Positional Thinking, Put Downs and Counter Put Downs

Although positional thinking, or what are technically called Zero Sum Games, your loss is my gain etc, seem to rule the world, personally I have never understood them. I have negotiated countless deals in the world of conflict, and there was always more value to be gained by Non-Zero sum win/win Games than positional nonsense, but it was hard to convince most humans of this. Unions preferred to destroy the business than give in, and ditto management….

On positional thinking, my father didn’t care what anyone else had relative to himself, he just wanted what made him happy, and I guess I was raised in the same way. I swim a lot, and sometimes find someone in the next lane trying to swim faster than me in a competitive way. I have no interest in this, except to see if I can see some feature of his/her stroke that I might learn from. Faster, slower who cares; it’s the stroke that counts…This of course makes me totally uninterested in competitive sports, which rarely move me, I just like physical activity; lots of it.

In the corporate world, I would see some up-and-coming executive decide I was a threat that needed neutralizing, and I would just take a bit of care around them. I guess they may have found my attitude contemptuous, but it was more: ‘you must be joking‘. That’s you David M if you are reading this, which I doubt.

There was even one executive who couldn’t bear anyone having something he didn’t have. He thought, wrongly, I was having an affair with one of my staff and couldn’t bear my having something he didn’t. He just had to have an affair with her, and almost destroyed his marriage. Seeing this quality, one of my friends told this envious executive that my wife was due to inherit a castle in Scotland (she wasn’t, but why spoil the story) just to see if the executive would try to buy one….Maybe he is now the proud owner of some Highland pile…. 🙂

Anyway, in this vein, and in opposition to put downs and positional maneuvers inevitable for so many humans who have not yet ‘got a life’,  I loved the biologist E. O. Wilson’s quotation in his new book ‘The Social Conquest of Earth’ of the ultimate bit of positional maneuvering: the put down (which I hate) , and the counter put down (which I love  because it counters put downs):

‘The response of Samuel Foote to John Montagu,  fourth Earl of Sandwich when he said: ‘Foote, I have often wondered what catastrophe would bring you to your end; but I think, that you must either die of the pox (venereal disease) or the halter (hangman’s noose).’ ‘My lord’ replied Foote instantaneously, ‘that will depend upon one of two contingencies; — whether I embrace your lordship’s mistress, or your lordship’s principles.’

Samuel Foote (1720-1777) pictured below dramatist and master of the counter put down. I will pass over the Earl of Sandwich without photo or further comment, except to say he was incompetent in the Royal Navy and supposedly invented the sandwich which I suppose is some compensation.

File:Samuel Foote by Jean François Colson.jpg

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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict History, Conflict Humor, Conflict Processes, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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