I want to compliment Secretary Tillerson on the approach he’s undertaken with North Korea, i.e. “We are not your enemy – we do not want regime change”.
I’ve always believed that what these chronic international conflicts need is a good therapist. The reason is that people have to be in the right mental and emotional place to problem solve or negotiate rationally. Too often, there is simply too much emotion getting in the way. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a perfect example. Every conflict in human history has been the product of those involved plugging into fight or flight. Many times it was with good reason, but human beings can also plug into it needlessly simply by the way they choose to look at things – and have, both on the interpersonal and international level many times throughout our history as a species.
One attribute that can be very helpful is choosing to have what Dr. Albert Ellis called UOA or Unconditional Other Acceptance. It’s the cousin of USA or Unconditional Self-Acceptance. It basically means to choose to see whatever others think, feel, say or do as understandable given the fact that they’re human and what their life experiences have been. That doesn’t mean we have to like, agree with or even tolerate what they do. It simply means that if we put other human beings through exactly what they have been through, there’s a good chance they’d probably end up thinking, feeling, saying and doing much the same. How might we look at the world is we were a North Korean and had their history instead of our own? And perceive what we’ve done over the years, and of late?
Dealing with North Korea’s leader is really no different than dealing with troubled teens, or anyone else. Yes, he has a lot of weapons, but teens have their fists. It's all relative. Adults are too often too quick to go all authoritarian with teens, hoping to give them reason to discontinue their ways. More often than not, this actually exacerbates the problem, interfacing with the teen’s dysfunctional thoughts and feelings in ways that just makes him or her more defensive, and more likely to strike out in self-defense.
In his book “Changing Problem Behavior in Schools”, Dr. Alex Molnar says ““It is a student’s organization of experience that holds the key to understanding his or her behavior. In whatever way the student may perceive the situation, his or her behavior will be quite understandable given that perception. In solving problems, it is helpful to accept that a student is behaving in a way that is understandable given his or her perception of the situation.”
He goes on to say “Sometimes it is easier to move in this direction by putting yourself in the student’s shoes and trying to see the problem situation as they might. In general, seeing the problem as a student might see it can help you see the rational and understandable reasons for behavior you had previously considered irrational and negative.”
I think that could help in dealing with North Korea.
The obvious concern is that if North Korea acquires the ability to reach the US with nuclear armed ICBM, they might someday use them. Russia has had thousands of these for decades, and never has. I know the prevailing wisdom is that the world would be better off without nuclear weapons, but I’m not so sure. Yes, there’s always the possibility that some crazy person could get their hands on them, or use ones they have in a moment of irrationality. But I’ve always seen nuclear weapons as having prevented many conventional wars we might otherwise have entered into had it not been for the “sword of Damicles” of all out nuclear war hanging over all our heads. Mutual Assured Destruction has prevented wars, and massive loss of life.
With that in mind, I would ask, is it possible that North Korea acquiring this capability could have the same effect? Besides, is there any way to really stop them from developing their capability if they are determined to, especially if they’re doing it in self defense because they feel threatened? What price might there be in trying to do so militarily? Would it be an example of the cure being worse than the disease?
I’ve always found having UOA, and letting others know I do helpful when dealing with agitated teens who were behaving irrationally, even ones who had weapons. I can't help but wonder if it wouldn’t be a good strategy with North Korea.