The thread in the yelling game
It’s a most inspiring and useful concept, grundoon's beautiful loom metaphor of the past and the future, with its annoying little thread The Present in between.
In order for the old pattern to change, you have to introduce a completely new thread, preferably right away. This realization can also be used to clarify some aspects of the ”yelling-at-each-other”-problem touched upon in grundoon’s writeup. But I’d like to expand the context, to include the world.
I’m not sure that the advice ”Let’s stop yelling and start talking” goes very far, generally speaking. If I step into a bar where a Bible-Belt Republican and a New England Democrat are yelling at each other, then my exhortations, calling for ”mutual understanding”, would be rather out of place. Because the very reason why they are yelling is their perfect understanding of each other’s positions. Differences in deep convictions don’t disappear by talking. Here grundoon’s marvelous loom metaphor comes in. What is needed is a new thread, a thread that suddenly makes both of the old patterns look irrelevant, by creating a totally unexpected new design.
A businesslike thread
One example of such a new thread is a clever banking device called Letter of Credit. This example happens to emanate from the business world, but it illuminates the general principle.
You have goods to sell, I want to buy. Unfortunately, you regard me as a dishonest rascal and refuse to send me your goods, unless I pay in advance. This I’ll never do, because I know you as an old conniving cheat. We may yell at each other over the phone for a while, but the result is the same -- no deal, and both of us lose potential profit.
But here the Letter of Credit (also known by the French term rembours) comes in as a new thread in the weave. It is a document issued by a bank, where a number of conditions are legally stipulated. Here I can require that the arrival, the quantity and the quality of your goods must be certified by an independent inspector, before any money is paid to you. You in your turn can require that proof of existence of my money is sent to you by the bank, before you dispatch your goods. So I pay the money to the bank (not to you, you scoundrel!), and the bank notifies you of this fact. You then send the goods and the bank is notified by the inspector that everything is OK. Then the bank sends you the money and I get the goods. Reality counts.
It doesn’t matter how much and for how long we are going to distrust each other. Thanks to the new thread we can continue making profitable deals for years to come, in spite of periodically yelling at each other over the phone.
Sometimes it is easy to find the New Thread that could solve an impasse due to incompatible convictions. If a Moslem and a Jew yell at each other at the bar, and I declare that I’m an atheist and that they are both superstitious Neanderthalers, then they will in all probability stop yelling at each other. They will be busy yelling at me. In the process they may find that although the incompatibility of their convictions is unchanged, it would benefit both of them if they sat together and devised some common plan to counter the Evils of Atheism. If you don’t happen to find a common enemy, then you can always invent one, like Hitler invented the ”menace of the Jews”. I’m sure that most of us can produce more recent examples as well.
The ”foes-united-by-a-common-enemy”-method is often effective, but not very constructive in the long run. On the other hand, finding useful New Threads is quite difficult. Still, to my mind this is the only way of solving deep-seated conflicts, save murder and war. And we don’t want any of those, or do we?
”Stop yelling and start talking” works fine in the limited situations where the antagonists are not fully aware of all the details of their respective views. Domestic conflicts can sometimes fall into this category, giving marriage counsellors their bread. But it rarely works when there are factual conflicts of interest involved, particularly not in a zero-sum game.
Business opportunities galore
Solving such reality-based conflicts is rarely a matter of psychological understanding and kindness. It rather boils down to the tough mental work of analysis and inventiveness, of finding the New Thread. Then people usually stop yelling at each other. OK, they’ll probably start again, soon enough. But then it concerns a different impasse. So supplying New Threads for the old weave is a never-ending business -- just a tip to those of you who are looking for tempting new business opportunities.