Poking Holes (Constructively) in the Martin-Zimmerman Hullaballoo

One of the most difficult conversational issues is to
keep significant disagreement from curdling into bitter politics. But using the
right tools, it can be done in both politics and business. Take, for example,
the Martin-Zimmerman case.By this point in time, most Americans know the facts in
the case. A teenager, Trayvon Martin, was pursued and killed. The shooter,
George Zimmerman, was acquitted by the six member all female jury, on his claim
of self-defense.By now, also, most Americans have heard opinions on both
sides of the continuum. Al Sharpton has claimed that the acquittal of George
Zimmerman is an “atrocity” and one of the worst situations that he has seen.On the other side, Ann Coulter has compared the coverage
of the case to the KKK. Affirming the verdict, she also said that Democrats
have “never bought into the criminal justice system” and that it was
a “cop out” for activists to call for a trial.
The justice system clearly bakes disagreement into the
legal process where we’re forced to consider two opposing points of view. Just
so, in politics, business and even ordinary conversations, the downside of
disagreement is typically messy, and people readily descend into adversarial
position-taking. If someone challenges either of them, you know what will
happen. They’ll defend their answer against all comers. Sharpton and Coulter
illustrate the problem in politics and law. But it’s phenomenally predictable
in much of life.Reality-test the
conclusionsWe’re not going to put an end to adversarial relationships like those from Coulter or Sharpton by disagreeing openly. But just suppose
that your best friend has taken one of the positions. The issue was especially
important to him, and you wanted to disagree, or even decide for yourself
whether there was any truth to the conclusion. What would be the best way to go
about it?In a fascinating question that originated with Roger
Martin, the Dean of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, Martin makes it
possible for people to step back from their beliefs and contemplate the
possibility that they might not be entirely correct. But without a rabid
disagreement. Martin uses what he calls the “What if it were true question.” In
other words, he gets people to figure out what would have to be true for their
conclusion to be accurate. And the “What if it were true question” does it in a
non-conflicted way.So, what would have to be true for the acquittal of
Zimmerman to be an “atrocity?” Very quickly you and your friend are going to be
defining what is meant by “atrocity.” So what makes the acquittal an appalling
or monstrous situation? And given our mutual orientation to the rule of law,
what principles were ignored or rejected? Few will argue that race played a
role in Martin’s death. In fact, as Ruth Marcus points out, the racial
undertones “worked against Zimmerman, increasing public pressure on prosecutors
to bring the most serious—and, in hindsight, the most difficult to
support—charges against him.” Indeed, prosecutors had to “prove that he did
something that he knew was ‘reasonably certain’ to kill or seriously injure and
acted with “ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent.” And manslaughter? The
prosecutors had to rebut his “claim of self-defense, showing that he could not
‘reasonably believe’ shooting martin was ‘necessary to prevent imminent death
or great bodily harm.’ Obviously, the acquittal is nearly impossible to define
as atrocious on the basis of the rule of law.So what has to be true to support the notion that
“Democrats have never bought into the criminal justice system?” Perhaps, that
Democrats never used the criminal justice system. That they view it as a farce
and that they continually reject the validity of the system. Can Coulter
demonstrate her conclusion with a majority of cases in which Democrats reject
the criminal justice system? Not on your life.Yeah, I know. My approach is almost silly. It’s making
Sharpton and Coulter’s arguments sound foolish. And that’s my intent. As
consumers of media pronouncements, it’s important that even eighth graders have
the tools to analyze rhetoric in light of the divisive times in which we are
living. Truly, our American culture seems to be on the verge of a nervous
breakdown over sexism, corruption in high places, rejection of traditional
values, governmental divisiveness and even the splitting of generations. The role of
disconfirming informationMost of us are pretty good at digging up disconfirming
information to respond to a sales pitch. “Only five more days on this sale”
doesn’t get very far with most of us. We’ve learned that most anything retail
is negotiable in today’s world. But when it comes to personal perspectives, few
use those same simple probing questions to understand when the media pundits
are trying to spin us. Roger Martin’s “What would have to be true” for a
conclusion to manifest any accuracy is just one way of becoming a better, more
responsible consumer of the political media. And, oh yeah, it works great for
team decision making and organizational strategy, as well as in normal
interpersonal relations.Flickr photo: Harper College Hullaballoo 
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Poking Holes (Constructively) in the Martin-Zimmerman Hullaballoo

Hullaballoo
One of the most difficult conversational issues is to keep significant disagreement from curdling into bitter politics. But using the right tools, it can be done in both politics and business. Take, for example, the Martin-Zimmerman case.

By this point in time, most Americans know the facts in the case. A teenager, Trayvon Martin, was pursued and killed. The shooter, George Zimmerman, was acquitted by the six member all female jury, on his claim of self-defense.

By now, also, most Americans have heard opinions on both sides of the continuum. Al Sharpton has claimed that the acquittal of George Zimmerman is an “atrocity” and one of the worst situations that he has seen.

On the other side, Ann Coulter has compared the coverage of the case to the KKK. Affirming the verdict, she also said that Democrats have “never bought into the criminal justice system” and that it was a “cop out” for activists to call for a trial.

The justice system clearly bakes disagreement into the legal process where we’re forced to consider two opposing points of view. Just so, in politics, business and even ordinary conversations, the downside of disagreement is typically messy, and people readily descend into adversarial position-taking. If someone challenges either of them, you know what will happen. They’ll defend their answer against all comers. Sharpton and Coulter illustrate the problem in politics and law. But it’s phenomenally predictable in much of life.

Reality-test the conclusions
We’re not going to put an end to adversarial relationships like those from Coulter or Sharpton by disagreeing openly. But just suppose that your best friend has taken one of the positions. The issue was especially important to him, and you wanted to disagree, or even decide for yourself whether there was any truth to the conclusion. What would be the best way to go about it?

In a fascinating question that originated with Roger Martin, the Dean of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, Martin makes it possible for people to step back from their beliefs and contemplate the possibility that they might not be entirely correct. But without a rabid disagreement. Martin uses what he calls the “What if it were true question.” In other words, he gets people to figure out what would have to be true for their conclusion to be accurate. And the “What if it were true question” does it in a non-conflicted way.

So, what would have to be true for the acquittal of Zimmerman to be an “atrocity?” Very quickly you and your friend are going to be defining what is meant by “atrocity.” So what makes the acquittal an appalling or monstrous situation? And given our mutual orientation to the rule of law, what principles were ignored or rejected? Few will argue that race played a role in Martin’s death. In fact, as Ruth Marcus points out, the racial undertones “worked against Zimmerman, increasing public pressure on prosecutors to bring the most serious—and, in hindsight, the most difficult to support—charges against him.” Indeed, prosecutors had to “prove that he did something that he knew was ‘reasonably certain’ to kill or seriously injure and acted with “ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent.” And manslaughter? The prosecutors had to rebut his “claim of self-defense, showing that he could not ‘reasonably believe’ shooting martin was ‘necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.’ Obviously, the acquittal is nearly impossible to define as atrocious on the basis of the rule of law.

So what has to be true to support the notion that “Democrats have never bought into the criminal justice system?” Perhaps, that Democrats never used the criminal justice system. That they view it as a farce and that they continually reject the validity of the system. Can Coulter demonstrate her conclusion with a majority of cases in which Democrats reject the criminal justice system? Not on your life.

Yeah, I know. My approach is almost silly. It’s making Sharpton and Coulter’s arguments sound foolish. And that’s my intent. As consumers of media pronouncements, it’s important that even eighth graders have the tools to analyze rhetoric in light of the divisive times in which we are living. Truly, our American culture seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown over sexism, corruption in high places, rejection of traditional values, governmental divisiveness and even the splitting of generations. 

The role of disconfirming information
Most of us are pretty good at digging up disconfirming information to respond to a sales pitch. “Only five more days on this sale” doesn’t get very far with most of us. We’ve learned that most anything retail is negotiable in today’s world. But when it comes to personal perspectives, few use those same simple probing questions to understand when the media pundits are trying to spin us. Roger Martin’s “What would have to be true” for a conclusion to manifest any accuracy is just one way of becoming a better, more responsible consumer of the political media. And, oh yeah, it works great for team decision making and organizational strategy, as well as in normal interpersonal relations.

Flickr photo: Harper College Hullaballoo 

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