Israel can’t make peace with “open eyes,” President Shimon Peres said at the fourth Israeli Presidential Conference on Thursday, adding that sides must forget about the past and focus on the future to end the years-long conflict.
Speaking at the “Learning from Mistakes on the Way to Tomorrow,” the president said that his “own conclusion of how not to make mistakes is close your eyes a little. You cannot make love and you cannot make peace with open eyes.”
“The past is dead. You can’t correct it. Can you correct something that is dead? Can you correct the past? Focus on the future. You have to take risks,” he added, saying: “You have to choose between two sorts of mistakes. You do nothing and that is a mistake, or you do something that could cause the mistakes.”
“It’s better to try, do something and maybe you will have a success. If you don’t try, you won’t make a mistake, but you won’t have a success,” he added.
Addressing the conference’s participants, the president said that the “first mistake I have learned from my life is don’t look for perfection. You will make mistakes. You need to be satisfied with allowing people to live together. Perfection can be a desire, but we can’t achieve it in the foreseeable future.”
“People set their goals too high. There is the story of the man who looked for the ideal women. When he found her, found she was looking for the ideal man, so she wouldn’t marry him,” he added.
Peres said that the “ultimate difficulty with peace is not your enemy, but your own people. I am asked ‘why are you paying so much? Why do you trust them so much?’ Who can measure how much you can trust them? The greatest problem is couples. They want to have a perfect life, and if they try to keep life perfect they will get a divorce.”
The president even went far as saying that avoiding early negotiations with the PLO was one of his mistakes, saying: “They killed our people. We said, ‘how can we speak with murderers.’ It was a mistake. By not talking, they would continue to shoot. But talking, maybe they would have stopped.”
When the topic of the opening panel of the conference was chosen: “Learning from Mistakes on the Way to Tomorrow,” there was no way of knowing that while it was taking place, all of Israel would be engaged in discussion of mistake-making in the case of the Carmel fire disaster.
As television journalist Dana Weiss pointed out earlier in the session, it might be helpful to send a transcript of the panel directly to the offices of government ministers.
Nobel laureate Professor Daniel Kahneman said that the whole concept of learning from mistakes was generally based on flawed assumptions. “To really learn from mistakes we need stable circumstances where there are rules.”
Under these conditions, he said real expertise can develop. “This is how chess masters develop their expertise in the game. Every game is the same, the rules are fixed, and therefore they can learn from mistakes over and over again until they don’t make mistakes.”
“But the world isn’t like that, it’s an uncertain place, and therefore ‘decisions are gambles.’ What that means is that the best possible decision can have bad outcomes and a bad decision can have good outcomes,” he added.
Kahneman also said that in “the military there are generals who are willing to take more risks than others, even risks that are that are unacceptable, but it is possible for them to gamble several times and be successful. When a general gambles and is successful, that he was a military genius, and those who told him not to take those risks were cowardly.”
“In the financial crisis, there are people who say they knew the crisis would happen. But really, they thought the crisis was going to happen and at the same time there were people with just as much knowledge and expertise who thought the opposite,” he said.
“The world in general makes too much sense to us. We do not admit the level of uncertainty.” Essentially, most of these decisions are just ‘going with our gut.’
So what is the alternative? Kahneman suggests that to lessen mistakes we shouldn’t focus on outcomes, we should focus on the process of decision-making.
“There is an absence of quality control, and on-going critiques of decision-making. We don’t have it and we should. It is in fact possible…. We should keep track of the considerations, of the deliberations. This is very difficult to achieve in organization. Organizations resist examining their decision-making process. When you look for mistakes in real time, there is a feeling that someone is looking over their shoulders and they will be blamed,” he said.
Kahneman even added that “leaders should have coaches.”
“A tennis coach doesn’t play better than the player, but he can look objectively at the athlete and help him…. I have known some organizations where leaders have taken someone they trust who can critique the quality of the decision-making while it was going on and not just relying on the outcome to determine whether the decision made was the right one,” he added.
Another panel speaker, Dr. James Sebenius, an international expert on negotiations, says that common mistakes made is focusing on the other sides’ statements and demands rather than probing on what the other side wants. “Often,” he said, “if you take the time to probe behind incompatible positions and find interests that can both be met.”