Aaron T. Beck published Love is Never Enough (about marital relationships) in 1989. William Ury and Roger Fisher originally published Getting to Yes (about principled negotiation) in 1981, but I have been unable to discover which edition the particular anecdote I'm referring to was first included in.

Aaron T. Beck's book includes a story about a husband and wife who were having conflict over whether to leave the window open at night. After questioning about why they wanted it to be that way, the wife stated that she wanted the fresh air because she found it too stuffy, and the husband stated that the draft bothered his asthma. His recommended solution was to open a window in an adjoining room.

Ury and Fisher's book include a hypothetical scenario in which two men were arguing about whether to open the window in a library. After questioning by the librarian, she found that one of them wanted fresh air and the other one wanted to avoid a draft. Her solution was to open a window in an adjoining room.

These two anecdotes seem too similar to be coincidental. Did one of them borrow from the other one? If so, which one? Aaron T. Beck seems to imply that this was an actual scenario from a therapy session he conducted, whereas Ury and Fisher only present it as a hypothetical scenario; however, Aaron T. Beck's book was published in 1989 and Getting to Yes was published in 1981. Also, Dr. Beck's narrative of his approach to helping couples resolve conflict seems remarkably related to Ury and Fisher's concept of principled negotiation.

This leads me to believe that Aaron T. Beck read the 1981 edition, incorporated it into his therapeutic practice, wrote the anecdote in his 1989 book, and then Ury and Fisher adapted it for subsequent editions of their book. However, this is rather speculative on my part, and I have not been able to find conclusive evidence either way. Is anyone aware of evidence as to who influenced whom here?


The Internet Archive has a 1983 Penguin reprint of the first (1981) edition of Getting to Yes, which contains the anecdote about the library window:

Consider the story of two men quarreling in a library. One wants the window open and the other wants it closed. They bicker back and forth about how much to leave it open: a crack, halfway, three quarters of the way. No solution satisfies them both.

Enter the librarian. She asks one why he wants the window open: “To get some fresh air.” She asks the other why he wants it closed: “To avoid the draft.” After thinking a minute, she opens wide a window in the next room, bringing in fresh air without a draft.

Roger Fisher and William Ury (1981). Getting to Yes, p. 41. New York: Penguin.

The authors write that they got the anecdote from pioneering organizational theorist Mary Parker Follett:

Good anecdotes and examples are hard to find. We are greatly indebted to […] Mary Parker Follett for the story of two men quarreling in a library.

Fisher and Ury, p. vii.

Follett’s anecdote about the library window first appeared in her book Creative Experience (1924):

In the library today, in one of the smaller rooms, someone wanted the window open, I wanted it shut. We opened the window in the next room where no one was sitting. This was not a compromise because there was no lopping off of desire; we both got what we really wanted. For I did not want a closed room, I simply did not want the north wind to blow directly on me; likewise the other occupant did not want that particular window open, he simply wanted more air in the room.

Mary Parker Follett (1924). Creative Experience, pp. 184–185. Longman, Green & Co.

(Note that in retelling this story Fisher and Ury have altered and added a number of details. Follett describes a conflict between herself and a man; Fisher and Ury turn it into a quarrel between two men. Follett says that she and the other occupant were able to resolve the conflict between themselves; Fisher and Ury add a third party, the librarian, to resolve it. I guess the retelling makes a more dramatic story, but the result is fiction, not scholarship.)

So it seems likely to me that it is Aaron Beck’s version of the story (Love is Never Enough, pp. 228–229) that has been plagiarised, and his source was likely Fisher and Ury (and not Follett) due to the coincidence of wording: in Beck’s and Fisher & Ury’s versions the conflict is over “fresh air” versus “draft”, whereas in Follett’s version the conflict was over “more air” versus “blow directly on me”.

Beck includes himself as the third party character in the dialogue (his lines are labelled “ATB”), implying that it really happened to him. (I suppose this is a device to add verisimilitude.) It is a shame that Beck did not credit his source, but my impression is that plagiarism is ubiquitous in the self-help industry, so this is hardly unexpected.

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