Tag Archives: problems and difficulties

Finding Common ground

A friend of mine sent me a link a few days ago to a TED talk on resolving conflict: Julia Dhar: How to disagree productively and find common ground (201810). My friend is part of a group who are exploring how to manage difficult conversations, the one where people are almost certain to argue without resolution. Their premise (and mine), and the premise of the Julia Dhar talk, is that “Contempt has replaced conversation.” Dhar suggests that the resolution is for all parties to learn the skills of debating.

Yet, I think there is an easier way that I will describe shortly. The skills of debating are still part of the process — it is the preliminary steps that make it easier, and likely more effective.

First, to look at Dhar’s comments:

  • the nature of debate is that there is a big topic on the table, an idea that is controversial. One side argues in the positive; the other in the negative.
  • the foundation of debate is rebuttal, face to face, as the participants present structured arguments appropriate to their positions. For most people, rebuttal is difficult — it feels like attack. But if the personalities are minimized, it becomes tolerable, perhaps stimulating.
    • in a formal debate, it may be that the sides are assigned beforehand, independent of the debaters — to a certain extent, this removes the personalities of the debaters from the debate. Debaters learn to argue from either perspective.
    • Dhar notes that the “only winning strategy is to engage with the best, clearest, least personal version of the idea.”
      • of note, Dahr also identifies that “listening to someone’s voice as they make a controversial argument is literally humanizing. It makes it easier to engage with what that person has to say.”
  • she notes that powerful debaters do not seek to attack; they seek to find common ground. They create  what is called shared reality, and Dahr suggests that shared reality is the antidote of alternative facts.
  • most important of all,Dhar notes that the structure of debate, especially the ability to argue from  either side, is such that we “open ourselves, really open ourselves up to the possibility  that we might be wrong. [We encounter t]he humility of uncertainty.”

I agree with all these points yet, as noted, I think there is an easier way.

A former friend of mine (I lost track of him when he moved to Turkey) Joe Schaefer was a cultural anthropologist who engaged in community building. He talked about creative communication as “going on feeling good about the other while we resolve our differences.” And the way to do this was to talk about how you learned to hold the stances what were important to you.

I remember a process that Joe led us through. Thirteen pairs were asked to pick a topic upon which we strongly disagreed (issues like “Smoking should be entirely prohibited” or “Young offenders should be treated as adults for serious crimes” or “Gay partners should have the right to adopt children”), and then to take turns telling personal stories to each other of how we learned our attitudes to the topic. We used a standard format of “I remember when . . .,” telling the sensory details of something we remembered as being important to how we came to our conclusions related to the topic: a memory, an intuition, something seen or read, any source of meaning. These conclusions were what we were exploring, yet we were instructed to never state a conclusion during the exercise in what we learned.

We exchanged memories for ten minutes only, and then had two minutes to explore to what extent we had reached a resolution between us — twelve minutes to explore a tough issue wherein we strongly disagreed. The outcome: ten dyads were completely satisfied in their resolution; two knew they had a resolution but needed a few more minutes; one pair knew they had no resolution possible yet were satisfied that they could be friends about it. I was astounded — I had never seen conflict handled this way and so successfully.

 So what is important here:

  • first, we stayed away from conclusions, and focused on sensory details of the memories. Details like“I remember walking into Tim Horton’s to get a cup of coffee. They had a glassed-in smoking section. I saw a friend in the smoking section and went into talk to him. I was amazed that, within ten minutes, my eyes were burning and my throat was burning.” Period — no conclusion.
    • People do not argue sensory details or memories. They argue conclusions.
    • Sensory details create shared reality. If you are Canadian,I can almost guarantee that when you read “I remember walking into Tim Horton’s,” you accessed your own memory of walking into your favorite Tim Horton’s — a shared reality in progress.
      • Although Dhar talks about shared reality as the antidote of alternative facts, there are fundamentally no such thing as facts. What we call “facts” are our memories of agreed-upon experiences. For example, [fact] I weigh173 pounds because [experience] I remember stepping on the scale this morning and noting that the scale displayed 173.4 (pounds). Even if we together watch me step on the scale, within a few minutes we only have the memory of the event to denote as “fact.”
  • the sharing of memories,without conclusion, allows each of us to learn about the “reality” of the other,to step into and feel their experience. Since no conclusion is stated, we do not have anything to bump against.
    • we also learn about our own reality. Once we begin to recognize the scanty information that forms the basis of most of our cherished beliefs, we begin to entertain the possibility of being wrong. We again encounter the humility of uncertainty.
    • in this humility, we can each step into the experiences of the other and “go on feeling good about the other while we resolve our differences.”
      • rather than putting the personalities aside, we actually increase our awareness of the humanness, and the personality, of the other.
  • from this place of connectedness, we might then choose to go on to “debate” the topic, recognizing that there are important “facts” within both sides of the “debate.”
    • and that if we are to resolve the issues, we must take all these “facts” into a common ground that works for all concerned.

Thus, for me, Dhar’s process is simply the end point of this more simple approach wherein we become familiar with and learn to respect each other, working to common goals.

Does this work for everyone in all circumstances. No, nothing does.

The other must be at least willing to listen to me at the beginning. The beauty of Joe’s methodology is that inmost areas where I might argue, I can introduce this approach with fair ease,and often invite a dialogue rather than a debate.

The major limitation always occurs where the other is simply not willing to engage. Even there if I stay strictly with descriptions of sensory details, I can minimize argument. People cannot easily argue sensory details, especially if I tell something true that cannot be challenged (e.g., “Wow. I notice how tightly I am clenching my teeth because Iso want to argue with you and yet I am also stopping myself — I don’t want to argue. Does that ever happen to you?” — using the questions perhaps to invite common reality!)

There are so many ways to handle argument, ways that engage rather than separate. As Dhar notes, the skill is to invite common ground.

The Issues Of The Day

Trauma2As noted previously, I am not posting a lot, but it seems time. So, some posts on what I think are the issues of the day: political insanity, the impact of consumerism and neo-liberalism, and the fears (generally hidden) concerning the coming trauma to our planet.

One definition of trauma is “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” I often think of trauma as physical injury, yet if I reflect on one of the most common expressions of the day — post-traumatic stress disorder — the trauma is more often not the direct result of injury; rather it is the psychic impact of impending injury. I suggest that these three issues are sign-posts of the impending injury.

They are the unnamed indicators of distress. I have yet to see significant advances that will shift the issues of the day.

The presidency survived the Watergate, Iran-contra and Clinton scandals. Trump will exact a higher toll. (20171221)

The article is for me a good summary of the similarities and differences amongst various presidencies. To quote the article, “The expectation of integrity has given way to a cynical acceptance of deceit. As much as anything Mueller uncovers, this is the scandal of our time.”

Consumer society no longer serves our needs (20180111)

As usual, David Suzuki presents a reasoned argument, in this case, “How can we have serious discussions about the ecological costs and limits to growth or the need to degrow economies when consumption is seen as the very reason the economy and society exist?”

How Do I Reassure My Children About the Future When the Future Is Terrifying? (20180113)

An excellent summary of the fears of a parent, reflecting my own fears for my grand-children, and the many children of this planet. I am currently working part-time in a homeless shelter, and thereby see the cost of what we have already created on our planet — the coming costs will be immensely greater.

An Economy That Works

Economy1I mentioned last post that I am no longer posting. However, every once and a while I come across a link that I think is so important that I believe it needs to be acknowledged (and disseminated) — this one is: an economy that works.

We are badly in need of a way to understand the nature of modern economy such that we develop a maturing of our culture. I think this is: it explains the impact of neoliberalism and the changing nature of our economy, especially the rise of gross dissatisfaction in how we live our lives. It also strongly advocates, amongst other suggestions, the need for a guaranteed basic income, a concept and process that is gradually being shown to markedly improve living conditions, despite the fears that it will encourage people to become lazy.

Having researched laziness as part of my PhD, I strongly believe that people are not naturally lazy, that they only move in this direction when they become overwhelmed with their lives and give up, conditions that are being augmented in major ways by our current economy. What is suggested here is actually a prescription to reduce laziness while improving human lives in many ways, perhaps ending the insane ways in which we create poverty and dissatisfaction in our lives, even reducing global warming via an effective stance to our culture.

Guy Standing on an Economy that Works for Everyone (20161126)

It is a long article, and well worth reading.

The Time Required To Scan

SystemChange2

This will be my last blog for a while — I am over-extended in too many areas, and need to cut back on some things. It takes a significant amount of my time to scan and briefly review the various news sources I look at, most of which are high anxiety in their content (which I mainly ignore), and I am not convinced of any significant shift in the issues.

For now, I am will simply focus on those areas of my life where I feel I can make a difference.

Climate Issues

We’re not even close to being prepared for the rising waters (20171110)

For years now, I have been aware that almost every new estimate of the consequences of global warming indicates that our current assessment is inadequate and that the dangers are worse than previously thought. This is another in this series. Our choices are immediate wartime mobilization (as advocated by The Climate Mobilization) or adapt to irreversible changes (with high cost). Rationally we could do the first; politically we are stumbling to the second. Good luck!

More than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issue ‘warning to humanity’ (20171114)

What will it take? When will we listen?

Humans cause growing heat wave danger (20171112)

The likelihood of death as a direct consequence of heat is increasing; interestingly (at least to me as a physician) is the elucidation of 27 different physiological mechanisms whereby life is threatened.

Miscellaneous

Security Breach and Spilled Secrets Have Shaken the N.S.A. to Its Core (20171112)

The world of technology at its core! One of my favorite expressions is “technology is wonderful, when it works!” When it does not, it is dehumanizing and deeply destructive of what I value of the greatness of our species.

Witnessing The Process

nvcd2I’ve just returned from a planning session on how to resist the Kinder-Morgan pipeline expansion in the Vancouver area; typical of me, in my uncertainty as to how to contribute, I was mainly witnessing the process.

For those unfamiliar with the Kinder-Morgan project, it is a $7.4-billion construction project of pipeline expansion over a 1,100-kilometer route, and will increase pipeline capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels of oil per day. It will end at Burrard Inlet at the northern edge of Burnaby and Vancouver, and will require construction through both cities. The fuel will then be transported internationally via the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland (an environmentally sensitive area). It also represents a major addition to the fossil fuel load created by Canada, although that carbon source will then be transported to other Pacific countries, and thus does not appear as a direct load on Canada.

The pipeline passes through many indigenous lands (actually unceeded territories since for the most part no “treaties” have ever been signed) — many or all of which communities object to the project. The cities of Burnaby and Vancouver also object. To my knowledge, the federal and provincial governments have approved the projects despite these objections, and many court challenges are current. For my part, I was deeply disappointed by the duplicity of the Liberal government which initially promised major revision of the issues of global warming — as such there has been far more talk than action.

I believe that there is a huge need for non-violent civil disobedience in these kinds of issues, but I am also somewhat discouraged by this. For the most part, although we have advanced in many ways as to how we value human beings (feminism, racism, education, et cetera), most of the advances have only been on the surface — we have not done the deeper shift in maturity that will be necessary to overcome our latest challenge, that of world degradation as manifest by global warming, let alone the other issues. I have long been impressed by David Suzuki’s honesty in naming the fundamental failure of environmentalism, although I imagine others have written equally honestly about our other failures.

In my discouragement, I believe that much of non-violent civil disobedience merely serves to provide a mechanism to release the emotional tension felt by the oppressed. For the most part, the interplay between oppressed and oppressors simply becomes a game of chess as each party maneuvers to achieve advantage in a never-ending game of duplicity. Certainly on the part of the oppressed, there are many well-intentioned and intelligent persons, but I am not convinced that we achieve a great deal. Meanwhile the bulk of people stand back in apparent apathy. Sad.

Carlos Castaneda, a “cult” writer of the 70s, once presented a great concept (amongst others) for me: A warrior stands in the middle of the road, waiting. By that, I believe he meant that we each must do our personal best, and then let life do what it will. I’m learning to just trust that — in my language, if Creator wants me to do other than Witness, the opportunity will come. Despair, for me, then becomes a waste of energy, attempting to push the river – it flows by itself.

Some interesting links for the week:

The Transformative Power of Climate Truth (201710)

A comprehensive and important document from the only organization (to my knowledge) truly committed to cooperative mobilization on the scale necessary to resolve the issues of global warming.

U.S. climate report leaves little room for doubt (20171109)

As David Suzuki points out, the report did not receive much attention — presumably, simply another report as to the state of the disaster — a non-issue in the current political scene. Sad.

America is facing an epistemic crisis (20171002)

Initially this article is confusing, but it then presents a fascinating study of the question: “What if Mueller proves his case, and it doesn’t matter?” Another suggestion in support of the theme that civilization is about power, and who wields it.

100% renewable electricity in reach by 2050 (20171108)

We are capable of resolving the issues. Will we?

Paleo Politics (20171101)

An interesting link supporting the contention that “civilization” is fundamentally an issue of power dynamics, something I have written about in other posts.

The Clock Is Ticking

CO2Clock2What to say this week? The clock is ticking, in many ways. Certainly the news is dominated by the political scene in Washington DC, with the criminal allegations associated with the Trump-Russia morass. It seems that Mueller is operating with very sophisticated skill, creating massive anxiety. Essentially this is as it should be — an ineffective investigation would do more harm than good. But it is certainly complex.

The major difficulty is that such an investigation is slow, and the climate clock continues to tick. The report by Dahr Jamail is excellent and comprehensive (as usual), documenting the many ways, the increasing ways, in which we are in trouble. Meanwhile the Trump administration continues to dismantle the efforts to respond — sad. And all the more reason to sort the Trump-Russia muddle.

And on the lighter side, some interesting links concerning the complexity of our culture.

All of the this complexity would be fascinating, if the consequences were not so painful.

Global Warming

Dahr Jamail – Scientists Warn of “Ecological Armageddon” Amid Waves of Heat and Climate Refugees (20171030)

Jamail is a very reliable source, and here provides a summary of the current status of our planet. It is not good news.

New science suggests the ocean could rise more — and faster — than we thought (20171026)

Three new studies that indicate the dangers of continued fossil fuel usage, more and faster if we continue our present course. As usual, each report portrays more and more danger as we get better and better data.

The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: from 25 years of inaction to a global transformation for public health (20171030)

Global warming is having major impact now, as well as in the future.

Trump to auction off a vast swath of the Gulf of Mexico to oil companies (20171024)

Continuing our present course, and a reminder of the BP disaster.

The Political Scene

The Daily 202: 10 takeaways from Mueller’s shock-and-awe gambit (20171031)

A comprehensive summary of the revolving issues as of 20171031. Overall, I find the issues difficult to follow, but this is fairly good in keeping me up to date.

Manafort and the Dominoes: Here’s Why Donald Trump Is Losing Sleep (20171031)

Fascinating the ways of shifting evidence and the intricacies of investigation.

Miscellaneous

Rabbi Sacks on Leonard Cohen and parsha Vayera (20161118)

Fascinating description of the last song by Leonard Cohen, and the search for love and peace.

The Improbable Origins of PowerPoint (20171031)

A fascinating history. I was very surprised to learn that PowerPoint was originally an Apple product.

A Very Old Man for a Wolf (20171030)

The complex story of mankind and wolves; sadly the wolves usually lose.

The Pain Of The World

Not a lot to report this week — just the usual pain of the world.

Global Warming

Scientists mapping Greenland have produced some surprising – and worrying – results (20171004)

Even more risk of sea level rise!

Federal government failing to put climate plan into action, environmental watchdog finds (20171003)

The Canadian government this time. Trudeau (like Obama) offered such hope, and such disappointment. I wonder what it will take for governments to do more than talk.

One Way To Respond

As Overdose Deaths Pile Up, a Medical Examiner Quits the Morgue (20171007)

Fentanyl overdose is so common now, and like all addictions and overdoses represents the attempt to get away from the pain of living. And Fentanyl is so appealing! As a retired anesthetist, I was very aware of its potency, but it was not until I had an anesthetic myself that I appreciated its appeal. I was given Fentanyl as part of the induction and had about a minute of pure bliss before being unconscious — if I were to become addicted to anything, I would certainly choose Fentanyl.

The Healing Of Wounds

Wound2
A minor wound; others are major.

For about 25 years, my career was that of a physician, principally as a specialist anesthetist. As such, I was frequently exposed to the consequences of trauma, and the healing of wounds.

The ideal example, for me, of healing would be that of elective surgery in a healthy patient, say someone coming for knee surgery. There are not major compromises of health; the skin is prepped and draped to optimize sterility; a clean incision is made with a scalpel; the tissues are gently handled; the necessary corrections are made; bleeding is controlled; the tissues layers are repaired; and the skin is closed with minimal trauma. A bandage keeps the area clean (although it is mainly to keep blood off the clothing). The area is rested, and gently exercised in progressive manner.

Time passes; a scar result as the tissues heal. In many respects, the scar is stronger than the original tissue, although usually not as flexible.

Contrast this with a wound in an elderly diabetic, say a car accident where the patient has a broken leg with bone protruding through skin and the wound is contaminated with dirt and clothing. The healing will not be nearly as simple, and it is entirely possible that such a patient would require amputation; the patient might even die of complications.

Question: If you think of these two examples as two ends of a metaphoric spectrum, a spectrum of societal healing from trauma, where on the spectrum is the current emotional climate of healing after Charlottesville or the pardoning of the sheriff in Arizona? The following links speak to this for me.

When times get dark, we must shine brighter (20170824)

A good message, but lacking definition as to who and how. Unfortunately, it is simply an admonition of what we should be doing. And readers of this blog likely know how I feel about shoulds. We must come together for something other than more of the same ills of our civilization (my admonition).

The message is also based on the assumption that the alt-right is a last-ditch effort, and will die out soon: “the last desperate efforts of a minority of small-minded people to hold onto ideas and perspectives that history has proven wrong many times.“ I wonder. Our civilization has become so complicated and so dis-empowering that the alt-right may well represent a significant gap in the character of our civilization without a clear alternative. The following links are in keeping with this.

A black man went undercover online as a white supremacist. This is what he learned. (20170824)

An excellent investigation into the milieu of the far-right culture, reflecting with compassion on the struggles that have led individuals into these stances. For me, the investigator recognizes that compassion does not mean acceptance; it means emotional acknowledgment as the beginning of resolution.

He also identifies the very real issue of the moderate’s message that we are all in this together, “and if only you people (the alt-right, for example) will get that, we will all be fine.” We must limit the violations (as unacceptable), and still include the validity of the needs of all parties (meeting in compassion).

A black man undercover in the alt-right | Theo E.J. Wilson | TEDxMileHigh (20170814)

An excellent TED talk by the same individual, emphasizing the need for human connection. Humorous at times, and very succinct as to need. Unfortunately, my usual concern is that we are on the knife edge of danger, and must resolve immense issues simultaneously and with only limited time — the usual super-wicked difficulty of our species.

On American Politics

Roger Stone promises a violent response if Trump is impeached (20170824)

On the flip side of healing, given the increasing appearance of the alt-right, is the risk of major escalation, entirely possible in that the situation is so polarized. It is so difficult to make sense of the confusion, … and life will be what it will be.

I was not around during the rise of Hitler in pre-war Germany, but I imagine such threats were common in that situation also. Potentially we are moving to dark times; it will not be fun.

Trump doesn’t seem to like being president. So why not quit? (20170818)

An interesting commentary of the skills required of a president, and the current mismatch. What it does not disclose is what would be required for him to quit by choice, rather than by threatened impeachment.

On Climate Change

The Trump administration just disbanded a federal advisory committee on climate change (20170820)

A major set-back in American policy, easily lost amongst the hype and anxiety created by the emotional turmoil of the Trump administration. It may well be that such turmoil is deliberate to defuse responsiveness to more important issues such as this.

What Exxon Mobil Didn’t Say About Climate Change (20170822)

The duplicity of Exxon Mobil is now well-documented. I wonder if the consequences will be more than a slap on the wrist.

Media And The Anxiety Of Society

Fahrenheit451I have not been keeping count but it seems to me that there are more and more headlines about the Trump administration. Generally I do not pay much attention to the regular news — although in the past, the media has served important functions concerning ethical investigation of political issues, it seems to me that it has overall degenerated into aggravating the anxiety of society. That for me is a sad loss of perspective.

An interesting reflection on this is to be seen in the movie Truth (2015)[1] which I just watched, where (on Wikipedia) it is noted it is not “our job as filmmakers to draw a conclusion, but rather to pose the questions.”

Interesting Links

A Chilling Theory on Trump’s Nonstop Lies (20170803)

The title is misleading; the article is actually a fairly good description of how human beings are overwhelmed by too much noise, unable to separate the signal from the background. If deliberate, it is a powerful tool to confuse.

The Troubling Return of Al Gore (20170724)

Again, a misleading title. The title again does not do justice to the significance of this article — the divisiveness within the climate movement.

Environmental Protection Act review could strengthen human rights (20170803)

In our modern world, government standards as to the protection of the environment are definitely needed. This article pertains to Canada; I had not realized previously that “The Toronto Public Library collected more late-book fines in one year than the government [of Canada] has collected from fines imposed through the [currently existing] act in 20 years!”

Vancouver has worse air quality than Hong Kong right now (20170803)

Another consequence of global warming. Given I live in West Vancouver, I am able to look outside my apartment window and see the sun partially hidden by haze, the smoky residue of the humdreds of forest fires currently raging in British Columbia (apparently this is a comparatively low-count year in terms of numbers).

Study predicts worsening killer heat waves in Europe (20170805)

Another article of similar consequences. My objection to this article is that it does not place it in the context of the many warnings of the past few years, nor does it seem to acknowledge the possible tipping points that will emerge such that the actual numbers mentioned are only the “tip of the iceberg.” (To my knowledge, the concept of “tipping point” refers to the point at which an iceberg actually tips — when the lower portion, the hidden portion, melts faster than the visible portion above the surface of the water. Once an iceberg tips, it establishes a new equilibrium in a more stable fashion. As far as climate is concerned, this new tip point will be at a stable higher temperature.)

[1] Vanderbilt, J. (Director). (2015) Truth [Motion Picture]

A Few Interesting Links

linkage5Not a lot to report this week. I am still gearing up for my course on contemplative practice. A few interesting links this week— commentary included.

Politics

Why Russia Revelations Never Seem To Change Anything (20170725)

A fairly good article on the complexity surrounding the lack of effective responsiveness within American politics.

Tomgram: Michael Klare, Spreading the Cult of Carbon (20170730)

My source, someone whose astuteness I trust, regards Michael Klare as “one of the world’s experts on international energy politics, peace studies, and [the] American politics of both of those.”

Global Warming

Scientists consider ways to dim sunlight, suck up carbon dioxide to cool planet (20170727)

Given the gross lack of effective response to global warming, it is highly likely that carbon-removal processes and other machinations will occur. This is the beginning of such. Unfortunately it may well be ineffective for three major reasons:

  • it is basically unexplored technology, and given our historic relation with technology, there are always hidden and deleterious consequences around the corner
  • it does not address the basic inefficiency of the system, the immaturity of our species such that we have created the problem in the first place
  • it is not being applied as a consensus response of our culture, and thus there will be those who impose their “solutions” upon the rest of the populus, a common difficulty of our species.

Miscellaneous

5 Productivity Tips That’ll Make You Rethink Your Day (20170720)

Productivity tips are common, but this one seems well organized, and links to a detailed free description. As usual, the limitation is the willingness of the individual to be disciplined.