Hallstatt, Upper Austria, on the Hallstatter See
In my previous post, I talked about what I called Intra v-Meme Conflict. I didn’t go on much about solutions, because there is an enormous body of accessible literature on conflict resolution, and so many of these people have done much deeper thinking on this than I have. One of my conversation partners, Tom Tripp, a professor at Washington State University – Vancouver, for example, has written an excellent, encyclopedic book on workplace revenge. It’s a great book that covers dealing with Authoritarian/Legalistic v-Meme conflict.
What is more interesting to me is how mismatch in temporal and spatial scales that creates information structures inside people’s brains causes larger conflicts. Egocentric conflict, though widespread, is easily understood. I want something, you want the same thing, and I’m willing to hit you over the head to get it. But what happens with major modes of misunderstanding? Why can’t folks understand global warming, for example? And why do we have such virulent conflict in our political spaces today?
In this blog post, I am going to cover what I call Healthy Evolutionary Conflict (HEC). This is opposed to Psychopathic Devolutionary Conflict (PDC) — a different animal altogether. The difference is simple. HEC implies an honesty of evolution, where someone possessing the mental models they have come by them through a conflation of formal learning and personal experience. For example, it is not realistic to statistically expect someone raised in a Full-Bible church their whole life to stand up and support the idea that the a man named Noah never existed, and the world was not, at one time in the past 6000 years, covered with water.
This is VERY different from PDC, where someone with a disordered empathetic sense, borrows from others’ mental models, based on some intuitive reading of THEIR beliefs, in order to manipulate, fool, and control another individual. The best portrayal of this type of character in recent cinematic history is the Joker, in the movie The Dark Knight — a must-watch for people wanting to understand relational disruption by an individual. The Joker is worthy of a multiplicity of posts regarding empathy himself, and how anti-empathetic characters cause relational disruption at a variety of v-Meme levels.
Inter v-Meme conflicts arise because of the naturally generated consequences between how different societies and individuals generate worldviews based on their social and knowledge structures. For example, someone with a performance-based v-Meme likely holds that the most important thing is achievement of a given goal. How much that individual does this in an ethical fashion, with respect to authority, and such is dependent on their lower v-Meme level scaffolding. As discussed earlier, someone without much Legalistic programming in their background may indeed be Performance-based — but they are likely also corrupt.
When you put a person with a dominant Performance/Goal-Based v-Meme together with someone who is predominantly an Authoritarian, what arises is what I call the Incomprehension Gap. An Authoritarian might be able partially to understand why a Performance-based person wants to achieve a given goal — status, or money, for example. But if achieving that goal means surrendering some level of control in order to achieve it — “to hit our targets this quarter, you’re going to have to let Bill take charge of this key project” — they’re not going to understand.
Likewise, the Performance-based v-Meme actor is going to be confused by the behavior of the Authoritarian. Don’t they realize that their behavior jeopardizes the larger success of the company? What about the amount of stock dividend? What about having to answer to shareholders at the annual meeting?
The reality is that this kind of thinking requires a level of consequential awareness that the Authoritarian does not possess. This is a very difficult concept for most people to grasp — that social/relational order actually creates the timescales inside people’s heads. At the same time, it’s not difficult to generate 100 situations that we all have dealt with in our work worlds where this kind of behavior is exhibited.
I call this the Incomprehension Gap, and it is characterized across the v-Memes by a 2 v-Meme gap. See the figure below.
The picture above refers to Incomprehension among all “I” v-Memes in the Spiral. But there are also Incomprehension gaps inside the “We” v-Memes. Compare the understanding that might exist between someone in an evolved Legalistic v-Meme, vs. a Communitarian. The Legalistic v-Meme person will be prone to classification, because things are ‘fair’. The Communitarian, believing that everyone should be treated as an individual, might attempt to explain extenuating circumstances for not including that person in a particular classification scheme.
An example might be this: in my career as a professor, I’ve worked extensively with the Hispanic population. Washington State has a large Hispanic underclass, mostly originating in the Yakima Valley (Trabajadores Migrantes — migrant workers) and my primary reason for offering my services was really class-based social justice. When asked by Legalists why I didn’t do more to recruit middle class Hispanic students to the various labeled social organizations, I told them I didn’t think it was necessary. Hispanic kids from Seattle, for the most part, were indistinguishable from any other middle-class kids from Seattle. Often the only way you could tell them apart from the other middle-class kids was because of their surname. This was met with some consternation. “They’re Hispanics!” the Legalists would cry. Never mind that the students themselves didn’t want to participate.
My personal experience with people working across the Incomprehension Gap is that conflict can occur, but mostly results in mystification of both parties. Their understanding of the other seems so close — yet especially when spanning the gap between Externally Defined relationships and Independently Generated relationships, the distance is still large. People in the former categories are belief-based thinkers, and messages to them are going to have to be translated into their belief systems. Independently Generated relational people are going to be data-driven, and more contemporaneous and situational in their thinking.
As might be expected, it is up to the more evolved thinker in the conflict to develop the knowledge structure that the other can understand. And at the same time, these types of conflicts show why it is so important to continue evolutionary development of everyone in an organization. People will always settle on a particular v-Meme modus operandi — for example, I almost always settle back to a default Performance/Goal-Based v-Meme. “Let’s get the job done!” I’ll say. That sounds good — but in a Power Structure/Hierarchy, jumping levels to upper level decision makers above your main boss can hurt your career. ‘Nuff said!
But self-awareness on both parties can make all the difference — and lead to negotiated solutions. More on this later.