Interesting title, right? Well bear with me while I extrapolate. Let’s begin by observing children in a sandbox. Here we have three little children arriving at a sandbox filled with buckets and shovels and strainers and assorted other inviting toys. We watch as the children are drawn to certain toys and begin to shovel and shift and mold the sand around them. At first the children are happy with their own toys and their own section of sand; for the sake of our little analogy let’s call it their ‘territory.’ After a few minutes one of the children decides that another child’s bucket is more desirable. The child grabs for the toy insisting that “It’s Mine!” Again, for the sake of the analogy, let’s assign a masculine gender to this child, as stereotypically boys are reputed to be the more aggressive in our species. The defending child, let’s say, for the same of argument, this is a girl, tugs at her bucket claiming “It’s Mine!” The first child pulls harder and repeats “It’s Mine!” They play tug for a while with loud screams and claims of possession. The third child watches for a while and does nothing. The bucket defender screams that she had it first and therefore it belongs to her. The interloper claims he wants it and pulls even harder. She says again that it belongs to her. The trespasser says he played with it before and therefore it’s his. Thus he claims historic possession and therefore an incontrovertible claim to ownership. The girl refuses to be swayed by this logic and holds on for dear life. The boy decides to up the ante, grabs a plastic shovel and begins to hit the girl. The girl screams for help. The parents, who have been ignoring this dispute thinking the children needed to work it out themselves, rush to the scene of the dispute. They comfort the girl and reprimand the boy for hitting the girl. They try to figure out exactly who did what to whom and what actually ‘belongs’ to whom but are unable to do so. They ask the third child what happened but the child remains mute and refuses to take sides, for the sake of our little analogy, let’s call him Switzerland.
The parents now have several choices. They can drag the children off to other activities; they can allocate arbitrary territorial boundaries and allocate resources i.e.) ‘you play with this and this you sit here; or they can encourage a negotiation process in which the children participate and reach some kind of a compromise. What is clear is that the children feel very strongly about their rights. Each firmly believes he/she is right and that the peace process is bogus. As the argument persists, the children’s convictions about rights and property increase. They are now defending themselves, not just their buckets. The objects that were initially in contention have become subsumed into their personal rights as individuals, redefined as freedom of expression and each is determined to keep what is perceived as personal property. This has become a matter of ego, pride and personal power. Even though the plastic buckets are essentially the same, the combatants have become emotionally attached to certain perceived differences.
In the meantime the third child has left the sandbox deciding instead to try the swings where no prevailing territorial issues exist. This child does not want to get involved and maintains an isolationist stance. This child plays alone and having no investment in the outcome of the growing strife between the neighboring combatants.
Meanwhile back in the sandbox compromises have not been reached. Substitutions have been summarily rejected. “No” it has to be this bucket and only this will do. Rewards are offered. If you accept the red bucket and play nicely I’ll buy you an ice cream cone. Nope, not even the promise of a reward will dissuade these kids from their determination to fight for what each believes in. Next the parents try sanctions. If you don’t compromise i.e.) play nicely, I will not bring you back to play tomorrow; if that doesn’t work, I’ll take you home right now, and if that doesn’t work you’ll have to take a nap this afternoon and if that doesn’t work I’ll tell your Father when he comes home! Nothing doing! These kids are entrenched in their ideas about rights and possessions. They feel angry with each other and misunderstood by their parents who are not siding with them. In their childlike way, they counter and threaten to break off relations with the arbitrary authorities.
So what have here is the Ukraine and Russia; what we have here is Palestine and Israel; what we have here is the ancient Roman Empire and all the countries it conquered as its army marched across the world and took possession of everything it encountered. At this point you might get more technical about the value of resources and the complexity of the world economy, or you might point out various cultural, linguistic and geopolitical factors but really when you pare it down to its basest common denominator are these nations and their leaders not demonstrating certain fundamental developmental lags?
We want our children to stand up for themselves yes, but don’t we also want to instill the ability to compromise, to work out differences, to teach them how to get along with others, to perceive the long range implications of their behavior, to regulate their impulses and negative affect and to ultimately be able to put things into proper perspective?
If you’re listening, rather reading, all you world leaders out there why not take a minute and reflect, really reflect on what you’re doing. I understand you are caught up in the emotion of the moment and that you want what you want but really as supposedly competent adults can’t you come up with another way to deal with your conflicts?