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Jack and Jill Go Up a Hill… And Argued No More (Part 2!)

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Several weeks ago, I posted a blog discussing two “lures of the Tribal Mind” set out by Daniel Shapiro in his recent book “Negotiating the Nonnegotiable.” (Viking 2016).  Those lures- Vertigo and Repetition Compulsion- struck me as the most common and ones to which we all can easily relate.

However, there are others- Taboos (Id. at 69-89), Assault on the Sacred (Id. at 90-110) and Identity Politics. (Id. at 111-128.)

The very word “taboo” conjures up its definition: “Taboos are social prohibitions-actions, feelings, or thoughts that a community deems unacceptable.” (Id. at 71.) The word itself stems from Captain Cook’s discovery of the Tonga islands in 1777. There, he found that the inhabitants used the word “tabu” to reference the forbidden. And it found its way into English. (Id.)

According to Mr. Shapiro- a taboo has three components- a prohibition or a social construct that “…identifies certain feelings, thoughts, or actions as being off-limits, creating a boundary between what is acceptable and what is forbidden…” within your community. (Id.)  If one violates the prohibition, then comes the punishment which could be severe depending upon the prohibition. But, at the same time, taboos also offer protection “…from committing sacrilege.” (e.g., violating any of the Ten commandments) or “… shield you from dangers both moral and practical” (e.g.,  Taboo against committing adultery.) (Id. at 72.)

To the author, taboos are like the repetition compulsion, discussed in my previous blog. Both are “…designed to defend your identity from harm.” (Id. at 72.) And, like the repetition compulsion, we stumble onto a taboo because we are unaware of it, or we fear discussing it or we have no framework for how to discuss the taboo and bring it out into the open. (Id. at 73-74.) So- the way to deal with the taboo is precisely to become aware of it, establish a safe way to bring it out in the open using a much-needed framework. (Id. at 73-89.)

The next “lure” is closely related to taboos: Assault on the Sacred. These are your deepest and most meaningful beliefs: they are “…the most meaningful pillars of your identity; any matters so deeply significant that they feel sacrosanct, exempt from debate.” (Id. at 91.)  They are beliefs “imbued with divine significance which will be infinite, intrinsic and inviolate.” (Id. at 91-93.)  Thus, for one to assault that which you deem inviolate assaults your most sacred taboo- your deepest truths. (Id.) And like taboos, we may assault the sacred out of ignorance that they exist, conflating them with everyday matters, failing to give them the respect they deserve or refusing to compromise on them. (Id. at 95.) We assault them because we are “tone deaf” to their existence and importance to the other.  The antidote is to become sensitive to their existence (Active listening will help in this regard.), acknowledge their existence and respect them. (Id. at 96-101.)

Finally, is Identity Politics. Mr. Shapiro defines it as “…the process of positioning your identity to advance a political purpose.” (Id. at 112.) Thus, you will align yourself with the “in” group, to advance your career, or to advance your social status. And similarly, you may flee from a certain group so that your social status or career advancement does not go into a downward spiral.

This tribal effect “…is often deliberately used to manipulate and divide people.” (Id. at 112.)  It preys upon the “us v them” mentality. Undoubtedly, we all saw this play out in the last Presidential election in ways too numerous to mention.

Like the antidote to the other “lures”, the author suggests that first we must become aware of the political landscape, (i.e., realize that we are being manipulated), then work on building a collaborative mentality, a “we” community so that you are not defining yourself negatively by simply contrasting yourself versus the other and design a process in which everyone but everyone partakes in the decision making. (Id. at 111-123.)

So… Jack and Jill go up the hill to fetch a pail of water. From out of nowhere, Jill asks Jack why is he so overweight- commenting that he looks like a  jelly bean. She then catches herself, realizing that she just went into forbidden “taboo” territory, apologizes and asks permission if it okay to continue the topic.  Jack says it is “okay” if she does so constructively, to learn out of curiosity about (and not to condemn)  why he is so overweight.  So, their conversation continues for a while (in which she learns that Jack’s weight stems from medical issues) and then drops off.

When they are almost at the top of the hill, Jill is getting very tired and is huffing and puffing her way to the top. She lets out a string of curses, taking the Lord’s name in vain, among other things. Jack reacts as he is  devoutly religious and cannot tolerate such language. Again, Jill apologizes and asks if they may explore his religious beliefs in a constructive way, as a means for her to learn more about his religion and religious beliefs. He agrees and so for a few moments, Jack discusses his beliefs.

Finally, they reach the top of the hill and Jill races with the pail to the water to fill it and accomplishes this task before Jack can get there. When she finishes, she exclaims, “I beat you! This proves that girls are better than boys. I won!!! Ha, Ha, Ha!” Jack, rather than reacting negatively, responds, “No, WE came up this hill together and worked together to fetch the pail of water. It  was not a boy vs girl thing but rather, it was a “we” effort and together we performed the  task to its conclusion.”

But then….

Jack fell down and broke his crown, And Jill came tumbling after

Up Jack got, and home did trot As fast as he could caper;

To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob

With vinegar and brown paper

Then Jill came in, and she did grin,

To see Jack’s paper plaster;

Her mother whipt her, across her knee,

For laughing at Jack’s disaster

( )

I guess the “lures” of the Tribal Effect did not sink in with Jill after all, and her mother (old Dame Dob) never read the book or my blogs! Oh well!


… Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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