The Debate is Out

The General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) begins today in New York with the annual General Assembly session. The UNGA is designed to bring all members of the United Nations together for the purpose of making critical global decisions, including peace and security, development, international law and more. By its own definition, the UNGA is “the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the UN.”

In theory, uniting 193 countries for the purpose of establishing world policy sounds extremely promising. But there is a fundamental flaw in the execution of this meeting–namely, its format, which is comprised of “high-level thematic debates,” which are actually just Assembly members making speeches to justify their conclusions and incite agreement.

While a speech can energize people with inspired ideas, points of view and calls to action, it is in no way a conversation designed to identify and evaluate all options fairly.  

Debates are traditionally considered arguments of opposing views.You cannot be truly open-minded when you have already made a decision before beginning any discussion. Instead, you become more invested in affirming your point and, by nature, dismiss opposing evidence while latching on to anything that supports your choice. This is a well-documented psychological tendency called confirmation bias, and it happens to even the smartest, most level-headed of us.  

According to its bylaws, the Assembly meets from September to December each year and then from January to August, “as required to consider current issues of critical importance to the international community.” In other words, these debates can continue year-round.  

Instead of diverse people talking at each other and then placing votes based on their opinions (opinions that were probably formed the moment the concept was introduced–perhaps long before the Assembly), imagine if the Assembly was designed to facilitate an efficient analysis of facts and everyone involved used the same process to think through his or her decision!

Everyone using the same set of rules and guidelines to evaluate each decision wouldn’t prevent all disagreements, but it would promote more sensible, productive discussions while helping to reduce confirmation bias. This also allows people to see specifically where they disagree, which makes deliberations more efficient.  

When was the last time you were involved in a decision by committee that involved differing views? How much easier, more productive, less stressful, less emotional would it have been if everyone was using the same process to think through the decision?  

Yulia KonovnitsynaComment