Civil war is an example of the dramatic consequences of leaders in a society having a win-lose mentality. The fundamental break down of civility and the ability to communicate, collaborate, and live together can lead to terrible atrocities. The mindset that in order to win, someone has to lose, and that competition is "the name of the game" has a very dark side. It can even become a justification for allowing injustice and inequality to exist and the perpetuation of it. For example, in El Salvador, I was raised among the one-percenters. When I became of age to start to see and wonder about the extreme poverty and war around me, I was told by different adults in my life that they were people that did not want to play the rules of life and get an education and work hard to get the good jobs. And that in life, regretfully, there are winners and there are losers because there are only ‘so many’ good jobs. That that is just how life is so I should be thankful my father was a winner and I should work hard to be a winner too.
I am so glad I decided to get my higher education in a country where freedom of thought was allowed and where there were great advances in the study and art of interpersonal relationships. It was in an Arizona sociology class at the age of nineteen that I first learned the concept of win-win. It was like a breath of fresh air. It offered my mind an escape from the fatalistic, unjust, and depressing world view I had learned in war-torn El Salvador. Win-win outlined an alternative way of living at the micro and macro level. I quickly saw its value in my personal life and the opportunity it opens up for dramatic positive change in places like El Salvador, if the leaders there ever learn and adopt it.
Later in life I moved to San Francisco, California and the more time I spent working and integrating with the people of this special city, I noticed that the win-win mentality was the norm. Although I only planned to stay in San Francisco for a year, this particular feature of the San Francisco Bay Area has kept me here for almost two decades. And although I have looked elsewhere, I have been hard pressed to find another place in the world that is so committed to this way of being. I believe the level of peaceful interpersonal coexistence, the level flourishing and the amount of abundance in the Bay Area community is a testament to the power of this type of thinking to create peaceful and thriving communities. Of course, San Francisco is not perfect and there are still social problems, but it is a far cry from El Salvador where hardly anyone believes in, or even knows about, the win-win paradigm.
It is no wonder, then, that a habit of an effective leader of an educational community is to think win-win. Just like the win-win mentality can transform whole cities, it can transform and enrich any community for the better, including schools, of course. Win-win thinking includes the needs and desires of stakeholders. Everyone involved or affected by a decision knows they are equals and their voice matters. Win-win makes sure everyone grows together and allows for good-faith compromises. It also has the power to transform the way of thinking of the students. When adults in the school model the win-win ethos, this can help the children transform their relationships with each other and within their own families. However, for this to happen successfully, the win-win model needs to be employed in the classroom environment and in the behavior management policies of the school too, so children understand that this is the ideal the school community strives for when working out challenges, decisions or solving disputes.
It is unfortunate that win-win thinking is a relatively new concept and that it is not as prevalent as it should be. It is depressing that humanity has endured, and continues to endure, terrible consequences because of win-lose thinking. However, seeing what is being accomplished in places like San Francisco and hearing an increasing number of U.S. representatives, governors and mayors speak of win-win solutions, gives me hope that win-win thinking is catching on and spreading.
I have been a win-win thinker since that fateful day in an Arizona sociology class when I was given this concept and the language to articulate a more just and fair way of thinking. I have employed it in my own family relationships and it is a key component of my leadership kit for whatever project I contribute to. I have seen how win-lose thinking has contributed to the woes of places like El Salvador. Thus, I have also become a strong advocate of win-win thinking as part of my peace-education work and I teach it intentionally to the students in all of my programs. I particularly think it is important to teach it to preschoolers and in elementary school because I believe that if a child learns this way of thinking early in life, it can positively influence them and the relationships they engage in throughout their lives. If enough children in a community have this mindset, as they get older and become decision makers and leaders, it can even positively transform their communities. One thing I can do, is find or write an article about win-win thinking to post on my Facebook page, where I have contact with many Salvadorians from the 1%. I can also send it privately to those which are now congresspeople and mayors or married to influencers. Hopefully those in my generation will be more open-minded to the win-win mentality than most of my father's generation.
I plan to go over this habit with my children and husband. They are all very familiar with win-win because I have constantly and relentlessly solved family disputes in this way. However, it has been a while since we intentionally discussed why getting to win-win is important and now that my children are older, I can talk about how win-lose can contribute to bigger social problems. I also want to get a reflection from them on what the impact of having a mother that is always thinking win-win has had on their home life experience, sense of agency and interpersonal relations.