Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Life is a Negotiation

Life is not a cabaret. It is not a party, or an entertaining spectacle. You are not supposed to emulate celebrities or other people who excel at playing make-believe. Life is not about creating dramatic tension by sharpening your differences with other people. It is not about producing more contention and conflict.

In fact, life is a negotiation. When conflict arises, negotiation is used to resolve it. More often, we negotiate our differences in order to avoid conflict. Negotiation is about getting along. It is not about producing more intense emotion.

You begin negotiating when you get over the idea that life is about getting your way. And you improve your negotiating skills when you accept that life is not about getting away with whatever you can.

You will perfect your negotiating skills when you decide that you will no longer lord it over others or induce them to live in your own private psychodrama.

Negotiation is about give and take. Some people are all give and no take; others are all take and no give. They are not good negotiating partners.

In a negotiation you give some and you get some. Neither party gets all that he or she wants; both get something. Negotiation is not the place to realize your desires. To negotiate effectively you need to overcome all-or-nothing thinking.

Negotiation involves seeing eye-to-eye. It involves compromise, agreement, and trust. Curiously, classical psychoanalysis, the kind that uses the couch, makes it impossible for patient and analyst to see eye-to-eye.

For psychoanalysis and for any form of therapy that has descended from it, negotiation becomes a way to repress the full-throated expression of your deepest needs, impulses, fantasies, and feelings.

And for those who are familiar with the French intellectual's master myth, the Hegelian myth of the master and the slave, I would emphasize that there is no possibility of negotiation between master and slave.

Most forms of therapy will not teach you how to negotiate. They will show you how to avoid negotiated solutions, and thus, to produce more and better dramatic conflict. Surely, such conflict does get resolved, but not with anything like a meeting of the minds. More often, it is resolved in victory or defeat, in empowerment and subjugation.

Negotiation is about finding common ground, finding the mean between extreme positions. It is about the mean, not the meaning. You cannot be mean-spirited and negotiate. Negotiation involves generosity, but not excessively.

The mean is ethical. Aristotle defined ethical behavior as the mean between extremes. Courage, he said, was the mean between trigger-happy and gun-shy.

The most obvious negotiations involve splitting the difference. Two people negotiate the price of a rug or a car. by now these are formal rituals. The man who does not think to negotiate the price of rug in a bazaar is a rube.

Some things cannot be negotiated. One day two women were brought before the Biblical King Solomon because they both claimed that a baby was theirs. In that case Solomon wisely knew that he could not split the difference.

Negotiation always involves compromise. Some years ago the counterculture decreed that compromise was a four-letter word. It meant that you had given up, sold out, abandoned your dreams and your dramas, to become a middle class automaton living in a little box just like everyone else.

Most countercultural warriors outgrew that mental spasm. After all, it is not all that easy to make a living by letting yourself be led around by your bliss. Don't the people who refuse to compromise become the most compromised?

Life is not a clash of contraries. It is not an eternal conflict between thesis and antithesis leading to a dubious synthesis which then becomes a new thesis. You may not recall, but there once was a time when radicals thought it was a good idea to kill a few policemen because they reasoned that this would cause the entrenched powers to reveal their true fascist face by oppressing the slumbering masses. This oppression would awaken the masses and incite them to revolt against the power elite and lead the way to the new socialist future.

Did it ever really work out that way? Not really, but, if you truly believe, you will not allow that to compromise your beliefs.

If the great mythmakers believe anything, they believe that one should never negotiate with reality. That is why they ultimately fail.

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