The MILF and Government are both correct

According to the MILF, the gap between the proposals is “heaven and earth”. According to the Government, the gap is “workable and not too far apart”. Who is right and who is wrong? Both of them are right! They are just looking at the problem with different frames. They are using differently colored lenses. They are right in their own respective frames.

The frame is the single most powerful aspect of the negotiations and yet not much attention is given to it. Why? Because the frame is “outside” and precedes the negotiations. While everybody is looking at the text of the proposals and nobody is looking at the “eyeglasses” that are used in reading the proposals. The frame is complete even before the first words in the proposals were written, even before the first words were spoken at the table. The frame determines how the negotiators and their principals view the problem and controls the range of options and possibilities that they are willing to consider. The frame provides the emotional content that drives the negotiations too. The frame determines the words used in the proposals: “substate”, “self-determination”, “homeland”, “constitution”, national territory”, “governance”, “massive resources”, etc.

Framing is necessary to live in this world. We all need to frame, as framing is our way of making sense of reality. Framing organizes what is otherwise meaningless and unconnected phenomena and provides clarity and significance to everything that happens in the world. A frame defines who we are. Things we learn at school, the stories we heard, and our life experiences in accordance to the sequence of time create our frames. We take frames for granted. We never question them or find a way to change them unless we are forced by external, unplanned events, i.e. death of a loved one, catastrophe, etc.

The good thing about frames is that it can be changed and the first step is awareness – awareness of the frames that determine our perception of persons, events and challenges. Until one is aware of the dominant frame and is able to “escape” the clutches of the frame, it would be difficult to think or generate new ideas. All ideas are the logical outcomes of the frames. To expect new ideas from old frames would be like trying to squeeze milk from a stone.

Changing frames however is also difficult. Since, ultimately, the frame involves the ego; it will resist any effort of change. Despite our usual public pronouncements that we do not have the monopoly of the truth, deep down inside, we actually believe that we do. We know better than anyone else. Not one of us wants himself or his thinking challenged. The fundamental belief of the ego is that it is right and that the other person is wrong. The compulsion of the self is to defend itself by persuading others to change their frames. Why? Negating the other frames gives strength and validates our frame. Since external effort to change frames is futile, change then can only come from the within the frame, within the person, within the self. Change must come voluntarily. And this happens only when the self is made aware that the frame is a frame.

So how do we move from here? I think we should all try to sit back and relax – whether by the cool swamps of the Liguasan, or the mighty river Pasig, or in the lush green Sunken Garden of Diliman – find a corner, create some personal time, get a cup of coffee, perhaps some caramelized not-so-ripe saba skewered on a thin bamboo stick, a piece of paper and a pen and answer questions like these:

  1. What is this all about? “This negotiations is about _______________.”
  2. What is non-negotiable in these talks? “Ultimately, I will never sign an agreement that has ________ in it.”
  3. What is most essential in any future agreement? “I will only sign an agreement that has __________ in it.”

Of course, we know the answers to these questions already but it wouldn’t hurt to get a piece of paper and write it down. The trick is to commit our answers in writing so that our frames are placed out in the open and open to scrutiny.

There will be no durable and sustainable agreement until the respective frames of the parties, especially the principals, are fully examined and discussed. Without a change in frames, this conflict will be settled by the rule of force and violence. This is why all peacemakers must help in making the parties be aware of their frames. The consequences are dire.

And the difference in frames is not limited to the parties. Within the Government and the MILF, between the negotiators and their principals, there are different frames, which makes it doubly important negotiators and principals to discuss their unexamined frames. By doing so, the negotiators can fully represent and communicate the minds of their principals. Furthermore, some frames might have been effective in the past but is now an obstacle to peace. The possibilities are endless if the frames are examined and pondered upon. Perhaps this is should be our next step: a collective examination of the frames that dominate us as a nation which limits the possibilities of peace in our land.

ELEPHANT AND THE BLIND MEN

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.” (Source: http://www.jainworld.com/literature/story25.htm)

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