A Helpful New Conflict Word: Agonism

The Net often gives rise to antagonistic discussions where one side seeks to win and denies the validity of the other sides’s arguments or even sometimes almost wishes they didn’t exist. I came across a new word the other day that I like: agonism.

Agonism (from the Greek for contest or prize) means an acceptance of difference and the competition between ideas. It’s marked by mutual respect and learning from the other. Indeed, the competition may be seen as a way to progress. So it doesn’t really seek to push the other idea off the playing field, but learn from it, contest it, try it on for size, provide counter data and relish the to and from of debate especially if it is a real authentic dialogue where both sides are trying to learn. I think at its best the Net achieves exactly this and when we are going off track and getting into the down and dirty and showing contempt for the other side (mea culpa on occasion) maybe we should remember this concept of agonism and switch out of antagonism.

I think of agonism as also connected to the work of James P Carse in this book “Finite and Infinite Games”. He sees Finite Games as ones we play to win and whose rules are fixed; Infinite Games as ones we play to continue them indefinitely. The latter are win-win, not win-lose. And to play such games we often play with the rules. I think the concept of agonism fits in well: we are playing to continue the game: life itself is an Infinite Game

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).
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