Monday, December 21, 2009

The Rules

My first on-line article was many years ago for Fabien Senna, the webmaster of cyberkwoon. I'd mentioned that it always bothered me when people said that there were "no rules in a street fight" because there were rules. Laws matter, sure, but there are also subconscious rules that people get stuck on. Fab asked me to write a little about some of the rules, so I did.

Along with the rules I'm coming to understand that there are scripts as well. Off and on over the years I've described several of them here without realizing it. The bad guy gets angry and expects you to either show fear or get angry back; the basic monkey dance; threat displays and dominance games...

A lot of the successful de-escalations have been by refusing to play the role or follow the script that was expected.

It would be easy to say that the scripts are social, but watching body language, even non-human primates do very similar things. One pushes and gets aggressive and loud, the other responds. Often both look to the bystanders to see if public approval is on one side or the other. Often they rely, just like people, on being separated by friends, getting to feel like they stood up without the danger of actually getting hurt.

When you start looking for it, you see this monkey behavior everywhere. And it seems so petty. There is great power in seeing the game and choosing not to play- it is almost a superpower to be able to focus on the problem and ignore the social mine-field surrounding it.

That's very cool, but in a way it is sort of a trap as well. When you step away from the monkey games it is easy to forget that all the people you deal with every day are still primates. What looks silly and petty when you are dealing with avoiding death and injury is the very definition of what others see as human... and when you cease to come across like a person, they have to figure out who and what you are.

I think this is why so many good operators get 'reined in' by their bosses even when they have done nothing wrong. It's not punishment and only partly a power play. The bosses are just reassuring themselves that the operator is still a human, still a member of the tribe and still knows his or her place in the tribe.

To be anything else is to be unreadable, possible a stealth predator, a wolf in ape's clothing.


6 comments:

cooliehawk said...

When you step away from the monkey games it is easy to forget that all the people you deal with every day are still primates. What looks silly and petty when you are dealing with avoiding death and injury is the very definition of what others see as human.

This insight is actually a really useful way of looking at autism spectrum disorders.

Loudernhel said...

Thanks for that.

James said...

Never had that thought. Thanks. You gotta admit, though, it's a lot of fun to do something totally non-sequiter as someone is working themselves up into a perfect fit and watch the confusion on their faces. Your insight could help to explain why a got an evaluation years ago that had the phrase "Has too great a tendency to use 'one-liners'" in it.

Ann T. said...

Dear Rory,
So many of your posts are useful in more than one way. This is another one of them.

Off topic, I wish you a couple of good days off (Happy whatever you celebrate)--

Ann T.

TM said...

As usual, a thoughtful post. Thanks for your insight. Keep up the good work.

jks9199 said...

Y'know -- getting locked in The Rules I think is a major factor in cops getting hurt because of presumed compliance... The Rules say that people do what the cops say; when they don't the cop gets locked up, and too often either falls into a monkey dance, or gets just plain stuck...

(Yeah, this whole issue has been on my mind lately...)