Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Without Contention

This is Mac-level stuff.
Steve commented on the last post that I hadn't addressed several of Bobbe's points. 'Course not. There was no reason to. I didn't really address his theme, either- just let it inspire some thoughts on another aspect of the same subject. So I'm going to be even worse here and run with something that Steve got me thinking- note bene: not stuff Steve said or Steve meant, just some stuff I read into his words that I rarely address.

Two people write on the same subject, one obviously after the other, their general conclusions very different. It can look like disagreement without being disagreement. One can write on how the trivia transmitted can overwhelm the function; the other writes that without a base it's possible to transmit nothing of value, or not transmit at all, and it might mimic someone avoiding trivia. No contention. It's like tracking with a friend- it's not a matter of being wrong, but of looking at different things. I might look at prints and miss the lint on the thorn; my friend might see the strange print configuration of four distinct paws on a direct register animal and not think to smell the dirt which explains it all.

Disagreement leads people to expect some emotional content. That leads, often, to an all-or-nothing mindset: if you really disagree, you must disagree about everything. (This is simplistic, I know. Bear with me.) I never meant to tear down Bobbe's house. I just saw a wall that could use some spackle. But that expectation flow: difference to disagreement to contention to total annihilation is expected in certain circles- in politics, in internet flame wars-

I don't hate criminals. I'm very aware of some of the most horrendous things done in this area. I know the people who did them. Sometimes I knew the victims. But I don't think I could do this job if I expended the emotional energy to hate. I would suck at the job if I turned a blind eye to how the criminals are as people (some are respectful, well-behaved, even wise when they are off drugs and away from a victim pool; some are good parents; most have hopes and dreams) just so I could preserve the integrity of my vision of them as criminals. This is not soft bleeding-heart talk. This is not an either/or. Both are in my head at all times: a particular person may be vicious, depraved and will continue to victimize people until somebody sticks a needle in his arm and a good chess player and mentor to fish who don't know how to do time. I can treat him with respect without extending trust.

This extends to use of force itself. Maybe the threat sees me as an enemy. Maybe he needs to. Maybe he needs to imagine that I am corrupt and evil and the blunt instrument of a repressive society. But I don't have to play the game. By refusing to limit the problem to a him-or-me, by refusing to see it in terms that are expected or demanded, I can choose to make it a problem and not a fight. Or even the step beyond and decide that it isn't a problem at all.

No one fights all out. Almost no one. When it is over and the cuffs are on, I try to recognize and remember that. The fight is over because the threat quit fighting. He chose to quit fighting. No matter who he or she is, the threat could have made the fight harder, worse, more dangerous. Might have won, if they had taken it to a place where my will had crumpled before theirs (and part of it is easy in that most criminals are very aware that if they 'lose' they will not be injured, a comfort the officer does not have. It makes it easier and safer for the threat to quit). Sometimes I say what I am thinking, "Thanks. You could have made that a lot worse. I appreciate that you quit when you did." It's not sarcastic and they seem to respond to the sincerity of it. It's been very calming for psychs and people on stimulants. I don't think you could use the words unless you feel it, but it opens up a door. If the officer is seeing something that allows him to appreciate ... what else is there to see? And, over the years, a lot of inmates have chosen to talk instead of fight when I'm available to try to find another way.

I couldn't access this if I saw conflict as emotion-laden or violent or total. It's just two organisms trying to work something out. Most of the time, the problem isn't even between the two organisms, but between one of the organisms and its environment. As an interested fellow organism I can sometimes share my perspective.


Bobbe Edmonds said...

I was gonna comment on the last post, but this one is more relevant. Also, Steve beat me to the punch.

My first inclination was to say "Rory, your post started on the same mine did, but you went off on a tangent."

(For those unaware, a tangent is NOT a rant...It's the point a straight line intersects with a circle. Like going down another path at a crossroads. I could have just let it go with that, but "tangent" is fun to say, plus I enjoy throwing my vocabulary in everyones face.)

Then I realized what I said had actually inspired a new path altogether. Which is what you said here.

My whole point in the first place was simply stated in the middle of my blog post: "Habit and tradition should not be above criticism, nor should the dead rule the living." Everything I wrote before and after was pretty much a supporting argument.

Your post here on the consequences of publicly agreeing or disagreeing does happen to tie in with that: The people who instantly turn to the "This means war!" frame of mind are often from the crowd who tend to follow tradition. I say that because a free thinker looks at each individual and occurrence objectively, as a single entity of happenstance. The traditionalist comes with pre-programmed instructions on how to handle things, and must return to the higher source (Martial Arts teacher, mystic Guru, commanding officer, etc) for the answers he doesn't posses.

The traditionalist will look to the narrow confines of his teachings and lineage for answers, the free thinker will look to his own heart.

This isn't carved in stone of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but I have seen the phenomenon over and again too often to disregard it.

Steve Perry said...

And, of course, Rory is right. We can agree about nine things and not the tenth, which in our case is usually true. The reason the tenth becomes the point of discussion is because there's not much point in preaching to the choir.

If you make a comment and I think it's valid, then what you get is an "Amen," or a silent nod. Most of what Rory says most of the time resonates with me that way.

Shoot, even some of what Bobbe says does, too.

Where I pipe up is usually because what got said wasn't said clearly and it raises a question, or I think I do understand and I simply disagree. This goes to both style and substance.

I got nothing against Mac. I simply don't agree with how he presents his view of the world. If I ask for clarity, it's because I'm no sure he's saying what I think he's saying. If I think it's gobbledegook, then that's what I'll call it. No hidden agenda here.

Rory and Bobbe are writers. They don't get as much slack when they say something; I expect better of them than I do somebody who isn't a writer. Yeah, it's an imperfect medium, but it is what it is, and writers need to be closer to the limits of the envelope than non-writers.

In workshops, when stories go around the circle, the newbies tend to get strokes and gentle encouragement from anybody with half a brai; the pros get whacked pretty good. I can usually tell by the end of the first paragraph with what level of writer I'm dealing, and I tailor my comments accordingly. If you are a professional-class writer, you get professional-level criticism. I don't pull the punches, because you are better served by this than by the strokes. Hard love ...

Plus I am a lifelong iconoclast, and anytime somebody throws out something that is claimed as fact, I want to see evidence. Worse than being from Missouri, where you just have to show them. I'm from Louisiana, you have to show it, I need to smell it, touch it, grok it.

If you are a good writer, that's your job. As a fellow writer and editor, making sure you do that is part of my job.

Anonymous said...

How do you hold the mental space of seeming paradox, i.e. vicious criminal and respectable person, simultaneously? How do you maintain a centered stance and not get drawn into the game he plays which is the same game that maybe a lot of people on your own team play? It seems like it takes a certain kind of focus to be able to encompass all of that in a violent moment.

Rory said...

If there is something I disagree with, it is this "The traditionalist will look to the narrow confines of his teachings and lineage for answers, the free thinker will look to his own heart." IME an individual heart is more likely to be limited than the accumulated perspectives of several people. A traditionalist who just blindly accepts and turns off his brain is just whistling in the dark, turning to something else for comfort from what scares him- the average is slightly pathetic and helpless, a follower; the extreme becomes a fanatic. Someone who automatically turns to his 'own heart' especially in the face of contradictory evidence can go just as wrong. The average for this is entitled, whiny and just as helpless. The extreme is an ego maniac bigotry.
Maybe it's not a disagreement so much as I've seen both paths go terribly wrong.

David- If both things in the paradox are real it's not a paradox. It doesn't take focus to see them, it takes focus to choose to be willfully blind to one of them. Yu can look at things from the universal perspective or the big picture or smaller and smaller degrees of magnification. At each stage you see different things. If you take any technique and break it down far enough, it's impossible- an infinitely complex array of energy and molecules and micromuscles and ... if you look at it too big, it's irrelevant: "what is a simple foot sweep in the interplay of galaxies and suns?" I like to look at things in roughly human-sized chunks, but often just a bit broader: what will beating him do to his mind and heart? Can I defeat (cuff) him in such a way that he is grateful? It works! That's the biggest argument I can make for it. Try to figure out what level of magnification you look at things and then play with adjust ing it a few notches. I considered it here:

Hope that helps a bit. It's valuable, but seeing things in a new way is hard.

Anonymous said...

I really like what you're talking about, essentially maintaining a broad frame of reference (basically, what compassion is), but, how did/do you train to get there when violent situations rapidly narrow that frame? Is it just lots of practice?

Did you ever get emotionally traumatized from a violent encounter? Because that really locks a person into a certain magnification or frame of reference and keeps him from varying it, and I would imagine that then the reaction to any similar events would be the same again and again. How do you escape from that vicious cycle?

Anonymous said...

"Share my perspective" - one of the greatest metaphors ever written for, "if you don't knock off the s@#t, I'll kick your a$$."

The best writing is the most minimal; the greatest content is in a single word. People blow off minimism as 'gobble-de-gook' (a great and very meaningful single word) or psychobabble because they haven't gotten to their own inner truths. Most writing then tends to be a method to try and get at one's own truth or convince others that (mostly oneself) that one has value. Or, to create an effect in others. Thus, the simplest is the most complex, but complexity, in writing, in fighting, in living is actually the simplest. Perspective. Mac


Steve Perry said...

The best writing is that which conveys the writer's *meaning* the best. While it isn't good to use three words when one will better serve, neither is it good to use one when three are necessary.

If you want to say, "Life is like a hamburger." then I need a little more than that to get the drift.

Because I have found my inner truth doesn't mean that a reader has, and if I fail to put my truth into words she or he can relate to meaningfully, then I'm failing as a writer.

If they don't get it, it's either because I didn't say it right, they didn't understand it right, or some combination of the two. I can fix some of that by writing better.

Gobbledegook doesn't automatically equate to minimal, true enough. But the simple-is-complex-complex-is-simple argument leaves much about which reasonable men might argue. And I am disagreeing with it.

Yeah, zen is great, and sure, the post was tired, too, but not everybody gets to make that leap right out of the box.

No beating around the bush, I just think you are not getting across whatever it is you are trying to say. Could be my fault, I have to allow for that.

But where I come from, A is not non-A.

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to express emotions in a post, and inner truths are not, in my opinion, rational, but emotional. It is why so few people really understand zen, et al - because understanding is rational; true understanding is emotional; reality-understanding (if you accept a 'one-reality underlies all' concept) is knowing-ness, beyond knowing or feeling (I am not a 'religious' person, so will not address this deeply personal and divisive issue). Thus, trying to explain, let alone teach, the emotionality of violence is difficult. One can study and practice 'combat' for decades but until your life, and others' lives, are separated by a single moment, one can never truly know this aspect of 'reality'. So, I speak in 'conundrums' to evoke emotional responses in people; it is not even necessary for me to make 'sense' - if 'phonebooth nine pillow aardvark' gets an emotional reaction, my writing has done it's job. Mac

Steve Perry said...

Ah. Well, there we go. Nine pillow aardvark it is, then.

I believe that just evoking an emotional response and not making sense kinda limits your communication possibilities, but that's just how many of us see it, here on our planet.

You seem to be able to make the Kessel run in twelve parsecs. Good luck with that. Stick a fork in us ...