Contagious conflicts: The case of the brawling boaters

My home state of Maryland is famous for all things water: crabs, the Bay, the Naval Academy, devastating floods, and now this viral video. In case you don’t care to watch, let me summarize in a sentence: a bunch of…less sophisticated folk…are boating on the Choptank River, and two of them get in a massive and unrestrained brawl, which sends the boat flying and threatens the safety of their fellow passengers and many nearby sailors.

This amazing video illustrates an important feature of conflict, an awareness of which can make life negotiable: blind spots. In general, blind spots are important factors or consequences that we overlook when making decisions. In negotiations and other conflict situations, blind spots are common. In the case of the brawling boaters, the obvious blind spot was this: an insufficient appreciation for the impact of their conflict on the many people around them. With the possible assistance of their friend James Beam, they showed no apparent concern for the many innocent people imperiled by their uninhibited violence.

While these brawlers may seem very little like ourselves—and let’s hope that they are—I’m sorry to say that this particular blind spot probably afflicts us all. Even if we don’t brawl on the Choptank, most of us are insufficiently cognizant of the ways our conflicts afflict others. When we fight with our coworkers, we often overlook the effects on our families. When we fight with our families, we often overlook the effects on our coworkers. And understanding this particular blind spot after the fact is not enough if we can’t process it in the heat of the moment.

So here’s the point: conflicts are almost never confined to the people at the table. At a minimum, our conflicts afflict other people through our sour demeanors. Quite possibly, those sour demeanors help to fuel further conflicts with the people afflicted. While blind spots are inherently hard to spot (hence the name), an awareness of this particular blind spot is a good place to start. Knowing that our conflicts afflict others might at least motivate us to define all of the relevant “others” in our own lives. Having consciously defined who we care about, we’re in a better position to erect a Chinese wall between our conflicts with one group and our interactions with another.

As usual, not rocket science, but hopefully food for thought—especially if you happen to find yourself on the Choptank with an angry and intoxicated fellow.

 

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