Monsters are rare but real.

My friend Eric Plume (creator of the best female PI I’ve ever met, who can be found here) nailed it in one:

A good many people skip the first step in conflict resolution, which as I see it is “am I dealing with a predator, or just somebody who disagrees with me?”

Everyone, and conflict “experts” are often no exception, wants a one-size-fits-all to dealing with all situations. Systems are created to be The Answer To The Problem, completely missing the point that there are actually several different problems that may look the same superficially, yet need completely different answers.

At one extreme, there is a school of thoughts that all disagreeable people are abusers/predators/potential killers, that all conflict could go violent, and that one should always strike the first blow in order to ensure not just victory, but most likely survival. Safety can only be attained by disabling every attacker, which is anyone who looks likely to engage in conflict. There’s thankfully only a very limited number of special people who subscribe to this extreme, but unfortunately there are plenty who subscribe to a non-physical version of the same attitude. They often self-label as “assertive”; other people often label them as “assholes”, because they enter into every dialogue with an unnecessarily antagonistic attitude.

The problem with bloody conflict, whether you’re talking literally or figuratively, is that if you absolutely expect to find it, you almost certainly will. The people around us can be mirrors of ourselves. If you walk into a dialogue all guns blazing, you can almost certainly single-handedly turn it into a verbal fight. If you push things far enough, you might find yourself in the middle of a physical fight, too. Furthermore, if you don’t recognise the mechanism of how the situation developed and your role in it, you can self-justify that your initial assessment was correct.

Provided that they have actual skills to match their attitude, these people may do well against actual predators and aggressors. Thankfully, though, actual predators are not really that common, so a lot of aggro is thrown around to fight imaginary monsters.

At the opposite end of the scale you find the people who believe that everyone is fundamentally nice, that everyone can be reasoned or negotiated with, and that violence only happens when people lack better ways to meet their needs. Most of the time, these people are right: most normal people in their right minds will not engage in unnecessary conflict, let alone violence. Unfortunately, there are people out there who revel in causing people pain – whether it’s physical, psychological, or emotional, that’s what they enjoy doing. They are not hurting others because they don’t know any better, or in order to get something; they do it because they like it.

As Eric puts it:

Monsters are rare but real. One side needs to acknowledge the rarity, the other the reality. Both need to acknowledge that the methods for dealing with a situation depend ENTIRELY on what’s assailing a person.

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