John G Bell


Fall '02 - Hill & Gilliam

Personal Integrative Paper

One common interpersonal style is to engage in deception to avoid conflict, gain advantage or force dialogue on some issue because the issue isn't what the Other will engage.

I was in an integrative class at Lower Columbia College in 1989. In that class, we played a war game about disarmament. When we played that game, I was selected as one of the negotiators for my team and I had figured out that because of the sequence of events in each turn that it was actually possible to make more points than any other way by both teams disarming completely. Having figured this out, I then went to the summit between the two teams and proceeded to try to explain to the other team's negotiators that completely disarming was the way we could all win the most points. It was at that point that I started to laugh. This is the part that has stuck with me for so long: I realized that even though I was sitting across from one of my friends and had a genuine motivation to mutual disarmament, that there was absolutely no way for the other negotiators to know if I was telling the truth or not. This was because I realized I would be saying the exact same words to them if I were trying to get the other team to completely disarm so that my team could attack with full force on the final round as if I was trying to genuinely, mutually disarm. Our game ended in the 5th or 6th round out of 10 possible when the other team launched an attack to destroy my team. That moment has stayed with me as one of the most powerful points in my life. At no time since have I been able to avoid thinking back to this when seeing any kind of negotiations either in my life or on the news. The fact that any group of people can sit down and come to the same table, let alone any kind of mutual agreement, in spite of their fears and suspicions seems to me nothing short of miraculous. I realized that there seemed to be no semantic content to anything I could say because the motive was unknown and impossible to verify. However, the other side of this is the possibility that one may be able to maintain semantic content by ignoring the search for motive, or real issue, and take each actor's position at face value without question.

This war game demonstrated to me that the motive of an actor may not ever be known by the other actors in any dialogue. Not only this, each actor may not know their own motives especially in the case of the war game due to the fact that no actor can be sure how the rest of the team will vote during decision round. Similarly, even on a personal level, one might not be able to know one's own motive until much after any given event.

In the conflict between the loggers and the environmentalists in both “In Timber Country” and “El Dorado” the two sides could only engage on specific issues that were tangential to the core reasons for the conflict. The environmentalists focused on the leverage provided by legal issues and the preservation of the spotted owl, and the loggers built resentment and anger over those issues. However, the real issues for the environmentalists were more global and the specific issues that they were able to force were not the core issues because the Other would not have taken them seriously otherwise. For the loggers, there was a great deal of resentment over feeling manipulated and that their core issues were being ignored by all the focus on the legal and endangered species issues. The environmentalists and loggers had to engage over the legal and endangered species issues as the authentic issues in the conflict when both knew that there were bigger issues that were the more important ones but would not force a confrontation.

In both “Holler If You Hear Me” and “A Force More Powerful” there is a conflict over what group represents the authentic voice of the culture. In “Holler If You Hear Me” the conflict is over whether the “thug” or the “positive black” represents the authentic voice of the black culture in this country. In “A Force More Powerful” the conflict is over whether the militant or social revolutionaries represent the authentic voice of the Palestinian people. By focusing on these divisions, each group tacitly ignores the issues of the other group which, by the very nature of being involved in the conflict in the first place, is as viable voice in the culture as any. In both groups, the conflict appears to be between the “anarchic individuals” and the altruistic social revolutionaries.

In the book “Women's ways of knowing,” there's a link made between connected vs separate ways of knowing and traditionally female and male gender roles. I found it interesting that in “Holler If You Hear Me,” there seemed to be several points where Tupac is portrayed as having connected and compassionate ways of dealing with the world, especially in the sections that talked about the TV interview with him when he was 17. There seems to be a link in the book between his strong, revolutionary mother and this tendency toward connected, compassionate communication. I found this especially interesting because I identified with this history to the extent that I was raised mostly by my mother who is a strong and very intelligent woman. Realizing that I'm one of very few males in this class, I could see that there might be a link between my own inclination toward what “Women's Ways of Knowing” characterized as a typically female, connected way of relating which matched a similar inclination and history for Tupac.

Another pair of opposites was presented in the article “Compassionate Communication” as the Giraffe vs. Jackal styles. The Giraffe style is described as “a language of the heart, a form of interacting that promotes the well-being of ourselves and other people.” The Jackal style is “a moralistic classification idiom that labels people; it has a splendid vocabulary for analyzing and criticizing.” This division is similar to the previously mentioned connected vs. separate ways of knowing.

In “Holler If You Hear Me” there's a suggestion that the rise of “anarchic individualism” is a response to the failure of altruism, a recognition of failure within and without the revolutionaries. This is similar to the failure of the social revolutionaries in Palestine, due to effective dismemberment by Israel, which led to the further rise of the militant revolutionaries.

In an article, that I researched to find out more information about game theory, titled “Games, Dilemmas, and Traps” by Duen Hsi Yen, there is a section that talks about the two polar system in US politics in game theory terms. The liberal is linked to the “cooperator” strategy and the conservative is linked to the “defector” strategy. A “cooperator” is “someone willing to share, and even be taken advantage of if there is a chance the common good will benefit.” A “defector” is someone that believes “one should enjoy the fruits of ones labor alone, not share then with anyone else.” In this sense these liberal/cooperator and conservative/defector strategies can be compared to the connected/Giraffe and separate/jackal styles. In the war game mentioned previously, the cooperator strategy would be to completely disarm and attempt to convince the other team to also disarm. Unfortunately, as I realized, the defector strategy also involves convincing the other team to disarm, but is matched by working to completely arm and attack at an advantageous point in the game.

In this class, we're talking about a paradigm shift toward authentic dialogue based in intermural, connected and compassionate communication. This cooperator strategy is leading with the vulnerability of possible forgone benefits and is connected, compassionate communication. However, it's just one strategy.

What does it mean that there's other effective strategies? Some people may never accept cooperator & connected strategies if there seems to be more personal advantage using another more exclusive strategy. An example of this is the difference between liberal and conservative viewpoints, mentioned previously. One wouldn't expect a conservative to suddenly switch to a liberal strategy. Why would it be reasonable to think that a defector would suddenly switch to cooperator strategies?

Any time there's any agenda, there's utility toward deception in dialogue that at least equals the benefit to be gained from mutual altruism when the defector strategy is employed against altruism.

In my own life I recognize that there have been times in my life that I've engaged in a dialogue and not realized what my real motives were until afterward, sometimes much later. I also recognize that there have been times that I have willfully engaged on issues that are not what I feel are the authentic issues of importance to me because I feel that I can't engage the Other in a dialogue without this deception. Further, I recognize that there have been times that I've determined motives behind the actions of the Other that they denied, but later recognized to actually be true.

In the face of unknown motives, the best strategy would be to ignore motives, and consistently engage on whatever issues are presented. Looking for a motive behind each issue removes the semantic value from the dialogue and undermines any meaningful progress. The only real way around the uncertainty of motives is to honestly engage as if the stated issue is the authentic issue.

However, always picking the cooperator strategy makes it more valuable for the defectors. In seminar, if everyone is working on mutual altruism and cooperator strategies, then a sole defector can not only take over, but can force the cooperator strategy to fail. In the presence of defector strategies, the cooperator strategy fails. In the face of cooperator strategies, defector strategy succeeds. The likely outcome for a cooperator in the face of being trumped by a defector strategy is at least disappointment, perhaps resentment and at worst a change of strategy toward the defector style. Cooperator strategy success in the here and now comes when met with further cooperator styles, but the existence of defectors removes value from any outcome for cooperators.

An example of this is the 20% rule. If someone is willing to ignore this rule, then they have the opportunity to say what ever is on their mind. If the cooperators stick to the cooperator strategy then they are guaranteed to not be able to say everything they have to say. Further, if the cooperator contributes to topics other than their own, then they are guaranteed to not be able to get meaningful critical time for their own issues, especially if those issues are pushed constantly by the time constraints imposed by acquiescence to the defectors in the group.

In my life I find myself consistently trying to pick a cooperator strategy. Just like Tupac being resentful over the success of the “bad boys,” I find myself full of resentment and anger in the face of defectors. In some cases, I feel constitutionally incapable of being a defector, and sometimes feel like that's some kind of wound from which I cannot heal. As an example of this, in seminar I find myself angry and resentful that I am trying so hard to work within the 20% rule, but then I find others more than willing to speak beyond this and that any chance I have for meaningful, critical dialogue on issues important for me are pushed to the last possible minute or that the people able to engage in dialogue with me in seminar feel like they have to stop in order to not take up too much time.

As just one example of how this seems to recur for me, many years ago, in the same class where I participated in the war game I've previously mentioned, I had attempted in seminar to explore the similarity between US involvement in Vietnam and drug addiction. One component of our class was the psychology of adjustment, so I was interested in how the symptoms of US involvement matched the signs of addiction according to the Diagnostic Services Manual (DSM-III), a standard tool in diagnostic determination. After the seminar, the instructor of my class made a point of taking me aside and saying that the work I'd just done in seminar was graduate level work, but that I needed to pull back because I was scaring the other seminar members. So, instead of being able to authentically engage on a topic important and likely to result in some intellectual growth, I was asked to not speak and sublimate my own education in order to cooperate in the education of everyone else in the group except myself.

In this case, my inclination to take a cooperator strategy seems to leave me without the benefit of meaningful dialogue. If it is true that I can't think critically on my own, then I'm forced by my strategies to forego thinking critically about my own authentic issues. It seems like the only way around that would be to break my agreement and force more time on my issues. I have to try to present my issue and get feedback in a total of 5 minutes, or be satisfied with what feedback I can eek out during the breaks with people actually willing to engage outside the official seminar forum. One could argue that this creates a structural hierarchy by making special rules for some members of the dialogue and thus violates the attempt to maintain equality across participants as suggested in “Decalogue of Dialogue.”

Another example is that I have had quite a few members of this class make a point of telling me that I was making them look bad with all the work that I've put into my book responses. I feel that part of the reason that I spend so much time working on the book responses is that I've come to expect that I will have to go it alone in the end and rely on my own efforts to eek out some kind of meaningful feedback and engage in a solo dialogue over the issues that I find important. I feel that I am constantly asked to avoid working to my best potential, and to some extent this is part of my feeling of resentment at working under the 20% rule. I also recognize that part of this is a selfish anger at not getting positive feedback because no one gets what I'm talking about.

So, I'm struggling with what seems to be a constant pattern in my life of attempting to follow connected, liberal, cooperator strategies and being disappointed and frustrated by not only those following the opportunistic, conservative, defector strategies but also with the self imposed limitations in the strategies themselves. Many times when faced with with a feeling of having my strategies undermined by opposing strategies, I find myself wondering why I even bother trying to be involved in dialogue with others. If I'm only going to be able to engage in issues that aren't authentic to myself then why spend the effort to engage at all with others when I could just as easily spend that energy on my authentic issues, on my own. Even within the context of a group that's agreed to a strong covenant, this continues to be a dilemma for me.

There are so many examples of the same conflicting strategies: liberal vs. conservative, connected vs. separate, cooperator vs. defector, thug vs. “positive black,” militant revolutionaries vs. social revolutionaries. This is language that separates, not that helps bridge these intermural boundaries. We don't seem to have a language that allows these differences to be inclusive. That there are repeated examples of these kinds of polar pairs, and that there's even the question of which is an authentic voice leads to this dilemma.

Either the defectors are recognized as a genuine voice in the dialogue, an authentic strategy, or they are excluded. If the defector strategies are excluded, then the project of engaging in intermural dialogue has failed. If they are not excluded, then if they are always met with cooperator strategies then they will never find that their strategy fails and thus have no reason to change. In fact, in the face of sustained cooperator strategies, the defector become an even more effective option.

To some extent I feel there have been people in this class willing to take advantage of my own struggle to stick to the agreements in the covenant such as the 20% rule. However, a perfect example occurred tonight in the study circle on race. A particular person in the group that has consistently been willing to break the ground rules, specifically a rule about not interrupting others, and equally willing to complain when others break that same rule, entered the circle tonight with a whole lot of issues and baggage that interfered with the group. On one side, I find myself hoping that she follows through on her threats to not come back to the group, but on the other side I completely recognize that by losing her our study group will have failed to keep a member with a different set of issues and motives and strategies. In the face of this group member that was taking a more defector strategy, the group was disrupted and dominated by this person's stated issues that appeared to have no direct link to whatever her authentic core issues were.

In this way, tonight resembled the conflict between the loggers and the environmentalists, where each group resented the need to manipulate and be manipulated into dialogue over a issue that wasn't an authentic issue for either group. Tonight's study circle felt like it was hijacked by someone that was only interested in getting personal validation from the group at all costs, including making ultimatums about fracturing the circle. By both having and failing to keep this person that engaged in defector strategy in our group, we failed to find a way to maintain a place where real dialogue, as we talk about it in class, could take place. Tonight was an example of how the cooperator strategy will fail when confronted by the defector strategy, and by structurally failing the dialogue fails to reach beyond the barriers that separate these two strategic styles.

I also fully recognize that I am resentful and angry at the manipulation I felt during this event. Attempting to honestly, and to be fully honest imperfectly, maintain a safe, connected, compassionate space was my goal. However, I am filled with anger about having to appease this person and apparently wasted my effort with someone completely uninterested in moving from a separate, self-centered strategy. At this point I find I feel cheated and betrayed for having been willing to attempt to create that space and have it taken advantage of by someone clearly invested in an opposite style. I've felt this many other times, including in seminar when I find the only way I could get meaningful feedback would be to break the rules and thus forego that benefit for myself; when I find others more than willing to speak at great length appearing to force advantage for themselves at the expense of others in the group.

I am having trouble imagining a way to have changed tonight's outcome, and am suspicious of even starting on the project with a motive of changing another person. If I attempt to start a project with the motive of changing the other person, then I've started by invalidating their viewpoint completely. By insisting on the threshold of dialogue to be that someone be willing to authentically engage using a cooperator strategy, I would be refusing to step beyond the intramural boundaries of my own strategy. By saying that there's this threshold, I would be essentially saying that I was unwilling to hear the story of the group of people committed to this opposing strategy.

Here's the double edged sword. Either the defector is excluded from the attempted dialogue by enforcing a threshold based on styles and the goal of intermural connectedness is abandoned, or the defector is included and allowed to take full continued advantage of the cooperators until they decide to move on and exclude themselves. Either way the project of compassionate, connected, intermural communication seems to have at best succeeded at the cost of creating resentment and anger or at worst simply to have failed outright.

I don't know a way out of this dilemma.