Can you reason with a predator?

If you want someone to comply with your wishes you can ask them and perhaps negotiate a compromise with them.  In an enlightened interaction, this can work beautifully.  But if you have tried it in a less-than-enlightened relationship with, say a teenager or a domineering coworker, then you are probably still seething about their failure to respond to reason.

Amy Sutherland has written a wisdom-packed book called What Shamu Taught Me About Life Love and Marriage. Sutherland applied what she learned from animal trainers at SeaWorld and other places to her close relationships.  She found their conditioning methods effective in influencing others without nagging or arguing.

Conditioning is considered manipulative in human relationships, but humans are animals, after all.  We assume that language is the most straightforward way to communicate with others, but it is my experience (and Sutherland’s) that people are far more responsive to physical cues.

The lessons Sutherland learned are worth considering in any relationship, and can be very powerfully applied to relationships with difficult, dominating or controlling people.

Animal trainers working with elephants or giant killer whales cannot simply dominate the animals without serious danger of paybacks.  This is similar to relationships with people who have power over you.  The intelligent person does not beat an elephant; neither does she push the company CEO aside to get on the elevator first.  Influence is achieved by positive reinforcement only.

Not surprisingly, this sort of enlightened approach to training has been found to work with all animals, even those we could easily dominate.  All respond best when not dominated but influenced with positive reinforcement.  The enlightened animal trainer neither dominates nor allows himself to be dominated.

A critical rule for safety in influencing animal behavior is: do not act like prey around predators.  Certain behaviors register in a big cat’s mind as prey behavior; such as falling or stooping.  An animal trainer learns never to engage in these behaviors in close proximity to a big cat.

This is the direction my coaching often takes and is also a strategy of martial arts and self defense training.  Do not act weak or vulnerable around those who are waiting to take advantage of the weak and vulnerable.  Develop a strong state of being that makes you appear to be a lot of work for anyone who would attack you.

Unfortunately, it is not always obvious which humans are predatory.  Be watchful of anyone whose interactions with you leave you confused or give you a stomach ache.  And you can avoid dating people with violent criminal histories or protection orders filed against them.   But most people you meet don’t share their criminal histories or regale you with stories about how they manipulated their friends and coworkers.

The human animal can also dissemble and follow attacks with disclaimers, like the husband who follows violence with flowers.  We often give this behavior the benefit of the doubt for a while.  Many of us naively believe in, and appeal to, the predator’s better nature for awhile before we discover that she doesn’t have one.

Rather than identifying predators, my lion tamer advice would be to avoid acting like prey in all situations.  Develop and maintain strong posture. Stay centered and grounded and aware of your physical body.  Confide only in people who have proven trustworthy.

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryantaylorphotography/6782702649/”>RyanTaylor1986 via http://photopin.com”>photopin</a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

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