Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Tolerance, Conflict, and Nonflict

A lot of conflict can be explained in terms of differing tolerance levels. A disagreement may simply be a matter of one person hitting their limit before another.

An example will help: let's say a couple is fighting because he feels like he always has to clean up her mess around the house. It would be easy to label her as a slob and/or him as a clean freak, but maybe they just have different levels of tolerance for messes.

Let's say he can tolerate four dirty dishes before cleaning up, while she can tolerate five. They agree on most things: too many dirty dishes are bad, cleaning up after one dish is a waste of time, etc. They have no fundamental disagreement. Yet, that one-dish difference will result in him cleaning up every time, simply because his four-dish limit gets hit first. That can lead to other conflicts, such as unequal division of labour, questioning compatibility, failure to communicate, etc. All because of one very small difference in tolerance.

How does this help us resolve conflict? On one hand, it can help foster understanding of different points of view. Many conflicts are not between people on different sides of a line, but rather different distances from the same side of the line. It's worth noting that most people don't choose their limits; they are born with them, or they had them instilled early on, or they believe they are rational. Sometimes the resolution to a conflict can be as easy as "ok, your limit is here, my limit is here, and that's okay."

On the other hand, living with other humans often necessitates adjusting our tolerance levels. Things run smoother if our limits are close. In the example above, if she dropped her tolerance to four dishes 50% of the time, each of them clean up half the time, and they live happily ever after. Sometimes it'll have to go the other way too: if he's not too ragey with disgust after four dishes, he could wait until five, then she hits her limit and naturally cleans up. Either way, hooray for compromise.

This may be a subtle point, but I think it's a good one: many disagreements are not disagreements at all. It's not that one person is wrong and the other is right. They're just feeling different things based on how close they are to their limit. That is much easier to deal with than genuine conflict, especially if it's recognized as the non-conflict (nonflict) it is.

(only continue reading if you're from London Ontario and on Twitter)

Case study: the 2012 hash tag wars of #LdnOnt

For the last few days there has been a bit of kerfuffle in the local Twitter community. In brief, this happened:
  • Someone (@emlaughsalot88) assholeishly called someone else (@meggiewalk) names for who-knows-what reason. She also included the #ldnont hash tag in these attacks and other posts barely related to London.
  •  Other people (@late2game has become the punching bag for it, but others too) used the report as spam feature of Twitter to report @emlaughsalot88 for misuse of the hash tag.
  • Twitter banned @emlaughsalot88 from Twitter, presumably based on these reports.
  • There is conflict over whether it was appropriate to use report as spam in this way, whether anybody should be policing the London hash tag, whether Twitter should automatically ban people when reported, etc.
To explain this in terms of tolerance levels, there are several different levels at play that have affected people's behaviour and opinions, such as:
  • Tolerance for personal attacks and seeing others personally attacked.
  • Tolerance for how related a Twitter post must be to its hash tag before it is considered spam.
  • Tolerance for the number of spam reports before someone is banned.
  • Tolerance for censorship.
  • Tolerance for free speech.
Your homework is to determine whether any of us actually disagree, or if we are just tolerating things differently, and if it's the latter, how acknowledging this can reduce conflict. Go.

P.S. More posts about this kerfuffle have been written by Sqedmonton and Canucklehead.

Update Aug 8: Here's another post from Abe Oudshoorn.


NELondonMike said...

After that burst of enlightenment, there is nothing helpful I can ad.

Phronk said...

Glad you found something enlightening here. Thanks.

Mark said...

Surely there must be some leeway for IRONIC hashtags. Otherwise, I'm screwed.

c said...

I think I could tolerate someone coming over and doing my dishes in #LDNONT

Forest City Fashionista said...

So are you the "tolerate 4 dirty dishes" or the "tolerate 5 dirty dishes"? Either way, you wouldn't last at my house ;)

Phronk said...

Mark: I sure hope so. It's a genuine concern: that people will be banned or outcast for having a different sense of humour than others.

Cal: I wouldn't tolerate doing your dishes even if you paid me.

FCF: Haha, I probably shouldn't even say. I have large kitchen counters that can tolerate plenty of dishes on them. :)

Unknown said...

When is it that people finally grow out of the "High School" mentality? Maybe you can write an article on that!

I liked your article on the non-conflict conflict. Well thought out.

Phronk said...

I don't think anyone ever grows out of it. Maybe we'd be happier if we acknowledged that adults are just slightly larger, slightly more knowledgeable children. We should always try to be more than that, but we'd be disappointed less if we didn't expect it. :)

Glad you liked it!