Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Unrepentant Peanut Butter Thief

I took a stress management course in college.  The point was made by the instructor that people can reduce most of their stress by learning conflict resolution.

On the first day of class, we looked at the first of many case studies in which conflict arose between college roommates.  I remember the case study well.  A student always makes sure to keep a jar of peanut butter in her pantry.  This is important to her because, some days, she will not have time between classes to stop for a sit-down lunch.  The one thing that she can eat quickly on the way to class, providing her body with sufficient energy to carry her through until dinner, is a peanut butter sandwich.  One morning, the student reaches into the pantry and finds that her roommate has been dipping into the jar of peanut butter.  She doesn't have enough peanut butter to make a sandwich, which means that she has to make it through the afternoon on an empty stomach. 

The student is justified to get angry at her inconsiderate roommate.  But the author of the case study insists that the student arrange a meeting with the roommate and engage in a thoughtful negotiation.  It was recommended by the author that the student follow a number of specific steps in the negotiation.  I remember the author suggesting that the student tell the roommate, "If you like my peanut butter, I can buy you your own jar the next time I go to the store."  The author didn't say if the roommate would need to repay the student for furnishing her with her own jar of peanut butter.  The burden of resolving the situation is put squarely on the student who had food stolen from her.  The effort to lay out an effective negotiation strategy remains the sole responsibility of the student.  How is that right?  The roommate, who is clearly the wrongdoer in the situation, is treated with kindness and patience and is not required to be repentant or make amends.  Shouldn't the roommate be the one who has to run out to the store to buy a new jar of peanut butter?

The point of this lesson was that people must avoid getting aggressive in conflict situations.  They must, instead, be assertive.  The word assertive needs clarification in this context.  The idea of an assertive person has been redefined in modern days.  Throughout history, assertive men were bold and confident.  Assertive men were aggressive.  But, now, being assertive simply means stating one's needs and opinions clearly to others.  It doesn't matter that you shouldn't have to make it clear to a roommate not to eat your food.  If their mama didn't teach them that, they have an ignorance of basic manners that no one can possibly alter at this late date. 

Being assertive, as defined by today's therapists, means being a wimp.  Your ancestors didn't preserve your family line for the last 200,000 years by letting dumbasses eat their food.  Standing up for yourself doesn't involve negotiation.  Negotiation only has value if two parties have a valid interest and either compromise or concession is possible.  A person has no valid interest to capriciously devour a roommate's food.  None.  Zero.  Do I even need to discuss the possibility of compromise?  Compromise is not an option because the first party wants to eat the second party's food and the second party wants the first party to leave their food alone.  The only compromise that I can imagine would be to allow the first party to eat the second party's food on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.   

I once believed in negotiating with bad actors, but it is an exhausting process that only serves the bad actor.  A person will continue to be disrespectful and behave poorly unless they know that their misbehavior will have consequences.  The roommate in this case study was an adult.  An adult makes choices and they must be held responsible for their choices.

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