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Guiding process Description mode

The guiding process ‘mode of description’ distinguishes between the two poles of simple and multiple. The question relevant to the dynamics of conflict is: “Is the phenomenon described in a simple way, reduced to one aspect, or are multiple interpretations allowed?

So the issue here is how it is described: “You never wash your hands before eating!” This description focuses on one true and fixed aspect (of the conflict partner). This is not open to discussion and becomes the guiding principle for all further communication. By using generalisations (never, always, all, every time, etc.) one fixes the communicated description on the problematic point and thus excludes other possible points of view and the possible points of view of others. (“You always rush me when there is food, I can’t help it! Besides, I’m punctual and eat everything!”).

For the promotion of a new conflict or for the liquefaction of a hyper-stable old conflict, simple-minded descriptions are enormously important. Whoever’s description is in play, whoever has the power to generalise their simple-minded description (interpretive sovereignty) and whose description receives social approval gains the upper hand in conflicts more easily and puts the other party on the defensive (“That’s not true at all, that was completely different!”).

Allowing and promoting diverse interpretations of the same reality is one way to slow down conflict systems. The decision for diversity – often called tolerance – becomes a problem if it maintains an unfavourable status quo, i.e. if it serves to avoid conflict. Therefore, it is not a contradiction to stand up intolerantly for tolerance. This is sometimes necessary.

(On the distinction between describing, explaining and evaluating, see in particular F. Simon, Einführung in die Systemtheorie des Konflikts).