Carrots and Sticks

Why do so many people remain intractably stuck in a position on some matter or issue when “it” obviously has many sides, which to a purely rational, independent minded observer warrant at least some consideration?

If there were a good, simple explanation, we surely already would know it today. There is, of course, not. But, it still seems to be an interesting question that deserves a bit of thought and analysis.

Let’s begin with a peek at human’s faces and brains. When you are on a bus and look around you see many faces that suggest that if people do not look alike they must be different in many ways. Then, if most people in that situation were to describe the look of the brains in those many heads, most people would describe a single standard picture of a brain they had seen in a book somewhere.

Yet, people who have opened many heads will tell you that each brain is as different in the same sort of way the faces are different. Faces all have two ears, one nose, two eyes and one mouth [except for those who have one ear and two mouths]. While the brains all have the same general contours and basic elements like eyes, ears etc., each one of those elements are as different as the pieces that make a face that range from ugly to beautiful.

But, and this is what really matters, since most of us do not really know about how the brain looks, most of us sort of assume that the single picture we think of as a brain leaves us with the misimpression that all brains must work pretty much alike.

Would it be so!

This realization must account for a lot of the miscommunication that constantly occurs among humans.
And, it is surprising in a way that there are not even more failures of understandings among humans.

That takes us back to the starting point of this piece in which we ask why more people cannot see other points of view and, as needed, work out rational compromises leading to better understandings.

That, of course, leads to why people are simply often intractable in their views.

There are a lot of reasons:

-They simply cannot see or understand the other views.

-They do not see or understand why they should try to understand the other views.

-They think they should stick to their principled view.

-They may think the other person is simply trying to impose another view on them.

-They do not see or feel any incentive to adjust their view.

-They may simply feel that this is what makes horse races fun.

That partial list of basic human thinking is why we have such a growing list of tangles in modern society.

That takes us back to the title of this piece, Carrots and Sticks. In primitive society it was surely primarily actually carrots and sticks that were used to bring people together and agree at a family and tribal level how to run their small, simple world.

Today the equivalent of carrots and sticks has morphed into ‘command and control.’ Modern government uses money as carrots and command/punishment as the sticks.

But these are, at best, crude devices and it should be no surprise that they really do not do very well in many situations much of the time.

That leaves us with the question of how we could do a better job getting people to understand what and how the other person is thinking and therefore to find out what they have in common and thus might work together to at least to get to some common ground.

That boils down to developing ways in modern society to harmonize peoples’ ability to understand their neighbors. A start could be made in teaching early in schools the same elements as in this piece. Waking people early to this approach might be the most important thing that could be done.

On a larger scale throughout all of society it would be very helpful if everyone were shown the marvelous benefits of the simple term ‘common ground’. Our governance process today puts too much effort and weight on its power to command through regulation and too little use of carrots to promote collaboration.

We should all be thinking about new better ways to glorify common ground and working effectively to think together through collaborative efforts.


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