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Peter J. Pizor, Ph.D. C.H. 
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Ten conflict resolution strategies we learned as children that are just plain wrong.



Ten conflict resolution strategies we learned as children that are just plain wrong.

We have learned how to fight--but for most of us--our skills were highly shaped by our childhood sense of competition and cooperation. What we learned was mostly wrong.


If I win, you lose.


This concept was disproved years ago with the introduction of game theory. Game theory illustrates that there are infinite range of positions between winning and losing. An early example of this is prisoners dilemma, where people pursue the winning strategy, and in the presence of limited communication find themselves in a worse position.


If I shout louder, I will win.


Although this seems to be the reason thinking underlying many political adversarial shows, increase in volume usually denotes a decrease in thoughtful alternatives. This is clearly evident from studies in the neurophysiology of the human brain. Under stress, or functional intelligence decreases; as do our abilities to formulate additional alternatives.


If I am stronger,  I will win.


This is the belief that leads to arms races. The race to have more nuclear weapons than other nations has led to financial strains on economies in a number of countries including the former USSR. The essence of the strategy was lampooned when the nuclear arms race was given the acronym, MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction.


If I am more moral, I will win.


In spite of Hollywood movies, the most moral side does not always win. Individuals, tribes, and nations that have staked a claim on moral authority have certainly suffered — at least in the short run. Poignant and powerful examples are the destruction of native peoples in many countries, and cases of genocide.


If I just absorb what the other person is dishing out, the conflict will go away.


Silence in the face of injustice reinforces the prevailing power. The power of a single voice can have profound impacts on conflicts. Mohamed Bouazizi, the street seller who lived in the relatively small town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, set fire to himself to protest the corruption that he saw around him. His actions led to a change of government in Tunisia, the fall of dictator in Egypt, and an overthrow of government in Libya. In a similar fashion, Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus and inspired a profound change in civil rights in the United States. We create peace not by avoiding conflict, but by taking appropriate non-violent actions.


Nice people don't fight.


This can also be phrased as "I don't want to be a troublemaker". To maintain order in preschools, the teachers have long learned to teach the children not to hit. Those were caught hitting are usually sanctioned. At the very least, they are labeled as not being nice. This may make sense in the simplistic world of others competing for the same toy. The problem with this approach is that it tends to become generic and separated from the situation. Fighting unjustly is certainly wrong. When there is injustice the question of the most appropriate means of resistance becomes significant. The founders of nonviolent protest, including Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. certainly knew how to organize protests. And in so doing, they were willing to step outside of the boundaries of being "nice". Instead, their goal was to increase political participation with the goal of increasing political equality.


People are naturally violent; war is simply a reflection of our basic biology.

Harvard biologist, Steven Pinker, has reviewed the number of incidents of violence over the last 2000 years. According to his research, each century for the last 20 seen a decrease in the amount of violent death. The evidence demonstrates that while we focus on violence, it has been decreasing for centuries. A more relevant part of our biology is our surprisingly high level of compassion.


There are two sides to every issue.


Absolutely not. When issues are deconstructed in view in their smallest components it turns out that they are invariably multifaceted. Indeed, one of the strengths of those who are able to work in mediation, conflict reduction, and peacemaking is their deep strength in finding numerous aspects. Once identified, these can be rearranged, reshaped, re-organized, and negotiated individually, all towards the purpose of clarifying the process of reaching a more just outcome.


What people object to is what they are concerned about.


A great deal of recent research into how our brains process conflict shows that many people are not in touch with their feelings. When people feel strong emotion, they say something. But what they say initially may be more indicative of their level of emotional engagement than an insight into the cause of their distress. This is a good time to engage with them as human beings. Underneath the intensity of that initial outburst there is often an underlying rationale. Taking time to walk down through the emotional fires is one of the critical tools and peacemakers’ workshops.


Winning will be good for me in the long run.
 
In my classes, I like to play a game called "why did this for start?" This is an instructive exercise. Take any war at all and see what the immediate causes were, then look beyond those the intermediate causes, and the longer-term causes. It soon becomes apparent that when we look at this pattern called war that most wars were caused by earlier decisions which seemed appropriate at the time, but contained the seeds of later conflict. For example, World War I was called "the war to end all wars". In striving to come up with a peace that would ensure lasting tranquility, high priced reparations were used by Adolf Hitler as a pretext for exploiting discontent within the German population. What caused the Second World War? The First. This chain of causation is endless. Winning is not a stable goal. To made a significant difference we need to focus on creating positive peace.

 

 

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