A designer on Conflict

Coming out of a lunch-webinar with Adam Kahane new book Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust, made me center back to some topics I would like to share, capital for my work as a designer and most importantly, to keep iterating what I mean by being human.

The story starts with one of the simplest and accesible reflections of the human experience, which is that at any situation we are somehow always able to chose between three options: to Force our way of how the situation ought to be, to Adapt to the ongoing forces shaping the situation, or to Exit the situation to another one.

I somehow see to Force, Adapt or Exit a situation as a refined rationalisation of the Fight, Freeze and Flight responses of our reptile brain. Here evolution has done its part and helped us to continuously chose between these 3 responses without much energy intake.

In my understanding could be the reason why is so hard and energy/attention consuming to be aware of how am I reacting at any given situation. This fact of passing the 3 choices through consciousness is been if not THE main learning of my adulthood, one of the top three with remembering to water plants and give first. More than tiring, has demanded me as a young, white, heterosexual, western man to completely reshape what a subtile but well stablished torrents of social order, also called the patriarchy, taught me on how to deal with my ego.

Beyond what I experienced as the first reaction, denying the ego by exclusively relating it to the Forcing attitude, it helped me to redefine it, as of today at least, as just a maleable voice or will emerging at every moment which it can take shape of Force, Adapt or Exit. It also, indeed, led me to enjoy and learn the nuances of Adapting, its beauties and its perils, to experiment when was the right moment to Exit, and finally, and here we come back to Adams book again, when to take the always possible middle way, in this case, to Collaborate.

He pointed the fact that we tend to associate Collaboration, people working together out a situation, as a good thing because is what will lead us to harmony. Harmony, of course, as the absence of conflict, harmony as the old modern idea of a bright future, perfect progress without war. This led to what he also shared as an alternative meaning of collaboration, which in Europe is still full of meaning, of the ‘collaborators’, those who ‘collaborated with the evil’ back in the european wars of the beginning of the s.XX.

In my understanding, this idea of collaborating as working out together a situation seems like integrating both a Forcing and Adapting attitude from the people involved in the situation. Which led me to think that then the results of Forcing and Adapting necessary shall be considered both harmonious and conflicting if we wish at the same time. That we shall bring, as Adam’s book basically argues, back conflict at the centre of working out together situations with the people we share them.

Let’s pause here. Yes, bring back conflict to life. This I feel is pretty provoking, and I somehow love provocations. Specially because as a generation our epistemology of the world is referenced in the worldview of our previous generation, the moderns, who responded to the horrors of WWI and II with an understanding of society that should excluded that horror, conflict, from the map. At the same time, as some writings from Miguel Berasagay points too, this made us pretty dumb as postmoderns on dealing with conflict before it gets into killing each other (in case we agree is nasty when it gets to that point). That’s why divorcing sky rocketed, we don’t live with parents at home and keep them until they die, and so on and so forth. Because we can’t stand conflict and we chose Exit over the minimum existence of it. When conflict is denied one could argue as well that LUCKILY led for example to half of the population, aka women, starting saying fuck yourself and not accepting just Adaptation as an operating mode of being in the world, but that’s a pretty bold hypothesis for another day.

In sum, I seem to be ill equipped to understand conflict deeply, to integrate it as an existing reality of the human nature that is never going to go away. And this, to be able to create an attitude or way of being in the world that is dancing with forcing and adapting willing to just accept results without a moral judgement but as just a stepping stone for our next dance, is what I am still trying to figure out and would love to hear your tricks about.

Ice-cream to everyone!