March 2, 2012

Negotiating with sociopaths

I’ve started a part-time qualification in dispute resolution. The following is a post I wrote for our introductory paper’s discussion forum. Thanks to Dave Pollard for the transcript and for the link to END:CIV.


Well, it’s a fascinating time to see the world through a dispute resolution lens, with plenty of it in the news this week – dispute, that is, if not resolution.

One story has been Lucy Lawless and Greenpeace occupying the derrick of a boat headed for oil exploration in the Arctic. That made me wonder how ADR studies relate to the really big picture.

A couple of themes from this course arise in the excellent documentary END:CIV (it’s pretty full on and has a provocative thesis). For those not inclined to watch the whole 1hr 15minutes, here are some relevant parts:

49:30 – 1:02:00   (Dave Pollard has made a transcript of this bit and you can find it indented midway down this blog post  )

As noted in our readings, interest-based/problem-solving approaches aren’t going to be much good against someone in a powerful position and determined to use a competitive approach.

To quote from the film:

“The problem with persuasion as a strategy is that it only works on people who can be relied upon to act from their position after their minds have been changed. The problem is that we’re not dealing with individuals who can be convinced or persuaded. We’re dealing mostly with large abstract social organizations and corporations which are basically sociopaths. You can’t argue with sociopaths, with those who are benefiting from the economic system. You have to stop them through some form of force, violent or non-violent…..

What most states try to do in these circumstances is define the elements of the opposing movement that are most easy to control and co-opt, and negotiate with and hand over some power to them in order to continue the existing system “

(I mentioned to my mediator friend this idea that ADR isn’t going to be much good against corporations which are by nature sociopathic, and he replied that yes, there seems to have been a marked increase in sociopathic behaviour by corporations in the past 6 months…)

Another relevant section is the five minutes or so from 32:10, which speaks to issues of representation and the drawbacks of  processes not open to public scrutiny. Respectable, reasonable, professional negotiators from large environmental organisations in behind-closed-doors negotiations with corporate interests, settling on ‘dubious terms’ (I struggle to find the right language to describe the signing away of indigenous people’s lands and the business-like carving up of our earth). Unfortunately going to court might not help much given the well-established rights of humans and corporations to subjugate nature, even to suicidal ends. Still, Lawless et al getting themselves into the justice system could be more helpful than Greenpeace entering into the “productive discussions” that Shell would have preferred.

Another highlight of the film is the parody of Star Wars as if written by environmentalists, from 37:40, “Star Non-Violent Civil Disobedience”. Dealing with the ultimate sociopath. Very funny if you don’t mind a little gallows humour.

Yours nonviolently, (well, as nonviolently as possible),


June 17, 2011


(Invent the future)

Invent the future? My aim is more to open up space for the future’s advent, sensing the field of possibility and stepping into it; entering into conversation with the world.


Reading back, that sentence seems lofty, theoretically unimpeachable and yet empty of all content. I want showing up to my life to be more than a nice-sounding idea. Do I want it more than I want to simultaneously hunker down and flee?

It seems to be a choice between Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns:

“Making my entrance again with my usual flair, sure of my lines, no-one is there”;

and Peter Gabriel’s San Jacinto:

“I hold the line, the line of strength that pulls me through the fear”.

I love that moment in San Jacinto when he releases his grip, “letting go of life”, before turning and embarking on the journey into the next.


I want to sing again. Perform. Share music with others. I miss that.

Oh, and by the end of this 30 days I want to have caught up with this Trust30 challenge, having fallen several days behind.


This piece is my response to the seventeenth prompt of the Trust30 Challenge:

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

My favorite quote of all time is Alan Kay: ‘In order to predict the future, you have to invent it.’ I am all about inventing the future. Decide what you want the future to be and make it happen. Because you can. Write about your future now.

(Author: Cindy Gallop)

June 9, 2011


(Afraid to do)

My first reaction to the question “What is ‘too scary’ to write about?” was to assume I was being challenged to write a confessional, to show part of my shadow or shake out some skeletons. (A reaction which makes me want to understand a bit more Foucault, who wrote about the societal imperative to talk or think constantly about that which is supposedly taboo)

I resisted writing such a confession and asked myself, as Mark Forster suggests, “If this resistance were a friend with an important message, what would that message be?”

Answer: It’s okay not to open myself up to potential humiliation by exposing myself publicly as I sometimes have. We all have poo in our lives, and everyone is to some extent cleaning themselves up and editing to manage an impression – and that really is okay. Would the world be a better place if I put a big pile of poo on the carpet and said ‘Hey! There’s a lot of poo in the world! No-one’s talking about the poo!’?

All of which is a lot less scary to write about than the second wave of catabolic collapse of industrial society.


This piece is my response to the ninth prompt of the Trust30 Challenge:

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson says: “Always do what you are afraid to do.” What is ‘too scary’ to write about? Try doing it now.

(Author: Mary Jaksch)



June 8, 2011

Dear future, dear past

(Five Years)

Dear 2006 me,

Thank you for the path you’re taking, though it’s not the easiest, or most obvious. These five years there will be times you’ll be told and believe you’re wasting your prime years, your mid-thirties – that you’re missing out on life. You won’t realise as I finally do now that this is your life, the role you’re choosing to play. Thank you for striving to do good, and for seeking out the healing (and the mistakes) that have brought me here.


Dear 2016 me,

Remember this quiet little time in 2011, the break (at least) from Balance work, wondering where I’ll be living next month, enjoying this writing challenge alongside the likes of Michi and Nico. This warmest ever winter in the year that seems to be showing climate chaos is upon us much sooner than we’d thought – remember it was really rather pleasant. I’d love it if you’d drop me a line how this next bit goes, economic collapse, intensification of resource wars, 2012 fever?… Yeah, I know, you can’t, ‘space-time continuum’ and all that.

I wonder where you are and what you’re doing.

Keep breathing,



This piece is my response to the eighth prompt of the Trust30 Challenge:

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would you say to the person you were five years ago? What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

(Author: Corbett Barr)


June 7, 2011

The Rocket Man

(Dare to be bold)

“…touchdown brings me round again to find I’m not the man they think I am…”
(Elton John, Rocket Man)

What a question for a recovering manic-depressive.

I remember the first time (of many) I answered such a ‘let go of perceived limitations’ question. I was eighteen, and reading the fabulous ‘Do It! Let’s Get Off Our Buts‘ by Peter McWilliams.

My answer? I wanted to be an astronaut. And I meant it.

That response makes sense to me now, in light of my subsequent manic flights and cosmic visions, and my default setting of retreat into knowledge, theories and other spiritual/heavenly pursuits.

“I wish that I could really tell you,
all the things that happened to me,
oh and all that I have seen…”
(Genesis, Keep It Dark)

It’s been quite a ride, one I wouldn’t trade for the Earth – but now the boldest thing I can do is just that: commit to living on this side of the veil. Stop hating the world for not providing me with all I thought my intelligence and sensitivity entitled me to. Engage with life, work in the world.

The main obstacles are the habits of 37 years or so. The tangible plan is gently adhering to the daily disciplines I’ve committed to, and building from there.

I don’t have an heroic ending for this post.

“A hint of a smile appears on your face,
when you realise:
there’s nothing in the eyes of the world!”
(The Finn Brothers, Eyes of the World)


This piece is my response to the seventh prompt of the Trust30 Challenge:

Our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Next to Resistance, rational thought is the artist or entrepreneurs worst enemy. Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego. Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.

A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. Its only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.” – Steven Pressfield, Do the Work

The idea of “being realistic” holds all of us back. From starting a business or quitting a job to dating someone who may not be our type or moving to a new place – getting “real” often means putting your dreams on hold.

Today, let’s take a step away from rational thought and dare to be bold. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to pursue? Write it down. Also write down the obstacles in your way of reaching your goal. Finally, write down a tangible plan to overcome each obstacle.

The only thing left is to, you know, actually go make it happen. What are you waiting for?

(Author: Matt Cheuvront)

June 6, 2011

To-stop list

(Come alive)

I will grow in my ability to:

  • stop letting worries prevent me from acting towards my values.
  • stop wishing for a world easier than this one.
  • stop retreating into the sick role when I am scared or tired.
  • stop believing it’s all about me.

This piece is my response to the sixth prompt of the Trust30 Challenge:

Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.

Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?

(Author: Jonathan Mead)

June 5, 2011

Live there, be there


If we live truly, we shall see truly” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Life being what it is, I don’t think there is anything I can do to absolutely ensure I’ll get to visit a certain place. On top of that, I expect economic conditions to deteriorate dramatically over the next few years, and for many more of us to join the majority who don’t expect long-distance travel as of right. And okay, maybe that plays a little too conveniently into uncertainty about my own future.

There are two places I’d like to go, that I can be part of even if I never physically get there.

One is the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, the centre of the anthroposophical movement. The relationship between the Goetheanum and the members of the anthroposophical society is said to be very strong, and so Chris Guillebeau’s prompt spurred me last night to register for New Zealand’s Anthroposophical Society conference which is coming up, and also to prioritise staying in touch with local ‘Steiner’ initiatives.

Another ‘place’ I’d like to go to is a full Where Are Your Keys language-hunting workshop, which currently is most likely somewhere in North America. There aren’t many things I’ve been more passionate about than the culture of interaction this game represents. I can ‘live into’ this place by dusting off the experience of the game I already have, approaching the people who have expressed interest in playing the game, and starting to apply the techniques again. Even if I never ‘go’ anywhere, I’ll be engaging with the diversity of ‘worlds’ represented locally.

Once I start focusing my energies in this way, who knows where I’ll end up? In any case, I’ll be ‘living into’ a world more dynamic and engaging than the one I’d see if I were to succumb to a poverty mindset, as I easily could at this point.

If we live anthroposophy, we shall see anthroposophy.
If we live Where Are Your Keys, we shall see Where Are Your Keys.


This piece is my response to the fifth prompt of the Trust30 Challenge:

If we live truly, we shall see truly. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not everyone wants to travel the world, but most people can identify at least one place in the world they’d like to visit before they die. Where is that place for you, and what will you do to make sure you get there?

(Author: Chris Guillebeau)

June 3, 2011

“I am worthless”

(One Strong Belief) 

What if your strongest belief is a lie?

A few weeks ago I read the book ‘Decisions, Decisions‘ by Randy W. Green. A key exercise in this book is to ask yourself “How do you know that you are you?”, and notice where your body goes with that.

I found myself calling aloud, over and over,

“I am worthless. I am worthless, I am worthless, I am worthless”.

I spoke with a strength of conviction I’ve not felt before. Even as I sank fully into experiencing the despair of this belief, another part of me thought, ahh, if this is it, if this my defining belief, then this explains everything. Why everything’s so hard.

This is where I’m blessed that no-one I’m close to shares this belief about me! Some wise part of me or outside of me has assembled enough faces and voices to reflect back the truth to shine on this baby wracked, possessed by falsehood.

What inspired this belief?

The priest I talked to said that true thoughts/spirits knock, but respect our freedom by waiting for us to actively invite them in, make room for them. Negative influences just barge on in and take up residence. Makes sense to me.

What did I do to actively live this belief?

Oh, a wearying tirade of self-abuse, mostly under cover of rational-seeming worries. The occasional relief of projection onto others, manic missions, various fundamentalisms.

The other night, the night I was panicking in realisation that no parent-figure or Saviour was going to tell me what I should do next or rescue me, I heard and felt the Legion cursing me, as they do, in a voice I had thought was my own. Inwardly I cried out as a small child Help, Christ please help me. The Legion, warmed by the Life I’d invited in, flew up from the heart they were no longer able to possess, and out through the top of my head. I felt the top of my head close over in protection.

I don’t know about ‘passionate people, powerful ideas, fearless action’. I do know I can breathe now, and walk, somehow sustained by the encouraging faces beside the cot.

One gentle belief:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not comprehended it.”


This piece is my response to the third prompt of the Trust30 Challenge:

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

The world is powered by passionate people, powerful ideas, and fearless action. What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family? What inspires this belief, and what have you done to actively live it?

(Author: Buster Benson)

June 2, 2011

Today is not yet ready to be sentenced…


Today is not yet ready to be sentenced, the mundane and ephemeral particulars unwilling to be descripted, knowing they’ll be left unemployed once I bring attention to this spectacular build-up of ear-wax which is making it quite hard to hear properly…


This piece is my first response to the second prompt of the Trust30 Challenge:

Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. The force of character is cumulative. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

If ‘the voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks,’ then it is more genuine to be present today than to recount yesterdays. How would you describe today using only one sentence? Tell today’s sentence to one other person. Repeat each day

(Author: Liz Danzico)

June 1, 2011

I want to tell you

(15 minutes to live)

So this is how it ends – not with a whimper, but with a bang. All this time waiting, honing this pearl of great price. Maybe it’s okay that I never shipped anything. Just the other day I succumbed to the existential dread that no-one is going to come and save me, tell me what to do to get me out of the jobless, homeless predicament I see in front of me, the consequences of the assaults we’ve perpetuated on the Earth and each other.

I want to tell you, I went through the panic and terror, I could hardly breath for a few hours. That’s what I get for reading about the world, for telling my boss I just want to stop, get off this lemming-train,  front up to truth.

Yesterday I woke up, I could choose to walk, to not buy the latte, to do washing, to be here. I want to tell you, no-one’s making me escape into addiction, distraction, helplesssness, half-heartedness. No-one ever has.

[At this point, Death swooped in to save John from the possibilities he so feared]


This piece was written in response to the first prompt of the Trust30 Challenge:

We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

You just discovered you have fifteen minutes to live.

1. Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
2. Write the story that has to be written

(Author: Gwen Bell)