The Worst Problem In The World™

February 19, 2011 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Freedom

The Worst problem In The World is two people with different standards who don’t realize their standards differ evaluating each other and acting on their evaluation.

This is not hyperbole. Think of a recent news headline involving conflict. It was probably a variation of The Worst Problem In The World. Many significant conflicts in the world are either solvable or are variations of The Worst Problem In The World. Many major conflicts  in your life with other people are probably also variations on The Worst Problem In The World.

Here’s an example: person A is vegetarian and believes eating meat is cruel; person B eats meat and believes people should be free to eat what they want.

A’s standard is cruelty. B’s is freedom. When A evaluates B, A will find B cruel. If A acts on his or her judgment, B will feel accused of cruelty, which is not even an issue for B. B will find A judgmental, opposed to or ignorant of B’s standard (freedom), and will be motivated to retaliate.

If B acts on his or her judgment, B will find A intolerant (opposed to freedom), which is not even an issue for A. A will find B judgmental, opposed to or ignorant of A’s standard (cruelty), and will be motivated to retaliate.

Neither can be proved wrong because neither accepts the other’s standards. Therefore each will increasingly consider him or herself right and the other wrong, increasingly polarizing the issue.

If their conflict escalates and can find no other common ground, typically each will dig into their positions more strongly, compile evidence supporting his or her case, attack the other personally, consider the other person crazy, and do other things to polarize the conflict. They will feel motivation to be violent and may act on it.

You can change the behavior and belief to any number of topics and the pattern of interaction between the two will be the same because the system is the same. In politics you see it in debates on abortion, gun control, border disputes, tax policy, and so on. In religion you see it in religious debates, religious wars, schisms, and so on. In relationships you see it in the whole men from Mars women from Venus difference, fights — particularly when one “just doesn’t understand” the other, feelings of neglect, cheating, and so on.

When two people have the same standards and disagree, they just refer to the standards, debate, and come to agreement. If they know they have different standards they agree to disagree. They don’t have The Worst Problem In The World. They may have problems, but they have paths to resolution. Sometimes — for example, in the case of access to a scarce resource like food — both parties may resort to force, but if they both agree on that path to resolve the conflict, it won’t linger.

TWPITW™ is different. When they don’t agree on standards and have conflicting behavior — and don’t realize they disagree, that is, they believe they have the same standards — they have no way of coming to agreement and assume the other is crazy, has malevolent intent, both, or worse. And they have no way of resolving the conflict.

For example, many European colonial powers fought border wars in what is now the United States. All agreed fighting was the way to resolve the conflict. Those battles were not The Worst Problem In The World: once they ended, they were rarely brought up again. By comparison, the United States’ Civil War had two sets of standards not agreed on by the two sides — slavery and self-determination — so it was in instance of The Worst Problem In The World. That war ended, but the conflict remains.

Conflict based on The Worst Problem In The World can last for thousands of years, can destroy relationships, and can make people incredibly bitter. People who can’t find ways to resolve conflict through mutually agreed on standards — that is, those in the midst of The Worst Problem In The World — will find themselves motivated to use force, insults, passive aggression, and so on. Many act on that motivation.

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2 responses on “The Worst Problem In The World™

  1. Pingback: » Goodbye guilt and blame, III Joshua Spodek

  2. Pingback: Things aren’t suddenly getting worse » Joshua Spodek

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