History.com says that “In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies.”  We all know what happens next.

This is a negotiation blog, so let’s look at Thanksgiving history from a negotiation perspective.  Here is a recap of how I would analyze what happened:

  1. Low negotiation power for the Pilgrims.  They arrive in the US exhausted. The trip was much longer than expected.  Food supplies are running low. Winter is brutal.  By Spring, only 50 of the original crew and passengers survived.
  2. High negotiation power for the Native Americans. They know the lay of the land.  They have survived the brutal winters for generations and they have the numbers.
  3. Native Americans have 2 options: Help the Pilgrims to survive or let them die (even kill them).
  4. Native Americans take the high road.  This is truly amazing.  Especially because of a Native American by the name of Squanto.  He was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe.  He had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition.  Squanto is the one who leads the help to the Pilgrims because he could speak English.
  5. Pilgrims now have the power. Over time they Pilgrims managed to settle down.  They learned to live in the new environment, their numbers grew, and they got weapons from the West.
  6. Pilgrims take the “low” road. They massacre the very same Native American tribe who helped them survive.

I am oversimplifying the story here. I am sure it was more complex.

Thanksgiving history begs this question: When you have the power, should you take the risk to lose it?

Now let’s transpose this question to another complex power balance situation:  White men vs. minorities.

  1. Low negotiation power for minorities.  Harsher prison sentences, higher rates of being killed by the police, lowest incomes, etc…
  2. High negotiation power for white men.  In a previous post I explain how the majority of the world wealth is concentrated with a handful of people.
  3. White men have several options: Accelerate progress towards equality or slow down progress as much as possible.
  4. High or low road the jury is still out.  Clearly many white men are strong advocates for change – Thank you.  Some are for going backward.  And probably many are in between the two. Hard to blame them. Privileges are nice. The thought of losing them is scary.  From that lense, I understand why some try to rationalize topics such as “all lives matter”.

White middle-class males, you have the right to care about your self-interest.  But remember that you have your blind spot – what you do not know, that you do not know.  So when minorities, and other white men, shed light on your blind spots, pay attention.  Or at least, do not try to make these people the villains.

Let’s come back to what to do when you are in a low power position.  Do you want to go out there gun blazing? or should you build your strength, assess the situation before making your move?  The Pilgrims chose the 2nd option and pushed it way too far.

I want to finish on a hopeful message on this Black Friday.  I wished people focus on finding equilibrium rather than abusing power.  Until then, remember not to start a negotiation that you are unlikely to win. If you are in this situation, buy time until you are “strong” enough to get what you deserve.

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