As always, I never know where to start, especially with “deep” topics. How I act (and react to others) has been brought to my attention recently (not in a bad/mean/accusatory way) and it led me to a thought-provoking discussion with me, myself, and I. I try to act and live my life, for the most part, by the Golden Rule: treat others how you would like to be treated. I wasn’t always this way and I’m not this way all the time but my general rule of thumb is that if you are nice and respectful to me, I will be nice and respectful to you. BUT…what happens when you/I stop being nice and respectful? Will you/I retaliate and cease being kind? Or will you/I continue to be kind, no matter how you/I treat me/you? That’s what this post will be about.
I was given a link to a broadcast from talk radio called The Good Show and that is what sparked this particular blog post and the preceding discussion with myself. The specific broadcast I listened to is called “One Good Deed Deserves Another” and you can listen to it here: http://www.radiolab.org/2010/dec/14/one-good-deed-deserves-another/ (and even though I’m going to summarize it for you, I encourage you to listen to it at least once).
There is a computer programming geek named Robert Axelrod. He first started exploring altruism during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 wherein he wondered if Cuba would stop building bombs, we would stop building bombs and thus, everything turns out fine. But what if Cuba didn’t stop building bombs and we did? That’s a problem, isn’t it? Next, insert the theory behind the Prisoner’s Dilemma: “The prisoner’s dilemma is a canonical example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so.” The example used in the particular broadcast I listened to went something like this: Two robbers, Joe and Lucky, are standing outside the First National Bank and are picked up by the police because they had received a tip that Joe and Lucky were about to rob the bank. The officers put Joe and Lucky in two separate interrogation rooms and made Lucky an offer: “We have enough on you to lock you up for 6 months. If you rat out Joe and Joe says nothing, you will go free and Joe gets 10 years in prison. If the reverse happens, you say nothing and Joe rats you out, he goes free and you get 10 years in prison. If you both rat each other out, you will both receive 5 years in prison. If neither of you says anything, you both get 6 months in jail.” What would you do? I, along with the broadcasters of the show, would throw the other person under the bus…IF I didn’t know them. If I knew them…as in they are a friend or in my social circle…I’d be more inclined to “compromise”, as in not say anything and hope my friend wouldn’t either. Then we do our time and get out, on good terms (hopefully), because no one threw someone under the bus.
Based on this idea, Robert Axelrod created a computer programming “tournament” and to enter, you had to submit a computer program that essentially plays out the Prisoner’s Dilemma. It would be a round robin tournament and each program would play every other program 200 times to see which strategy would work…to “be nice” or to “defect” (which, from here on out in this post, means to throw someone under the bus/screw another person over). Only one program could “win”/prosper/survive.
One program was called Massive Retaliatory Strike: On the first move made, it cooperates (is “nice”) but as soon as the other program it’s playing stops cooperating, the Massive Retaliatory Strike program would retaliate from there on out, no exceptions, even if the first program went back to being “nice”. In other words, once MRS’s trust was broken, it would never trust you again…game over.
Another program was called Tester: This program would see what the other program was like first, starting out by being mean and when the other program retaliated, Tester would back off and “change its tune” and cooperate for a while…”How much can I get away with?”…essentially testing the other program’s limits.
When Tester played Massive Retaliatory Strike 200 times, Tester always defected (screwed the other person over) and MRS would never cooperate again and both programs failed.
The assumption was made that the winning program would contain thousands of lines of code. But the program that actually “won”/survived/prospered only contained two lines of code. TWO. That program was called Tit For Tat. The first line of code was “be nice”…as in the program will never be nasty FIRST. The second line of code does what the program’s opponent did in its previous move. So, for example, if Program 1 cooperates, Tit For Tat cooperates. If Program 1 defects, Tit For Tat defects…but JUST that one time unless Tit For Tat is further provoked. Unlike MRS, where it will continue to retaliate no matter how “nice” the first program is, Tit For Tat will always go back to being nice on its next move, no matter if its last move was a retaliatory move or not. Are you still with me? Most people fall somewhere in the middle of being “always good” (the “Jesus Program”) and “always bad” (the “Lucifer Program”). Tit For Tat starts by cooperating, as does Jesus (this is just an example, y’all…don’t get your religion panties in a knot) and then keeps cooperating because the Jesus Program is always good, therefore Tit For Tat is always good. If Tit For Tat plays the Lucifer Program, there’s no chance of ever cooperating, thus Tit For Tat will never be nice/cooperate, even if it makes the first move (remember, Tit For Tat’s first line of code was “be nice”) because the Lucifer Program will never be good/cooperate. Everyone stays “even”. I hope you’re still with me.
(There is another great example in the radio broadcast I linked earlier involving the British and German armed forces during World War I. In order to keep your attention, I will refrain from summarizing it here.)
Tit For Tat is upright and forgiving, but not retaliatory. Not 100% turn the other cheek but an eye for an eye…just not TEN eyes for an eye. Tit For Tat echoes…it echoes good and bad. If you were to modify the second line of code for Tit For Tat, the retaliation line, to not always retaliate…maybe only to retaliate 10% of the time…you would get a “generous” Tit For Tat. So sometimes you/the program reacts with an eye for an eye approach…and sometimes you turn the other cheek. For example: When someone punches you, you are naturally inclined to punch them back. But in some situations, is it not best to just turn and walk away? What it comes down to is choice. You have a choice to retaliate and you have a choice to walk away. Choosing what to do in each situation is the hard part.
So that was all a summary of what was said in the radio broadcast. Now we’ll get to why this means anything to me and why I was asked to listen to it. It is not a news flash that my mom and I feed off of each other’s emotions and I tend to adopt a “Tit For Tat” attitude in that if my mom is nice, I’m more inclined to be nice in return. However, if she is invalidating and disrespectful, while I won’t necessarily be that way in return (“retaliate”), I’m no longer inclined to be outwardly nice or make the extra effort to do so. I don’t go out of my way to be rude or disrespectful, but I won’t go out of my way to be nice either. However, when it’s time to “play” again, I will start off by being nice until she again gives me a reason not to be. Just like in the Tit For Tat program, my first “line of code” is to be nice and I will usually go back to being nice until I am “provoked” again. Does that make sense? It gets tricky and nothing is absolute. I sometimes find myself bending over backwards to be nice and courteous in an effort to just get her to be nice and loving in return. (And if you must know, that method doesn’t usually work out too well for me; it often leaves me spent and makes me question why I continue to do it/continue to try, already knowing what the end result will be.) This goes further than my mother of course. It can be as simple as driving on the freeway. If you’re nice and let me merge properly without being a jackass or tailing me because you’re mad that I “cut in line”, I’m more inclined to let you merge when your lane ends due to construction. However, if you cut me off because you don’t have the patience to be in the lane you’re in, and your new lane is ending due to construction or merging, FUCK YOU if you think I’m going to let you merge in front of me. Then I will go back to my first line of code…being nice…so if I see you on the freeway tomorrow, I will again let you merge in front of me unless you give me a reason not to. Okay maybe using my driving examples wasn’t a good idea…
I love hard and with all that I have. But once bitten, twice shy. I sometimes worry about “smothering” my friends with affection and warm fuzzies because I don’t want them to think I’m clingy and while I’m by no means trying to buy their love and affection or even get them to reciprocate warm fuzzies, I would wager that that is subconsciously part of my motivation…to love them so that they will love me in return. But in all honesty, I love to love and you don’t have to be my BFF in order for me to mail you a warm fuzzy just to make you smile. I enjoy knowing that I simply made someone’s day/moment, no matter how I know them or how close they are to me and my heart. Remember: my first line of code is “be nice”.
I feel like I’m rambling now and not making sense. Fuck it…half of my blog is me rambling…
In my “Vulnerability” blog post, I said that usually, if I get burned in a friendship, I won’t write off that friendship and discard it immediately just because I got upset…I would just tweak it to avoid getting hurt again…which may lead you to “retaliate” or punish me because you got hurt as well or you’re just that mad at whatever transpired. In such a case, the door is usually open for you to return, but I will not stand here and hold it open. I have made the effort, said my peace, and the ball is now in your court. The decision is now yours as to whether or not you want to continue the relationship, continue to retaliate, or do some of your own tweaking. I will not sit here and retaliate against you nor will I throw you under the bus…BUT…I may no longer go out of my way to be nice either. That doesn’t mean I will be rude or go out of my way to be mean, but I will probably no longer extend my hand willingly to you…unless you ask for it. I will no longer actively seek you out once the ball is in your court. If I have said my peace (reverting back to my first line of code…”being nice”) and you want to continue our relationship, you will have to come to me. I have “stated my case” and I am at peace with whatever you choose to do…to stay or walk away. I will not hold grudges or continue to be hurt over a hiccup in our relationship once the hiccup is done and over with. In other words, I will not retaliate against you or hurt you just because you hurt me. I feel like I’m making no sense because none of this is absolute. If you hurt me (and for the purposes of this post, I mean emotionally hurt me versus physically hurt me), I may very well end the relationship because I’m not very good at forgiving, depending on the severity of the hurt and what happened. (For example, a small miscommunication or misunderstanding is easily forgivable…breaking my trust or hurting me severely in some form is not.) But just because I (or you) end our relationship does not make me want to go and divulge everything you’ve ever confided in me nor does it make me want to go and defame your character. That is not how I like to roll. I may vent about the situation/relationship to my therapist and I may perhaps write about it here but in either case, you are “protected” because everything I say to my therapist is confidential and I write this anonymously. With the exception of really only one past relationship, I cannot think of an instance where I would want to waste my time and my reader’s time bashing someone. It’s not worth it and it’s not the purpose of this blog. It’s over and done with. Hopefully I can resolve what I need to resolve using my coping skills and talking with my therapist and be fine. I don’t need to waste more time on someone who apparently wasn’t worth my time and effort to begin with. I will again go back to my first line of code…being nice.
I believe all things happen for a reason and everyone that comes into your life is either a lesson or a blessing. And you know what? Some lessons are hard to learn…but we have to learn them. You are responsible for and can actively choose how you behave, who you let in and out of your life, how you treat them, and what you say and don’t say. If someone defects and retaliates against you, you have a choice to retaliate in return, with an eye for an eye attitude…and you have a choice to turn the other cheek and walk away. For me personally, each situation and relationship is different, so what I would do will never be absolute (as in I will not always retaliate nor will I always walk away). Every person, situation, and relationship is unique and should be treated as such…and I do my best to do so objectively.
When all is said and done, I think what this all comes down to is choice. You have a choice…control…over what you say and how you behave. You have a choice in how to REact. You do NOT, however, have a choice…control…over what someone else says or how someone else behaves.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9F5xcpjDMU]
Makes perfect sense to me!