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Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Steven Pinker, Harvard Psychologist, and author of
Paul Ingles: Well, you asked the question how bad the world was in the past and then you take us back in time and remind us of a much more brutal past in human history, you suggest six major declines in violence over hundreds of years, so let’s sketch those out briefly.
And I guess we need to start with what was it like before the first major decline?
Steven Pinker: Yes, the decline I call the pacification process which deliberately has a mixture of optimistic and sinister overtone. It refers to the fact that when a state imposes control over a territory, it will often try to stamp out the endemic tribal raiding and feuding that pretty much characterizes life in a state of anarchy.
So even though the first empires were often quite nasty and brutal, they did have the effect of preventing people from killing each other really so that the kings and emperors could keep the people alive to supply them with soldiers and taxes and slaves. It’s not that they had particularly benevolent motives, but they did have the effect of driving violence down just as a farmer has an incentive to prevent his cattle from killing each other. Not because he particularly cares about the cattle, but it’s in his own interest. It doesn’t do him any good. That’s what happened with some of the early emperors and kings.
So our transition from anarchy to the first states marks the first significant decline in violence.
Ingles: One question we should answer though is how do we know about violence traced that far back? You cover this in the book. Could you review that for listeners?
Pinker: Well there are two sources of evidence. One of them is forensic archaeology. You can think of this as CSI Paleolithic, that is you unearth skeletons from prehistoric times, examine them for signs of violent trauma, things like stone arrowheads imbedded in bones, bashed in skulls, perifractures from your upper arm and the kind of fracture that you get when warding off a blow, deliberate decapitations and they show a surprisingly high rate of violence up to an average of 15% of prehistoric skeletons have some sign of violence in them.
The other is ethnographic vital statistics that the wave of state control that swept over the world left a few pockets still in anarchy; various tribal societies and the anthropologists who live with them can tally the causes of death and they too show that in anarchical societies, the rates of death of warfare and raiding and feuding are far higher than they are in state societies.
Ingles: Well as the many graphs that are in the book point out, there’s a steady drop in violence from the late 1400s to the 1900s and the second big decline, as you write about, comes from people increasingly controlling their impulses and cooperating with their neighbors. What was driving those trends?
Pinker: Well the reduction of one-on-one homicide which is the second trend that I write about in the book, the fact that homicide rates, when they’re continuously available for centuries as they are in many parts of Europe, show a 35 fold decline. So a contemporary Western European has about 1/35th the chance of being murdered as his medieval ancestors.
One of the psychological drivers of that change has been an increased premium that we put on self-control and dignity and manners whereas it used to be that a gentleman was someone who would lash out with violence when he was provoked or insulted. Now that would be a ticket to anger management therapy. Now the sign of a gentleman is that he can laugh off insults and provocations.
And that change was driven probably by two forces. One of them was the consolidation of government and a judicial system and police forces. The other was a change in the nature of economy from farming and land which meant that wealth came from land and the more land you had, the less land your rival might have, the better off you were to commerce and exchange and trade as the way to get rich. If you depend on trading and doing business with others to prosper, then other people become more valuable to you alive than dead and that changes the rules of the game and means that cooperating with others as opposed to constantly getting involved in contests of honor is the way to flourish.
Ingles: Well for violence to drop even more, a third transition took place you write, and you say it’s sometimes called the “Humanitarian Revolution.” Where on the timeline is that and what was bringing violence down?
Pinker: This was a process that took off in the second half of the 18th century, the time of the European Enlightenment, when the violence perpetrated by governments and churches was challenged and brought under control. Practices like gruesome sadistic executions like disemboweling and burning at the stake and breaking on the wheel, witch hunts, use of capital punishment for non-violent crimes like shoplifting or insulting the king, the elimination of debtors prisons, of blood sports, of absolutely tyranny replaced by democracy and of course, most famously of all, slavery. All of these movements began or took off in the 18th century and proceeded throughout the 19th century.
Ingles: Well and also this shows up in the U.S. Constitution you point out; prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. When a phrase like that has staying power, I mean we’re still using it these days, it’s a rather significant benchmark isn’t it?
Pinker: Absolutely and we often forget that the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment in the 8th amendment took place during a wave of abolitions of judicial torture that spread over Europe and the West. The United States was pretty much in the middle of that tidal wave.
We still invoke it today, although what we mean by cruel and unusual punishment as changed. Now it refers to anything from prison overcrowding to disport application of the death penalty to the different races, but initially it referred to gruesome mutilation and torture and it’s fortunate that we can still invoke its moral authority to make our practices more human, but those who point out that it’s being stretched beyond its original meaning have a point.
Ingles: Harvard Phycology Professor Steven Pinker is our guest and we’re talking about his book The Better Angels of Our Nature; Why Violence Has Declined.
And the next big transition that you tag in the book is, what some call, the “long peace;” the dearth of major interstate war since the end of WWII. As you say, some point of the threatening presence of nuclear weapons slowing down interstate aggression, but you say it’s more than that.
Pinker: It is more than that and I don’t agree with the suggestion that the nuclear bomb being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize although that has been suggested. Even if one believes that deterrence was a major factor that prevented the Soviet Union and the U.S. from going to war, conventional deterrence was terrifying enough; the sense that no one wanted a repeat of WWII that the aerial bombardment and tank battles and artillery shelling’s from conventional warfare were proven in WWII to be mind-bogglingly destructive and the presence of nuclear weapons might be the difference between falling out of a five-story window or falling out of a fifty-story window.
But I don’t think that’s the only cause of the long peace. It’s also that networks of trade have vastly expanded. The European Union was the first and it was explicitly designed so that countries would have no temptation to invade each other for coal and steel because it was cheaper just to buy them. That gradually knit the entire world into a globalized community where attacking your neighbor would kind of be like attacking yourself because you depend on them so much for trade.
But also there has been a change in sensibilities, a change in ideology that I think is encapsulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It almost sounds idealistic and utopian and kumbaya mushy stuff namely that every individual has rights, but in the course of history, it’s actually a radical shocking doctrine that what comes first is the individual man, woman and child and not the glory of the race or the nation or the religion or the class and elevating the human life to be, at most, good was kind of a radical step and I think we don’t even acknowledge how much it has penetrated our thinking, but nowadays leaders are apt to think twice before they send their populations into the war machine like the cannon fodder of WWI.
Also I think international organization deserve some of the credit. The United Nations is often a laughing stock, but deservedly so when you think of the speeches given at the General Assembly and a number of its committees. But on the other hand, it has done good in two ways. One of them is that its peace-keeping forces. Despite some conspicuous failures really do keep the peace more often than not. The other is that by setting a new set of norms that the members of the United Nations are immortal, no state has disappeared through conquest since the founding of the UN unlike centuries before when countries like Poland would be wiped off the map repeatedly, that doesn’t happen anymore. Also that territorial borders are pretty much sacrosanct. There are virtually no territories that have been absorbed by conquest since 1950 or so, and again, this is a radically new pattern after centuries in which empires expanded at the drop of a hat.
Ingles: Well there may be a soft line between what you call the “long peace” and what you labeled as the “fifth trend,” the new peace. I think some of the things you’re talking about fall under your new peace category don’t they; decline of communism and the discretization of genocide and things like that?
Pinker: Indeed. There was another change after the fall of the Soviet Empire around 1989 to 1981, not only most obviously the end of the Cold War, the end of the threat of a global thermonuclear war, but also a lot of the proxy wars in the developing world ran out of steam after their patrons had stopped doing indirect combat with one another.
So there was a decline in wars in Africa and South Asia and Latin America, both the number of wars and the number of people killed in wars have been in bumpy decline since 1990 or so as has the number of people killed in genocides and in terrorist attacks believe it or not.
But the Cold War drove a lot of peripheral conflict beyond the reach of the Super Powers themselves and when they stopped fighting, it took the wind out of the sails of a lot of these global conflicts in the developing world.
Ingles: Well and you hinted at this when you talked about the United Nations I guess, but even beyond the United Nations, other NGOs doing work peacekeeping around the world, you, in general believe that peacekeeping works or seems to have worked.
Pinker: That’s what the data suggests. That’s right. That is, it isn’t just an aspiration. It’s not idealism. It’s not romanticism. Quite the contrary, you need armed forces in those blue helmets to force themselves in between the warring parties and when they do and when they’re suitably outfitted, they demonstrably lower the probability that war will break out again.
Virginia Fortna and Joshua Goldstein among others have done studies that show that peacekeeping, not always, but on average works.
Ingles: In some cases we’ve interviewed a number of folks associated with even volunteer peacekeeping missions. Unarmed eyes in war-torn areas can have a lot of impact.
Pinker: Yes indeed and various NGOs and coalitions of the willing can often reduce war by functioning as peacekeepers much as the United Nations does.
Ingles: Well, to complete the six declines, the sixth, which chronologically seems to overlap maybe with the “long peace” and the “new peace,” as the rights revolution, talk more about that.
Pinker: By this I refer to a number of staggered revolutions that have unfolded over the last 50 years that target violence on smaller scales against vulnerable populations like racial minorities as in lynching and hate crimes, which were targeted by the Civil Rights Revolution, rape and domestic violence, which were targeted by the Women’s Rights Revolution, corporal punishment in schools; spanking and bullying, which were targeted by the Children’s Rights Revolution, gay bashing and laws that criminalize homosexuality targeted by the Gay Rights Revolution and still in progress, the cruel treatment of animals in factory farms and laboratories targeted by the Animal Rights Revolution.
Ingles: Having said that, you say in the last chapter of your book that you don’t want to make predictions or give advice to politicians, but I guess you are, in a way, wanting them to notice something about what you’re laying out here.
Pinker: Absolutely, that studies that try to identify what has driven rates of war down have identified some pretty good candidates including UN Peacekeeping forces and other peacekeeping missions and the overall pacifying effects of trade and commerce and the spread of humanitarian ideals, that is, valuing the individual over the state or the ethnic group. So yes, I think that it’s a fact worth noting and one worth savoring and one from which we should try to draw lessons and apply them more broadly.
Ingles: Well, a key focus on our program is, to a degree, individual peacemaking, conflict resolution for folks in their daily lives. What might you hope that the reader would draw from all of this that might be useful to their own relationship with the threat of violence or their attitudes towards violence or conflict resolution?
Pinker: One is that the idea of honor, of responding to insults, settling scores has been a major driver of violence as has the attitude that you should let your feelings out, vent, let it all hang out, walk on the wild side, all of those things that we enjoyed in the 1960s actually weren’t such good things. You can blame them for the rise in violence in the 1960s that self-control, dignity, restraint, all of those things that we thought were so square and old fashioned in the 1960s really do have a beneficial effect. People probably shouldn’t vent, let their feelings out, do their own thing. It’s often better to forgive and forget.
Ingles: Your colleague Peter Singer at Princeton wrote a review of The Better Angels of Our Nature in The New York Times and he called it a supremely important book, but he wondered about the future in his review. He calls you quote, “An optimist who knows there’s no guarantee that the transit you’ve documented will continue.” Does that feel accurate to you?
Pinker: There is no guarantee. On the other hand, if you look at all the risk factors for war, both major war between great powers, which does the most damage, and smaller wars among weaker countries in the developing world, the indicators are all positive. That is, to the best that you can predict, and admittedly that’s a dicey proposition, the prediction would be that the risk of war will continue to go down
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Harvard's Donna Hicks author of
Paul Ingles: Donna Hicks, it’s always important to define terms. I know you know this. So give us, in brief if you can, as you do in your introduction to your book, the difference between dignity and respect.
Donna Hicks: My understanding of dignity is actually quite simple. After researching this for many, many years, I’ve come up with a simple definition which is it’s our inherent value and worth. As simple as that and the other side of it, although, which is maybe not so obvious to people is that as we are all born equal in value and worth, we are also born vulnerable and so I think that’s the complicating part about this. So if we want to understand dignity, we have to understand our inherent value and worth, but at the same time, we have to know that we are all vulnerable to having that dignity and that value and worth questioned.
Ingles: So it’s an ever ready trigger in a way.
Hicks: It’s an ever ready trigger and we can see it when we think about ourselves, our physical selves. It’s very obvious that we’re vulnerable, but psychologically and in terms of our dignity, our understanding of our value and worth, we’re equally as vulnerable to being injured as we are to being physically injured.
Ingles: Your book is devoted largely to 20 chapters, a chapter spotlighting each of ten essential elements of dignity and then a chapter for each of ten temptations we all encounter to violate dignity. Some reading this may say it’s simple conventional wisdom about treating people well, but some of it is a bit more complex, all is more challenging than it seems I would say.
You start with the notion of acceptance of identity as an essential. I guess you say, “Assume that others have integrity.” Expand on that a little bit for us.
Hicks: I saw this most clearly Paul when I was working in international conflict when we were trying to bring parties together for dialogues and one of the key dignity issues that would come up is people wanting to have their identity validated.
They wanted people to understand that who they are mattered and often times in conflict situations that I’ve dealt with, people often feel either inferior or superior and the identity issue is really at the core of dignity and if we are in a situation with people where we feel like people are either judging us as inferior or we ourselves are feeling superior, then you know you’ve got an issue, a problem with dignity because our identity is basically something that we can’t alter and it’s a manifestation of our sense of value and worth.
Ingles: This is the chapter that you advanced this key notion to me of distinguishing between the “me” and the “I” in each of us, the “me” being the more primal reactive us and then the “I” being, how would you say, our better selves?
Hicks: Well I think the “I” is the part of us that is able to step back and look at a situation we’re in where our “me” is all riled up. In other words, let’s say we’re in a conflict with somebody and we’re feeling really threatened and our self-preservation instincts are kicking in and we want to defend ourselves and we want to lash back at the person who’s threatening us or, at the very least, defend ourselves against the person who’s threatening us.
There’s another part of us, if we develop this enough in our lifetime, the “I” recognizes and has the voice that says; “Wait a minute, hold on a second. If you are reactive in the situation, if you’re defensive even without thinking about what’s going on, if you can’t push the pause button and say, ‘wait a minute,’ if I react to this situation and my ‘me’ is in charge of this situation here, I might make matters worse. I might actually even escalate the conflict.” And so the “I” is the one that has the capacity to put the brakes on the “me.”
Now mind you Paul, this is not an easy thing to do. It’s like a muscle that needs to be developed. When our “I” is in charge of our behavior, it can, it has the strength and it has the capacity to stop the “me” in action so that the person doesn’t actually escalate the issue and actually do damage to himself or herself and the other person as well.
Ingles: Right. The next essential that you cite is inclusion; making people feel that they belong. Why do we want to exclude in the first place? Is that evolutionary caution as well?
Hicks: Well I think all of these have an evolutionary basis, but inclusion, there’s part of us as human beings that are wired to be connected to other people. It’s part of what gives us empathy and allows us to feel the feelings of other people. Inclusion and connection were designed to keep us safe. They were designed to enhance our survival, and if we are feeling on the outskirts of a group –
Let’s put it in every day terms. Let’s say we’re at work and there’s a meeting going on and you walk past the room and you realize; “Why wasn’t I invited to this meeting?” There’s this crushing sense of being excluded and that’s a terrible feeling.
Think of it also; let’s say there’s a party and you’re not invited to the party, there’s that feeling of “why?” Self-doubt comes into play. “Why wasn’t I invited?” “Is there something wrong with me?” “Do they not like me?” All these issues come up in our heads.
And so inclusion, if you just start with the assumption that people really need to be included, and if you have to exclude someone, be careful to explain to the person why they’re not being included in the meeting or the whatever it is.
Ingles: Well your next essential is making people feel safe from harm and humiliation. How do we inadvertent violate this? What can we do?
Hicks: It happens so much. I’m just going to use an example of the workplace because I’ve spent a lot of time working in the corporate world where people don’t feel safe to speak up, let’s say when their boss violates their dignity. It’s inadvertent. I think nine times out of ten, people aren’t even aware of the extent to which they’re psychologically shaming people or making people feel less than, but it’s part of the learning that has to take place around all of these elements.
Making people safe, feeling free to speak up, feeling like what they’re experiencing matters to the people around them, it really is the essence of setting a good, positive tone in a workplace because I can tell you nine people out of ten, people whom I interview around this issue of safety don’t feel safe in the work environment especially around situations when they feel people in positions of authority are violating them. I would also add, it’s nine times out of ten unknowingly violating their direct reports.
Ingles: I would imagine some skeptics would say something like; well gee, that means I have to think so hard before I say anything in the workplace and I’m going to be walking on egg shells if I have to worry about inclusion and keeping people feeling safe and acknowledgement and all the other things that we’re about to talk about. Do you hear that from people in workshops?
Hicks: I do Paul, I do and what’s interesting to me is that we humans will spend years of our lives getting advanced degrees, getting MBAs, getting all of these degrees that help us in our daily lives, especially in getting jobs and so on, but when it comes to learning how to treat one another in a way where both of us, both parties in the interaction, feel like they’ve been seen, they’re been heard, they’ve been acknowledged and recognized, all of that takes work as well, but yet I’m really not sure why people have such resistance to learning this stuff; to taking the time, putting in the effort. It just makes me laugh really because we spend so much time that enhance our well-being, but this, this is such a critical piece of our social development and yet frankly it’s really nowhere in the school systems now. It’s one of the things that I’ve been trying to work with a lot of people in education around. It’s ironic; something that could be so useful in every single aspect of one’s life, there is that sense of resistance.
Ingles: One of your essentials is to give people the benefit of the doubt, to treat them as trust worthy. Now I’m imagining this must be hard in international negotiation when there’s maybe plenty of evidence of untrustworthiness among principals. Many debate whether to give dignity to tyrannical leaders for example. Is it still essential even in those venues?
Hicks: I think that the dialogue processes and the communication patterns of parties in conflict is really clear. There is no trust. There is no desire to give the benefit of the doubt and furthermore, I would take it a step further and say there is this question of I have to be really careful here the way I present myself because this person may hurt me. It’s a serious situation obviously in international conflict.
Acknowledging all of that, there is still a body of research that says that the way you open and present yourself in conversation with someone, whether it’s a dialogue or just a casual conversation, you are going to set the tone for the way the other person responds.
There’s all this research on mirror neurons now that’s so popular these days that demonstrates that we have neurons in our brain that are finely tuned to the way other people react to us.
So even in under-situations, and I tell people this all the time, even when you are feeling suspicious and you even have good reason to feel suspicious, try this. Try and see how disarming it is to people when you come into a conversation with a genuine feeling that I want to not rush to judgment with this person, that I want to give that person the benefit of the doubt that he or she is reacting the way or has reacted in the past in ways that can be easily explainable and have a good reason for that. It’s astounding how, if you set the tone that way in a positive orientation towards the person, you can affect the way the conversation is going to go.
Now of course there’s all sorts of ways in these big conflicts that this probably wouldn’t work, but in the intimate dialogue with three or four people who are trying to work out these difficult situations, I’ve seen this work countless numbers of times.
Ingles: Well this really ducktails into your next essential which is striving for real understanding. There’s good listening, but this speaks more to the real desire to understand another’s point of view.
Hicks: Yes, understanding. I don’t know which of these is the most important. I haven’t really prioritized these elements of dignity, but again, we rush to judgment so often, especially in situations where we’re feeling threatened because that’s part of our survival behavior. We want to figure out what we should be doing in this situation so we don’t get harmed.
But if we take the position that this person, he or she thinks the way he does because there’s a good reason why. There’s an underlying story there and if you can get to the underlying story, it is remarkable when that person is given a chance to explain herself, it’s remarkable how the defenses on her part will soften a little bit and the conversation softens.
I have this expression that I use when I want to seek more understanding from someone. I say, “Just tell me more about that. That’s so interesting because that’s not the way I see it. I’m really interested in how you feel about that and why you feel that way.” It’s such an opener.
Ingles: Now we may not get to all of the ways that we are tempted to violate dignity. In the second half of your book you list ten. Most are temptations that wind up violating our own dignity I would say as much as someone else’s.
Hicks: And by the way, let me just say by way of introducing these ten temptations, they are things that are hardwired. They’re behavioral predispositions that are hardwired in us and it’s all about survival. It’s about looking good in the eyes of other people. It’s all about surviving and being able to stay connected to the group.
With these temptations, and we all know the fight and flight response, and when somebody is threatening us we’ll either fight or we’ll flee and there’s a third one, we freeze. These ten temptations that I’ve describe are also ways in which we’re hardwired to protect ourselves.
Ingles: I think one of the most critical chapters there to me is the temptation to resist feedback. When we do block feedback, you write that we compromise our own dignity while affronting another one who could actually offer something helpful.
Hicks: When somebody’s trying to give us feedback about our behavior, the initial response that we feel is this is too threatening. I can’t hear this and especially when it’s delivered as a weapon and often times when you’re in a conflict with somebody, the feedback that you get is meant to hurt you even if it’s true, but it’s delivered in such a hurtful way.
On the other hand, as I describe in the book, if you give feedback to people in a way, and there’s all kinds of skill-building around how to do this, but if you give people feedback in a way that they can hear so they don’t feel so terribly threatened by it, it actually, in my way of thinking, it’s a gift because other people see things about us that we can’t see about ourselves and this happens all the time.
Again, it’s part of being vulnerable. I told you about the value in vulnerability are two sides of the same coin. We’re so vulnerable to thinking that other people are seeing us in a negative light that we’ll resist it, but if it’s given in a way, as I said, where it’s meant to be helpful, I’m sure you don’t know that this is happening, I’m sure you’re not aware that this is the way you’re coming across, if you soften the delivery of it, it’s a growth opportunity for us.
Ingles: And in this chapter, you talk about three stages of our relationship with our own dignity that I find useful. Could you talk about these stages of dependence, independence and interdependence a bit?
Hicks: Well, let me just say that at stages of our understanding of our own dignity, how we perceive our dignity and in the dependent stage, (and this is true with children) we feel that our dignity is in the hands of someone else, that we have to get the praise, we have to get the encouragement, we have to get the pat on the back to know that we are worthy and that our dignity is intact. That’s the first stage.
Hopefully that goes through childhood and hopefully once we become young adults, we enter the next stage which is the stage of independence. We learn, if we have good enough child-rearing, if we have good enough parenting early on, we have had enough mirroring of that goodness inside us, that once we reach adolescence and adulthood we can say okay, I know my dignity is intact. I know it from the inside out. I’m a good person. I’ve got value. I’ve got worth.
And there is a certain element of cockiness around that one too; “I don’t care what other people think. It doesn’t bother me if somebody says something mean to me,” but the fact is of course that we all know that it does. So there is that cockiness in the independence stage that, once you reach the final stage, which is a state of what I call “interdependence,” that it does matter the way other people treat us and we do recognize that when someone is hurtful to us that we take a hit. There’s no question about that.
At the same time, we also recognize, and this is really the more important part, we also recognize that we need other people’s feedback in order to see and to grow and to become a more fully developed person. We need to have people illuminate our blind spots for us because there is that vulnerability that we have. It’s like our Achilles heel. We can’t see what other people can see, so in order to become better at honoring dignity, in order to become better at honoring our own dignity, we recognize this stage of interdependence that we need other people in this process.
Ingles: Right and being open to the feedback is the more developed stage.
Hicks: It is. It is. And I just want to say one thing about this feedback because when we get our dignity violation, and I have yet to meet a human being who hasn’t had an experience of having his or her dignity violated throughout one’s life, it’s a real hit. It’s a wound that is felt in the brain in the same area as a physical wound. I came across that research when I was writing my book and I found it just astounding that the brain doesn’t really know the difference between a psychological wound to our dignity, in my terms, and a physical wound. If you think about it, there’s no 911 call when we’ve been shamed or humiliated or we feel dismissed or unrecognized or unheard. There’s nowhere to go with it.
And so there’s a reason why this feedback – we have so many unhealed dignity violations that are stockpiled in us and you try to add some negative feedback that somebody’s trying to give you onto that and if you don’t have an awareness that you’re going to have this sort of knee-jerk reaction to know I don’t want to hear it, if you don’t realize that’s because there’s a historical reason why, not only do you have an evolutionary legacy to not hear, but you’ve also had a lot of wounds in your past if you’re like any of the other people I’ve worked with in the world.
So it’s really hard to take the feedback, but once you have your sense of your dignity very strongly understood by yourself, once you really know that my dignity is my hands and people can hurt me, people can injure it, it can be assaulted, it can be trampled upon, this I learned from Nelson Mandela; that if you think your dignity is in the hands of other people, your first job is to know yourself and to know your own inherent value and worth.
So it’s a really delicate business, this giving feedback to others, because you have to assume that the person who you’re giving it to really can take it, that he or she isn’t so fragile on the inside and not healed enough from the wounds that are inevitable in growing up in this world.
Ingles: Talk a little bit more about this maybe strongest of the temptations I think; engaging in gossip. How does that lead us down a path to greater dignity loss all around?
Hicks: Well, you know, I mean it’s one of these things that gossip has evolved in us as a way to identify who are the people; who are the traitors, who are the ones that are going to be the most self-interested. There was a good reason why gossip developed because certainly, with our early ancestors, it was part of the underground network. We could figure out who to avoid or who to approach, but it’s turned into some of the most demeaning behaviors.
I’m telling you, just recently I’ve been in a situation, I’m consulting for a big corporation, and one person spewed terrible gossip through email to another person and the boss actually found out about it because he had access to all of the emails and the humiliation that this person suffered, both people actually, because the gossip was so demeaning about the boss, but the person who sent the emails and who actually spewed the horrible gossip ended up being just as humiliated.
It’s such an easy thing to fall into. You’re sitting down with a person and it’s a whole lot easier to talk about somebody else than it is your own intimate world and you know, I’m just wanting us to be mindful of the crippling effects that it has and if the recipient of the gossip is found out, it’s the ugliest situation and just being aware. If you want to talk about somebody, make sure that you talk in a way that, if that person were there with you, you’d feel okay discussing him or her.
Ingles: Donna Hicks, one last question to summarize. You’ve seen all of this at work in your travels trying to help various groups work out conflict, how would you summarize the anchor, that considering our own and others dignity provides when trying to resolve a conflict?
Hicks: Well I think what we have to fight is something within ourselves Paul. We have to fight that temptation to lash back to all of these things that we’ve just been describing.
Here’s the thing about dignity; even though we’re all born inherently valuable and worthy, the fact is, we have to learn how to act like it. What does come naturally is our inherent worth, but what doesn’t come naturally is our understanding of how to treat people as if they’re worthy.
So I think my message to people would be there are ten ways in which you can clearly get good results when you’re in a conflict with someone and if you can rise above it, if you can get your “me” to calm down and you can get this other part of yourself that has the capacity that’s strong than the “me” because you have to really fight that temptation to lash out, but if you can develop that muscle and learn how to actually honor people’s dignity, here’s the key; that when you honor someone’s dignity, you strengthen your own.
Ingles: There’s so much more good thinking and great stories in this book; Dignity: the Essential Role it Plays in Resolving Conflict, Harvard Univeristy Dr. Donna Hicks. Thanks for joining us on Peace Talks Radio.
Hicks: Thank you. My pleasure.