I still attend meetings of our City Council. How much longer I will attend I don’t know.

These good people are caught in chronic conflict. They are divided into two tribes. Contentious votes usually come out 4 to 3. Being in the minority sucks because you lose every critical vote.  But being in the majority also sucks, as Roberts Rules of Order ensures that each tribe has plenty of time to attack each other verbally.

I found this diagram interesting:

I have a little theory.  I’d welcome your thoughts on it.

Let’s say your a member of the Council.  You go to a meeting one Monday night and for three or four hours, you’re the verbal punching bag for the other tribe.  You try to defend yourself, but everything you say is twisted and distorted into all manner of false claims.  Roberts Rules of Order prevents you from responding to their comments as they are being made.  You have to sit patiently, and smile, while the other guy is painting you as a modern-day Charles Manson.

When it’s finally your turn to talk again, you can’t help but want to get a little payback.  So you respond in kind.  Now, it’s someone else’s turn to sit there and take it.

This goes on, as I said, for three or four hours.  Finally, it’s time to go home.

But wait, you’re not done yet.  You go home and recount the evening’s events to your spouse.  You maybe spend half an hour or more going over what happened, who said what to whom, etc.  Finally, it’s time for bed.

So you climb into bed, and you replay the evening’s events in your mind again and again as you try to fall asleep.  Eventually, you fall asleep, but your hard-working brain is still at it.  It’s busy trying to make sense of all of the events of the day, trying to consolidate them into memories and beliefs that will help you and it to survive.  So while you are sleeping, your brain is writing this kind of stuff in your neurons and neural pathways :  Members of the other tribe are the enemy.  Members of the other tribe cannot be trusted.  I should never collaborate with members of the other tribe.  I should try to kill the members of the other tribe.

In the morning you wake up and try to go about your week.  Fortunately, you have a prefrontal cortex, and so you don’t act on every negative belief you hold.  You might fantasize, briefly, about injuring members of the other tribe, but you don’t act out those thoughts.  But of course, during the week, you’re still thinking about what happened last Monday night.  It still bugs you and you definitely don’t want to have it happen again.  So, you start planning.  As you’re planning, you’re replaying your memories of what happened that night. With each replay, the idea that members of the other tribe are “the enemy” are reinforced.  The connections in your brain change physically.  New neural connections are made and the “sensitivities” neurons are adjusted to reflect your now-more-strident beliefs.

So what happens next Monday?  When you see the members of the other tribe, your ever-faithful brain prepares you for the fight it knows is coming.  Hormones are released.  Your heart-rate and respiration goes up as your body prepares itself for the fight.  Mentally, you’re on guard for the attacks that you just know will be coming.

In this heightened state of guardedness even a neutral statement by a member of the other tribe will be interpreted as hostile.  So even if, by some miracle, a member of the other tribe tries to be polite and respectful, you will misinterpret it.  In fact, it’s going to be almost impossible for the members of the other tribe to say or do anything to “change your mind” about them.  Even if they go out of their way to be polite, your very clever brain is going to say “I think I’m being set-up.”

So how to escape such a situation?

I certainly think competent therapy would help.  Perhaps Council meetings should be moderated by a disinterested third party until the Council members have done the self-work necessary to break free of their addiction (yes, addiction) to seeing the members of the other tribe as the enemy.

It is also the case that using the Thinking Process tools would be helpful in breaking this kind of behavior.  Now that I think about it, when the Thinking Process tools are properly used, they do act as a “moderator” who serves to keep the whole process on track and focused on solving problems versus fighting.

So this is my thinking.  What should I change about it?  What seems wrong or bogus to you?

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