In comments regarding the issue of "negation" and its possible effect,
"suppression," (LO23362) Robert Bacal, as I understood him, distinguished
between cooperative contexts where negation with its suppressive effects
probably would not be most effective -- and other contexts such as in
responding to confrontational language, offering direct opinions,
expressing voice in writing, and situations of fact (about something that
"IS" false or true), where he believes direct negation would be
appropriate. He ended with an example, writing:
>To end: If young person came to me and told me they were smoking, yes, I
>would try to dissuade them, and if they believed it was harmless, I would
>say: NO, you are wrong, and here's why.
>I would have no respect for anyone who would refuse to take
These comments induced several thoughts in me. For one, it strikes me how
often I have encountered people who conflate integrity with "taking a
stand" confrontationally-- and lack of integrity with not taking a stand.
I know many pugnacious people who think like this here in Alaska, "the
last frontier," and time and again have seen this attitude result in
destructive dynamic with regard to shaping public policy.
I also was struck by Robert's use of "IS" as I perceived it resonating
with this learning-org's thread on reality, and by his example as he used
it to illustrate his assumption about the sometimes efficacy of negation.
On Tuesday nights I co-facilitate a class for convicted batterers of
women. Two weeks ago our dialogue touched on the "IS" word too. Several
men were expressing their implicit assumptions, values and beliefs in the
question, "What if she "IS" a whore?"
One concern I have with the justification of negation in situations of
"fact" has to do with how commonly people confuse fact with their own
ladders of inference. Ladder of inference: taking action based on
beliefs, formed on the basis of the conclusions, drawn from the
assumptions made, based on the cultural and personal meanings, given to
the data, selected from the set of all observable data and experiences.
Senge, Kleiner, et al (Fifth Discipline Fieldbook) also note, RE ladders
of inference, that beliefs affect what data will be selected the next
In my experience, this tendency to confuse "fact" with ladder of inference
is rampant -- and it impairs learning.
Another concern I have with the choice to use direct negation -- as when
responding to confrontational language, offering opinions, and Robert's
example -- has to do with intent.
As I see it, direct negation sets up a competitive dynamic, the poles of
intent rarely being something new, different, and better as theoretically
might result from a Hegelian dialectic, but much more commonly being
something on a continuum from submission to dominance/suppression.
With theory-in-use in mind, the batterers I work with are into dominance,
and their tacit intents set up destructive dynamics.
I easily can imagine Robert saying or thinking, "I'm not a batterer," and
possibly, ("I'm offended by the association"). Imagining this, I think,
"identity-categoricity." Of course Robert is not "a batterer" with all
the negative connotations that word may imply to some. Nevertheless, I am
suggesting that direct negation can easily be interpreted as a form of
For example, thinking of Robert's example of the young person thinking
smoking is harmless. Robert says, "No, you are wrong, and here's why."
Robert offers this example in the context of suggesting there are
situations where negation might be more appropriate than Rick's dialogic
approach -- illustrated by, "No, I don't agree, but I think ______
explains what you are dealing with." Rick also wrote, "This is different;
it's not agreement, but it advances the discourse."
It seems to me, depending on Robert's tone, when he says, "and here's
why," he may indeed be, as Rick says, advancing the discourse.
Yet, maybe not. Robert might distinguish the Rick's use of "but" from his
use of "and," inferring from Rick's "I don't agree, but..." that this form
"falsely lends credence." Like saying, I suppose, "I see what you mean,
but..." when one really believes differently, doesn't "see what you mean,"
and when one's intent is rooted in fear of contention, and one's behavior
is duplicitous by "white lie," "diplomatic statement," or omission. [At
might say fear of increased rate of entropy production leading to
duplicity by Onsager transformation? Intent seems to me like an intensive
If Robert were thinking intents-rooted-in fear-leading-to-duplicity
ultimately are not likely to be constructive, I agree -- at least far as
the rooted-in-fear part. But, (-:, I wonder, to avoid
intents-rooted-in-fear-leading-to-duplicity do we need to use judgment?
The main difference in forms that I see, between Rick's and Robert's
examples, is Robert's use of "You are wrong."
If Robert's intent is learning -- "and here's why," he wrote -- then I
wonder about the efficacy of his approach in using judgment, "you are
Judgment, (and telling -- in other situations typically "argument by
authority"), as I see it, sets up a one-way, top-down dynamic. It
resonates for me with what Paulo Freire calls "bank deposit education."
It also resonates for me with Senge's systems observation, "Push and the
system pushes back."
It's easy for me to imagine situations involving young people and adults,
with learning in mind, where instead of using a negation approach we start
with one of Covey's axioms in mind, "Seek first to understand," beginning
with questions. The first learning, then, begins with me, and I model
learning explicitly with my curiosity expressed in the form of questions.
The intent, here, then, is 1) first to test my assumptions, and 2) to
cultivate rather than instill learning.
My intuition tells me that in most cases this is more effective, and in
many cases, looking at results, the effect of a negation approach even
would be destructive (thus "violent"), particularly with the whole and
potential futures in mind.
That is, for example, negation, often experienced as rejection, resulting
in hurt, and resulting in defensive routines, often leading to more
telling by the negate-or, more defensive routines, etc.., rather than
learning or joint learning. Or as I often see it, negation, resulting in
the experience of fear of being discounted or fear of losing, or fear of
being seen to lose, resulting in defensive routines such as avoidance or
accommodation rather than competition. These would be cases of judgment
impairing learning from a systems perspective -- not simply on the part of
the younger people, but also on the part of me, and on the part of both of
us together -- that potential for 1 + 1 "=" 3.
Robert then shares a direct opinion with implicit negation in the form of
judgment as an aside to us, writing, "I would have no respect for anyone
who would refuse to take such stands."
I generally would refuse as a matter of principle to "take such stands" as
I've seen in Robert's illustration, although by saying so, it might seem
that I'm taking a stand. I wonder, what ladder of inference did you make
Robert, that might have induced you to say that?
Wrapping up, my point is not that Robert's approach would never work at
all in any situation, but that I'm thinking in most cases a dialogic
approach will work better -- with learning in mind. While replies which
just negate effectively set up entropy production, in most situations they
also impair environment for emergence -- learning.
So, Robert what inferences did I make that might induce you to want to
clarify what you were thinking, I wonder? Any insights for me?
"Heidi and Dan Chay" <email@example.com>
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