07/09/2012 09:43 pm ET | Updated Sep 08, 2012

'Resistance n'existe pas'

Resistance doesn't exist, only non-rational, nonfunctional self-preservation.

Like me, you probably have noticed that you can't read the front page of a newspaper without seeing a story where two opponents -- be it global, national, political or local -- appear to be fighting each other, digging their heels in, refusing to compromise and in many cases even communicate.

Wouldn't you agree that it is time for a paradigm shift?

The current paradigm appears to quickly view the person(s) on the other side of the table as: a) resisting you, b) refusing to cooperate, c) refusing to budge on their point of view, d) seeking to push and pressure you out of your point of view (because they view you as doing the same to them) and plain and simple d) just not listening or considering the merits of your point of view. Can you see if any of these are true, that cooperation, collaboration and even communication is going to be a challenge?

You've heard the saying: "When you're a hammer, the world looks like a nail." Does that also mean that: "When you feel like a nail, there is always lurking some hammer that is trying to hammer you?"

As long as you see the world as a nail to your hammer or a hammer to your nail, progress will be stymied. However, if you realize that, even if the world is acting like a hammer toward you, it is actually feeling like that nail underneath, and it is a fear of what you are trying to do to it that causes it to act the way it does. When that occurs and you have less of a need to defend yourself, the possibility for rational, functional communication and collaboration occurs.

When people that are driven by fear and self-preservation below act aggressively on the surface, they are demonstrating what is referred to as "fearful aggression." You see this phenomenon in show dogs or race horses or just your own house cat or dog. When they are afraid, they growl. Why such a "non-rational" and certainly nonfunctional reaction?

When you are going along with your guard down -- think Bambi prancing through the forest before hearing the gunshots of the hunters -- you are carefree and free to care about whatever your heart desires. Then, when suddenly you become aware of something that may not just injure, but destroy you (and in the world of men, that can be anything that threatens to humiliate them in front of others), you are in a moment transformed from carefree and invulnerable to fragile and then brittle. When you are in a state of fragility and you believe that the next injury will shatter you and you have become brittle, you will do anything to prevent that, even attacking a country before you have absolute proof of weapons of mass destruction. And decades ago you can view another country as the "evil empire" when in fact they are much more afraid of you.

On a more mundane level, imagine someone cutting you off in traffic. Because it came close to causing an accident, your fear of being in an accident immediately crosses over into rage and possibly road rage. And then imagine catching up to that person and confronting them as in the following actual incident:

Years ago, I was having one of the worst days I had in years. It seemed that every encounter I had, every problem I faced, turned out negative. I was feeling beat up and beaten and driving with much more on my mind than how I was driving. There is a road called Sepulveda Boulevard that goes alongside the San Diego Freeway in Los Angeles as you cross from the Westside area through the Sepulveda pass into the San Fernando Valley. Just as I was entering the San Fernando Valley going south on Sepulveda Boulevard, I cut off a large man and his wife in his pick up truck. He honked angrily at me, and I waved to gesture I was sorry, and then a half mile later, I proceeded to do it again. At that point he pulled his truck to a full and abrupt stop in front of me. Because I was still dazed from the day I was having, I stopped my car. I could see that his wife was gesturing to him not to get out of the truck. I just stared.

In a few moments, he did get out of his truck. All 6.5 feet and 300 pounds of him. He walked over to my car and banged angrily on my driver's side window and angrily started yelling at me in a threatening manner. I was so dazed I actually rolled my window down to hear him. I know you're thinking: "Mark, that was crazy! You're going to get yourself beaten to a pulp (all 5 foot, 9 inches, 160 pounds of me)." Instead, I just waited until he paused to reload on more vitriol.

I then said to him, "Have you ever had such an awful day, that you're just hoping to meet someone who will pull out a gun, shoot you and put you out of your misery? Are you that someone?"

At that point, he completely changed his demeanor, was taken aback and said, "What?"

I replied, "Yeah, I really mean it. Look, I don't usually cut people off and never cut someone off twice. I'm having a day where everything I do and everyone I meet -- including you! -- I just seem to mess up. Are you the person who is going to mercifully put an end to it?"

He then switched to being calming and reassuring, "Hey. C'mon man. It'll be okay. Really! Just relax, it will be okay. Everyone has days like this."

I continued my rant. "That's easy for you to say! You didn't screw up everything like I have done today. I don't think it will be okay. I just want out! Can't you help me with that?"

He continued with even reassuring fervor, "No really. I mean it. It will be okay. Just relax."

Our conversation continued for a few minutes, and I actually calmed down. He got back into his truck, said a few things to his wife, waved to me in the rear view mirror as if to say, "Now remember. Relax. It'll be okay." And then he drove off.

What's the takeaway?

If you can now view anyone that you believe is resisting and fighting you as if they are locked in a state of non-rational (e.g., you're not attacking them, but they still feel the need to protect themselves), non-functional (e.g., two opposing parties both exercising fearful aggression are at war) self-preservation, you will feel less threatened and be less inclined to act in a threatening manner to protect yourself.

When that happens, guards go down, the potential to listen, hear and consider goes up and the possibility for not just compromise but collaboration becomes real.

Why the French title for this? I was thinking that you might become so reflexively locked in your non-rational, non-functional self-preserving paradigm that if I caused you to pause to try to understand what "Resistance n'existe pas" meant, that I might actually be able to slip this insight in under your radar.

P.S. What would be the value of an easily-learned and implementable process that directly and immediately removes negativity and contentiousness and improves collaboration within teams, between departments and between companies that also immediately improves people's relationships outside of work? To find out more, contact:

For more by Mark Goulston, M.D., click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.