S1E3 – C: Complexity and Roleplaying Injuries.

Using the previous explorations on the nature of complexity and relational dynamics, let us use the key concepts and visualize how does this influence our understanding of injuries within a relational space.

Using complexity to understand reality, is a bit like entering a labyrinth, it is hard to see where one is going and there are many dead ends along the way. I have been lucky enough to have had a ball of thread with me and in addition, I haven’t seen any minotaur, so even if the journey has been long, I am happy to say that I have reached one of the many exits.

In this section of the episode, we take the eight conditions of relational systems and place them into the context of Injury valuation. The better we understand how we can injure a person the better we can use the DREMSI method, and in this episode we will address two fundamental premises:

  • First, how the space determines what we can consider as an injury.
  • Second, how one can injure an individual’s identity by affecting their role recognition, autonomy and status of the stakeholder.
  • Third, how power disbalances in a space create relational vulnerability, calling for a responsible sensitivity for those whole hold the power.

Relational space sets the tone for what we can understand as an injury.

The first point to discuss comes with the whole conception of injury within a space. In this regard, what is considered an injury and how intense it is, is dependent on the relational space you are interacting.  For example, hitting someone is considered an offence in most of your relationships, but if you are in a boxing ring is totally acceptable. In the same light, in the marketplace companies taking customers from others is fine.. but among friends, taking girlfriends from each other is very uncomfortable.

To be more specific: how we define and classify injuries depends on the “modus operandi” valid in the space. As highlighted, the modus operandi is the outcome of the objectives in the space combined with environmental pressures and inner dynamics. In simple words, the perception of what can be considered an injury and the intensity of such injuries depends on where one is roleplaying. This is one of the reasons why the vocabulary we use in our relationships, varies in level of formality if you talk to a client, to your parents or to your friends, just imagine saying “wassup bitch” in all those different environments… yes, sparks!

To “cut the horns of the bull early on”, I by all means do not mean that every relational space has its own rules of the game, basic conceptions of injuries apply.  For example, killing someone is an injury pretty much everywhere, the same as betraying someone or stealing something. Even if every space is unique, there are common “blueprints” used among relational spaces (see section 1). Meaning that regardless of the people we interact with, we tend to use those cultural types to classify and measure injuries.

Taking this idea much further, we can conclude that “the modus operandi” of a relational space not only determines what we classify as injury and intensities, but it equally determines what is right, what is valuable, and what is permissible. Meaning that the whole concept of freedom and individual agency is entirely dependent on the relational space one is in. In other words,

“The shades of freedom are dependent on the role one plays.”

Because of this, it is legal for the LGBT community to marry in certain countries and illegal in others. Space pre-determines rights, values and ultimately what is an injury.

Lack of information as the reason for ethical problems.

With this as a context, many ethical problems arise for three reasons:

  • First, due to the lack of understanding of the modus operandi within a space, for example when one is new to a group and doesn’t know the formalities of respect
  • Second, because the actor uses different space expectations, for example, expecting your boss to behave like a father, using family-based mechanics instead of Market-based ones.
  • Third, since relational spaces are constantly adapting to their environment, conceptions of harm are constantly shifting. At one point something is unconceivable and in another this is perfectly normal. Take for example slavery, women’s rights and access to education, all of them were acceptable at one point and then slowly changed to be completely opposite.

Since change in conceptions of harm is constant and is common for people not to know the latest rules. I argue that injuries are unavoidable within a relational space and that in a large degree injuries are a necessity to transfer information and harmonize group behaviour with very few consequences. In episode one, I introduce the idea of injury thresholds for decisions making, with three levels, micro, serious and critical. Connecting the dots, Micro injuries, which are the injuries of the lowest intensity, are very valuable for a system as sources of information:

  • On a group level, If too many microaggressions keep happening on a certain topic,  then that conception of injury needs to be re-addressed. This is what happened with women’s rights…
  • On an individual level, we experience microaggressions as we measure the expectations on new spaces, for example when one is new to a country and make “etiquette” mistakes or offends people unintentionally.

Even if Microaggressions are a source of information, they are still unethical, and we will try to avoid them as much as possible. I’ll delve more into this in the next episode.

Injuring individual’s Identity – The concept of Dignity in DREMSI

Moving away to the second point in the agenda, it is time to discuss the unique way that one can injure someone’s identity during the roleplaying act.

It is very easy to understand common conceptions of injuries, for example we know we suffer an injury if someone steals from us, if someone hurts us physically or if someone affects our dear ones. But not all injuries are so tangible, and in particular, we can suffer injuries of identity.. but what does injuries of identity mean? The short answer: it means being shamed, bullied, excluded or hindered in our ability to play roles; in other words, injuring the identity of the individual means affecting someone’s position and credibility in a group, which in turn hinders one’s ability to achieve one’s interest.

I believe the concept of dignity encapsulates the message. The importance of dignity was first brought to light by philosopher Immanuel Kant with the idea that individuals must always be considered «end of themselves», otherwise it would be a “crime against human dignity”. From that point onwards, dignity as a concept began taking many shapes and interpretations. A perfect example of the wideness of the concept is visualized in the book by Donna Hicks, Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict in which she classifies the many faces of dignity in 10 topics: Recognition, Fairness, Benefit of Doubt, Understanding, Independence, Accountability, Acceptance of Identity, Inclusion, Safety, Acknowledgement.

In this work, I’ll stress the idea of injuring an individual dignity in three interconnected directions.

  • Injuries of recognition, connected to inclusion and the acceptance to be part of the group
  • Injuries of autonomy, connected with independence of action, accountability and rights.
  • Injuries of status, connected with the position of someone within the group.

All  these injures are interconnected, as affecting one recognition implies a lack of autonomy, or affecting one’s autonomy means a decrease in status as well.

All these injuries are siblings of Fairness, meaning these injuries only happen when others get it but we don’t for unjust reasons, in other words, one can only get injured in comparison to others.,

All these injuries are fundamental for an individual to operate in society, as such affecting them can easily become a critical injury.

Injuring individuals – Recognition, Autonomy of status

Recognition is the beginning of dignity, is the ability to even join the group or take a role within it. An injury to recognition is an unfair process of exclusion in which the individual is not allowed to play a role. These kinds of injuries are commonly seen in discrimination practices.

Autonomy is the full expression of dignity during interaction, is the ability to perform a role in the same way as any other in the group would. An injury to autonomy is when one unjustly hinders the individual to perform the role or to access the role’s rights and accountabilities. These kinds of injuries start with the obvious unfair treatment during interaction and continue with unfair distribution of goods post-interaction.

Status is the consistent aspect of dignity, is the set of values and characteristics associated with the individual that is roleplaying. Status accumulates with time, action and outcomes and is serve as an automatic mechanism to differentiate people within the group. An injury to one status is related to anything that affects the reputation of the individual, perfect example is shaming a person, spreading negative rumours or making untruthful claims.

Dignity as the core of freedom, and ethics.

I want to highlight the importance of Dignity, as it is perhaps the most important concept in the field of ethics. Dignity is strongly connected with freedom, the idea of human agency. As expressed by Francis Fukuyama:

Morality is not a utilitarian calculus of outcomes that maximize human happiness, but about the act of choice itself. For Kant, human dignity revolves around human will, that human beings are genuine agents or uncaused causes.

Freedom as a concept has a wide variety of interpretations. In the words of Isaiah Belin, freedom can be seen from “negative” to “positive”, in other words, from the freedom of being left alone to the freedom of taking action. And while both are important, freedom of taking action within a group is the one that defines one identity, is the one that is indispensable for anyone to survive and achieve their dreams. Freedom of taking action implies that we are recognized as intelligent enough, or important enough for us to make a decision on it, hence it is the highest recognition that our persona matters, that without our individual ability the outcome would have been different. Following this line of thought, It becomes clear that the inherent freedom of roleplaying is the one that enables us to cast ethical judgment, in which we judge the decisions of the actor to either fulfil or fail to fulfil the role expectations.

With this in mind, restraining an individual to perform a role (lack of recognition) or affecting one’s ability to perform (lack of autonomy) or shaming the status of the individual (status) will all at its core affect the agency and freedom possibilities of the actor.

In a similar light, since positive freedom happens during roleplaying, freedom is per se a concept that is always contextual to a role within a relational space. In simple terms the freedom of a father is different from the freedom of a son, just like the freedom of a judge is different from the freedom of a criminal. Freedom, in its positive format, doesn’t exist outside a relational space, and as such, it is always related and restricted by the role one plays. I use the word restricted because the freedom of one actor will be limited by the freedom of others within a space, freedom is not an infinite attribute, in the words of Zechariah Chafee, “your right to swing your arms ends just where the others man’s nose begins”

Relational vulnerability. Power Disbalances

The third and final point to highlight comes the concept of relational vulnerability. Relational vulnerability is the idea that there are power disbalances within any relationship, in which, during many interaction points, one party holds more power over others, and because of this there is a stronger sensitivity in actions. To easy visualize it, relational vulnerability is the reason why being insulted by our parents hurts more than being insulted by a stranger. We need our parents more than we need a stranger, our parents hold more power over us than a stranger would.

In this regard, many philosophers and sociologists of “power” have brought light on its importance in any social space, one of the most popular Michael Foucault who provided an in-depth analysis of the usage and sources of power in society. Going back to the concept of field expressed before, Bourdieu highlighted that  “Fields, contain people who dominate and people who are dominated.” I understand the negative tonality associated with power and the whole idea of domination, however, my message is not to highlight power in a negative connotation, as power disbalances are unavoidable within a group. In many instances power and “domination” can actually prove beneficial as they build automatic thresholds for responsibility and learning. From a personal perspective, I think we overestimate the need for freedom and power, as we tend to forget that freedom it comes with a responsibility that not many are able to withstand. As Soren Kierkegaard wisely highlighted, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”.

Regardless of my personal opinion, people that complain about power mostly do because of the many instances where we see people with power abusing others, as the saying goes, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and this is of course a problem. I aim to address this by bringing forward the idea of relational vulnerability. I use the word, Vulnerability, as it stands for the quality of being easily hurt or attacked, and in the context of roleplaying, it means that certain roles will be more vulnerable to others.

Roleplaying asks us to be aware of these power disbalances when taking action. Ask us for a sensitivity to how much power we have on others.

Connecting the ideas presented on power dynamics, dignity, and vulnerability, I believe there are two fundamental ways we fail to see the vulnerability of others while we roleplay:

  • First, in one-to-one relationships, when we fail to identify the power we hold towards the other person. This is the reason why a boss has to have a certain touch when providing negative feedback to their employees. Or why a sister/brother can cause so many problems with their behaviour
  • Second, in exclusive roles, when we fail to identify we hold access to a resource in an exclusive format when we hold monopoly power. Take for example the best player in the team, the one that scores all the goals, that person might not realize how important is its role in the team and as such might not realize how it can cause an injury to others or to the whole team.

Power entails responsibility

Because there exist power disbalances within a space, it becomes imperative that as one roleplays we ask ourselves the question, is the other person vulnerable to my actions? – do I hold such power over the other person that requires me to be more sensitive with my actions?. By bringing light to the vulnerability and power of certain roles, I am making a standpoint that there is an implied responsibility within roles, is not the same if students misbehave compared to the professor of the class! Actions can have an injury face value but context amplifies or diminish its impact, just like we ignore getting insulted by the outcast but we suffer by being insulted by the successful.

This idea of a sort of responsibility based on the type of relationship is similar to the messages from Chinese philosopher Confucius. He highlighted that ethical behaviours are based on five types of relationships: father and son, older brother to younger brother, ruler and subject, husband and wife. From a different perspective, all these relationships can be interpreted in power terms, hence, there is an acknowledgement of the power discrepancy and, just like Confucius did, I stress a mutual responsibility associated with it. Yes, you are the father, the son must follow your lead but you must lead your son well.

As you can see by the variety of ideas presented in this section, the exploration of ethics and life is similar to a labyrinth with moving walls, secret passages, deadly traps and illusions. I hope I was able to provide you a red-tread among the points I presented. We now enter the last stage of this episode where we take a look at the larger implications of playing a role in a system.

NEXT S1E3-D: Playing a role within a system

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