Luis Miguel Diaz’ New Book More Chaplin and Less Plato: A Fresh Vision for Developing Conflict Resolution Techniques (Book Review)

Translated from Spanish by Michaela Murphy Purnell.

“Every performance
teaches. It may teach for good or for ill but it always teaches.”
Héctor and Carlos Azar

A few months ago I got my hands on More Chaplin and Less Plato
[title in Spanish:
Más Chaplin y Menos Platón], Luis Miguel Diaz’ latest book in
which he lays out a new way for one to learn how to manage conflicts—one’s own
conflicts as well as other people’s. His writing kept me enthralled for days
because on each page I found a new take on a subject that I thought I had been
studying for some years already: conflict management.

Indeed, this book gives
the reader an innovative vision on handling disputes—a skill that is inherent
in humans but one that each of us finds so difficult to master. The book’s
method grabs the reader from the first chapter. Rather than using theories that
require complex elaboration and that sometimes may be hard to apply in
practice, the book falls back on artistic references that are known to all of
us: film and song. Yes, the author picks certain film sequences and Beatles
songs to make us discover—or, rather, rediscover—techniques and methods for
dealing with conflicts between individuals. The book is a toolbox with film
clips and song lyrics serving as tools that one may use and enjoy in analyzing
the conflicts one encounters, as well as the consequences the conflicts have in
one’s life.

Luis Miguel Diaz
dedicates this book to “all of us who need help and knowledge that is useful
for resolving problems in our relationships and it is not addressed solely to
professionals who deal with conflict management.” That is, any of us can
benefit from the lessons in a book like More Chaplin and Less Plato. Because
its technique is accessible and highly interesting, it provokes a number of
reflections, which I shall endeavor to set out below.

I. Conflict in the Life of
a Person

This caption may appear
wordy or tautological, since speaking of conflict and life is almost redundant.
Life necessarily involves conflict and confrontations, but what distinguishes
one life from another is the way in which each individual faces and deals with
obstacles to life. There is no life without coexistence and there is no
coexistence without confrontation.

That almost instinctive
characteristic of human beings has generated a great number of analyses and
studies. For example, authors like Morton Deutsch and Meter T. Coleman explain
that one can face conflicts with either a competitive or a cooperative
attitude. The former carries with it struggle and the use of force, whereas the
latter connotes agreements and solutions. It is important, these authors
explain, to understand the nature of cooperation as well as that of competition
because all disputes contain cooperative and competitive elements.
[2] Among the positive characteristics that cooperative
relationships afford, one can cite effective communication, coordination of
efforts, apportioning of tasks, belief in the existence of similarity of
beliefs and values, and redefining conflicts as a mutual problem that must be
solved by means of collaborative efforts.

The forms for dealing
with conflict allow us to develop skills for coexistence and survival. If we
fight in face of a problem, we generate certain equally controversial
reactions; if, however, in face of adversity we negotiate, then we create new
forms of coexistence and, therefore, of survival. For that reason, seen in a
certain way, conflict is creative; it can generate new life situations and
conditions. On this point, authors such as Howard Raiffa declare that they are
in favor of conflict, arguing that progress frequently is reached by involving
individuals in a cause, and that creating tension and conflicts can be an
attractive organizational strategy.[3]
This author deals with conflict resolution from a scientific and artistic point
of view; he says that negotiation is a science and an art. The art aspect of
this idea is of particular interest for purposes of this review as it is better
documented. Raiffa explains that the artistic side of negotiation refers to
interpersonal qualities, the ability to persuade and to be persuaded, the
ability to use a basket full of settlement techniques and the wisdom of knowing
when and how to use them. It is necessary then to learn to develop to those
techniques and to know how to use them. Luis Miguel Diaz’ book offers a way to
do that, this being its greatest appeal.

Consequently, conflict
is no more than the confrontation of two or more stances in a given situation,
stances that reflect different ways of looking at life, of conducting
themselves in life, and of demonstrating what each individual has learned
during his or her development. The difference lies in how to deal with such a
conflict, how to generate the techniques necessary to handle it and to extract
from it agreements that may generate new conditions for the human relationship.
I will make some comments on this point in the section that follows.

II. Art as a Tool in
Developing Conflict Resolution Techniques

For the great majority
of us the best known teaching method resembles a feudal system under a ruling
“Lord” who possesses the necessary authority to order what and how to learn.
One experiences learning from a passive perspective in which one person lays
out theories and facts and the other memorizes them. Within this construct, the
word creativity is synonymous with a lack of discipline. This apparently
has worked in many cultures at various moments in human development.
Fortunately, other innovative trends exist today, however, with respect to the
use of art as a learning tool, for example. In education a full-fledged
tendency has developed to trust the utility of art as a creative and educative
process, as an “ideas builder”.[4]
This is precisely what More Chaplin and Less Plato achieves: it builds
ideas, techniques, and tools based on artistic expressions in order to create a
method that allows one to resolve conflicts or to meet them head on or both.

The techniques the
author presents in this book provide tools that can prove useful to people from
different cultures, traditions, educational levels, visions, ideas, ways to
look at life, since art facilitates understanding of situations that we all
face and he gives us with the weapons to handle them. On this point, Luis
Miguel Diaz asserts that “the educational strength of the arts has the
character of greater universality, since it can express in a way that is
analogous to experiences that are common to us all.”

The book the subject of
this review gives to the reader a series of dynamics, each exploring a specific
subject that is illustrated through film clips or song lyrics, or both,
concluding by proposing discussion topics through which one may arrive at
concrete conclusions and applications on the subject. It is an interesting
system and its effectiveness can be seen easily. In order to illustrate this, I
cite as an example Chapter 9 on Word Games in conflict resolution, which
touches a principal issue of conflict theory. In this section Luis Miguel Diaz
demonstrates the importance of the use of language in handling disputes; he lays
out the beliefs that intrude on the individual and the effect they have on his
or her words, and asserts that, in his opinion one must unlearn these beliefs.
Authors like Remo F. Entelman explain that sometimes it is not possible for one
to let go of the terms one uses and free oneself from their effect in
expressing an idea. So, one is asked whether “it is possible to bust open the
language of conflict with a new expression so as to automatically break current
habits of language usage.” Entelman responds in the negative and he explains
that “each word carries out a different role in each word game. … [E]ach
word game is the product of repeated uses of an expression with a given
meaning, and one gets into the habit of using and interpreting the word with that
meaning. To change a habit, whether good or bad, beneficial or pernicious,
there is a process that involves time and the authority, in a broad sense, that
proposes the change.”
[5]

Luis Miguel Diaz might
differ with this view in a way—and I would agree with him—for in More
Chaplin and Less Plato
he asserts that, language being the most important
tool of a negotiator (or any person who simply is interested in peaceful
coexistence and resolution of conflicts), one must view the meaning of words as
being entirely malleable. Language is personal; it varies and depends on the
context, the circumstances, and even one’s mood can determine the meaning or
the intensity of a word. Thus, as Luis Miguel Diaz asserts, “interpersonal
conflicts are the result of not understanding that the words we use can have
more than one meaning, and the meaning that we are ascribing to each word
depends on the singularity of each individual’s experiences, expectations, or
beliefs.” This, of course, acquires greater importance in cross-cultural
conflicts.

As mentioned, once Luis
Miguel Diaz has described his subject and theoretical vision, he uses film
passages to illustrate his point. In his chapter on language, he discusses the
documentary about Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher of language, and the
feature film
Il Postino. Making reference to various scenes and points
from these films, Luis Miguel arrives at a series of questions that invite the
reader to reflect on them. In this way, the author puts together a highly
effective and supportable methodology.

I comment below on a
few of the topics whose treatment in the book seemed particularly interesting
to me.

Cultural Issues

Culture is a way of
life, I often heard my father tell me. Culture is not going to museums or
reading lots of books. Culture is relying on a set of values and experiences
that determine the way we behave and understand life. This would seem to
indicate that disputes arise precisely when people of different cultures
encounter each other and conflicts arise out of the difference that exists in
their way of behaving and understanding life. Indeed, this is the way disputes
generally arise. But the purpose of More Chaplin and Less Plato is for
us to discover that people who apparently belong to the same culture can find
themselves immersed in conflicts because of distinctions in the most minuscule
of matters, such as the tone of voice used in a discussion, terminology, or
temperament—i.e., fine points that are more a function of the individual
than any group. By the same token, people of differing cultures may find bases
for connection that will encourage them to experiment with the creative process
of negotiating.

On this point,
anthropologists Kevin Avruch and Peter Black offer an explanation: “One’s own
culture provides the ‘lens’ through which we view the world; the ‘logic’ […]
by which we order it; the ‘grammar’ […] by which it makes sense.[6] That is to say, culture is central to
determining what we see, what meaning we give to what we see, and how we
express ourselves about what we see.

Choosing Film
Passages

What, then, does film
have to offer us in the way of guiding our conduct within our cultural context
and in our cross-cultural relationships? Film is an artistic expression in a
form that permits a level of continuity, as distinct from theatre, which
reflects the specific here and now of each performance. Given this quality of
permanence, film becomes a readily accessible tool, a reliable resource. We are
also aware that audiovisual media are better teaching tools than either visual
or aural media alone. One can use film clips to reinforce teaching virtually
any subject. On this point Luis Miguel Diaz says: “Film is quite effective for
transmitting messages; it creates realities through cinematography and the
characters’ actions, which may exaggerate or simplify our instincts, our
intuitions, and our aptitude for handling conflicts.” Without question, our
modern teaching methods rely more and more on audiovisual media.

Song Lyrics

I agree with the author
that there is no band more appropriate than The Beatles for exemplifying a
peaceful, conciliatory attitude for an age that is clearly fraught with
conflict. Their songs, as the book shows so well, are replete with ideas,
concepts, and messages of peace and harmony, which take on special meaning and
demonstrate courage given the times in which they came out with the lyrics. In
these lyrics we rediscover values of human behavior, such as teamwork (“All
Together Now”), acceptance of another’s nature and the connection between
people who are different from each other (“Let It Be”), curiosity (“Ask Me
Why”), and the limits on every human being (“You Can’t Do That”), among others.
The lyrics to each of these songs are familiar, but few of us grasp their true
meaning. This is the interesting contribution the book makes
.

Finally, Luis Miguel
Diaz also makes use of passages from classic literature, such as the
Segismundo’s soliloquy
from
Calderón de la Barca’s play Life is a Dream [titled in Spanish: La Vida Es Sueño]. The most
famous monologue of Spanish drama, it reflects the main character’s thoughts on
life and his fate. The text is a great example of the perception of reality
that each person can have and how that perception turns out to be determinative
of the person’s destiny and decision-making. Citing this text in the book is
more proof of the number of views that artistic expression offers us for
learning to make ourselves responsible for our existence.

I once read that “the
paradoxical virtue of reading lies in distancing ourselves from the world so
that we may make sense of it.”[7]
In reading More Chaplin and Less Plato I discovered the possibility of
extending that observation by Daniel Pennac to artistic expressions generally:
artistic expressions provide us the possibility of distancing ourselves from
the world so that we may make sense of it. We can see ourselves in the film
passages and The Beatles song lyrics, as the author highlights them, and so we
can make sense of how we act as parties to a dispute—as interconnected beings.

III. Final Comments

I wish to stress the
effectiveness of the learning (or unlearning) method the book puts forward;
specifically: (1) its explanation of the subject, (2) its showing
this through scenes and songs, and (3) through a series of elegant and
astute questions, its invitation for discussion as a creative means for
generating ideas. Without question, this method reflects the author’s vast
knowledge of modern didactic methods and their effectiveness. It is up to the
reader to take advantage of these tools and to use this book as an interactive
medium for developing conflict management techniques that welcome us to
coexistence and, I stress, to harmonious, creative, and fruitful thriving.

As a lawyer or, rather,
as a person interested in the study and application of normative systems, I
grant that in learning to effectively manage conflicts it is necessary to let
go of many things that law curricula and practice teach us. Nevertheless, I
trust that there are lawyers out there who, in spite of the traditional legal
education they receive, are still capable of extracting from their education
and practice useful principles that allow them to develop with style and vision
a variety of conflict resolution techniques (including litigation, arbitration,
mediation, and negotiation), that benefit those to whom they render their
services with a wider range of services for dealing with, handling, and
resolving their disputes. Success lies in versatility and the creativity in
determining the suitable route in each case and, thereby, uncovering techniques
that produce solutions. If a lawyer regards such a route as the only one
that is proper for disposing of a dispute, that lawyer is condemned to handling
battles rather than to resolving disputes.

For those interested in
learning new techniques and expanding their vision of the conflict resolution
this book is a valuable tool, which brings innovative perspectives, rediscovers
human nature, and above all exalts artistic expression for a noble purpose:
peaceful and constructive coexistence among people.


Endnotes

[1] CADAC is the Centro de Arte Dramático A.C., founded in 1975. Original quote: “Todo espectáculo educa,
bieneduca o maleduca, pero educa
.”

[2] The Handbook of Conflict
Resolution
: Theory and Practice, eds. Morton
Deutsch & Peter T. Coleman (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000) 22–23.

[3] Howard Raiffa, The
Art & Science of Negotiation: How to Resolve Conflicts and Get the Best Out
of Bargaining
(London: Harvard University Press, 1982) 7.

[4] See María Magdalena Ziegler D. & Magalia Bracho de Torrealba,
Creatividad, aula y arte (la creatividad en rebelión

.

[5] Reno Entelman, Teoría de los
Conflictos, Hacia un nuevo paradigma
(Barcelona: Gedisa Editorial, 2002)
126–127.

[6]
Kevin Avruch and Peter Black, Conflict Resolution in Intercultural Settings:
Problems and Prospects
in Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice: Integration and
Application
(Dennis Sandole & Hugo van der Merwe, eds. (New
York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993).

[7] Daniel Pennac, Comme un roman (Paris: Editeur
Gallimard, 1992).

                        author

Cecilia Azar

Cecilia Azar is a graduate of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Her professional practice has focused on International Commerce and Commercial Arbitration. She worked at SAI Consultores from 1995 to 2001. She was also Secretary General of the Arbitration Center of Mexico (CAM) from 1998 to 2000. At… MORE >

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