Saturday, December 21, 2013

Picking Your Battles

Book 1: The Death Dealing Sword

This year, it has come to my attention, that I was born, and raised, and trained, and schooled to thrive on conflict. To seek it out, to introduce it. In the past I've written about my distaste and suspicion of the popular school 'sport' of debating. To rehash briefly though - it teaches kids that values are arbitrary and the most important thing is winning. Such that I now think it is grossly irresponsible to teach kids the sport of debating.
But I've also written in the past about the 3-phases of being a foreigner in Japan, and without rehashing I want to transpose those phases into a learning cycle that may or may not pre-date me that I call exuberence-rejection-acceptance. I'm further stealing the three book titles from Yagyu Munenori's martial treatise 'The Life Giving Sword' to talk about conflict.

See as a plucky young adolescent, it was simply all about winning. Debating taught me how to argue, how to win. I would ride a bus from Ballarat to Geelong, speak for 4 minutes, watch for half an hour, listen to the adjudication and feel robbed and cheated and stay up all night replaying the debate in my head and thinking of what I should have said but it was too late. I had many sleepless nights following lost debates. My ego couldn't stand it.

Eventually, with experience and the right team mates, we started winning. I became an award winning speaker and then my team had an undefeated home season - losing alas, in the first round of the finals. The thing was, that back then I would argue with anyone. Nobody was undeserving of my scathing intellects bite. What was important to me was that everybody knew who the smartest douche in the room was. I would argue with anyone over anything. The important thing, was winning.

I had skills to get my way all the time. (Not all the time, I lost a bunch of times) But I thought there was this holy grail of being unbeatable logically.

I was over exuberant about intelligence, intellect, logic. Even though it would be almost a decade later that I actually first learned about formal and informal fallacies, rational debate and what an argument consisted of. I just had this clear cut path - fight my way to the top.

Because the emphasis and sole measure of success was on winning, defeating your opponent. I call this mindset 'the death dealing sword' a purely destructive tool - for destroying opposition, resistance.

Book 2: The Swordless Sword

I started debating in year 8, I would have been 14 at the time. I kept doing it until I was 18, at that stage a fifth of my entire life. I don't know when, but eventually my EQ started speaking up and noticing that sometimes people weren't impressed. They resented my aggression, responded with dislike, started treating me as unapproachable.

In a true blessing, I eventually realised that the people that were impressed by my argumentative nature were wrong. I would later learn of the psychological experiment that found in any conversation between strangers the best impression was created by the person who spoke the least. Some reflection as well that I'd never myself walked away from an argument thinking 'gee it feels great knowing how wrong and stupid I am!'

So I gave it up, (as much as I consciously could). Turned at some point, anti-debating. Decided that values aren't arbitrary, and bad causes should lose because they are bad, not because they are argued poorly. Good causes should win out, even if it's me opposing them.

And thus I entered my 'conflict rejection' phase.

The thing is, that some people, some cats never get to this phase, importantly they never realize the distinction between the competitive domain of debating and how things work in real life. There are four types of conflicts (broadly speaking) I define by their outcomes win-win, win-lose, lose-win, lose-lose.

Inside the context of debating, you have win-lose, lose-win outcomes. The positions are neatly mutually exclusive, one teams win is at the expense of the other. Simple. But artificial.

Outside of debating, you get lose-lose and win-win far more often.

Book 3: The Life Giving Sword.

I can't even recall what or when or with whom it happened. Whether it was on my behalf or another's. Which is strange. But eventually I had an epiphany in a situation where the very skills I had rejected became useful and constructive.

I do recall, miraculously getting my arse handed to me, and actually walking away thinking 'gee it feels great knowing how wrong and stupid I am!' I was literally overjoyed and freed by the experience of getting demolished. I like to think I lost that argument quickly and gracelessly.

But here is the thing. I once in a different context posed the question 'when losers win, are they no longer losers?' a fun little word game. But one that has come back to me very recently and struck me as entirely relevant. Perhaps a key to life.

Some people, unwittingly, unknowingly and through no fault of their own where born and raised to lose. They have learned self destructive behaviors, ones that not only hurt themselves but those around them. When these people win, when they get their way over certain matters - when their self destructive nature wins out - everybody loses. (lose-lose)

Here you have a context where if they defeat you, if they introduce or prevail in the conflict, not only do you lose - they lose as well. It's in their own best interests to lose.

Some people, unwittingly, unknowingly and through no fault of their own where born and raised to win. They have learned self promoting behaviors, ones that not only uplift themselves but those around them. When these people win, when the get their way over certain matters - everybody wins, even the 'losers'. (win-win)

Picking your battles is knowing when your victory's are at the expense of others and yourself. If there's a way to fuck up the battles you pick, it's when you stand to lose if others win (lose-win). But really the only fight to pick, the essence of the life giving sword is win-win. You practically have a moral imperative to introduce conflict.

But this knowledge is an artform in itself. fools rush in.

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