Island Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-1610914116 

Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain 


Lucy Moore, an environmental and public policy mediator with twenty-five years of experience, has written this book of what are basically ‘teaching stories’ as a way of sharing some of what she has learned in her work at the front lines of conflict resolution.

The stories don’t all have happy endings. She writes: I have been in the middle of dozens of highly controversial regional and national conflicts. Each, of course, is different. There are those that make the drive or flight home a joyful time for happy reflection. There are those that wake me up at night, and in that distorted time when all things frightening rush in, I despair over my community, my country, the world. 

One of the key elements—perhaps the most important one of all—in successful negotiations between opposing camps is the awareness of our shared humanity. For since we are all human beings, with similar feelings and experiences, then despite whatever differences have brought us to the table, we can always find commonalities of some kind. The key to unlocking these is self-disclosure. We tell our stories, in the hope that something in them will resonate with our audience so that they can begin to see us as ‘sisters and brothers under the skin’ instead of the enemy.

Moore not only includes this in her list of strategies for achieving a successful resolution, she also models it superbly in her writing. The ten stories she tells to illustrate the various strategies she has learned in her years of environmental negotiation give us such an insight into her personality and her feelings that we find ourselves sitting with her at the table, feeling whatever she is feeling, whether it be puzzlement, dread, exultation, affection or any other emotion.

As human, like all other animals most of what we learn, from infancy onwards, is experiential. It comes from trial and error, from mistakes and mis-judgments, close observation, lucky guesses, risks, surprises and successes. And since we are humans, for us it also comes from books. But the best books are those which, like this one, give us those same experiences vicariously.

Most of Moore’s work takes place in the setting of the American Southwest, which is also where she lives. It is also a place where, particularly among the Native American population, ties to the land and to traditional lifeways frequently come into conflict with the bureaucratic dictates imposed by Federal or State authorities, with the modern, industrial culture’s endless need for ‘development’ of one sort or another and sometimes even—perhaps surprisingly—with the idealistic visions of environmentalists.

Needless to say, in a country where history is still so young and old resentments still burn so brightly, it does not take much to bring old hostilities and painful memories back into the present moment. Environmental mediation, especially in places where passions run so high and stakeholders all have such a heavy investment in their points of view, can never be easy. Sometimes it can seem downright impossible. There are situations in which even reaching a compromise solution that all parties can agree to live with can take an awful lot of time and hard work and seem like a triumph by the time the papers are finally signed. So I certainly don’t envy Lucy Moore her job. But I am grateful to her—and to others like her—for doing it. And for telling the stories of their struggles, their victories, their failures and their feelings. Wherever we are on the planet, they have much to teach us all.