Getting into an argument

I’ve been thinking about conflict.  How it starts.  Why.  What happens.  Does it resolve.

I want to understand this so I can write better plays, as a drama is conflict.  In a drama you put characters with opposing viewpoints together and see how it plays out.  Usually one character transforms when confronted with something or someone that they initially oppose.  Usually this confrontation ends up changing the character in some small or large way.

Psychologists say that there is a basic human (mammalian?) response when faced with a threat: to freeze, flee or fight. All of these responses are natural and part of life.  They are also transformational reactions.  They are extreme reactions.

Ordinarily if you are faced with an opposing view you won’t react in this extreme way but will probably put across your point of view.  You’ll argue trying to get the opposition around to your way of thinking.  Sometimes you’ll be successful and sometimes not.  Sometimes you’ll forget about it.  Sometimes you’ll remember.  You might change your behaviour – perhaps if you like the person and want them to like you then you won’t mention the topic again.  If you dislike the person then their opposing point of view will be even more reason to avoid them in future. If you dislike them but can’t avoid them – they are in your circle of friends – then perhaps you’ll start to convince other friends that they shouldn’t be trusted.  You may, if you are convincing enough, succeed in ostracising them from your group.  This last behaviour is an escalation in the conflict – probably way beyond the subject of the initial disagreement.  This escalation is what plays are made of and ultimately the escalation concludes.

I’ve been wondering how people get to the point where they wholesale disagree with another point of view and the penny dropped for me the other day.

I’ve been reading psychologist Daniel Kahnemann’s, Thinking, fast and slow.  It describes two types of thinking the intuitive or ‘fast’ and the methodical or ‘slow’.  Slow thinking takes more effort and humans tend to use the fast, intuitive, route.

The key idea that helped me with my argument conundrum is in the chapter on the fourfold pattern.

People attach significance to their gains and losses.  Generally speaking people do not like to lose something they already have.  This has been shown in experiments that analyse the brain’s reactions to losses and gains.  If a person is about to lose something significant then the areas of the brain that are triggered relate to unhappiness and depression.  They will tend to play it safe to avoid large losses.

We are also disproportionate in our excitement about the prospect of a large gain when it is an outside chance e.g. one in a million chance of winning the lottery but much less excited if it’s a dead certainty.

The model that’s presented in the book is interesting and relates to our assessment of risk and shows the types of behaviours that may arise in extreme situations.

In a situation where there is a significant chance of a specific outcome e.g. win some money the following happens:

  • Gain: Someone will play it safe if they have a 95% chance to win large sum of money
  • Loss: Someone will take a risk if they have a 95% chance to lose their large sum of money

In a situation where there is an outside chance of a specific outcome e.g. win the lottery the following happens:

  • Gain: Someone will take a risk if they have a 5% chance to win a large sum of money
  • Loss: Someone will play it safe if they have a 5% change to lose their large sum of money

How this plays out could be like this:

Ann has a dispute with Bill, her neighbour, over the upkeep of his property.  She is worried that his poor maintenance has a detrimental effect on the valuation of her home.  She is looking to sell.  She has talked to Bill about her concerns but he’s done nothing to help.  She sells her property for £50,000 less than the asking price.  She now wants to take Bill to court to get the difference.

Ann’s lawyers have said that she has a 5% chance to win the money as it depends on the jury and their view of what Bill is worth.  Bill is advised that he has a 5% chance to lose the money.

Bill would like to settle out of court and has offered £10,000 to Ann in compensation.

Ann would rather take the risk of going to court – against her lawyer’s advice – as she imagines that she has a higher chance (higher than the 5% stated) of winning.

Ann goes to court and loses.  Ann gets nothing.  Bill keeps his assets intact.

Ann will probably feel even more aggrieved at this ‘miscarriage of justice’ than she did before she decided to go to court.   She probably imagined a satisfactory scenario where she’d got the right amount of money for her house and the extra effort and legal costs were worth it.  Ann will probably never forget the incident and this event will shape how she views future events. Bill however is pleased and can get on with his life.  He no longer has Ann as his neighbour and over time will probably forget the whole incident.

The conflict was in Ann and Bill’s assessment of the outcome of the legal action.  Ann had nothing to lose so took the large risk to go to court and present the evidence in front of the Jury.  Bill had £50,000 to lose and wanted to play it safe.  Ann wouldn’t let him but in the end he won.

What I take from this is to apply to drama is that each character makes an intuitive assessment of the risks associated with the conflict they’re in.  If they are at the extreme ends of the scale then they’ll take a large risk but have a small chance of it succeeding.

Returning to glory?

On average they seemed shorter than the other side. The home team though was still greeted with cheers as they skated onto the ice. The stadium, a little tired perhaps, but filled with pennants of past victories. A lot to live up to for this young team. The half full stadium of loyal supporters stands for the national anthem sung with gusto from a local singer. Applause, whistles and hooters and the five players on each side, with their goalkeeper making six skate out onto the ice.

Our team have lost the last ten games in succession. They’ve had a bit of a break. They should be fresh. This time could be different. The opposition has eight supporters at the arena. The break and advantages of the home game, surely must count for something?

They start and the play is at the opposition’s end. The score board assures us we have the upper hand with more attacks on goal than the others. But the first period is sluggish with none of these attacks converting into an actual goal. The announcer makes a plea for us to buy raffle tickets with the promise of $40,000 prize money.

The opposition are penalised and one man is sent to the sin bin for checking. This is our moment. Two minutes, with one man more than the opposition… The coach and manager gesticulate from the side lines. Players are swapped over. Play begins. Nothing.

Time out.

We take a moment to appreciate the generosity of the sponsors. The coaches give their teams a pep talk.

Two minutes to go to the end of the period. The play is all down our end. Our goalkeeper is so large there is no way the puck is going to get past. It does. The eight supporters wave their banners, make some noise. The rest of the stadium claps politely. Manners.

The hooter blows.

A second raffle, this one is for the chance to win a voucher for Subway or one to get your car cleaned. Check the front of your programme for the four digit route to happiness. We don’t win this time… Maybe at the next interval. The Zamboni goes back and forth and once done the goals are put back in place and the players emerge. Our side with heads down.

Play resumes, now the other side are on the attack. They have double the attacks on goal than we do. A bit more aggression from ours, tempers beginning to fray. Now we’re one man down. Our side dig in, closer to one another, in contact. They play as a team rather than a collection of individuals. They don’t seem to want to concede another goal. It works.

More play. One of our more established players is back on the ice. It makes a difference. The others respect him, he has support when he makes a break. He scores! Relief, elation, cheers. The commentator is ecstatic. Once he’s calmed down a reminder to buy one of those all important raffle tickets…

Meanwhile the play has continued. Spurred on, heads now up our team renews their attack. It works and we’re ahead and only two minutes until the end of the second period. Perhaps we’ll win after all. Perhaps the change in coach is beginning to work. Perhaps there’ll be a return to our glory years. Let’s not jump ahead of ourselves.

A break.

This time you can throw a puck on the ice or win some more vouchers. Maybe just get a beer or have a walk around, get the blood flowing into your legs again.

The final period begins.


All they have to do is hold on. 15 minutes away from victory. The back and forth continues. The pressure is on the other side now. They’re the more experienced team. On paper they should have the upper hand. Tempers show. The checking, blocking and slamming continues. They’re no. 24 is pulled off by the coach before he ends up in the sin bin. He comes back on the ice only to cause more aggravation and mayhem. He’s warned again. The coach gets him off the ice again. The aggression will come in handy but timing is everything.

Two minutes. We just need to hold on for another two minutes.

The opposition renew their attack. They take their goalkeeper off and substitute with another player to have all their efforts concentrated on getting another goal. The pressure is massive. No. 24 is let loose. He scores.

Still with only one minute to go we can hold onto this.

The eight supporters cheer again.
Another one, how?

We’re tied.


Into extra time four against four.

We hold on but don’t score.

Three minutes into extra time. There may still be hope?


The eight cheer again.

It’s all over and they’re off the ice. The goal posts are moved before we’re out of our seats.

The fear

The noun
– a feeling of distress
– reverence or awe
– concern or anxiety

The verb
– to be afraid
– to respect
– to be anxious about something

Psychologists say that it is an emotion induced by a perceived threat where the reaction is to be paralysed, confront or run (freeze, fight or flight). The emotion of fear shouldn’t be confused with that of anxiety which is triggered without an external threat.

Fear is a basic survival mechanism. It is a response to a threat that could result in loss of anything that is held as valuable such a:s health, wealth, status, power, security. It is usually an emotion held about a future event.

The top fears that humans holdare of: demons and ghosts, the existence of evil powers, cockroaches, spiders, snakes, heights, water, enclosed spaces, tunnels, bridges, needles, social rejection, failure, examinations and public speaking. Another study had the following: flying, heights, clowns, intimacy, death, rejection, people, snakes, failure, and driving. Fears held by a group of 13-15 year olds were: terrorist attacks, spiders, death, being a failure, war, criminal or gang violence, being alone, the future, and nuclear war.

If these lists are to be believed then our top fears are as follows:
– Demons and Ghosts
– Clowns
Other animals
– Cockroaches
– Spiders
– Snakes
– Heights (inc bridges)
– Water
– Enclosed spaces (inc tunnels)
– Needles
– People’s behaviours (inc social rejection,fear of failure, public speaking, exams, intimacy)
– Being alone
– Evil powers (inc criminal or gang violence, war, terrorist attacks, nuclear war)
Human activity
– Flying
– Driving
– Death
– The future

Collected together in one person and you could see why they wouldn’t get out of bed… Ever… Except they’re probably afraid of the enclosed space.

Looked at rationally none of these items seem worthy of much time or energy. There are risks attached to each but all are manageable in the modern world (except perhaps for the paranormal). Psychologists advocate facing your specific fear in a controlled environment. They suggest that becoming friendly with your fear it becomes easier to understand and ultimately less fearful.

This is an approach I’ve always adopted but yesterday whilst skiing I was overcome with fear. It is early season conditions so the snow cover was less than I’m used to. It meant I had to adapt my skiing turning to avoid obstacles such as rocks and bushes and small trees that ordinarily would be covered by snow. I was disappointed that things weren’t going to my plan. At first I was stoic thinking that there was only a small patch to cross. Then, when I caught my ski around a small branch, frustrated. Then, when I started to sweat and breath heavily, angry. I wanted the skiing to be fun. I wanted it to go my way. I was reluctant to accept and work with what was there. I forgot to breath. Everything became harder, every turn was laboured and jagged. When I was offered advice I snapped back. If the mountain could behave the way I wanted it to then everything would be all right again.

I forgot why I ski.

I forgot to enjoy the beautiful landscape.

I forgot to appreciate being in such a wonderful place.

All this effort was a waste of energy. I was not under threat. I have enough experience to ski in the terrain and conditions.

In the end I decided to face into my fear. I remembered to breath. I started to look at the terrain as a puzzle and a game. I got down absolutely safely. Once I let myself accept the situation I began to learn from the experience rather than reject it as something unpleasant to be forgotten.

Would I do it again? Yes, because it means I won’t be as scared the second or the third time. If I’m not scared then I’ll be able to enjoy being out in the mountains – my comfort zone stretched to accommodate this situation.

The rules

I’ve blogged before.  Who hasn’t and wants to write?  Starting off is the hardest thing, especially when it’s supposed to be about writing and showcasing my work.

I’ve thought, prevaricated then I was played this, Kid President.  I thought I’d better just get on with it.

I’ve formed some rules for this blog:

  1. This is a place to play
  2. This is for work in progress
  3. This is a place for things that inspire me
  4. This is where I try to work things out
  5. I haven’t got a fifth rule

So there we have it.

A place to play.