Saturday, October 08, 2005

Conflict and One Dimensional Thinking (Cont'd)

(Cont'd from Conflict and One Dimensional Thinking)

I spent Friday evening doing battle with some malware that invaded my PC. Something called Trojan.Vundoo. It took awhile. I got frustrated at times. But in the end I kicked its viral booty.

Norton AntiVirus reported the problem, but for some reason couldn't fix it. Still, Norton didn't give up easily: a warning message kept popping up in front of me. I'd click the OK button and the pop-up window would just reappear. Over and over and over again.

I got a bit frustrated at first. I said TH*NK!!! a few times. :)

Well, maybe I said something other than TH*NK!!! the first 3 or 4 times.

So, why am I telling you this? This is supposed to be a post about "conflict and multi-dimensional thinking", isn't it?

Indeed, it is.

The point is that the many of the same internal mechanisms that apply to conflicts with others also apply to problem solving. Problem solving is just a special case of conflict thinking.

There are many situations in life where we tend to respond with fixed modes of response. You've heard of the fight or flight responses, haven't you? Actually, it should be the fight, freeze or flight response.

Imagine yourself walking through the woods and you run into a bear. If it's a brown bear, there is a good chance its flight mechanism will kick in, and it will run away from you. This despite the fact that it is probably much stronger and more ferocious than you.

But if its cub happens to be nearby -- worse yet, if you happen to get between the adult and its offspring -- its fight mechanism would almost certainly kick in, and you can expect a pretty nasty mauling. Ouch!!

And, what about the freeze mechanism? Where does that come in? Well, from what I've heard, the bear might just leave you alone if you lie down and play dead. Dunno if that's true, but I do know it's called playing 'possum. Apparently, staying very still when threatened is what opossums do.

In the animal world, these response modes are pretty much hard-wired. And they represent a relatively narrow range of behavioral options. But the same mechanisms are also part of human behaviour. They are part of our instincts. The difference is that humans are capable of a wider range of responses. The fight, freeze or flight responses in the animal world tend to be pretty narrowly defined -- they really tend to be about fighting, freezing or fleeing. But in the human world fight, freeze and fight can be expanded to include wider, more complex, ranges of behavior that might be relabelled "go-get-em", "stay-put" and "get-out-of-the-way".

What's more we can change our responses, based on self-knowledge. Most animals can't. Still, we humans have a strong tendency to favor certain modes of response, rather like the animals.

This -- along with belief systems and attituedes -- is a key factor in one-dimensional conflict thinking, which I first mentioned in my previous post.

In fact, it might be a bit more fundamental. It's part of our wiring.

The point is that we have a tendency to favor a particular type of response -- fight, freeze or flight -- in certain circumstances where we feel threatened.

The tendency to favor a particular response type -- a particular mode -- may vary a bit by the type of situation. For example, the same person may tend to be aggressive when driving, but may tend to retreat in relationship conflicts, and may freeze up when asked to dance. In short, for broad categories of their behaviour, they may lean toward one response category or another.

Part of what happens -- on both the cause and effect sides of the equation -- is a tendency to "lock-in" to a response mode under given kinds of (perceived) threats. This tendency to lock-in makes sense from an evolutionary stand point: if an animal in the wild had to spend time thinking about which type of response is most appropriate, it would almost certainly be next to get voted off the island we call evolution.

Humans have this lock-in mechanism, too. Only, in humans, conflict responses have taken on a wider role. They are not there just to deal with potential enemies. They permeate everything. They are triggered largely by the stress mechanism. They permeates everything. Not only perceived threats to our life, but also perceived threats to our social position, to our relationships, to our ego, to our resources. And on, and on...

We have a wide range of things we perceive and react to as threats. This reaction so permeates our lives that we are often not even particularly aware that we are responding to many situations as if threatened.

We may react as if threatened when faced with an unfamiliar task. Like when I found out I had a virus on my PC. And Norton wasn't able to fix it!! It has been a long time since I last had to do battle with a virus. And that time it ended up being a real hassle. It took days. So, I felt stressed. A bit confused. Why wasn't Norton doing it's job?! Is this going to be a repeat of the last time.

Once I realized Norton wasn't going to fix it, I started to feel a small sense of panic. My first reaction was to try and make the error message go away so I could ignore the problem. I was favoring the "stay-put" (freeze) mode.

And I might have gotten away with it, too (trying to ignore the problem, that is), if it hadn't been for those meddling error messages (from Norton).

Even if Norton couldn't fix the problem, it wasn't about to let the matter go. That stupid message box kept popping up, even after I clicked OK about 300 times. I tried to ignore them. I tried to ignore the threat of a virus. But in the end I couldn't. In the end, I pretty much had to break out of my one-dimensional conflict thinking and try to find a wider range of alternatives.

Good thing I did. I ended up being able to find a solution within a couple of hours. Of course, Friday night was a write-off.

In summary, we humans are constantly responding to situations as though threatened. This applies to actual conflicts, but also to areas where there is no real danger, no real threat. For example, when somebody says something about us that we feel is negative. Or when we are face with an unfamiliar problem. Or when we are in an awkward social situation. Even if we don't onsciously perceive that we are feeling threatened, we often react as though we do.

When that happens, we tend to lock-in to one of three response modes, which more or less correspond to the flight, freeze or fight responses in the animal world. Our responses are often more complex that those of animals, but not always.

When we get locked-in to one response mode, our possibilities for handling problems is narrowed. Sometimes this may be beneficial -- such as when in real-time danger and an immediate response is required.

But often this tendency to lock-in to one response mode may be counterproductive, even dangerous. I call this one dimensional conflict thinking.

One dimensional thinking can also be linked to belief systems about conflict -- for example, if you believed you must always turn the other cheek -- and attitudes that are not well tailored to reality.

And it is from this one-dimensional thinking that so many of our problems arise.

When we don't have an appropriate range of tools with which to resolve our threats -- real or perceived -- we flail, thrash, blame, accuse, attack, scheme, etc.


Blogger Kelly said...

You had a good discussion, and you use language well, but the post seems to lack direction. You're letting off steam, I can tell, which seems to be a good way to deal with conflict after the fact :)

(I don't mean to be offensive, and I hope I'm right, but your profile doesn't give your gender. I would guess female. I'm incredibly sorry if I'm wrong, but I'm used to being mistaken for female because of my name.)

Keep up the good work. It looks like you just started your blog. I've been blogging since, I think, May, and I still don't have it figured out yet.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Copernicus Now said...

Thanks, Kelly. You are right. The post was not holding its direction as well as I would have liked.

It is a subject I have considered in great detail, and I have a very definite sense of where it needs to go.

I underestimated the effort to spit it all out. I was writing an essay, which is not what I want to do in this blog.

Anyway I decided to cut my losses and wind it down for now (and get some sleep) even though I realized it would mean sacrificing quality.

It's a subject I will pursue again later -- and bring to a proper conclusion -- but in smaller, more appetizing chunks.

Thanks for your feedback. It's greatly appreciated. Meanwhile, I strongly urge people to check out your blog: Full Metal Attorney


PS: I am not normally into gender ambiguity, but it dawns on me that not specifying my gender may be a good thing for this blog.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Phil Plasma said...

flight, freeze, fight. I don't know that I necessarily agree that we are limited to complex versions (or sometimes simple ones) of these three. I have been doing my best to live by the following mantra for many years: be insensitive to people's insensitivities, be sensitive to people's sensitivities. I have been doing this for so long that my natural response to someone who is critical, insulting or verbally abusive is to be insensitive to it, do not let it affect me, ignore it mostly. Now is this fleeing? It could be, but I think of it as being a diffusing reaction; removing the conflict by way of reducing the conflict's meaning to triviality.

word verification: ibakh
ibakhed the car into the pole and whammo, dented car.

6:24 AM  

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