Saturday, November 20, 2010

Unleashing the Power of Adversarial Perspectives

Some estimate that we self-talk (internal dialogue) at a rate of about 1200 words per minute. Given that, most self-talk takes the form of personal justifications (why I am right) and external blaming (reasons why others who are not completely useful to my rightness are wrong) it is little wonder that it is often said; “healthy people talk to themselves, unhealthy people listen to themselves.” In other words, all you have to do to hear a constant stream of personal justifications and external blame (which has the affect of destroying true; self-awareness, environmental awareness, responsiveness to others and thus relationships) is to fail to talk to yourself.

One example of effective self-talk is intentional valuing. Once I am humble enough to admit to myself that my ceaseless, natural internal dialogue (1200 WPM) is anesthetizing, blinding and destructive I come to value alternative and adversarial perspectives. I create an intentional value system that covets alternative/adversarial perspectives of those around me. I come to see adversarial perspectives as the best hope I have of breaking my natural proclivity to self-deceive.

This is counterintuitive so let us try an analogy. I have a friend for whom squirrels became a great source of loss and frustration. The squirrels would make nests in her car engine compartment and chew up the vehicle wiring harness, causing hundreds of dollars in damage, overnight! Imagine (the rest of this is pretend) if the damages became so repetitive that she could no longer afford to fix her car. As a result, she lost her job and was unable to pay her bills or even buy food. Eventually her hunger and deprivation caused her to begin to see the annoying squirrels as a source of nourishment. Now she studies the squirrels, discovers how to harvest them, clean them, prepare them and consumes them. Now she receives vital nourishment from what had previously been nothing more than a costly annoyance. Besides being nourished and strengthened, while harvesting and cleaning the squirrels she learns to be more aware of her physical surroundings and is thus safer.

Here is a critical point: The friend would not become a squirrel, by ingesting squirrel – rather the squirrels provide nourishment and strength as long as they continue to present themselves to her. If the squirrels leave the area, my friend looses the annoyance, but she also looses the nourishment.

We should learn to value alternative perspectives like squirrels. The adversarial perspective, once an annoyance, can become a source of nourishment and strength. Nourishing my situational awareness and thus strengthening my effectiveness. I must discover the best way to proactively capture alternative perspectives, clean them, prepare them and ingest them. I will not become or adopt the adversarial perspective by ingesting it; it will rather nourish and strengthen me!

Consider a recent training session where two women (not police department employees) who live in the inner city attended. These women had a rather adversarial perspective of the police. In a nutshell (pun intended), they saw the police as uncaring about the many tragic homicides. They also saw the police as oppressively consumed with mindless enforcement of minor traffic ordinances. As the women spoke, you could see the anger and disdain spread across the L.E. attendees (these members work hard and have the best of intentions the anger was rooted in fear). This adversarial perspective was consuming the wiring harness off the engine of self-justification. L.E. members predictably shunned and isolated the women during breaks, talking about them with hushed tones of contempt. On the third day, however (after “getting out of the box”) the women shared a similar adversarial perspective. But in contrast, during break, several L.E. members gathered around the women, leaned forward and were listening! The L.E. members had apparently begun to value the adversarial perspective. To the extent members “cleaned, prepared and consumed” the adversarial perspective their situational awareness was dramatically increased and their effectiveness was strengthened. They did however not become squirrels.