[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/07/30/gates.arrest.recap/art.crowley.obama.gates.afp.gi.jpg caption="President Obama has invited police Sgt. James Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for beer."]
David Gergen | Bio
CNN Senior Political Analyst
President Obama promised last week that he would convert the ugly confrontation between a black Harvard scholar and a white police officer into a “teachable moment” for the nation. As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sgt. Jim Crowley come to the White House today for their “beer summit,” how can he succeed? How should the three men structure their conversation and how should they then talk to the country?
For counsel, I turned to an excellent family therapist who has had a long record of success in counseling couples (aka, my wife Anne), and she provided some sound answers. Each of the parties, she said, has to recognize up front that during a contentious incident that set them off, their minds were flooded with emotions that overcame their rational selves.
The key to achieving reconciliation is for each of them to talk through the incident as they saw it each step of the way, analyzing what they saw and said, and with their rational minds, trying to figure out how they might have handled it better. It is critical that the other player(s) not interrupt but let them tell their story fully. Hearing the other person respectfully allows one to see how their perspectives differed – and from that, begin to reframe the incident in ways that bring them closer together.
Once Gates, Crowley and the President have drawn lessons among themselves and begun the process of reconciliation (they may not get there right away), then they could be in a position to speak to a broader audience about what they learned – “the teachable moment”.
But there are two things that are also critical to remember: they have to talk quietly with each other first and find some common understandings before they talk to the public. Otherwise, the exercise will be phony. In addition, their conversation has to be among the three alone, without other family members or friends accompanying them to the White House. Otherwise, they could play to the crowd.
If all of it works, the nation could well benefit from a conversation that deepens our understanding of how racial and class conflicts arise and how we can get to higher ground. Sound advice – from a great source!
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