This is a follow up to yesterday’s post about inner storms and inner resources. The immediate subject is Vincent Van Gogh, these days, celebrated as one of the greatest artists of the post impressionist era. My point here is not to challenge whe3ther Van Gogh was a noteworthy artist. It is instead to link what is noteworthy about him to our age.
What is noteworthy? One thing is certainly the way Van Goph was able to capture inner turmoil in visual images. He is the ultimate model for the tortured genius. And in the 20th century, the west has had a deep, deep fetish for geniuses.
Will this fetish persist? It may not. Public understanding of creativity is shifting from an individual to a social process. With this change, we may begin to shift our values as well. think not? Consider that there was a time (in the 18th century) when this work of art, the Appollo Belvedere was considered the greatest sculpture in the world.
Whatever it represents, it is not celebrating inner turmoil.
Famous lawyer Gerry Spence referred to power as “the gun that shoots both ways”. I have never heard it put more succinctly. Using power to resolve conflicts seems to be effective in the short tun. Just send in the marines, right? Well, think again. Playing power games has long term effects that are very difficult to predict.
In Europe, this got out of control back in 1914. Back then, the great and mighty leaders assumed that they could resort to limited war to adjust power disputes without huge consequences — to themselves at least. You might say that we are still feeling the effects of that colossal miscalculation.
So we are smarter now, right? Well … perhaps and perhaps not. But one thing is more clear now than it was back then. Regimes that worship at the altar of military might do not inspire the respect that they once did. After the disastrous wars of the 20th century, we accept as a norm that aggression is wrong. Folks still use aggression, but they do it with additional risk. And that may save us as a species.
This applies on a personal level as well. The amount of coercion needed to keep things under control is directly proportional to the probability of their collapse.
When Ulysses S. Grant took over the Army of the Potomac during the US civil war, it was in some disarray. The disarray was not for lack of men or material. They outnumbered and outgunned their adversaries. It was from a sense of bewilderment. Over several years, the southern armies had built up an aura of invincibility. This was Grant’s main problem.
In a first staff meeting, Grant listened as clever generals stood up and presented what they thought General Lee, as leader of the southern forces, would do next. At one point Grant stopped them. Paraphrasing, he said, gentlemen, we are wasting our time here. I am not so interested in what Lee is going to do to us. I am much more interested in what we are going to do to him.
A basic lesson in conflict management.
Gerry Spence referred to power as “the gun that shoots both ways”. Spence knows what he is talking about. When we use power, we inflict damage on ourselves and the other side. And after we exert power, we don’t get resolution. We get mess.
That does not mean that one never stands up to aggression. To the contrary, when the aggressor makes clear his or her intention, you know that the abuse will only get worse unless it is stopped. It does mean that we have to be realistic about what is going on. When we “win” in this way, we do not end the conflict. We need other tools to do that.
Conflict produces surprise. Stuff just happens. And it should be no big surprise that the folks most prepared to cope with that surprise have an advantage. In light of that, consider this TED talk by Chris Hatfield about going blind in space
Bitcoin is a new technology that most people — me included — don’t understand very well. Does it offer value? Or is it a mirage? When a very high profile investment guru, Warren Buffet said that it is a mirage, proponents of bitcoin realized they had a problem.
They cannot walk away from or ignore a comment like that. They are in conflict, and need a way to manage that conflict. Not so much to fight with Warren Buffet personally, but to attack the credibility or foundation of his destructive comment. Enter Marc Andreessen who deliverd the retort in a forum arranged by Forbes Magazine. He delivers his retort at the very end of the discussion.
My point here is not to support Andreessen’s or Buffet’s position. It is instead to offer an example of how conflicts start. It is important to see it when it happens. If you do, you have a chance to deal with it constructively. If you don’t, you are in trouble.