One of the interesting things I think about being somebody who’s been on the outside, for me in the civil rights movement, for you perhaps as an African American woman-

Esmie Lawrence:
I’m a Canadian. I’m a Canadian, a Jamaican Canadian woman.

Kenneth Cloke:
Oh, Jamaican Canadian. Is that you have to come, you grow up learning that you are not being seen for who you actually are and you develop skills in being able to handle that, superior skills I think.

Esmie Lawrence:
It’s really weird because I have developed skills and the skills came from me accepting who I am, accepting my color, accepting the way I speak, accepting everything about me. Then I say, “It doesn’t matter what you think about me. What I think about myself is what really matters.”

Kenneth Cloke:
Yes.

Esmie Lawrence:
I dropped the fact that I need approval from you. I figured as long as I’m being kind and caring and just being my good self, it doesn’t matter what you think about me because it’s not going to affect me. However, it did affect me. But I had to develop those skills that you talked about.

Kenneth Cloke:
Yes. But this is where it begins. It begins with ourself, with self-acceptance. Because if we don’t like ourselves, if we internalize those messages, we’re just going to project them back out onto other people and that will become, that’ll turn into a circle. We will behave badly towards them and they will say, “Oh look, see how badly she’s behaving, that justifies me in my bad behavior.” The secret of nonviolence as a tactic that as used by Martin Luther King and virtually everybody in the civil rights movement, is that it holds a mirror up to the other person and they have to look at themselves.

Esmie Lawrence:
Is it because you take away the excuse from them?

Kenneth Cloke:
Yes. You take away the excuse. Martin Luther King said, “There are two great powers in the world. The power to inflict suffering and the power to suffer, being willing to suffer in order to achieve something.” That is a really much, much greater power. Because the person is a human being on the other side of it and can’t stand it. They can’t stand what they look like when you hold the mirror up. That’s the purpose of it. Whereas, and this is not just abstract, this is real, real life experiences of when I was in demonstrations in the South and was provoked and attacked and started to slip into hatred and then seeing the smile on the other person’s face because he got me.

Esmie Lawrence:
Wow. But did he really? Did he really?

Kenneth Cloke:
No.

Esmie Lawrence:
He did not.

Kenneth Cloke:
Because I could stop. I could stop myself and I said, “Now I understand why I was given this training. Now, I get it.”

Esmie Lawrence:
To not to attack. It doesn’t matter what they say, it doesn’t matter what hate they throw at you or how they physically hurt you, it doesn’t matter. It’s because there’s a purpose. There’s a reason why you’re going to suffer. Because of what you are going to bring, what’s going to happen in the end. It’s not for you, it’s for others. The people would died, it wasn’t for them, it’s for their children, their grandchildren. That was the sacrifice that was necessary to open their eyes to see the injustice.

Kenneth Cloke:
Yeah, exactly. They are [inaudible 00:22:12] because their hearts aren’t fully open. That can’t be. Because of that, someone who approaches them with an open heart becomes scary to them because it might mean that their whole life could change as a result of what is about to happen to them and that’s what we want.

Esmie Lawrence:
We want change. But change takes time and change comes from within.

Kenneth Cloke:
Yes. From within and also without. It starts as you, as you said, by looking at yourself and having developing a sense of who you are. I think that’s important for all people who are not seen as who they are in society. Everybody has to develop a way of seeing themselves and on various levels. That includes most of all of us.

Kenneth Cloke:
But then the second part of it is to manifest it in the world, to change the systems and the cultures and the structures in order to create ways for everybody to overcome those difficulties. That’s why it’s important for there to be fairness in hiring and diversity in hiring in the workplace. Because without it, people don’t have the workplace experiences of working with diverse groups of people. Without it they never learn this fundamental lesson that what you were taught is just total nonsense.

Esmie Lawrence:
So true, because you know Ken, there are people that’s good in the world, it doesn’t matter what color you are. People that’s good, bad and different, they come to the workplace or society with different personalities. You can’t just pigeonhole someone because they’re black or Chinese or Indian. You can’t pigeonhole them and say they’re all are like this because we’re not.

Esmie Lawrence:
It’s nice to have diversity in the workplace because maybe you’ll get to know your neighbor who’s different from you or well, your coworker, who’s different from you and say, “Hey, she’s different. What’s going on?” Because I know some people say, they’ll look at me and they’ll say, “Oh, you’re different. You’re black, but you’re different.” No, I’m not different. I’m just me.

Kenneth Cloke:
I think that there is a movement beyond good and bad people, which is complicated people, people who have little bits of good inside them and little bits of bad and they alternate between them. Mostly there is pain and loss and fear and insecurity and not knowing really what to do, being worried about your life and how you’re being treated. I mean, it’s all of those things. People are really complicated and the difficulty with it being good or bad is that we can slip easily into, “Well, this is a bad person.” But what that does is it gives you permission to behave badly towards them. We make them bad in order to give ourselves permission to be badder.

Esmie Lawrence:
I know when you think about black men and they’ll say, sometimes I hear on the radio and TV, “They’re criminals.” Well, no, they’re not all criminals. That one person who did that compared to when you hear about white people, they’ll say sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, he’s a bad man because he’s white. What’s the difference? They’re both people. They both did something bad. You judge them according to that bad person, that bad white person, that bad black person, that bad Chinese, Indian. But you don’t say they’re all bad because of one race, because it’s convenient for you to say that.

Kenneth Cloke:
Yes, that’s exactly right. Are there any bad babies?

Esmie Lawrence:
No.

Kenneth Cloke:
One of the real sources of bad behavior is that somebody before that was bad to you and so we pass it on because it feels more powerful than being a victim.

Esmie Lawrence:
A long time ago, decades ago, this one lady said to me, she goes, “I don’t like black men.” I said, “Why?” She goes, “Because that one person was a black guy that was mean to her.” So, she doesn’t like black men. To me it was just like totally ridiculous statement to make. I said to her, I said, “Any white guys had been mean to you?” She goes, “Yeah.” I said, “Do you like white men?” She goes, “Yes.” It doesn’t make sense to me.

Kenneth Cloke:
This is about how stereotypes get formed. I do prejudice reduction bias awareness workshops, and I was asking people what their experiences were with prejudice. This one woman said, “One day I was driving in a city in Los Angeles, Eagle rock. I was driving through downtown Eagle rock and I didn’t see the crosswalk and I pulled in and there was a guy crossing the street and I stopped roughly, but I was a little bit in the crosswalk. It was an elderly Chinese man and he walked up to my car and he took his fist and he went bang on the hood of my car.” She said, “Ever since then, every time I’ve been in downtown Eagle Rock, I’ve been looking out for elderly Chinese men.”

Esmie Lawrence:
Doesn’t make sense.

Kenneth Cloke:
But it’s perfect. It’s just exactly how the brain operates because it’s a way of thinking fast in order to be able to draw lessons from the things that have hurt you and that’s all. Then we know where this comes from and now we know what we can do about it. There’s thinking slow as opposed to thinking fast and we can change those experiences in just exactly the way that you did. To say, well, “Have you ever had any experiences with black men who didn’t hurt you, and what about white men who did hurt you?”

Kenneth Cloke:
You can help the person start to think more rationally about it. But rationality doesn’t really do it, it has to be a real-life experience with somebody who is scary to you, who hurt you or somebody like that person in order to be able to actually work your way through this subconscious place.

Esmie Lawrence:
Right. Ken, we can talk enough for another hour. I’m telling you, just I love your compensation. What would you like to share with our audience today?

Kenneth Cloke:
I think the main thing I’d like to share is that conflicts can be resolved, that it is possible to dig deeper into what lies beneath the surface of virtually all conflicts and to find ways of communicating with each other. I do this every single day, so I know that it can be done. I would just encourage people not to give up hope, to continue trying to do this. Especially to ask the questions that you really want to ask in as kind of way as you can, but ask the questions and people will understand that if you come from a place of real curiosity that that’s a form of caring.

Esmie Lawrence:
Wow. That’s awesome advice. You come from a viewpoint of caring and love and empathy and ask the question to learn about someone. That’s just, that’s amazing. Ken, you’re awesome. You’re on NBC, on all the great stations, TV stations and you do such great work in the world, so what is it that you’re still struggling with today?

Kenneth Cloke:
What I’m struggling with right now is how to carry what I know about conflict resolution over into political conflicts because we are being torn apart by political conflicts. Right. I’m working with different political organizations on trying to help them resolve their internal conflicts. We created a new project with a group of people called DPACE, Democracy Politics and Conflict Engagement through Mediators Beyond Borders. What we’re trying to do is to at a family level where families are divided over political issues, in a community level, over immigration, attitudes towards people within the community who are considered to be outside. I’m working internationally, I’m going to be spending a month going around Europe trying to convince people that political conflicts can also be resolved. That politics fundamentally is just a social problem solving assess.

Esmie Lawrence:
Wow. I’m glad you said that because so then it gives me hope. Hopefully one of these days when I watch the news, I won’t see all this conflict going on. Ken, what an amazing conversation. Oh, it was awesome. Thank you so much.

Kenneth Cloke:
My name is Kenneth cloak. One thing I am known for is writing a book that is called Mediating Dangerously, and I am Sprinting to Success with Esmie Lawrence.

Esmie Lawrence:
Oh, yeah. Thank you so much. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Sprinting to Success podcast. To learn more about Ken, go to EsmieLawrence.com. Thank you and have an amazing day.

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