Thomas Wilson

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Mechanisms of Conflict Interpretation

So you see, there are an infinity of ways that one can choose to view their environment. This can generally be place into two categories, positive and negative. We can pull from the “cup half full” analogy here and state that even in negativity we can search to find the positives and hence keep pushing forward. This is completely true, but is it pragmatic? In some cases, in many actually, it is better to remain positive and keep pushing forward but there is an issue here. What about those select few times in our lives when things take a turn for the difficult, when life truly challenges us and positivity is just another word. Many of us crumble, fall victim to our thoughts and the perceived threat to our well being. Though the threat my be real and possibly even dangerous, how can we prevent the crumble and fall and instead rise fast and hard to meet the demands of success?

The key lies within the threat, for ease of description I will refer to the threat as a puzzle. I will do this because it is indeed a puzzle, it is complex and multifaceted, and you are the most important piece. Something I enjoy saying to people in the trenches is that every situation you come across starts with you. Your reaction and your actions thereafter define how the situation will progress, and in the vast majority of cases this means you have at least some form of control. Of course, this doesn’t always apply, if you are caught by ISIS and they are going to kill you and film it, your are likely going to die… Thus, it is important to understand the parameters here. So, in most cases how you react is intimately tied with circumstantial success and with your problem solving thought process, and that is where we start!

So there is a puzzle (threat) and you in the center of this issue, it is worth noting at this point that many of us already have calibrated our neural synapses and react according to how we have developed thus far. We can alter that mechanism though, just like one might go and learn Calculus, it is a challenge but doable. First, we simply have to be able to step back and REALIZE THE SITUATION in its entirety, this happens to be the hardest and most necessary part. Often times we are presented with an issue and leap to solve it and swiftly discover that we do not know what we are doing and possibly make it worse, but the key is literally in front of your face. Part of the goal is to understand all aspects of the issue you are facing, only then can you compute the optimal outcome. Now you’re thinking, “what about in those split second moments”, well that is more challenging to be sure but the process can become innate and in those split second moments can become closer to optimal. Here is how: after considering all variables which is the most important step (meditation is an invaluable tool to figuring that out), we need to tackle our available perspective(s) on the issue. There are two ways that I classify this: Top down problem solving or bottom up problem solving. Now, there are a bunch of perspectives inherent to both top down and bottom up that are not rational, here i am assuming rationality. Top down problem solving can be imagined like this: you are playing hit the gopher, and those annoying things keep popping up and they simply wont stop but you keep hitting them, maybe you get a high score, but the key point here is that the problem keeps coming back and you keep thinking you are going to win (while looking top down). We cant stop them all and if we try then we get sucked into a cycle, next thing you know, everything is a problem, you’re sad and you don’t know what to do and you do not have enough tickets to get what you want. Then there is bottom up, in this perspective we note that there are many issues that pierce the readily perceptible surface level (individual gophers) but if we can see the root of the issue then we can cleave it from the source (unplug the damn machine). This is the mechanism that i choose and frequently refer back to when in the midst of an issue.

How bottom up? Its simple in practice but the hard part is getting past yourself… The big idea here is that most of our issues stem from the self, what we want and what we don’t want namely. There is a huge conflict of interest here because the bottom line is you are going to have to put yourself in the backseat when it comes down to making headway. Often times the ego cant take that, but it must if you’re going to solve your issues. I have two examples of bottom up mechanisms.

1) I was throwing water balloons at people, i thought it was a good time and they did not. Next thing I know I have this fellow in front of me who had profoundly larger muscles than I and was ready to hit me. So, number one, identify the variables. He was surrounded by females and one other male, he was clearly in an “alpha” position. The second male appeared to not be fully invested in the encounter, one particular female was playing victim. So at this point it was crucial that i listened to what muscle man was to say because it was my only way out of being punched. Bottom up is implemented here because I was focused on what I saw as the bottom of this issue which was I WAS IN THE WRONG and I KNEW THAT. He asked what my problem was and i said “it is just water and don’t we all need it to live?”, right off the bat i boiled the situation down to its fundamentals and took the situation out of context. Nobody was hurt, it was simply water, and the main goal here was to have them realize their (aggressive) actions and reconsider their approach. This is bottom up because i knew that if i could construct a situation in which they perceived themselves as coming off strong (ego was their weakness), then they wouldn’t want to prove my own (un-articulated) point. He mentioned that it was not okay that i was throwing water balloons and called me a dick (aggressively). This is key, remember i mentioned your ego? Well here is where that needs to take a taxi elsewhere, because my response was, “Yeah i am a dick but man everyone needs water to live so i don’t know how you could have an issue with water, it looks like you have more going on here than me.” And he was confused, especially since I SAID IT IN A WAY THAT WAS SELF DEPRECIATING AND HUMBLE, he thought i was dumb. That was my win as i took the issue out of context, he had no reason to punch me because he technically won — I am a stupid dick (check) — and he was able to look strong among his friends (check) — and with that they left. Mind you I am not a dick, i can push the envelope at times but the point is to learn to take a backseat to yourself when it means not getting punched. Top down problem solving here would have looked like me defending myself, commenting on all the things they were doing wrong and having an attitude when i was the one who instigated the encounter, i would likely have been punched. Top down involves acting on the aspects of a situation that you have little control over and ultimately leading to more issues to begin with. In this situation i had little control over what he was going to do. Within my control i had a his perception of me, and i could manipulate that as to make me seem lesser.

2) Before i get to the next example, you must realize that emotions are a top down issue. Our emotions force our attention toward them, and take away from your ability to rationalize. How can you rationalize when all you are focused on is how you feel and how that isn’t changing.. Many emotions are a gateway to inaction, unless it is anger but that may constitute too much action. To the example, one day i found myself on the floor of an apartment that wasn’t mine, i had no phone, no computer, nothing to contact anyone with. How i got here is not important right now and it may not sound so bad but circumstantially i was in hell, and my emotions wrapped around me like a snake and forced me into inaction as i cyclically re-imagined my choices over and over. This was a game changing point in my life and perhaps ill go into more detail later but i digress. On the floor with no way to contact anyone, i was in a puzzle. How do i make the best of the current situation in which there seems to be no way out. Step one, think clearly, forget about your emotions and consider the variables. What tools are at your disposal? For me it was nothing except for maybe a neighbor in this apartment complex. So i went and found a neighbor and borrowed her computer. This neighbor was a meth addict but albeit had  things together as best as she could. I was nice to her and she let me borrow the computer, now i was in. As meager humans, we often underestimate what can be done with a computer and the internet, this was when i realized that. I now could talk to a few people and above all get an job asap. Another important point to consider, change the things that you can! If you cant change your emotions in the moment then forget about them and plow forward. This is where thinking positively can be counterproductive because now you are contemplating a mindset that will allow you to feel good while you dig yourself out of whatever hole you’re in. News flash: the two DO NOT go together, you don’t get to feel good when you’re in a hole, you have to get out of the fucking hole. What i ended up doing was using that computer, getting a job, contacting the people that i needed to and got back on track to begin a slow climb upward. This was bottom up because at the root of my issue was my inability to use the universal tool, the internet.

Quick note: Avoid the “What ifs?” like the plague. I’m not saying don’t be calculated, I’m simply pointing out the tendency of people to surmise all the potential what ifs of a particular situation. The best example here is that of interpersonal communication. People often perceive a situation as requiring immediate counteraction in circumstances of hearsay. He said this, she said that, what if that means… What if it turns into… What if they go and do… What if i cant… What if i feel like…  Here is the deal, the ego. Get over yourself, what if you decided to not care about the mundane things? What would happen is you would have more time to work on other things like yourself. There is irony to be had here, every situation starts with you, so do not go creating a handful of situations that you DON’T WANT TO HANDLE. Second to that is don’t go creating mental constructions about a future that you have no bearing over. If somebody says something about you, why does that immediately merit a response? Better yet, why does that response generally include you making assumptions about all the different things that person X meant with their comment? It is mental. By engaging the petty situation you create issues out of nothing especially if your actions are defensively out of context. This sends people to go lose their godamn minds because what was simply hearsay turned into a group of people all confused and mad at each other, do you want to deal with that? No? Then focus on the important stuff. I’ve been in groups where more than  one person had a defensive attitude, not because they were mean but because of a whole list of separate issues. What happens is they cant take a joke and at least once a week everyone disliked each other and then rekindled their relationships in some superficial display of apology. Honestly it was like they enjoyed the conflict, like it gave them a sense of engagement and furthermore meaning. As if the frequent and dumb conflicts was a way to feel like they had a place despite the fact that THEY ALREADY DID, they just could not see that far ahead. Their attitudes toward their surroundings perpetuated sub-par results frequently. They were all unhappy, always complaining, never DOING anything that would have gotten them anywhere close to bettering themselves.

To recap: Top down mechanics may solve very superficial issues, but when it comes to the big time problems, small issues continue to crop up and they can be daunting if you allow yourself to perceive them all. The key is to notice that these small issues are an illusion of threat, often times their consequences are a joke but our imaginations can wrestle us into believing that they will be the end of us. On some fundamental level, about 90% of what we think is important (how you feel, who’s to blame, who said what) is NOT IMPORTANT, the other 10% is what is important, they are simple (are you safe, do you need food or water, do you have a job, do you have things that MUST BE DONE) Think of top down as it pertains to a medical issue, so you are suffering from multiple symptoms and you go forth and treat them individually and now you’re taking six different medications but new symptoms continue to appear. Top down is treating symptoms as they appear not the issue that would stop all your symptoms, that is bottom up. Bottom up says there is something that i cannot see but is certainly there and i need to find it, otherwise things wont get any better. Through application of the bottom up perspective, we can better see and understand the puzzle, we also begin to see that we can use the top down perspective to infer possible bottom up solutions. That is where the puzzle begins to take shape. The “puzzle” is yours to articulate, for me personally, the perpetual puzzle is comfort for all parties involved. It is simple, how can we all be content and productive, if something disturbs that, then I go forth to remedy the situation via bottom up. What is the issue, how many variables can i account for, what is the solution that will provide THE MOST GAIN. Notice how i did not mention the EASIEST, because sometimes it is hard and you need to be ready to put aside comfort for the greater goals.

An analogy: Suppose you are a molecule and you want to become a different molecule. To do this transformation you need to overcome something called activation energy. This is the energy required to enter the intermediate phase of transformation and ultimately complete the shift. The activation energy here is what it takes to define the variables and gather all resources necessary to solve your issue. The intermediate phase is the calculation of what to do with that new information. Then finally you implement what you have deduced and now you are a different molecule.

In all things you do, if you can discover the root then you have discovered the tree. Some things are much harder than others to break down but that is how things work. Some things require far more action than others, but the goal here is to define the necessary action and weed out all potentially obsolete actions.

Finally, why is this relevant to you when you aren’t experiencing a plethora of multifaceted issues? This idea of top down versus bottom up transposes well onto life and action for moving forward. Being able to pick out what is truly important is key. The things that truly are important are few in number, the rest are top down illusions. If you can learn to see what is truly important then you will begin to see all of the things that you can do on a daily basis that will propel you forth unto tomorrow. Alternatively, we get caught up thinking about all these other things that distract us from what is pragmatic and necessary. Facebook comes swiftly to mind. Meditation is of pinnacle use here when recognizing that you are getting in your own way, it allows you to see yourself better, and offers you more choices. Remember though, the choices were always there, you just couldn’t see them.