Posted: 10/6/11 11:29 AM ET The temperature is rising.
We face unprecedented rifts in our society. We're inundated with talk of war -- "culture wars," "class warfare," and the "war on terror."
We have a sputtering economy, massive indebtedness, stubborn unemployment, and a deepening divide in our culture.
The people we elect as problem solvers are increasingly seen as the problem. CBS News said this week that Congress can "barely agree to keep government offices open, let alone tackle big problems confronting the country." There's an "unprecedented level of dysfunction and paralysis."
"At the heart of this congressional gridlock is a steadily growing partisanship. Couple that with a rising distaste for compromise by avid voters."
It's not that no one knows what to do. "Everyone" knows what to do, but their ideas of what to do are 180 degrees opposed and they're not about to compromise.
Now, when people can't compromise, it can be a good thing. Because suddenly the way might be open to a 3rd Alternative.
In any conflict, the 1st Alternative is my way, and the 2nd Alternative is your way. The usual outcomes are either a war or a compromise. Compromise stops the fight -- but without breaking through to amazing new results. A 3rd Alternative is that kind of breakthrough.
3rd Alternative thinking doesn't just resolve a conflict, it transforms the conflict. It's not about putting Band-Aids on the old reality, it's about creating a new reality. With a compromise we all lose something, but with a 3rd Alternative we all win.
One person -- you -- can start the quest for a 3rd Alternative. Just go up to your "opponents" and say, "Are you willing to look for a solution that's better than what either of us have thought of?" Most people will say, "Such as?" And you say, "I don't know. That's the idea. Are you open to seeking a way out that's beyond your way and my way -- a higher way?"
That's a magic question. When your opponents see you suspend your own position, at least temporarily, suddenly the strife drains out of the discussion. Creative minds take over from antagonistic minds.
Here's an example. When I tell people that Switzerland had a civil war not long before the American Civil War, they can't believe it. "Switzerland?" they exclaim. "The most peaceful, most productive, most efficient, happiest, highest-per-capita-income country on the planet?"
It's true. In 1847 the Swiss were desperately divided between deeply conservative rural Catholics and liberal urban Protestants. They spoke different languages, lived on different sides of the Alps, and were so angry at each other they started shooting.
Fortunately, the Swiss came to their senses and asked themselves, "Can't we do better than this?"
And they did. They arrived at a 3rd Alternative: a country where all their religions, languages, and cultures flourish, and where their diversity is the source of their strength.
They and so many others show us how to create new and better results instead of escalating conflict -- and how to build strong relationships with diverse people based on an attitude of winning together.
The search for the 3rd Alternative can transform our businesses, our homes, our schools, and our society. It can bring an end to crime and war. And it starts when people choose to ask, "Can we do better? Are you willing to look for a third way that's beyond your way and my way -- a higher way?"
You see, I've never succumbed to a cynical view of America, though our problems are great and increasing. The consequences of our choices are playing out and are deeply sobering. Yet I believe that at the core there is goodness, decency, generosity, a commitment to family and community, hard-working grit and determination, extraordinary spirit, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. Even more, I see great hope and potential in the rising generation. In my new book The 3rd Alternative, I tell many remarkable stories of people who have found higher and better solutions to old problems, who break the weary cycle of 2-Alternative thinking, and transform the future. I'd be excited to hear your stories too; please let me know.