Notes from Windward: #62

The Windfall Rule - comments on arguments

It's been said that the Americans and the British are two peoples separated by a common language, a saying which often comes to mind when I'm trying to explain cooperative association to folks enmeshed in the competitive culture that surrounds us. And so, perhaps it's worthwhile to take a time out for me to avoid the otherwise all too likely confusion.

The case in point here is the word "argument."

The general use of the term involves a verbal conflict between two people. Generally, one person wins, or at least appears to, while the other person loses. I say "appears" because "someone convinced against their will is of the same opinion still."

We often watch the sheep engage in arguments having to do with who ranks who in the herd. It's an issue of paramount importance to the sheep, and every ewe knows her place in the scheme of things. Whenever we pull a ewe out of the flock for whatever reason, and keep her separate for a few days, as soon as she returns to the main flock, the eternal argument over who ranks who breaks out again as the paramount issue of relative status is re-established.

Two leggers often use verbal arguments to establish, assert and maintain dominance, a tactic that is detrimental to establishing an atmosphere of trust and collaboration. While it's important to conserve all of our organizational assets, trust is perhaps the most easily squandered and most difficult to replace.

Therefore, it's vital to insure that "arguments" are engaged in for the process of determining the best answer for the group, and not as a means for one person to impose their opinion on the rest of the group. In practice, one person will argue on behalf of some proposition, while another will argue the other side, so that both sides of some question can be aired, and the best option taken.

And even then, we have to be careful since some folk are better at debating complex issues than others, and no amount of skill in presenting a position will turn a losing proposition into a winner. It's nice to "win the debate," but not if doing so propells us down the wrong path.

The goal of argument, within the context of cooperative association, is to arrive at an understanding of some complexity which will best serve the group interest; i.e. to either validate or change perception, not to impose one's perception on another.

On the one hand, Windward is an association of some rather intelligent people, and on the other, no amount of intelligence is an effective substitute for experience. By arguing out a proposal, we can bring to bear relative experience which can often expose a plan, however clever, as being impractical.

Cooperative groups are rarely able to move quickly. Decision making under any form of consensus process is cumbersome at best. Since the nature of what we do usually prevents us from reacting quickly, we have to be sure that when we do act, we act effectively. Cooperative association works for me because I know that we are smarter than I am, and that the solution with the broadest support is the one most likely to work. And what I want most is for Windward to work.

Much of life "out there" involves the dance described as "three steps forward, two steps back" an enterprise gains one step of progress at the expenditure of five steps worth of one's motivational resources. Our goal is to take that one step forward, and then go take a nap instead of wearing ourselves out in an otherwise pointless exercise.

So when I use the term "argument," I'm talking about an exercise undertaken in an effort to better understand some concept or reality, not any sort of dominance game.

Some years back, a fellow who stayed with us a while expressed his frustration that he couldn't seem to win an argument with me, that everytime he proved that his position was better than the position I was arguing, I'd abandon my position and take his, a practice which he seemed to feel was unfair.

The problem was that he was arguing for the sake of dominance, whereas I was just trying to figure out what the best course of action was. It didn't matter to me who came up with the best answer, only that at least one of us did. Folks who are only responsible for themselves can afford to be wrong, whereas those who are entrusted with the welfare of others can't afford to let their ego get in the way of being right.

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