S1E4 – A: The DREMSI Method, Identifying social expectations

In this episode we get into details about the DREMSI methodology, highlighting the characteristics of each steps as well as the common mistakes that happen during application.

Once Darwin released his “On the origin of species” book, our understanding of “what is a human” changed drastically. Humanity fell from the pedestals of mysticism and a snowball effect happened that led us to visualize humans as the result of a calculated process, the outcome of evolution, in a quest for survival of the species. Along the lines of the evolutionary process, DREMSI highlights a very mechanical way to see ethics, minimizing injuries towards others while roleplaying, a semi-automated action, tailored by many day-to-day interactions, our instincts and the responses of the group.

In this episode I’ll explain the “formula”, the step-by-step method to analyze ethics. Although I am not a fan of reducing life to a very mechanical view, it is important to have a core, a structure that let us visualize the building blocks, and with this be able to manage the non-automated aspect of it, to influence the human side of it.

The core of the method

Given that the main objective is the minimization of injuries during roleplaying, the core of the method lies in the proper identification of the social expectations and the respective injuries caused.  Once the injuries and their respective intensities are identified, then the main question is, how should we judge them? This is the final step of the DREMSI method and will be handled in the next episode. During this one, we will entirely focus our attention on the descriptive part of this theory, in the identification and valuation of injuries which determines if a standpoint is ethical or not.

The progression of the episode is very simple, we will discuss in detail each of the first four steps of the methodology, including a small visualization of a dilemma and some remarks on the common mistakes that happen during this phase. The four steps are as follows:

  • First, the dilemma standpoints, what are the options to judge.
  • Second, the stakeholders and roles involved in this decision.
  • Third, the social expectations attached to the roles we play.
  • Fourth, the injuries we cause and the ethical label that apply to the standpoints.

Step 1 – Standpoint, Presentation in injury format

The beginning of any ethical valuation comes in the presentation of the dilemma standpoints. These are pretty much the two options at hand for an individual in any given situation. In real life dilemmas, we not only have two but a plethora of options at hand. However, we can intuitively discard many of them and arrive at 2 to 3 final options. The process of solving the dilemma remains the same regardless of how many options we want to address, but for practical reasons is always easier to make decisions with the fewer options possible.

Through this work, an ethical dilemma will be the term to define a situation in which the individual has to choose from two or more standpoints where there is a risk for potential injuries to stakeholders. Hence an initial standpoint presents a position from the roleplaying acting (in the sense of action or inaction) and connects it with specific stakeholders and risks of injuries.

Standpoints presentation

Let’s visualize how to formalize standpoints with a complex dilemma:

“Imagine you work at a company where the boyfriend of one of your best friends works as well; One day, a rumour starts spreading that the boyfriend of your friend is too flirty with a girl and that they might be secretly in a relationship.”

Since you are such a good friend, you now face a dilemma, which under the DREMSI format will be presented as:

  • Standpoint A – Should I tell my friend, to avoid her the relationship damage and causing an injury to the boyfriend.
  • Standpoint B – Should I don’t tell my friend, letting my friend be potentially harmed by infidelity.

We always follow the same formula: Action or Inaction + injury + stakeholder. It doesn’t have to be perfect as it is mostly the starting point, as we go through the method we will fill it with more details and even at some points, we will discard the injuries.

Common Mistakes

Although we shouldn’t aim to have perfect starting standpoints. There are a few mistakes that happen at this stage that affect the whole ethical valuation.

  • First, we tend to forget that all we care about is the injuries, the damages to the other party. It is common to consider the positive aspects of each position but that becomes a different question (probably what is the right?), not an ethical one. Ethics only provides an answer to the question, is there any injury towards the other stakeholders? As such any benefits, whether one becomes a hero or whether society becomes happier, should not be included in the discussion.
  • Second, we tend to forget that ethics is not about ourselves but about others. Anything that happens to the roleplaying agent becomes secondary, all we care about is the damage to others. As such, one’s guilt, one’s bank account, one’s reputation, one’s properties, one’s time… none of this should be considered within the standpoints.

Step 2 – Defining a role and stakeholders

The next step in the methodology is the clarification of the roles and stakeholders involved in the standpoints. This step can be started either by looking at the role one plays or by looking at the stakeholders affected, the duality of the role-stakeholder will support us to end up in the same conclusion. The main objective of this step is:

  • To have the list of all relevant stakeholders that may be injured with our standpoints
  • To identify the role(s) one is playing in the situation.

Defining Roles

As highlighted in the previous episode, Roles are “ideal-type” images which are shared in specific socio-cultural contexts and are assumed to be real and acted upon.  Roles provide one with schemata for behaviours, accountabilities, and rewards that apply within a specific relational space.

Because roles arise from interaction and are stakeholder specific, one is constantly switching from role to role, just imagine when you are in the office, at one point you are talking to your colleague, then you have to meet your boss, then you have a customer presentation and later on you have to manage your team; through all those situations you will play a different role.

To make it easier to grasp which role one is currently playing I classify role types in two formats:

  • Official roles, those that we constantly play during our lives such as a father, a friend or an employee. These ones are common within specific relational spaces and one may argue “you wouldn’t call it a family if there are no parents”. These kinds of roles can be associated with specific contracts or formal agreements where clear expectations and accountabilities are written down and communicated within a space.
  • Contextual roles, those that are temporary, specific to a situation. For example: If you are driving in the car and hit someone by accident, you become the offender. If you are walking in the park and a dog starts chasing you, you become the victim, or if you are travelling to another country and people want to identify you, you become the foreigner.

Contextual roles can be tricky to grasp at times, mostly because the assignment of roles and expectations happens due to specific triggers that we might not all be familiar with. I would like to highlight three triggers that are relevant for ethics:

  • Role assigned by causality, meaning you get a role assigned because of one of your actions. In this case, you become an offender if you punch someone on the street, or you become the client if you enter the store looking for something.
  • Role assigned by proximity, meaning you get a role simply because of the proximity of your role or persona to another role. In this case, you become the leader if you are the second in command but the leader gets sick,  or you are the one in charge of the children because you are the only adult in the room.
  • Role assigned by explicit indication, meaning you get the role because of an explicit communication to the group. In this case, you become in charge of the project because of an email from your boss, or you are in charge of cleaning the house because it was stated in the calendar.

As we review ethical situations we might come across other types of triggers for contextual roles: I believe this is an interesting area to explore for the future but for the moment this initial view will serve us good enough to handle the dilemmas at hand.

The stakeholders involved in the ethical dilemma

The beauty of identifying roles, is that they are always connected with a specific stakeholder, for one to call themselves the father one would need the daughter, or the son in the mixture to validate the relationship. As such by detecting either the roles or the stakeholder, we formalize the counterpart.

An important consideration that we should always have in mind, is that we are always connected to a relational space and in many instances, our actions can injure the space in itself, as such a relational space can and should be considered a stakeholder. In this view, the president of a company can affect the whole company by its actions and can cause significant injuries to all employees in an indirect format.

By the end of the process, we end up with a small overview or matrix of stakeholders and roles. Taking the example mentioned before:

  • The stakeholders in discussion would be your friend, the boyfriend of your friend and in addition, the office space (as they are both colleagues).
  • To which you respectively play the role of: a friend, a colleague and an employee.

Common Mistakes

A mistake that can happen is that we miss noticing multiple roles can apply at the same time. In this case, the boyfriend of your friend could as well be considered your colleague, with you playing a more corporate role compared to a friend, both with different expectations.

Missing stakeholders is a common issue at this point. The one stakeholder that is commonly forgotten is the relational space, although is probably harmless it is always important to have in mind that we can injure it, as such having it in the overview is important. As guidance to avoid missing stakeholders, four questions come in handy:

  • Who is affected by my actions?
  • Under which role did I end up in this situation?
  • Will this affect the whole group?
  • If I were the counterpart, would I feel I suffered an injury?

Step 3 – Assigning social expectations to the roles

Once the stakeholders have been identified, it’s time to formalize the type of social expectations that are in play for each standpoint. The objective of this stage is to answer the question: “In this standpoint, which are the expectations I might break and in turn will cause an injury to someone?”

Types of Social expectations

Social expectations come in many shapes, but to make it easy to visualize I like to classify them into two formats:

  • On one side we have warm expectations, the expectations to take action. In other words, something you must do and failing to do causes an injury. For example, as a parent falling to provide to your child.
  • On the other side, we have cold expectations, the expectations to not doing something. In other words, something you must not do, because doing it causes an injury. For example, as a parent you shouldn’t hit your child.

Both warm and cold expectations are normally opposite ends of an interpretation of some kind of value. In the examples above, the value could be considered as “the safety of the child”, and the warm expectations would be to ensure there is enough food for the child, while the cold expectations would be to not hit the child.

I know, I know, I’m aware that the words “warm and cold” don’t really bring the right message I expressed above, language is a tricky thing. I was thinking to use “positive and negative expectations”(same as Isaiah Berlin’s concepts of freedom), however, I don’t like the instinctive value of the words “positive and negative”, it just sounds difficult to use, at least for me as a non-native speaker. What I like about using “warm and cold”, is that it can be used to express a gradient of level in expectations, after all, life is always experienced in gradients; we could say that one has a “HOT expectation” as something that one must by all means do, the most important function in a role; in the opposite end, we could use the idea of “FROZEN expectations”, things that you, by all means, must never do. I plan to update this terminology as I get feedback from other parties but for the time being, we will leave it as warm and cold

Assigning expectations

The clarification of the types of expectations gives us a good understanding of the spectrum they operate and how to look at them from a cold or warm perspective. I want to compliment this with a remark on how expectations are assigned to the roles, this is quite a flexible process that on one side is very intuitive as it is driven by automatic blueprints (bias and stereotypes) and on the other side can be very specific as we have the ability to stipulate expectations according to context, using a contract, verbal agreement or protocols.

With this as background, when looking into the expectations that apply to our role, we should consider a few aspects:

  • What are the common expectations of the role?
  • Are there any additional expectations that come from a formal agreement?
  • Are there any additional expectations that comes from context?

We don’t have to complicate things when analysing the situation, as a rule of thumb, unless there is explicit guidance or unique context, we will tend to use stereotypes for expectations. In addition, we should only focus on the expectations that we believe are in jeopardy in the situation. As such, using the dilemma at hand about the rumors of infidelity, these are the expectations that apply:

  • As a friend, the expectation is to be loyal and ensure their safety and wellbeing. More specific, the expectation to tell her if something might harm her.
  • As a colleague (to the boyfriend), the expectation is to not cause any trouble and support on work-related topics. More specific, the expectation to not affect its work.
  • As an employee, the expectation is to ensure the company environment remains professional. More specific, the expectation to ensure the situation doesn’t cause work problems.

Common Mistakes

There are three mistakes in particular that I would like to address:

  • Wrong relational space expectations. This happens when we wrongly assign expectations from other relational spaces. For example, for people that have changed countries, they would face difficulties if they keep applying their local expectations, or in a more common situation when we want to have family kind expectations within a company.
  • Failing to see Contextual Expectations. This happens when we don’t recognize the change in context.. when the situation modifies expectations. For example, in a football game, there are clear players set up as defenders, but in the situation where the defender is injured or you just happen to be in a defensive spot, you should, for that moment, play defender.
  • Expectations overlap. This happens when we fail to recognize the degree of responsibilities we have. As there are many stakeholders with a similar role to us, it becomes hard to know who is the one that holds the expectations. For example, in newly formed teams with no clear leader, is very hard to know who is in charge of taking certain decisions. This problem comes very visibly with the excuse, “I thought you would do it”.

Most of the issues above can be connected to a lack of information about expectations, it is practically impossible for a single individual to be always aware of all the changes in one space and to have a harmonised view of expectations as per the other stakeholders. To avoid all those mistakes, roleplaying interaction has a support mechanism that shares us information so that everyone is aware of the most recent expectations. In particular, I would like to highlight two mechanisms important for DREMSI: tacit agreements (contracts or guidance agreed upon by the stakeholder) and complaints (negative responses by the stakeholder, common reaction to micro-aggressions).

We have covered so far the first three steps in the methodology, they are quite easy to grasp as this is something we already do in our everyday life, we just don’t use the formal structure advised in DREMSI. We now enter the crucial phase of assigning injuries and intensities, this is so important that it deserves its own section, as we will have to discuss many little details about injuries, their intensities and how unethical is an action.

NEXT S1E4 – B: The DREMSI Method, estimating injuries.

Pride by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

S1E9 – A: State Dilemmas – Announcement

Hola my dear readers, In episode nine of this series we are meant to analyse the ethical dilemmas that governments face, it has been a long journey and this is one of the last stops in this theory. While individual and business dilemmas were relatively easy to analyse using the DREMSI method, it has taken

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Battle of the Moneybags

S1E8 – D: Extended accountabilities

In this final section of Companies Dilemmas, we handle the controversial topic of Extended Accountabilities, aiming to define how far is a company responsible for the actions of external parties when running a business.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Battle of the Moneybags

S1E8 – C: Companies and the Greater good

In this episode, we handle how companies should consider solving «Greater Good» Dilemmas such as inequality and sustainability. A very common and valid question that doesn’t have an easy answer and even at times relies more on the government and the consumer than the company in itself.

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