Book Review: An Aid to Advocacy: Getting to Yes with Yourself by William Ury - Lorie Raihala, WATG Board Member
For parents, advocating for an academically gifted child can be a highly emotional affair. Your child’s welfare hangs in the balance, but administrators often have little time and resources to spend on children who’ve already met grade-level standards and benchmarks. Teachers working to serve wide ranges of learning needs may see you as “ambitious parents” pushing their progeny to race through material to win “advanced” status. Educators at school don’t see what mothers and fathers witness at home, and they may not recognize the social and emotional toll that the “regular school program” takes on your child. To them, your child looks fine. But you see the once vibrant youngster withdrawn and lethargic, or cranky and angry, or lonely and desperate from school days spent trapped in “age appropriate” instruction, discussion, and activities–week in, week out, year after year.
Does this strike a nerve? Do you feel your heart pound, your muscles clench, your stomach churn? If so, then William Ury has written the book for you: Getting to Yes with Yourself and Other Worthy Opponents (HarperCollins, 2015). If the idea of another round of school meetings makes you sweat, then Getting to Yes can help you move to “the balcony–a mental and emotional place of perspective, calm, and self-control” (21). This is the first in a series of steps that Ury has honed over years of high-stakes mediation in “boardroom battles, labor conflicts, and civil wars around the world” (dust jacket). Cofounder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, Ury draws from compelling personal and professional experience to illustrate an effective way to ground yourself and re-frame your approach to conflict and difficult conversations.
Ury’s message resonates not just as a set of tips for negotiating, but as a profoundly inspiring philosophy of life. He advises that this version of Getting to Yes should be viewed as the prequel to his earlier, widely acclaimed work with his mentor, Roger Fisher, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In (1981). The first Getting to Yes, which served as “one of the primary business texts of modern America” for three decades, offered a “proven, step-by-step strategy for coming to mutually acceptable agreements in every sort of conflict” (Amazon). Ury’s more recent, solo work has grown out of his meantime realization that, in the words of Walt Kelly’s insightful possum, Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” With lively and accessible prose, Ury guides his reader into a penetrating consideration of the human condition. He anchors his chapters with trenchant quotes from Goethe, Frankl, Emerson, and Wittgenstein and gives examples that range from Nelson Mandela to his own daughter. Ultimately, he offers up a way of living that cannot fail to strengthen the fabric of human existence (“win-win-win”) and move humanity in the direction of peace and redemption.
But I digress. Practically speaking, Ury’s process calls for cultivating habits that can help maintain a sense of calm and well-being in the face of potentially painful discussions–in our case, petitioning for “services or activities not ordinarily provided” from school officials who seem to hold sway over your children’s (and thus your own) health and happiness. By “getting to yes with yourself,” you will be less susceptible to emotional triggers and impulses that sabotage your child’s (and thus your own) best interests. Holding fast to the balcony and anchored in the confidence that “life is on your side,” you will be more likely to recognize spontaneous openings and act on flashes of creative inspiration, and this can unleash unexpected possibilities that satisfy both sides. From his professional work as a mediator, Ury recounts acute situations in which he has not known how the parties would ever find their way out of the wilderness of mutual hurt and hostility. Yet by maintaining his own commitment to “Yes,” he has time and again seen light break into the darkness and illuminate paths toward conciliation and relief from years of public feuding and civil war.
Intrigued? Then read! You have nothing to lose and much to gain from this highly fortifying guide.