Charles Starrett

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Culture consultant & social tech teacher/facilitator at SoulCo & Northeastern University. He/Him. Dad, Harvard and NEC alum, visual thinker, dabbler in ukulele, electronic music, 한국어, and TTRPGs.

Standing (and ceding) your ground

Conflict is a powerful force.

The polymath social scientist Gregory Bateson talked about the double-bind: what happens when life is faced with two, equally bad options. There is an invitation in the double-bind to uncover or create a third option. One which was previously unseen or unknown, but which frees us from the trap of double-bind.

Conflict can also clarify. When we’re not sure of our position on a topic, but we feel our body react with a visceral “No!” to someone, that clarifies where we stand.

Without conflict and tension, there would be little innovation because people generally avoid change. Change is uncomfortable and difficult. To get ourselves to change, the tension we feel around not changing has to be greater than the difficulty of the change. That tension, or conflict in our current situation, is the force that moves us forward.

However, conflict and tension can also be destructive. When our goal in an argument is to “win,” we stop listening for emerging insights or innovations, and simply listen for opportunities to put down our “opponent.” The truth and the relationship are both casualties of our ego-centric war.

When we see life as a zero-sum game where the more others have (whether that is money, power, or rights) that means less for me, then we engage in conflict that goes against our evolution as social animals. Our society — our ability to live and work together for mutual well-being — becomes a casualty of our ego-centric war.

And when it gets out of hand, ego-centric conflict can explode into wars of entire nations.

Standing our ground is an important part of creating the tension that activates the creative force. But we have to be clear about why we’re standing our ground. Is it for insight and innovation to serve the well-being of all, or is it because we want to “win” or don’t want to be seen as weak.

Because part of allowing conflict to do its work, is knowing when to let go of our old worldview, and step forward to embrace the new.

28 June 2022

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