Article: An Autopoietic Conflict Model (English)
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. 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. 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. 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.