Article: An Autopoietic Conflict Model

An Autopoietic Conflict Model

Conflicts, whence they come?

Conflict and autopoiesis


by Jan Willem van Ee


(This article is a translation of the article on this website: Conflicten, vanwaar komen ze; Conflict en autopoiesis)

The translation was made by google translation and manually rectified. If you feel that mistakes are still obvious, I would be obliged to hear at



I have never met anyone who enjoyed it when he was embroiled in a conflict. There are individual differences, but everyone wants to live in peace rather than conflict. But the experience is that we all regularly have to deal with conflicts of all kinds, parents and children, between partners, at work and so on. 

The almost general view is that a conflict takes place between the parties to the conflict and that it is about the matter on which they disagree. The conflict theory I will develope in this article shows that it works out very differently. The conflict exists only in each of the persons of the opposing parties themselves. Each party has an entirely different conflict, that is, the conflict is not between the parties but is entirely in each of them. The contents of the outer visible conflict does not matter, but these contents are only the reason to play out the internal conflict.

This is initially so different from how reality looks like that this idea seems to be ripe for trash. However, I invite the reader to read on and look into the examples and situations that follow, and I propose only then to decide if what I say is true. After reading and understanding of what follows your world view will have changed and by it yourself. This change will lie herein that the certainty with which you may now look at the world around you, the certainty that the world really is as you perceive it, shall be replaced by the knowledge that the world outside of you is just only as you perceive it and that this perception is limited by what you can observe biologically and by your structure, that is what you have learned in the course of your life.

The theory on which my conflict model is based is called autopoiesis.(1) The word comes from Greek and means: make yourself. Autos in Greek, is self, and poiein is the verb for to make. We humans are creatures who make ourselves and we are constantly the actual end product of this process. 

This theory is therefore interesting in the field of conflict theory, because it shows that, contrary to most theories of conflict, it is not about the interaction between people in the conflict, but the inner process of the people in the interaction.

My aim is to show that conflict is not a purely interactive process, but rather a process that is rooted in the person himself. If the conflict is not about interaction, but happens only in the forum internum of humans, this induces the possiblilty to search for an area of ​​knowledge that is responsible for starting and maintaining the conflict and possibly solve it. Describing this area is what this article is about. The understanding of it and the application of the consequences provides the personal change that is necessary in order to deal with conflicts external, and if possible to solve these internally.

1. Autopoiesis

In the theory of autopoiesis is what we "are" defined by what we have learned. The main slogan in autopoiesis is: life is learning and vice versa, learning is life.

The theory of autopoiesis was developed by the Chilean neurobiologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. Their main textbook is called: The Tree of Knowledge, the Biological Roots of Human Understanding.(2) According to autopoiesis everything, including all, is defined and limited by our biology, even our understanding. Our biological basis is the bottom line for all that we can do and also may know. This is an important notion. The bottom line is that our biological basis indicates the limits of what we can know and recognize. This may at first sight not be so clear, because after all, we have all kinds of tools invented to circumvent our biological limitations. Thus we know that ultraviolet light exists thanks to our scientific knowledge and tools, while in real life its visibility is nil. Yet it is important also to recognize our biological limitations. What we accept as knowledge must be biologically possible in principle, to be experienced and our biological possibilities here are the border, beyond which no knowledge is possible, though it is not excluded that for beings with another biology other possibilities are open.(3)

I will explain the theory below insofar as it is of interest for our topic: A human being is a living system. He seems to have come into this world with relatively little luggage, at least with less hardwired behaviour than animals. This living system, we call it a person, has the opportunity to learn almost anything. This learning process continues and will never stop until the person dies. A newborn baby is not yet a human being. A baby has the characteristics with which we recognize it as human (organization). And so we have learned to distinguish between cats and humans. We assume that a baby has the potential to become an adult human being, in the common sense of this word, but in its structure, the content of what it is, it is at birth not yet so (structure). Indeed, it is our structure that makes us truly human in the sense that it determines the possibilities of functioning in society. Normally, a child has the ability to learn to become a human being, especially by its very plastic brain. You can learn it any kind of knowledge, to do the most difficult physical actions such as playing a musical instrument or a circus act, or the most difficult languages. There is however an important condition, which is that it needs to have the capacity to adapt its structure so that it can be said that he learns. These capabilities are biologically determined and limited. This process goes so far that as a human baby does not grow up in a human environment it will not become human. In order to become human, a human environment is essential. A famous example is the wolf children, found in India around 1920.(4) These children were raised in a wolf pack and had become wolves. A human baby can only become a human being when he grows up as a human in a human environment. This is essential circular.

To make this even more clear I will give another example. You as a reader have learned English. You are more or less well versed, depending on your level of education, but the ability to read this text does not mean that you can read any book which is particularly complicated in the English language or on a technical subject. It takes additional exercise to get to that level.

This learning process is done in interaction with the environment. In this process an event that is perceived by the person is called a perturbation (perturbation). A perturbation is an interaction with the environment in a structural coupling (structural coupling) that triggers a change in the system. The perturbation does not provide for this change, but "triggers", that is, it is the reason for the system to work on the compensation for this perturbation. Perturbations are detected by the system, that is to say, the human person, and processed. This processing is the treatment of the perturbation in such a way, that the system continues to exist, and that the coupling with the environment is maintained (conservation of adaptation). This is done in such a way that the next time that the same perturbation is detected, the system will be able to compensate (better) for the perturbation. Behaviour is the coordination of the system to compensate for the constant flow of perturbations and to maintain the structural coupling with the environment and then adapt. In this way, the system learns, as could be said, looking as an observer from the outside. Among the perturbations there are some, seen by the system as a threat to the structural coupling with the environment and that, therefore, place high demands on the maintenance of coupling, and on the conservation of adaptation. If these are observed, the system apparently does not always have adequate response readily available. This is for example the case with conflict.

As an example from ordinary reality: he who has learned to swim, has learned to compensate for the perturbation of falling into the water and will have a better chance of surviving. Who has learned a martial art may be better suited to survive when faced with a robbery. This applies not only to physical capabilities but also to mental activities such as learning a language and doing a training of any sort. In autopoiesis nothing is excluded as a perturbation, which when it is compensated for by the system appears to have been a learning tool. The system, the next time that same perturbation is observed, can say that it has learned something (cognition). In everyday life, every human being is constantly busy to compensate for the perturbations of the environment that he perceives, and by adapting he proves that he is learning. But sometimes it happens that a perturbation can not be compensated, and then the conservation of adaptation in danger and thus the structural coupling with the environment and ultimately the person and his life. It  may be clear that there are perturbations that can not be compensated for, because of the biological parameters of the human body may not be able to learn to compensate for these perturbation. Being thrown from a tower can not be compensated in any known way! (Structural determination). Here, it is the physical impossibility to compensate for the perturbation. You can not learn to fly. To fall into the water is dangerous if you cannot swim, but if you have learned to swim, you have learned to compensate for a potentially dangerous perturbation. We learn in life to compensate for countless perturbations, but some of them, especially for the perturbations that lead to conflict it appears in everyday life that it is very difficult to learn how to compensate. Perhaps you recognise the observation that some people do not seem to learn from their conflicts because they seem to have the same type of conflict over and over. Many readers may also be able to make the observation about friends who marry again, that the new partner turns out to be only the blonde, or more or less athletic version of (one of the) former partners, but that finally the problems in the new marriage remain the same. Apparently the previous divorce as produced the learning material, but this was not adequately processed and the person has not learned or learned too little, and then the full story will go in the reprise. Conflicts that are not resolved often seem to come back structurally, sometimes in a slightly different package, but essentially these are the old conflicts. And you might also “enjoy” yourself in noticing, if there is a conflict that comes back again, when you think: It happens to me again!

This yields to the conclusion that to compensate properly for the perturbations is something that must be learned, and it is also true that, just only when you have learned, it will only be possible to compensate for the perturbation. You can only swim when you have learned it, and you can only resolve conflicts when you have learned how. It follows that only what the system has already learned, so what has already been incorporated into the structure, is suitable to use as a compensation for a next perturbation. In other words, the response to a perturbation is not determined by the perturbation, but by the structure of the system that is trying to compensate for the perturbation. Putting this another way: Not what happens to me, but my structure, so that what I have learned, determines my possible reactions.(5) This is an important notion. The conflict challenges you to develop new repertoire of conduct, but you can only act with what has already been learned. This means that if you have not learned to compensate for a certain perturbation, it is also very difficult to do it properly at that time. If you have not learned to swim, falling into the water is dangerous and you run the risk of drowning. This is also the case in conflicts. We generally have not learned to properly handle them, and it often takes quite a long time to learn anything that works just a little. Usually we "drown" in our conflicts until we have learned to cope. And we all know that for many people this seems to take a long time.


2. The structure determines the reaction

I start with an example that I will use frequently in the following sections: a couple just got married. They are deeply in love, but at a party the husband sees his wife talking to one of her exes in a way that he does not like. He gets very troubled.

Every human has the wish to live in peace in his environment. This is called homeostasis.(6) In a conflict the environment is no longer seen as safe. Then the perturbations are perceived and seen as threats. The husband sees his wife talking in a way that triggers in him the belief that she is cheating him, but it could also cause fear of loss, or anger at her ex. The system (the husband) apparently cannot compensate for the perturbation of seeing the woman he is in love with, cheerfully chatting with an ex, and thus he enters into an internal conflict. This results in a dissonance in himself. By this I mean the first vague feeling that something is not right, of threat, internal unrest and tension, but this may expand into something bigger.(7) The perturbation is seen in his system as a threat, and it is thus obviously something that his structure has not (yet) learned to compensate for. In his structure knowledge (cognition) is not available to compensate for the threat. The husband does in reality not even know if his wife is cheating him. It may be true, or it may be nonsense. In other words, the individual in conflict has not learned to respond to the perturbations and does not respond in an adequate manner (that is to live in peace). This happens because his current structure determines the possible ways of responding, and his first response to feel threatened is the result of his current structure. Only when he has learned to compensate for the perturbation, it is possible to resolve the conflict. In this way the conflict is challenging him to develop new repertoire in his thinking and conduct, and in this way the conflict is a learning process! It's a learning process under high pressure, because the individual is confronted with an unsafe environment, which threatens the conservation of adaptation and structural coupling that he has with this environment. In this situation, the basic biological hardwired, so what we call instinctive, behaviour comes up, for example, the fight or flight response. Everyone knows and has experienced in a very stressful situation, that the body seems to take over, sometimes with embarrassing results.

Because the structure determines the possible reactions, it should be clear that a conflict is not determined by what is generally regarded as the "facts", the matter over which the parties seem to be fighting. We all know that, because "facts" are for one person a reason to shrug his shoulders, and can be a real casus belli for another. This is well known, but to draw the right conclusions proves to be extremely difficult. In the example it is the husband who does not look at himself to investigate why he thinks what he thinks. He exports the "why" and projects that.

3. Perturbations that lead to conflict

 When someone enters a conflict, then the perturbations are picked up from the environment and incorporated in the structure of that person with the result that the environment is considered to be unsafe. If there is not sufficient capability for compensation the conflict will start, unless the other party is wise enough to really see what happens. But because his structure may have learned as little or even less, an appropriate response can not be given and the external conflict will start. What happens is that one or both of them are trying to make the environment safe by trying to change the other person by persuading him to share her position and finally, if that fails - because the other, who thinks just as well that he is right, and persuasion is usually impossible – he might in case of emergency or thoughtlessness try to remove the other from the area. The relationship, marriage, the client relationship or whatever, ends. Picking up and firing a gun also is a way of ending the conflict and the further learning in life will take place in prison! The husband in the example given, could do this with devastating results. Many great works of literature and opera are based on this theme!

Perceiving perturbations, both in language or otherwise, is the basis for building a conflict, but not yet the conflict itself. Perturbations are essentially neutral and only become meaningful after being processed within the system. Perturbations are not good or bad. It are our judgments that show them to us as good or bad, but this is a personal jugdment, and in no way an objective fact.

In autopoiesis everything is perturbation. Language is perturbation. Language is not information, as is sometimes thought. Language is a consensual domain (consensual domain), in which the processing of perturbations is coordinated. When I say something in Quechua (the South American Altiplano indigenous language) and you do not speak it, you can not process the perturbation of this language. If you could speak the language this becomes possible. This means that you create the so called information inside your system with the sounds of the language, and I tried with the language spoken to orient you this way. I am giving no information about it, but you make this yourself with the knowledge that you already have. This article contains no information, but letters and words that invite you to create a new concept in your structure, with which you yourself modify your structure. This is a very different approach. If I say something, I seem to transfer information, but what I really do is utter sounds or write words that allow the listener or reader, but only if his structure has already some knowledge to create this information himself. Therefore, it is not convenient to tell only the conclusion of a story. I try in this article step by step to show how this all works. You as a reader do these steps yourself also, and you create in yourself the information that you are in the end using to agree to my ideas (or not). Whether you create the information I had already verbally or in writing in my head, I do not know and that I can notice only when the audience asks questions showing how it went. Only then will I know if I've been clear enough and if you understood (what I think you should have understood). It may occur that that a listener has created something completely different from another listener. That is to say that with what I said (only sounds) one listener has created different information than the other, apparently using the same input from my side! The reader can understand the text only if his structure is able to understand it. Furthermore, if you do not understand, it might not be my fault, but only a lack in your cognition.

This goes even further. All the words we hear and read, we only understand based on the content of our individual structure. If you say to a lady: "You're just like your mother!", the result will be processing in part of your tone and voice, but more important is what kind of relationship this woman had with her mother. Even words that we think that we know well still have for each of us slightly different meanings, always emotional, because of our past experiences.

The significance of this cannot be overstated. In other words, not what I say, in any language, conveys information. The system of the reader or listener does create the information with what has been said or written in a single operation, but only to the extent that its structure, its cognition, that what has been learned up to that point, makes it possible to do so. And this applies to language and meta-language, such as facial expressions.(8)

Not what we perceive - in the example of the woman talking to her ex - is information. It's the system in its current state that makes something of it.(9) In the example, the husband is jealous. His structure makes him come to the belief that something is wrong and it draws a conclusion, it passes judgment. So it is the judgment about what we see, hear, and so forth, that provide information for further conduct upon it.

We interpret the perturbations according to the state of our own structure. The information that we think is objective, is only the result of what has made in our structure of the present perturbations. It follows that with our whole structure, that what is learned and processed, gives meaning to what we perceive and if it ends in a conflict, it appears that there are deficiencies in the structure. These shortcomings of the structure of interpretation and as a result of proper behavior accordingly, determine the conflict. In other words, although the person himself thinks he is doing his best and is right, from the standpoint of an external observer it can be seen that the behaviour of that person is not sufficient to control the situation and threatens the conservation of the identity and the adaptation of this person in its structural coupling to its environment (to which the observer also belongs). For clarity, so again, it's not the perturbations from the environment that lead to conflict, it is the internal operation of the system with the information used by the system that feelings and emotions are created, which lead to behaviour that by an external observer is defined as conflict. The husband in the example sees his wife talking with her ex, (perturbation) and in his internal processing according to the state of his structure, he thinks she is cheating on him. When he lets his actions be guided by this conviction the marriage is at risk. He may have the firm conviction, by his feelings of jealousy, that he is right - and maybe that is ultimately true - but what matters is that his structure apparently is structured in this way, that when he sees his wife talk with one of her exes this evokes in him feelings of jealousy, suggesting an internal conflict.(10) If he takes action the conflict goes goes extern, but before it was already internally within himself.

This said another way: what a person says and does in conflict is always and only about himself. Autopoietic logic teaches that what in the conflict is said and done is only a representation of the state of the structure of that party in the conflict. The Netherlands has a nursery rhyme that says, "What you say yourself, you are" which accurately reflects this. This is true not only in conflict. Essentially everything we think, say and do is an expression of the current state of our structure. We are not aware of this and  hereafter I will argue that it is precisely this awareness can get us out of the doldrums.


4. The cognitive gap as conflict trigger

Not beaing able to an adequate respons to a stimulus is a shortcoming because it threatens the conservation of adaptation and structural coupling with the environment. It suggests a gap in the structure and the conflict invites to fill that gap, i.e. understanding of the processing of the perturbation in order to devise better compensations.

In the meantime, the question arises whether it is possible to define an area in the system, or lack thereof that causes this operation. I think that it is indeed possible to designate such an area. I will give some examples to show this. Imagine: you are driving on a highway and near an exit, someone cuts you off in an annoying way. Most people will, understandably react with: "The bastard," or words of similar meaning, or worse. Of course you will, when this happens, almost certainly be alarmed and a physical reaction of fear is natural. But what happens next is not! To say, "the bastard" essentially means that you treat the other condescending, in fact you say you would not do something like that, and you put the other down by this act as a lesser person. Of course it is only a temporary reaction, you could tell yourself. But think about it! By calling someone a bastard, even under stress, you essentially say that you and he are not equal, he is of a lesser kind. Your reaction can also be one of fear, anger or distrust. This makes no difference. The main point is: these are not necessary responses, because you might think that the other driver is in a hurry on his way to his dying mother. With this in mind, all your angry feelings, or whatever reaction would immediately be gone.

 We judge others by the standards we set ourselves, but we almost never live up to ourselves, and if they fail for whatever reason, we call them bad people or worse. In the meantime, we have forgotten to ask about possible causes and what we do is filling in the gaps in knowledge about the situation. Such filling in is always neccessarily an expression of the current state of our structure.

An illustrative example is told by Stephen Covey.(11) In the subway sits a father, very upset and absent minded, with his children running around, screaming and everyone gets upset. One of the passengers gets angry and demands of the father that he diciplines his children. His answer is: "Sir, you are quite right. We come from the hospital where my wife just died. They can not deal with it and neither can I ..." This story shows much on seeing the causes of conflict. The passenger fills his own thoughts about how children should behave and what a father should do. This builds him in a conflict that is expressed. The response of the father, apologizing, would make every compassionate person offer help. But the opposite is also possible, by saying in a spiky way: "How could I know that, but I think ......". You can fill in the rest. In this case, not only the conflict is not over, but actually he accuses the father as the source of his own behaviour. How much autonomy one can loose!

 The story also shows that in the event of a conflict we see the world through the lens of what we think is right or wrong. In the example of the newly married couple, the lens of the husband is probably jealousy, but also fear of loss is imaginable. In the case of the incident with the car the lens is likely to be better, and this we call pride. In the case of the deceased spouse is the lens of the ideas about how children should behave. This can be through anger and even shame.(12) What happens is that our world view, the idea of ​​what this situation should look like,  is drawn up by thoughts that we have created in our own structure. From that point the environment is viewed in a way that implies that this environment as it were, has the duty to preserve this worldview. What we are doing is, seeing and judging according to the standards that we have created as correct. Everything that seems not in accordance, is seen as a threat and usually responded upon accordingly. This can go so far that we expect of the other person that he will fulfill these negative expectations, although we say we do not want this, and it is not our own interest.

To make this more clear, I will give an example. Suppose you have a son, still in high school, who likes to go out in the weekend and then comes home very late, or rather early. This has usually, but not always gone well and you are seriously concerned about him. One evening, your son asks if he may have the car. Hesitantly, you agree, but you state expressly that he needs to be home on time, i.e. at 12 o‘clock. Actually, you are not confident that he will succeed. You are then sitting on the bench with your thoughts. What do you think? Chances are that you will see thoughts like: This is not going not work, and that you already have in mind how you will preach to him. At almost midnight there is still no child, but a few minutes before twelve, the car comes screeching at the entrance and there appears your child. What will you say? Your son has fulfilled the assignment and is home on time. So there is no longer any reason. But because there is a good chance that you are super sensitive to the negative expectations you have, it is very possible that you say something: Well that's just in time, thus all pejorative, and that you also will note of how he drove in the driveway.

So it comes down to this, that we actually (unconsciously) expect in such a situation that the other will act differently than what we had thought of ourself as correct. After all, we then seem to welcome their behaviour, because it proves that we always were right. And if that fails we tend to drag in all kinds of futilities in order to feel right. All that is observed is interpreted in this way. We do this by only valuating what we observe through the lens of our prejudices.

Chances are high you create another petulant remark about the fact that he comes in only just in time, and that it could have been more careful, et cetera. What you are actually doing so fill your prejudices and try to maintain, despite the facts - he was on time - that its opposite was already proven.(13) What happens here is an everyday occurrence. In a given situation, we usually have ready available our opinion on the other. If this  is a negative judgment, we expect the other will live up to it, and if he does not do such thing, this is seen as insignificant, or everything is called in to be right, even what has nothing to do with the matter at hand.


5. The missing cognitive domain

The theory of autopoiesis shows that a person can only respond within the capabilities of his structure. When a person does not seem to be able to deal with the perturbations, according to this theory there is a lack of knowledge. It follows that a conflict shows the absence of a cognitive domain. The examples prove this. I believe that this domain can be described as that of the great human virtues and vices. In the event of a conflict these are the great human flaws, which are also called the seven deadly sins.(14) It's not about the number or the list itself, because for example fear, deceit, shame or power may be mentioned, but all these elements point to this area where there is a cognitive gap.(15) It is my experience that whatever happens in conflict it can always be traced back to one of these elements. This seems at first sight rather strange and there may be a tendency to deny or contradict this. It pays to accept that it might be true to yourself and do research. You will notice in yourself that the emotional responses that you experience in a conflict point to the link with what we call the great human flaws. How you can do this is to be discussed below.

 In autopoiesis it is the structure of a person who does not (sufficiently) have learned to deal with certain human vices that are the basis for the conflict, first internally and then externally. And thus, it is my opinion, conflict is about learning to learn to deal with the own cognitive deficits in this area. Seen this way a conflict poses the question to a person if he has yet started to learn to deal with these deficiences and to what extend he has succeeded as yet.

 Returning to the examples I presented, for the husband it is his jealousy. In the case of the automobile incident pride and in the case of the story in the subway, it might almost have every human vice, but more probably anger, and in the case of the parent and the child really there are no limits.


6. Validity of this finding in different paradigms of worldview

 Although the list is called the 7 Deadly Sins, there is no religious connotation. In secular philosophies similar lists exist. What I'm trying to say is that in different ways of looking at reality, my thesis is meaningful. In a materialistic vision to learn to effectively deal with conflict has survival value at least, and increases your happiness. In a christian / humanist world view you can say that you have become a better person. And in a view that holds the concept of reincarnation it may be a step up on the ladder of lifes.

 I recall that learning in autopoiesis is living and if you have learned, you show more adequate behaviour in dealing with the external environment. So this learning is essentially learning in order to become more human.

 In autopoiesis the perturbation is considered to be the source of the change. But now we know that it is not the perturbation that causes change. In reality, it is the internal processing by the system that initiates the change, and hence the learning is possible. The external perturbation does not even make that much difference - it may even be illusory - it is the internal processing that counts, even if based on objective wrong informatie.(16) Sometimes it happens that people react to something that is supposed that another person has said, but never did. We tend to fill the gaps in our knowledge about the stories we invent about others based on our feelings about those persons. If we have a friendly feeling about him, what he says and does will be interpreted positively and vice versa, as long as we can maintain our world view.(17)


7. How can we get out of the pit?

 Because we seem to act instinctively, and behaviour is mainly based on feeling and intuition, it is questionable whether there is a way out of this maze, so that when something happens and there is a conflict on the point breaking out, you can determine what is really going on. A solution to begin with seems to lie in our own consciousness. It is self-consciousness, the phenomenon that you can observe yourself and make critical descriptions of the private (internal) state.(18) This course helps only if you are willing and able to admit that all observation is entirely subjective. If I'm utterly convinced in a conflict of the wickedness and evil intentions of the other party and I can only see in all his words and actions that I really am right, there is not much hope.(19) But through the knowledge that my structure is unique, in fact there is no other like me in this world and knowing that it is my structure, the way I  became "I" that determines the shape of the lens through which I perceive the environment, it is possible to come to yourself and see what you perceive and how you appreciate all that is highly subjective and has no connection with any objective truth. If this is achieved entirely, a person may be more modest in the awarding of the stamp of truth in what he observes. This also tells us that there is no objective external world, and that the idea of ​​certainty about what we perceive is very dangerous. We can only find our way out of this pit, if we accept this and are willing to accept that we create the world only in cooperation with others.

 So in the case of the couple the husband can investigate in himself why he is jealous and come to the realization that he is still in the grip of the vice of jealousy/envy and he can work from there to do something about it. In the other examples such practices are possible.(20)

 You are the only one who can try to look at the inner workings of your own system and with the knowledge of some basic ideas, it is possible to trace your own behaviour in conflict. But for this only awareness is not enough. A human being is endowed with self-awareness that enables him, as if he were an outside observer, to make critical descriptions in language of his own internal processes. In autopoiesis, long before in modern psychological research showed that the unconscious appears to be sitting at the steering wheel, the consciousness was not seen as the core, but only as an interface between the system and the environment.(21) Self-consciousness allows to observe yourself and the outcome serves as reinvigorating the system to compensate for pertubations and learn from them. In fact it seems that self-consciousness is the turbo on our learning, or the turbo awareness of ourselves and the states in which the system operates. In the case of the just married couple the husband can only heal himself by observing his inner process of becoming jealous by asking himself why he has produced these feelings and thoughts and by feeding back the response he will heal himself..

 Personally, I can say that the consciousness of the process alone is very useful to get a critical view at the own behaviour, which greatly helps in examining and changing the behaviour itself. The real results, however, come in handy when you can cut the link with the elements of the human deficiencies.


8. Intermediate

 I hope that it is now absolutely clear that conflicts are not external phenomena. The conflict arises and is resolved only in the person himself. This of course seems very counterintuitive. Every reader knows the situation in his or her past, with the best intentions, love or what you have tried that the other person remained, aloof and difficult and tedious and unable to deal with the situation. There is a tendency to think that as you want it good and another person did not just get it, it is his fault. However, when conflict is about solving the own internal conflicts, the other party does not play any role. Over hem you need to worry. The other party in the conflict also has an internal conflict. The latter is not your problem, but his. The reactions of the other party in the conflict, you know now, are not about you, but only about himmself.


 9. Another layer

 This is the immediate cause for an observation that opens another entrance to the internal conflict. In the example of the father with children in the metro everyone will be moved who hears the father, and he will offer help. Suppose, in the incident with the car you would come to know that the other person is with his pregnant wife, who is about to give birth on the way to the hospital. You would tend to clear the way for him. Many examples can be imagined where the bottom line is that if we are asked for help almost always give it naturally, and if the circumstances are such, we are almost automatically inclined to offer help. But that suddenly becomes different when we are in conflict with the other person, or rather if we project our own internal conflict upon the other person. This observation seems contradictory. If our help is requested, or if there is a situation that requires our help, we give that generally unselfishly, even unasked and from inner necessity, but at the moment the other person, the one who asks or who clearly needs help has in us a conflict triggered, this reduces the tendency to give help tremendously. However it has as a consequence that we start to ourselves in not giving help. It looks lik this: yes, but …… and then a reason why we did not help the other person. Why defend yourself for not doing something? You only do this when you know you should be doing something. Apparently is in us humans a kind of instinctive awareness that we need to help others in need or at their request. Neglecting that instinctive realisation leads to its own internal dissonance which manifests itself in the form of a defense.

 I believe that this instinctive sense is worded culturally in the so-called Golden Rule and biologically proven by the study of the Dutch ethologist Frans de Waal. The Golden Rule has two forms. The most famous is: "What you do not want done to yourself, do also not to another person." This is the so-called negative Golden Rule. The second form is the positive Golden Rule: "Do unto others what you would like to see done yourself to yourself." This form is less known, but no less important. The Golden Rule is trans- and supra-cultural and occurs in all cultures, religions and wisdom teachings.(22) I think that this rule makes a compelling appeal on us, where appropriate, as it were, and gives in fact an imperative (23 framework, and that the neglect of this appeal plays an important role in the conflict.

The Dutch ethologist Frans de Waal comes in his research on the behaviour of primates to the conclusion that the first inclination is to cooperate.(24) Unlike it is often thought of in the incorrect explanation of the popular adage of the survival of the fittest, it is not the strongest that survives, but the person(s) showing the situational best adaptive behavior, and that is cooperation and generosity. We see this in anthills with a large differentiation of roles of the different individuals, but also in human societies.(25) Without cooperation we would never have survived as species. Omitting to provide assistance is an criminal act according to the Dutch Penal Code.(26)

 As mentioned, in the example in the metro any well meaning person, hearing what the father says, want to offer help, show compassion or whatever, in short, do something. It may be that you see it as your duty, (27) but usually it is something completely spontaneous. And this is how we humans also are.

 I therefore think that the Golden Rule is the representation of a deeply ingrained human need and makes a compelling appeal on us(28) and can not be violated with impunity. Doning this creates a dissonance in the person that begs for compensation. The greater the dissonance, the louder the justification, which basically means that the other person is not really worth to be helped, because of his (alleged) evil character and because yet nothing else can be done or not to help him.

 It can also happen that there are others, related to the other party or the person himself. Let me use the example of children in a divorce, but it also applies to colleagues in the workplace. They are not parties to the conflict but are faced with the consequences. With regard to these third parties in the conflict more often than not not only the positive Golden Rule neglected, but also the negative Golden Rule. If the children in a divorce become puppets in the conflict between the parents their interests will be seriously neglected and they are often the real victims of the conflict. The party that does this, or possibly both parties at the same time, know this unconsciously, and this provides additional magnification of the internal dissonance that must be compensated for. Normal people will leave children out of the conflict, but the blindness of the spouses in the conflict of divorce does not seem to allow this. The spouses “know” this very well, but the ignobility of the other spouse justifies to sacrify the children on the altar of being right. The compensation will be done by increasing the conflict to the other party in order to get a kind of internal balance. The other party will be blackened to the extremes, negatively portrayed, sometimes made into an inhuman monster to justify the neglect of the mandatory appeal of these third parties, children, who have nothing to do with it.

 It can, somewhat schematically, be said that the parties involved in the conflict are 1st order participants and third parties, such as children and colleagues in this way 2nd order participants. If 2nd order parties get involved into the conflict it becomes dangerous because then even earlier than before the total destruction is immanent.(29)

 As already indicated, in addition to the example of children in a divorce, where this mechanism is very clear, it happens everywhere, in the workplace, in social relationships such as associations and the like. What happens often is that the parties in conflict try to find supporters. These supporters have no other function than to soften the internal dissonance of a party in the conflict only by agreeing. This need for allies is a great danger and thus the whole environment can be infected and get sick.(30)

And with that I'm back at the aforementioned human flaws. If the other person is so bad that he does not deserve any help, this is nothing else than to advertise the own (alleged) superiority and the own (alleged) righteousness. If even a third party (that has nothing to do with the conflict itself), and 2nd order participants are such third parties, are sacrificed, any insight in the the own conduct vanishes completely from view.

My observation is that we tend to offer help, spontaneously and that this tendency in a conflict seriously erodes, but that the price to be paid for this is that the internal conflict is intensified, so that the projection will, if you know the mechanism, without any doubt stare in your face. And that makes it a highly effective tool to identify how the mechanism of the internal conflict works. Trying to justify your own behavior is the sure sign that you have neglected the imperative of the Golden Rule.

Neglect of the Golden Rule, so the trans- and supra-cultural precept, meaning that you must do to others what you would like to see done to yourself and should not do to others what you do not want done to yourself, shows us very clearly that we are on the wrong road.

 Every human being has in the conflict at any time the choice to step out of his internal conflict. In all the examples given this can be done at the moment of dawning of the awareness that it all does not have to go this way and that there is always a way back, or a solution. Again, it does not mean that you agree then with the other. However, the decoupling of the emotional response of the substantive response is often so difficult that it just does not happen. The entire mechanism is not in your awareness, and often there is no time, or at least time is not taken for that. It is, as it turns out in practice, not so easy to come to the firm conviction that this choice is there indeed. It is possible, however difficult it may seem. This is only a choice that you literally have to make.(31)


10. Pitfalls and roads to a solution

 Once you know this all it is no longer so difficult, because when a conflict is likely, to look inside and see that you are in danger of being carried away by your link to one of the human defects or ignoring the imperative of the positive Gulden rule. What is certain is that it takes practice and honesty. Equally certain is that if you are abel to do this, your problems are not over, but you can handle them much better and then you will know that escalation is not necessary at all.

 A caveat is that you might have a tendency to go to the other person to explain how all this works. Such a is the guarantee that it all will go wrong. Your adversary is to not waiting for you to hear that you have seen the light. He will experience such an explanation as confirmation of his belief that you still want to get your way, or as confirmation of any other negative beliefs he holds towards you. It is not your responsibility to change another or to persuade him.

A second pitfall is to think that your adversary has the same conflict as you, that is, that he is linked in the same way linked as you to the same element of human flaws. This is seldom the case.

A third pitfall is that you think that if you change and you are able to give a better reaction, he also by definition will do that. This is often an illusion or at least wil be very time consuming.

Indeed, if you apply this knowledge you may deal better with the sensitivities of the other person because you will know what those are. But any guarantee that your problems will be solved can not be given. That is not bad because, if you really solve your own internal conflict, the apparent conflict with your adversary and your view to himself will look very different.

 When you have a conflict, the way to gain insight into the own internal conflict, it is easiest to search for what you think of the other party.

Because you look through a lens that is cut by your own internal conflict, is that what you find necessarily giving the key to your own conflict. And what you think of the other party is almost certainly your own conflict. If you feel cheated you will call the other parte a cheater. That is, the element of fraud plays a role in your mind. It does not mean you're a cheater, but that cheating in one way or another is emotionally important to you, otherwise you obviously would not respond. It may be that you have ever have felt terribly cheated, or you know deep inside that you are not completely honest in all conditions. You do not have to wonder why exactly this specially surfaces in these circumstances, it is there and that's it. And as long as you also have not resolved this feeling you're not able to see the other party in a different way, through a different lens than that of deceit. This must be resolved before you can meet the other freely in any way without getting the emotion of feeling cheated. This is true for all human flaws that give rise to emotions and that in this way affect the lens through which you look and hence the behaviour you can show or exhibit. Apart from the fact that you can not hide it - you can not hide these feelings - they leak, if it were, from all your pores, even if you try it, this is a form of dishonesty and deceit that by your adversary is keenly recognized, even though he does not know or understand its mechanism.

 This also plays an important role in negotiations and in mediation. A party to the negotiations or mediation who feels cheated and will say this, and this is almost more importantly, show it in the meta-communication. This is done in small parts of utterances, such as exclamations, tone and voice, or meta-communication, such as gestures or facial expressions. It takes some skill and practice to discover, but once that is mastered, it's easy. My observation is that in mediation a client tends that what he really feels, sometimes in a more hidden way, to say up to three times in one session. If he has not been heard, or has that feeling, he will retract and go "drumming on the facts," as I call it, that is he will keeping on telling stubbornly about how the situation really is in his view, and what is wrong with everything and everyone except himself.

 The difficulty in negotiations is that, when you know this mechanism, you cannot explain this to the other party, because without fail he will project this entirely as your pedantry, which is understandable. The only thing that you can do is either openly trying to tell what happened when you started to understand how these processes unfold themselves, or find a conciliator or mediator. Therefore, it is very important  clients who threatened to file a complaint of great importance that a professional who understands these mechanisms, that is to say also knows himself, will take action timely toward mediation or conciliation. A mediator is an outsider to the conflict persons  and is able present a mirror to the parties of their own actions. If the mediator can take the lead and one or both parties can see that their world is not congruent, and why that is, the understanding can break through that the own view is utterly subjective and therefore almost certainly just an illusion. This also shows that the principle of narrative mediation(32) is absolutely correct. Parties have different non-congruent stories and they have to build a consensual domain in which their new stories overlap. My theory shows how the different stories were made and where to start to make it possible for them to change the stories. This is the case in all kinds of conflicts and thus also in the conflict between the professional and his client.


 11. Martin Buber and the transition from I-Thou to I-It and vice versa

 What will happen now, ideally, is that one of the parties can look at his own story really sees what it is, a story, essentially invented, and that the other party is also a human with his own needs and shortcomings that do not make him a lesser person, but someone who is equal to yourself. This is what is called by the philosopher Martin Buber: From I-It to I-You.(33) This is the view of the other person, not as an obstacle to ones own peace and happiness, but as a traveler on the path, just like yourself. Then it is possible to resolve the conflict, not only about the "facts", but rather the inner conflict. If the latter is not reached, the first will never happen. Of course the conflict may end in a number of formal agreements, but as the internal conflict is not resolved, these will not be lasting. Gottman says something like this, that the foundation of a lasting relationship in marriage, but that also applies to outside the marriage, is located in the "positive sentiment override".(34) The state of I-It and I-You is, according to Buber, an attitude, a state of being. In very powerful poetic language he has painted how the state of being in I-You makes it possible to love the other person, even if he has done something stupid, or something much worse.

 As an example of this process I describe a true story of a mediation. An older couple, she was about ten years younger than he, asked me for a mediation in their pending divorce. The husband had a handful of papers on what was wrong with his wife and she complained about his lack of support for her, mainly financially. They were married 10 years ago, after their previous partners were deceased. Both said that the financial problem was the most important. When I saw the financial statements it dawned on me that it could not be the financial situation itself, but must be something else. We parked the subject and talked about money in general. When I ask where her money was for, she surprisingly said that it was intended as a sort of compensation for her children losing their father at a young age. When I asked the husband about his view on his money he answered about the same, it was for his children. After a long conversation about money and related issues, it became clear to them what script they played. Outside their active knowing they were steered by a particular attachment to money. Because when I asked if they still loved each other the answer was an emotional "Yes!" of both. In this case both were linked to the element of the human flaws that we call avarice of greed at its worst. So it was about money, as they had said, but in a very different way than they initially thought. Once this was clear, the problems were largely resolved and the separation canceled.

 The following true story is the link with cognitive gap different for both parties. Two neighbors had a dispute over the construction of a fence between their houses. Neighbour Fred had it all arranged, with the consent of neighbour Alan, but had paid more and then it went on to the settlement Alan said he did not want to pay. So Fred accused him of avarice. The conflict was not resolved. Six months later, it came to a collision on a related topic, on the parking of cars and Alan was very angry, started cursing and walked away, leaving Fred stunned. A few minutes later the very young child of Alan talked to Fred and said, "Neighbour, my father never behaves so, and he calls you king-neighbour." At that time it was all clear. The pairing of Alan was not the money that had been the linking of Fred. That of Alan was something very different, that he felt inferior and that he had felt commanded. The internal conflict for both was thus very different! Fred was not going to explain this of course to Alan, because that would be exactly the interpretation of the role of king-neighbour. He has done nothing and remained friendly to Alan. Two years later, on New Year's Eve at 24.00 Alan approached Fred with a bottle of champagne and two glasses and said that he hoped that they would henceforth be better neighbours. Problem was solved so when Fred could solve his internal conflict and later Alan could do this too.

 The different links to the human deficiencies, not known to both parties to the conflict, is steering them in the conflict, and leaving them to continue the conflict. Because what each has done will be seen and interpreted through the lens of his own link. Even if one of them does a step to resolve the conflict, this is often seen by the other as meaningless and sometimes as a sign of the fact that the other party  is now at last beginning to see that you were right all the same. The only thing that counts, is to resolve the own conflict. You are not responsible for the internal conflict of your adversary!


12. The first step towards autonomy

 It requires skill and understanding of a person to come to the point that he sees his own subjectivity in everything. It starts that you become aware that beginning a conflict is a choice. In the case of the car incident, you do not necessarily need to say, "The bastard", nor is it required in the example of the subway to lecture the father. The parent on the couch may say positively to his child: "Fine, I did know you would be on time!" These are choices that are often made in an extremely poor way. But once arrived in the conflict itself, any party at any time may choose to move from I-It to I-You, how difficult or impossible it may seem to be.(35) But usually the "impossibility" to do that is mixed with views on how the world should look like and how we find ourselves that we should behave and what others will say of it. It's all very subjective and it has nothing to do with real choices. These are "fictitious necessities." To gain control over the reaction of what other people might think is the first step. If a human being not succeeds in this, he will remain chained in the presumed expectations of what he thinks other people think he should do. To break this pattern is the step to autonomy.


13. The next and final step: to compassion

 Although perhaps it may seem strange, this is the only and ultimate way to really solve the real, the internal conflict. To show this I make a detour while some of the previous arguments again will pass in review.

 I suggested that a perturbation that gives rise to an internal processing that controls the behavior is ultimately not so important. It is the internal processing that counts. The perturbation can be even illusory. In the example of the just married couple, this might easily be the case. The husband sees his wife talk and his jealousy steers him into a conflict. All magical tricks and circus acts are based on this principle of illusion: the system itself (you!) can not distinguish between fact and fiction. That is why these things are so exciting. This is also why dreams can be so frightening.

 What happens is that upon a perceived perturbation, fact or fiction, the system will start an internal operation. What will be the outcome is unknown, until it comes into consciousness. It was processed by the system as a whole, before the result came in consciousness. The time between the stimulus and the outcome of the internal operation can be seconds, days, or even longer. It follows that the system itself does not exist in the conscious or unconscious as standalone elements, but as a whole that encompasses both. Modern psychological research shows among other things that the subconsciousness is much more competent in solving intricate puzzles than the consciousness is. The conscious part is only suitable for very simple actions and complex decisions are most of the time badly made with the conscious part.(36) Everyone knows that it can happen that the answer to a difficult problem, as it were was created from nothing. Suddenly, under the shower, in the woods, by a side note from another person, suddenly the solution to a problem is there. Great Nobel Prize winning discoveries have been made in this way. In the theory of autopoiesis the consciousness has always been seen as an interface between the system (to which it belongs) and the environment.(37)

 We also all know of the situation that it may sometimes seem that the consciousness is not able to cope with a situation and that the body takes over. Sometimes it is the fight or flight response, but we also all know that it happened that at one point the situation was so that the body took over, as it were, and you got the feeling at that time that it is not quite the right way, which later turned out to be so indeed. This proves that the conscious part can sometimes not cope with the situation and leaves this to a deeper layer. However, because at that time this deeper layer also does not have time to contrive what is to be done as a good reaction, it acts with what is the most easy at hand in the repertoire of conduct. It may be that people start slapping, cursing, and so forth, and essentially these uncontrolled reactions show that the system has some kind of overload en can not cope with the situation.

 Usually there is some time for processing and then the processing in the unconscious gives rise to chemical / hormonal / electrical reactions in the body that appear in consciousness in all kinds of emotions and feelings.(38,39) Usually the person does not become flooded so much that he loses his wits. What's going on is that the emotions and feelings that come into his consciousness - and they are always unpleasant to negative emotions and feelings, - give rise to a search for the reason why he has those feelings and emotions. And because it is certain that he has these feelings and emotions, he will hold these as being true. These feelings and emotions are true for the system, just as the illusion of magic tricks, and therefore he goes on a search for reasons why he feels what he feels.

The next step is a simple cause and effect mechanism. I'll give another example. Because you have just read a letter (or whatever as a perturbation is present), and now you feel very angry, it is the content of this letter, which causes it and you become angry with its author. In the case of the couple: As the husband saw his wife talking with an ex and he felt jealous, this feeling must be justified. And because feelings are "true", they are projected on the person or situation that this "obviously" has caused. We are feeling people and then we only begin to think, most of the time when it is too late, so it seems.(40) But if you look closer at the situation the projection is only that person's link to one of his own human vices and as a result the invented cause is most certainly fictitious. The story of Fred and Allan shows this. But it is very difficult to reach this conclusion.

 There is a way out of this maze. As mentioned, a very special human characteristic is that humans are not only conscious, but also self-conscious. As far as is known now, animals do not have this faculty of self-consciousness, or have it in a rudimentary form. Self-consciousness makes it possible to look at yourself, to witness your own internal processes and also your own actions. In ordinary life you are fully conscious, but that consciousness operates rarely in the mode of self-awareness. The difference is crucial. In self-awareness, you can make descriptions in language of the current state of your own system. Nobody else can do that, because this is an internal operation. I am convinced that we humans are only capable by this trait to learn much faster from our own mistakes. Once you have found out yourself that these feelings and emotions in conflict are entirely subjective, and acting upon them is a choice, then, when you look in self-consciousness into the operation of your system, it is possible to "feed back this knowledge" in the system to compensate for the perturbation. This is done in a simple way when I wrote earlier that in the case of the car incident, one could think that the driver who cuts you is in a hurry on his way to his dying mother. When this is done deliberately, the system will interpret this as knowledge and the this is a very good compensation for the perturbation. It does not really have to be true, but it helps to calm and not let your emotions overpower you. This is not easy in the beginning, but my experience is that with exercise you do not need to see the other as an adversary or enemy, but you can see him as a friend and not have to put him down as a lesser person, as is often done. This does not mean that you may not with all your strength resist what you see as wrong. But this will be done in a very different state of mind, namely the state of I-You.

This may seem very unrealistic until you try it, but still, the logic of my theory says this and the experience is that it works this way.

If you can see your adversary in the conflict in the State of I-You regardless of any "facts" of the conflict, because the very emotional feelings are removed before they take root, your dispute with your opponent will not be ended immediately, but the conflict will be solved much more easily in yourself, and therafter also the external situation that was the seemingly reason for starting the conflict. After some training, these feelings and emotions often do not occur again. You are able to see the situation better, just as it is, without the blinders of feelings and emotions. This is not esoteric stuff, but the simple result of some simple practices and (as it should be) common knowledge.

 If this operation is successfully completed, the person can face any situation or conflict without becoming involved in a personal way. In the case of the just married couple, he might think, "How wonderful she can communicate with people, even with him. I'm a lucky guy!". Or in other cases, such as the conflict between the neighbours, they may not like it, but they do not have to get emotionally involved.

When this is the case, a situation or conflict will no longer be seen as a threat, as an unsafe environment, but just one of the things that happen in life. The opponent is no longer another, an "it", that can / should be treated as a thing, an obstacle, but a "You", who is equal to yourself, with whom a relationship of reciprocity is threatened, but that has nothing to do with his essential equivalence as a human being.41,42

 With this realisation comes compassion, but not in the way of pity. This could be a feeling of superiority and this would miss the point completely. What I'm trying to say is that it's impossible not to feel compassion for an opponent, because essentially he is you. This compassion works in both directions, including towards yourself. This is what all the great wisdom teachers have said and they are right!


14. Conclusion

 In this article I wanted to show that conflicts are essentially about the person himself in conflict. Conflict resolution is about cognition, it is a process that never ends, but once mastered it is very important in accelerating the process of self-learning. I wanted to show how autopoiesis is useful in the field of conflict theory. In the book Collaborative approaches to resolving conflict, the first sentence is a quote: "The place we need really imaginative new ideas is in conflict theory. That's true with respect to war and peace, but  also it's true domestically".43

 I think looking at the conflict in the way I have presented in this article is promising not only for resolving conflicts, but also to see the conflict and to use as a learning tool.

Doorn, March 2013, English translation is made in August 2015


Jan Willem van Ee


The copyright of this text is held by the author and nothing of it may be copied and published without permission of the author, unless legally permitted quotations.




1. Autopoiesis can be called a fundamental theory. It can not be proved by other theories. In this article I will not go into criticism of autopoiesis, or discuss the theory itself. I take the theory as given by the authors and apply it to the field of conflict theory. One exception is a feature of the theory that it seems solipsistic and circular. The latter is true, but is not a criticism, because as I will show, to be what you've become as a human is essentially circular. We are, in fact, as a sort of kind of Baron von Munchhausen, we pull ourselves out of the swamp by pulling our own hair. That is why our development as human beings took so long, tens of millennia after all. The first criticism (solipsism) is incorrect because, as I will show, as you have become, it can only be achieved by processing interactions with the environment and such is not solipsistic by definition.

2. Humberto Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge the Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Revised Edition, Shambala, Boston / London, 1998. Autopoiesis is about making yourself. We humans are creatures who construct ourselves and at each moment we are the actual result of this process, which itself is a continuous process. The language used in autopoiesis is often formal (not without reason!). For the sake of a better understanding I do not use this formal language. The text mentions some key concepts and terms of the theory in parentheses. 

3. It is clear that many animals have very different sensory perceptions from what we have. Dogs hear much higher frequencies and insects see another light, and so forth. This means that the observation is entirely different. Just ask someone who is color blind! In a recent book by Tim Birkhead, Bird Sense, What It's Like to Be a Bird, Walker & Company, NewYork 2012, the writer shows how the senses of animals make them experience a world that is completely different from ours.

4. Maturana and Varela, cit. p. 125. They describe the children in India that grew up in a wolf pack. As is now well known from many later examples, babies take their surroundings, whatever that may be. These children had a normal organization as humans, but their structure was "wolvish".

 5. What is often asked or said, "What does this to you?" is essentially a wrong question or statement, said so creates victimhood. Nobody has ever done anything to you! Only your processing of the perturbation, according to the current state of your system counts. This may seem merely semantic, but it is much more important and will hopefully gradually get clear.

 6. Homeostasis is the situation in which an organism (including a human) has a tendency to search for internal and external balance and maintain this.

 7. It is of course possible that a person really does have the dissonance, but keeps it within himself. He has the internal conflict but not necessarily the external. Many people do not express their dissonances and can carry them within for years.

 8. Language consists of consensual domains in which we more or less know what is meant by the words spoken. This also applies to facial expressions. The work of Paul Ekman proves this. Luckily for us, facial expressions are universal, and as far as forming a consensual domain, so that the interpretation of these are less of a problem than, for example of body language that is cultural. Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, introduction, afterword and commentaries by Paul Ekman, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998, original edition of 1872; Paul Ekman, Telling Lies, Clues to deceit in the marketplace, politics and marriage, Norton, New York, London, 2001; Paul Ekman, Emotions Revealed, Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, Times Books, New York, 2003. A TV series in the years 2010-2012, ‘Lie to me’, is based on the work of Ekman.

 9. This may only seem like a semantic distinction. That is not meant to be. The perturbation is like a blank "fact" that only becomes information through the internal processing by the husband’s emotional coloring which is then seen as information. The mental short-circuiting of seeing his wife talking to an ex to the belief that she is cheating on him, is a fallacy. But it is a kind of fallacy that we usually make.

 10. The man can also get different feelings, such as fear that his wife will leave him, or anger, because the "worthless ex” seems again to pick up with her. Many possibilities are conceivable, but it is the mechanism that is important.

 11. Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Nightingale Conant, Audiobook

 12. In the Oscar nominated movie "12 Angry Men," directed by Sidney Lumey, 1957, it shows at the end of the movie that the very problematic behavior of one of the jurors is due to embarrassment over his own behaviour in the relationship with his son.

 13. This example (slightly adapted) comes from The Arbinger Institute, Leader Ship and Self Deception (Getting out of the box) Berrett-Khoeler Publishers, San Francisco, 2000, p. 93 ff

 14. According to Charles Panati (Panati, Charles, Sacred Origins of Profound Things: The Stories Behind the Rites and Rituals of the World's Religions, Penguin Books London 1996), Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus first drew up a list of eight offenses and wicked human passions. They were, in order of increasing seriousness: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride. Evagrius saw the escalating severity as representing increasing fixation with the self, with pride as the most egregious of the sins. Acedia (from the Greek "akedia," or "not to care") denoted "spiritual sloth." In the late 6th century, Pope Gregory the Great reduced the list to seven items, folding vainglory into pride, acedia into sadness, and adding envy. His ranking of the Sins' seriousness was based on the degree from whichthey ​​offended against love. It was, from most serious to least: pride, envy, anger, sadness, avarice, gluttony, and lust. Later theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas-including, would contradict the notion that the seriousness of the sins could be ranked in this way. The term "covetousness" has historically been used interchangeably with "avarice" in accounts of the Deadly Sins. In the seventeenth century, the Church replaced the vague sin or "sadness" with sloth. (internet 4th of October 2008.

 15. The Enneagram for example, works with 9 vices associated with the different types.

 16. The objection that without the perturbation the change would not have taken place can lead to the idea that there is a causal relationship. This is not so. The perturbation is instrumental, but not causal. This also explains why the conflict substance is not so relevant. Everything can be conflict material but only when is acted upon the internal processing of perturbation.

 17. John M. Gottman and Nan Silver, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work a, A practical guide from the country's foremost relation expert, Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999. Here the authors show among other things that how we appreciate what other people do, depends on our view of them. If this attitude is positive, the relationship has some damping buffer, but when is negative, whatever is done, the relationship is by definition at risk.

 18. When we are awake, we are aware, but we are not always conscious of the fact that we are aware. We are not at every moment conscious of our own actions (self-awareness). Often we are so caught up in the flow of life, that we can only afterwards reflect on our own actions. This is the difference between consciousness, reflexive consciousness and self-awareness. What I am talking about is not reflexive consciousness, which in retrospect looks at the processes, but the viewing as it were, in real time, of one’s own factual acts in self-consciousness, that is, seeing what you are actually doing and perceiving the internal changes of state, while it all happens.

 19. Maturana & Varela, cit. p. 246. "[...] What biology shows us that is the uniqueness of being human lies exclusively in a social structural coupling that occurs through languaging, generating (a) the regularities proper to the human social dynamics, for example, individual identity and self-consciousness, and (b) the recursive human social dynamics that entails a reflection enabling us to see that as human beings we have only the world which we create with others - whether we like it or not.”

 20. It should be clear by now that the charge of solipsism on autopoiesis can not be justified. Becoming who you are is not solipsistic. The process of becoming asks for an environment. Solipsism threatens the structural coupling and denies the conservation of adaptation.

21. Maturana and Varela cit. p. 234.

 22. H.D.T. Rost, The Golden Rule, an universal ethic, Oxford, George Ronald, 1986. Kant's Critique of Pure Reason holds the categorical imperative which is based on the golden rule. The German theologian Hans Küng has written extensively on this subject, including H. Küng and K.-J. Kuschel (ed.). A Global Ethic, The Declaration of the Parliament of the World's Religions, New York, the Continuum Publishing Company 1993. There is an ocean of ​​literature on this topic.

 23. This is a reference to Immanuel Kant, who in his Critique of Practical Reason examines the a priori structure of reason and from that formulates the categorical imperative: Act according to such rules of conduct as you want them to be a general law. For Kant, this is a formal criterion. So I think it's more.

 24. Frans de Waal, Peace making among primates, Harvard UP, 1989. This also applies to humans. Science journalist Lynne MacTaggart gives in her book The Bond: Connecting through the space between us, (Simon & Schuster, 2011), a comprehensive review of research on whether the deepest feature of humans is selfishness or cooperation.

 25. Maturana and Varela, Tree, opus cit., Chapter 8.

 26. Dutch Penal Code, Title XV, Abandonment of those in need.

 27. Many religions, inter alia christianity reinforce this tendency by making it a duty. An example is the parable of the Good Samaritan from the New Testament. The special feature about this story is not that the Samatitan offered help, there were other passersby who had done nothing, although this was mandatory, but he made sure that the robbed traveler at his expense was provided in the inn.

 28. Of course there are people who are so abused by life that it seems impossible. There are the Hitlers and Stalins in this world and their epigones, even in very small situations, but that does not affect the validity of the observation. Indeed, there are also the Nelson Mandelas that although they have had a very hard time yet they were not damaged and are in some way more human than most people.

 29. For those who know general conflict theory here comes the bottom step of the escalation ladder of Friedrich Glasl in sight: then into the ravine! Friedrich Glasl, Help! Conflicts. I have a conflict or has the conflict me, Publisher Christopher, 2001.

 30. This matter is the basis for thinking of The Arbinger Institute. The Arbinger Institute gives no substantiation of the mechanism.

 31. Sometimes this choice might seem so difficult that it seems almost impossible. Viktor E. Frankl has shown that even in the most extreme conditions in the German extermination camps this choice is there. Viktor E. Frankl, The Meaning of Existence, an introduction to logotherapy, Ad Donker, Rotterdam, 1978. Original edition in German, Ein Psycholog erlebt tie Koncentrationslager, 1946. (This book has had many reprints in English.) More recent examples seem Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.

 32. J. Winslade and G. Monk, Narrative Mediation Narrative Mediation, A New Approach to Conflict Resolution, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 2000.

 33. Martin Buber, I and Thou, Originally in German, Ich und Du, 1923. (This book has many prints in English) For the record, I note that this is a somewhat simplistic view of what Buber says. Buber called I-Thou and I-It basic attitudes, and I-Thou is the attitude in which the I can meet itself, in view of the extension of the eternal You (Thou), God as the intersection at infinity of parallel lines of the relationship. The loss of this vision, essentially focusing on the I, lets the You disappear, and thus become an It, however, where the You is still present. In conjunction with the finite You (the person in front of you) and the eternal You (God) man lives in one reality. Buber: "... for who enters before (the countenance) ... the whole world is present, and he can say to the essence of all beings in one maxim “You”. There is no more tension between the world and God, there is only one reality.” (translated from Dutch by me.) Here Buber speaks in non-dualistic images. ‘You’ and ‘I’ are images reaching far beyond the limited use we all make of it, but are inclosed therein.

 34. Gottman / Silver cit p. 213 to 216. Positive sentiment override is as it were the background horizon against which everything is seen. It is the same as the lens that I mentioned earlier. If it is negative, the other person can not do anything right and everything he does is seen in a negative light. Only with a positive sentiment override the other is seenas a person, a real You.

 35. Viktor E. Frankl opus. Cit. But nevertheless, the choice is there.

 36. Ap Dijksterhuis, Het slimme onbewuste, denken met gevoel  (The Smart unconscious, thinking with feeling), Bert Bakker, Amsterdam, 2008.

 37. Maturana and Varela, opus. cit p. 246.

 38. A lot of (neuro) biochemical studies are published on this topic. A more comprehensive book on this subject is: Candace B. Pert, Molecules of Emotion, The science behind mind-body medicine, Scribner, New York 1997. The author describes her own way through academia, while it gives a lot of insight into the subject of (neuro) biological research.

 39. It is a fact that every state of consciousness has an equivalent in the biochemical state of the body. Angry shows other biochemicals than joy. The most striking example is Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor who attained "enlightenment" through a stroke. Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight, Viking Penguin Group, New York, 2008. This means that I do not agree with the opinion that the physical state all there is.

 40. I was told that these feelings from the body first arrive at the center feeling in the brains and milliseconds later in the thinking center, the neo-cortex. This may provide an explanation. Since I'm not no neurobiologist this is beyond the scope of this article.

 41. What I say aims to point out that equality as a human being, paired with the notion of the absolute subjectivity of perception, may bring any thinking person to conclude that there is no difference between people.

 42. Maturana and Varela opus cit. p. 245/6: "[...] If we know that our world necessarily the world that we bring forth with others, every time we are in conflict with another human being with whom we want to remain in coexistence, we can not affirm what for us is certain (an absolute truth), because that would negate the other person. If we want to coexist with the other person, we must see that his certainty -. However undesirable it may seem to us - is as legitimate and valid as our own because, like our own, that certainty expresses his conservation of structural coupling in a domain or coexistence - however undesirable it may seem to us. Hence the only possibility of coexistence is to opt for a broader perspective, a domain of existence in which both parties fit in the bringing forth of a common world. A conflict is always a mutual negation. It can never go away only if we move to another domain where coexistence takes place. The knowledge of this knowledge constitutes the social imperative for a human-centered ethics . "

 43. M. W. Isenhart and M. Spangle, collaborative approaches to resolving conflict, Sage Publications 2000, p. 1. The quote is from A. Toffler, "Shockwave (anti warrior)," Wired Magazine, p. 1-14.


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