My 2020 Podcast: Harvard's Dan Shapiro on making tough choices during the pandemic

Founder and director of the Harvard International Negotiation Programme in conversation with 'The National' for a new series speaking to leaders on how their lives and industries were changed by Covid-19

Living through the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a vast array of emotions, from fear and anxiety over the unknown, to appreciation and gratitude for what we have. As we look back over 2020, assessing those emotions and figuring out how to negotiate the various challenges the year has brought about, is vital. From families negotiating home space as they learn to work, study and spend ample amounts of time together, to governments negotiating which vaccines will be delivered to which communities, we are in new territory.

One person who is considering how the individual and how society will work through these challenges is Dan Shapiro, founder and director of the Harvard International Negotiation Programme. He teaches a course on negotiation at Harvard College and is an associate professor in psychology at Harvard Medical School/McLean hospital. He also has several publications, including Negotiating the Non-negotiable: how to resolve your most emotionally charged conflicts.

Dr Shapiro, whose life's work has been focused on conflict resolution, spoke to The National for the third episode of "My 2020" podcast about how we should deal with the fallout from the pandemic.

He said: “We are enduring massive trauma ... unless we deal with that trauma in a systematic way we will face a problem”.

“If people do not mourn, you have tremendous problematic emotions that start to arise in the situations of conflict ... In this situation, I don't quite know what not mourning means. But I know it wouldn't be good.”

Dealing with the grief people around the world are feeling and helping others going through difficult times is necessary, especially as Dr Shapiro is concerned about how the pandemic could increase the possibility of conflict. After the initial co-operation between countries when the pandemic hit, “my shoulders raised, I was nervous, because my notion was, well, soon enough, people are going to be having to figure out how to ration resources, how to deal with the challenges of, you know, the real nitty-gritty challenges of the pandemic”.

Considering how to make difficult decisions – life-and-death decisions during this pandemic – means not always having a “right answer”. Dr Shapiro suggests the focus should be on “what is the best process to get us to find those answers”.

"My 2020" is a seven-part series, hosted by Mina Al-Oraibi, The National's Editor-in-Chief, speaking to leaders on how their lives and industries have been changed by Covid-19.