A New Map for Relationships: Chapters 4, 5 & 6

For reasons explained in my March 1 blog post, I’m posting draft chapters of my forthcoming book with my wife Dorothie: A New Map for Relationships: Creating True Love at Home and Peace on the Planet. We felt pressed to maintain the interest created by the ACM Turing Award announcement (mentioned in that March 1 post), so these are from a draft manuscript, and the final version will hopefully be even better. That post also has links to earlier chapters, and will be updated with links as new chapters are added.

Watch here for additional chapters (and see the March 1 post for a complete listing at the end), and if you’d like to receive updates about the book, send me an email at “martydevoe AT gmail DOT COM” with SUBSCRIBE as the subject – body text is optional.

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Thanks very much.

Martin Hellman

The New Map: Holistic Thinking and Compassion

DOROTHIE: When a friend asked me what our book was about, I told him that Marty says its about holistic thinking, while I see it being more about compassion. My friend said that difference in our perspectives was not surprising since Marty operates more from his logical left brain, while I tend to be more intuitive and right brained. Marty thinks more. I feel more.

MARTY: Initially, only holistic thinking made sense to me as our goal. Finding solutions that felt right to both of us, rather than fighting for what we think we want fit perfectly with holistic thinking – thinking about what’s right for the whole. The same was true at an international level since national security and well-being are becoming increasingly inseparable from global security and well-being. Seeing our goal, and the goal of this book, as compassion was harder for me, but having talked it through, I now fully agree.

DOROTHIE: I’m drawn to the spiritual, even the mystical side of life, so it’s not surprising that I had trouble explaining why holistic thinking and compassion were two sides of the same coin. Spiritual truths often don’t fit neatly into the logical framework required for words, but I finally came up with an explanation that both of us like.

The kind of compassion I’m talking about is a profound sense of interconnectedness, which clearly is a holistic perspective. But it feels deeper to me than thinking about something, no matter how holistic that thinking might be.

For holistic thinking to work, you need to do more than just have the thought, you need to act on it. Perhaps compassion is both thinking and acting from a holistic perspective.

MARTY: Thinking back to our early steps in this process helped me to see what Dorothie was talking about. Back then, each of us thought we were committed to doing what was right for our marriage, but we were not doing it as could be seen from our frequent fights over what was right.

We thought we were practicing holistic thinking. But when we fought over what was the holistic solution, that proved that neither of us was acting holistically. So we were not really thinking holistically. We just fooled ourselves into believing we were. Given that potential pitfall, I can see why Dorothie prefers compassion to holistic thinking. It’s harder to fool yourself into believing you are acting compassionately when, in fact, you are not.

DOROTHIE: Holistic thinking is not the same as compromise. Rather, the goal is to find a solution that meets both parties’ needs completely, while still respecting their individuality.

MARTY: Initially, I thought that was impossible, but was proved wrong as Dorothie kept following her heart and we progressed on this path. After years of hard work, we are now able to do that every time a disagreement comes up, and each of us gets far more than we initially were asking for. You’ll see a great example later, in the section “Get Curious, Not Furious.”

DOROTHIE: The best thing that we get from these holistic solutions to seemingly insoluble problems is an overwhelming feeling of love and appreciation for each other. That’s far more precious than anything else we might desire.

MARTY: This book also provides a number of examples where the same would have been true at an international level – where nations would have been far better off if they had taken a more holistic view and asked more questions. The US intervention in Vietnam in the 1960s is a good example. Our claimed reason, and the legal basis for the Vietnam War, was unprovoked aggression by North Vietnam

when their PT boats attacked an American destroyer, the USS Maddox, on August 2, 1964. But, as you’ll see in the section on Vietnam, President Johnson knew that the North’s attack had been provoked by our covert operations – “blowing up some bridges and things of that kind, roads, and so forth” to use Johnson’s own words.

If we had taken a more holistic view – tried to understand the North’s perspective and questioned the lies Johnson told the public and Congress – we would have ended up with the same situation we have now, a unified Vietnam under a nominally communist government, but without the humiliation of an American defeat at the cost of 58,000 American lives and somewhere between one and three million Vietnamese.

DOROTHIE: Bringing holistic thinking and compassion into our marriage healed our rocky relationship in astonishing ways that would have been discounted by most as impossible. Bringing those same principles into international relations will do the same at the global level.

Where the Personal Meets the Global

DOROTHIE: It’s unusual to combine improving your marriage with concern for global issues. But the approach that took us from a relationship poisoned by repeatedly fighting the same battles to one where we have reclaimed the deep love that we felt at the beginning, dealt with both the personal and the global in a way where the two complemented one another. Since many readers will come as we did, with global issues being of secondary, if any, concern, let’s first examine why including them can contribute to your marriage or other relationship.

To solve the problems in our marriage, we had to make a holistic shift, putting our relationship above our perceived individual needs. Of course, when our relationship got better, we each got more of what we needed. And, as you’ll see in later stories, what we got was often better than what we thought we wanted going into the disagreement.

Making that holistic shift worked wonders for us, where nothing else had dented our cycle of endless conflict. Instead of each of us fighting to get what we thought we wanted, we had to figure out – and then do – what was best for our relationship while keeping our individual needs in mind. We had to look beyond our normal ego boundaries and take in the bigger picture.

By definition, holistic thinking required us to look at more than just our marriage. We couldn’t think holistically about a piece of the whole. Holistic thinking is global thinking.

MARTY: There’s another reason our marriage benefited from our applying holistic thinking to global issues as well. While it sounds simple, developing a compassionate, holistic perspective is a huge challenge. If we practiced it only in our marriage, we would have been missing out on a large number of opportunities to speed up our learning process. The times when we most needed to make the shift in our marriage were times of great personal turmoil. Practicing holistic thinking with global problems was easier because we weren’t as emotionally invested in them, and doing that gave us practice for resolving our personal conflicts.

One of the things I had to learn in our marriage was to value the opposing point of view – Dorothie’s perspective when it conflicted with mine – rather than automatically discounting it as crazy. Often her alternative perspective contained a piece of the puzzle I didn’t realize was missing, and which gave me a valuable new insight. From the point of view of learning, the greatest value is in the opposing point of view because only it might contain useful new information.

Again, that was easier to do with global issues than with interpersonal ones, and for the same reason: I was less emotionally involved with global conflicts. Today, nations seek national security, but in the nuclear age, national security has become an oxymoron. Given that the US and Russia each possess thousands of nuclear weapons, the more insecure one of them makes the other feel, the less secure they both become. Even though it is rarely recognized, and even more rarely acted upon, national security is becoming synonymous with international security. That truth was much easier for me to see than that my well-being was synonymous with our marriage’s well-being.

DOROTHIE: There’s another reason that including the global dimension was crucial to success in our marriage. When I felt like I couldn’t go further in that process – and that happened more often than I like to remember – I’d often go into our bedroom, fall down on the bed, spread my arms wide, and plead to the heavens for help. Now, it’s hard to understand why I kept begging for help because, after just a few of these times, I had learned the answer. I couldn’t do what was needed for my own sake or Marty’s. But I always found the strength to persevere when I remembered that it literally would be the end of the world if I failed. If I couldn’t figure out how to solve problems with those I love, how could I expect world leaders to resolve their differences and find a way out of the nuclear dilemma or the environmental challenges we face?

To make our marriage work, we had to become concerned with the good of something bigger than our individual selves, namely our relationship. Making that bigger thing greater than even our marriage – making it something close to “peace on earth” – stretched us and helped us gain the broader perspective needed in our marriage.

If you’re able to piece together the new map from the shreds of the old, it takes you to a place where you are a more loving, compassionate human being. And you can’t be loving in your personal relationships while being hateful in other areas of your life, such as how you view other nations or ethnic groups. Being loving and inquisitive instead of hateful and judgmental is a mode of being. You can’t separate out different parts of your life for one or the other.

Because you love your family, you want them to grow up in a more just and peaceful world, where the risks to their well-being from global challenges such as environmental damage and nuclear war are as small as possible. Nobody’s truly safe in the world in which we now live. Personal well-being and security require global well-being and security. The personal really does meet the global.

Where the Global Meets the Personal

DOROTHIE: The last section explained why people wanting to improve their personal relationships will benefit by expanding that concern to include global issues. This section does the reverse, explaining why people concerned with global issues will make more progress in that effort by also working on building more peaceful personal relationships.

At the most fundamental level, how can anyone be at war with their spouse, and say with a straight face that a more peaceful world is possible? “Do as I say, not as I do,” is not only hypocritical. It provides ammunition to those who discount a more peaceful world as naive, wishful thinking.

It’s much easier to espouse world peace than it is to produce personal peace. For anyone who wants to improve the world, their personal relationships are a testing ground for their larger vision.

MARTY: Conversely, because our marriage has evolved from frequent fights to arguments being a nightmare of the past, we can say with conviction that a more peaceful world is possible. Our marriage was a laboratory in which we carried out repeated experiments for learning how adversaries might solve their seemingly insoluble conflicts. Having achieved true peace in what had been a turbulent marriage we now know with certainty that the same is possible at the international level. Just like in our marriage, it will take hard work and having the courage to try experiments which the old map says go nowhere. But the results will more than justify the effort.

DOROTHIE: There’s another important advantage in solving global problems by also working on your personal relationships. When people are confronted with the urgent need for radical change in international relations, they often ask, “What difference can I make on such a big issue?” But if the first step is for them to radically change their personal relationships for the better, who else can bring that about?

MARTY: And, as the last section pointed out, holistic thinking – which clearly is the solution to the global challenges we face – is a state of being that affects everything you do. Bringing holistic thinking into your personal relationships by becoming more inquisitive and loving will help you do the same when trying to understand international conflicts.

DOROTHIE: In my more right brained, intuitive approach to life, it seems like everybody has their own little piece of energy. I’m in charge of mine, and the sum of everyone’s little pieces adds up to the energy of the nation and the world. What each of us does affects everyone around us, and what they do affects everyone around them. How I interact with others ripples out, so making my personal interactions as compassionate as possible is what I can do to make the world a better place.

Individually, no one of us can heal the planet. But, if enough of us work hard enough to succeed in healing our personal relationships, it can be the seed for global change. It’s somewhat mysterious, maybe even mystical. But it is true.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, since 1982, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website: https://anewmap.com.
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