Thursday, December 24, 2009

Peacemaking and Violence in Healthcare Reform

Hal Pepinsky,,
December 24, 2009
I have my utopian visions. I wish that we had single-payer medical care, with all medical personnel on salary, all medical facilities not for profit, and all higher education including medical training free of charge. Although I’ve never been quite sure what political labels mean, I am aware that much of what I wish for places me with “progressives,” “the left,” and makes me “liberal” (or worse).
Early this Christmas Eve morning the U.S. Senate passed a healthcare bill. It has been a messy process. The next step for legislators is to try to reconcile the Senate bill with the House bill. Who knows what new healthcare law, if any, will emerge.
In this the Northern Hemisphere’s season of rebirth, I have been reflecting on my own position, and indeed on the posture I have taken on my “peacemaking” blog. The bulk of my posts have been critical, notwithstanding my posture as one who would learn how to build positive human relations in the face of violence. Last night as I lay in bed to go to sleep, I was struck with the irony that despite my frustration with many of the provisions in the Senate bill, it is a product of the very peacemaking process I advocate as an antidote to violence.
To me, violence is attachment to or fixation on substantive outcome in our relations. In my own relations, notably in the classroom and in victim-offender mediation, I have celebrated surprise, as in what issues are addressed and as in mediation, in outcomes I could not have anticipated. I have noted that when political battles have been won in my favor, backlash (or in CIA-speak “blowback”) has swamped gains I have celebrated. Notably, a consequence of U.S. surrender in Vietnam and degradation and humiliation of President Nixon resulted, I believe, in draconian sentencing laws domestically in the late seventies, and in the landslide victory and worship of a bellicose, corporate-profit-worshiping and re-election of the Reagan administration. Humiliate your political opponents, kill and terrorize your “terrorists,” and they will come back to bite you.
In the face of that historical reality, of what happens in the wake of what Marx called political rather than human emancipation, I remind myself that political like military victory does not pay. I remind myself that in any political process, from response to disagreements with my students or victim-offender differences, the most gratifying responses to entrenched positions are in Roger Fisher’s words “getting to yes!” as participants in political/military processes move from position to negotiating interests a step at a time.
So it is for me now with healthcare legislation. If people can no longer be denied insurance or have it taken away on grounds that they are poor insurance risks, that is to me real, unanticipated progress. While President Obama hedges on campaign promises for a public health insurance option, I find myself concluding, with him, that his approach may do more to resolve healthcare violence in the United States than the Clinton position of trying to dictate law to members of Congress. As I have so often preached, as in the classroom, peacemaking is a process, not an outcome. In life there is no peace, only stepping away from entrenched political positions.
I do not consider myself a Democrat any more than I consider myself a liberal, but I do consider the position of Republicans in Congress to constitute violence, attachment to outcome, in extremis. I guess that makes me about as partisan as Joe Liberman, Ben Nelson, and Bernie Sanders.
For all the negativity I have posted at, in this holiday season, I celebrate the capacity of U.S. senators under a Democratic umbrella to shift from position to interest, negotiating beyond political impasse. I remind myself: trust the process, not the result. Merry Christmas. Love and peace--hal

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