Parties in conflict often operate under the assumption that for one party to win, the other party must lose. This concept, known as the “zero-sum mindset,” can lead to undesirable results, both because it can make disputes harder to resolve and because people holding such beliefs are more likely to get into conflicts to begin with. Over the past several decades, legal educators specializing in dispute resolution have worked hard to challenge that mindset. This task is not simple, for framing conflict in zero-sum terms has very deep cultural roots tracing back at least to the Biblical stories in Genesis. This article works in three stages. First, I present a brief history of the zero-sum mindset and efforts to challenge it in American legal dispute resolution discourse. Second, I examine several stories from Genesis in which the zero-sum mindset leads to conflict. Third, I conclude with reflections on the importance of raising awareness of the zero-sum mindset as a step toward both preventing conflicts and more effectively resolving those that arise.
Jonathan R. Cohen, A Genesis of Conflict: The Zero-Sum Mindset, 17 Cardozo J. of Conflict Resol. 427 (2016), available at http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/743