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Can you Mediate with an Indignation Addict?

Neuroscience and Conflict Resolution Blog by Stephanie West Allen

One of the books I recently read that got me thinking and thinking (and thinking) is Pathological Altruism. Two chapters particularly grabbed my attention and thought: "Self-Addiction and Self-Righteousness" by David Brin, and "Pathological Certitude" by Robert A. Burton*. As I watch Twitter, Facebook, and the media, I have, since reading these chapters, thought everyday about the good feelings associated with certitude.

Can we unswervingly hold to our point of view not so much because of the truth of our position but because we are addicted to the feeling of indignation or self-righteousness? Brin thinks that kind of addiction is possible.

I wonder: Is it possible to mediate when addiction to indignation is present in one or more of the parties?

What does Brin mean by addiction to indignation or self-righteousness? From the introduction to his chapter:

If a mental state causes pleasurable reinforcement, there will be a tendency to return to it. Meditation, adoration, gambling, rage, and indignation might all, at times, be "mental addictions."
Self-righteousness and indignation may sometimes be as much about chemical need as valid concerns about unfair actions. Among other outcomes, this may cause "pathologically altruistic" behavior.
Now, let me ask a couple of questions . . .

As you look back, can you think of just one or two parties to disputes in which you have been involved that seemed to crave indignation? Have you ever been indignant at least partly because it felt so good? Perhaps we all have succumbed to that feeling? Have you ever connected the notion of addiction with indignation?

Brin elaborates at his Web site in an article which is very similar to his chapter in Pathological Altruism:

Continue reading "Can a person be addicted to indignation? Self-righteousness? If so, can you mediate with the addict?" »


Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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