Friday, May 14, 2010

The Dudley Do Right School of Conflict Resolution

The 1960s cartoon Dudley Do Right smartly captured three roles played in contemporary disputes. In most conflicts one party plays the role of the evil Snidely Whiplash. He's the identified bully, provocateur, and persecutor who threatens the innocent and vulnerable Nell Fenwick. In family conflicts Nell is the victim, martyr, and powerless recipient of mistreatment. To the rescue comes Dudley Do Right of the Mounties! Dudley saves, protects, and fights injustice. As a conflict mediator I'm astonished how frequently everyone thinks they play the role of Dudley Do Right. Check this out.

A mother watches in horror as her husband tries to toughen up their son with what she thinks are unreasonable consequences. From her point of view, the harsh dad is like Snidely Whiplash picking on their vulnerable son (Nell) and she, playing the role of Dudley, comes to the rescue--interferes with dad's discipline, softens the harshness, and scolds the nasty Snidely!

A father watches in anger as their son manipulates mom and pushes her around. From his point of view, the son is like Snidely picking on a vulnerable wife (Nell) and he, playing the role of Dudley, comes to the rescue--protecting mom, scolding the son, and coming on like gang busters!

A son watches in fear as his parents fight like cats and dogs. From his point of view, dad is like Snidely Whiplash picking on his vulnerable mother (Nell) and he, playing the role of Dudley, acts out (misbehaves, flunks classes) to rescue his parents.

Everyone thinks they're the hero Dudley protecting the innocent Nell by fighting injustice. Or they think of themselves as Nell, the martyr being persecuted by the bully Snidely. Rarely do folks admit, "I'm the mean one, I'm Snidely Whiplash, I'm the one who stirs up the drama."

If you find yourself in conflict with two other people, pause and ask each one to describe what role they feel they're in--picked on Nell, rescuer Dudley, or bad guy Snidely. There's no guarantee that will end the fight but it'll give you a good laugh in the middle of it when no body fesses up to being a Snidely!

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