Extremism leaves everything out of whack

We need to start resolving conflicts for the greater good.


The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Sometimes, it feels like the whole world has gone crazy, and we're all on one big hamster wheel, going around in circles, accomplishing nothing.

We see this in Minneapolis. Pick any topic of community concern. Whether it's public safety or city planning, there's a good chance there is no consensus on what to do, and two sides have extremist viewpoints. We should have no police. We should have unlimited, fully militarized police. We need more street parking. We need all bike lanes. Lock everyone up. Lock no one up. 

Going to extremes doesn't work. This is how we got to where are. How much progress have we made in solving the city's problems in the last two years? We're stuck in gridlock. No one can agree on anything from the mayor's office to the city council to neighborhood associations, Facebook groups, street protests and Twitter. Everywhere you look, there are conflicts.

Conflict is nothing new. But now there's no negotiation, no collaboration, no compromise. People used to be able to work together, even if they disagreed. They used to be able to find some common ground. Now, it's either-or options all day long. You're either with us, or you're against us. And if you're not with us, you're canceled. Or you're mocked and laughed at. Or worse.

What happened to both-and solutions? What's wrong with having some parking and some bike lanes? What's wrong with holding people at all levels of society accountable for doing the wrong things? Why can't we come up with humane solutions that work for everyone?

This isn't only a Minneapolis problem. This is an all-American problem, with Minneapolis as ground zero for extremist solutions. Extremism, from any direction, leaves everything out of balance. Instead of solving anything, we might even be going backward as a civilized society.

But there is good news. We can reverse course and learn how to resolve our conflicts in a civilized way. We can create win-win solutions for the greater good, aka the public good or the common good. And we have the Coen brothers — the famous filmmakers who were born and raised in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis —  to thank for this roadmap.

Remember their cult classic movie "The Big Lebowski"? Let's revisit the "mark it zero" bowling scene with Walter Sobchak (played by John Goodman), The Dude (Jeff Bridges) and Smokey (Jimmie Dale Gilmore). Walter, a Vietnam War veteran and The Dude's best friend, believes Smokey stepped over the line when he rolled a shot. There is no definitive proof. It's Walter's word against Smokey's.

Walter: Over the line.

Smokey: Huh?

Walter: I'm sorry, Smokey. You were over the line. That's a foul.

Smokey: Bulls**t. Mark it 8, Dude.

Walter: Uh, excuse me. Mark it zero. Next frame.

Smokey: Bulls**t, Walter. Mark it 8, Dude.

Walter: Smokey, this is not 'Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.

The Dude: Hey, Walter. Come on, it's just — hey, man. It's Smokey. So his toe slipped over a little. You know, it's just a game, man.

Walter: This is a league game. This determines who enters the next round-robin. Am I wrong?

Smokey: Yeah, but I wasn't —

Walter: Am I wrong?

Smokey: Yeah, but I wasn't over. Give me the marker, Dude. I'm marking an 8.

Walter: Smokey, my friend, you are entering a world of pain.

At this point, Walter pulls a gun out of his bowling bag and holds up the gun.

The Dude: Walter, man.

Walter: You mark that frame an 8, you're entering a world of pain.

Smokey: I'm not —

Walter: A world of pain.

Smokey: Look, Dude. This is your partner.

Walter (yelling and standing up): Has the whole world gone crazy?! Am I the only one around here who gives a s**t about the rules?! Mark it zero.

The Dude: They're calling the cops, man. Put the piece away.

Walter (pointing the gun at Smokey): Mark it zero.

The Dude: Walter, put the piece away.

Smokey: Walter —

Walter (cocking the gun and pointing it at Smokey): You think I'm f**king around here. Mark it zero.

Smokey marks it zero.

Smokey: All right, it's f**king zero. You happy, you crazy f**k?

Walter sits down, uncocks his gun and removes the clip of bullets.

Walter: It's a league game, Smoke.

If it weren't for Smokey de-escalating the situation, things would have gone much different. 

We need more Smokeys in the world today because there are a lot of crazy f**ks. We can't make them all happy, but if we take a page from the pacifist's guide for resolving conflict, we might avoid a world of pain.


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