Crossing thresholds highlights a common dilemma of the human condition: what can be done in the face of those willing to sacrifice others. The project is to cross our thresholds to meet with the other, but we each know from experience that the other can be inimical or violent, or as Wilson points out, beyond our threshold is where “everything you fear is waiting for you” (1989, p. 6). We must cross, but cannot.

How is this paradox resolved? Unless there is reason to believe that a way can be found to cross thresholds and not encounter certain danger, the project of crossing thresholds is unsafe and likely to be abandoned. Martin Luther King Jr. seems to agree that in an unjust world approaching with non-violence an unwilling other is too dangerous: “Nothing in the theory of nonviolence counsels this suicide” (1986, p. 180). If there were a way to tell the difference when crossing thresholds between those that will engage and those that will instead harm, we could continue on the project in a conditional way with this awareness.

If Rosenberg’s Jackal is that Other with which reciprocal engagement is possible, then there is another part of the Other with which we are not willing or able to engage. This remaining Other could be represented by the Hyena, the unwilling counterpart to the willing Jackal archetype. The Hyena is larger and more ferocious than the Jackal, and offers an archetype which is a more extreme Jackal archetypal nature.

The Jackal is that Other we are willing to engage and is willing to engage with us. Even though the Jackal may not be able to be compassionate and connected, the Jackal is willing to engage, the Hyena is not. The Jackal may take bites out of each and every Giraffe but will stop feeding when it is full, when needs are met. The Hyena will take bites from every Giraffe that it meets and will continue eating until there is nothing left to eat, including attacking the Jackals. The Jackal has authentic needs that can be met by the Giraffe archetypes in order to build a bridge between them. The Hyena archetype refuses to peacefully engage even if all efforts are made to satisfy its needs.

If the project of crossing thresholds into enabling dialogical space is to engage with our own Other, then staying with the safe intramural conversations in the Giraffe herd is not enough. If there is any hope for progress toward dialogue, the Other must be engaged even if that Other will consistently take a chunk out of every Giraffe. But it cannot be the point of the project to place us in suicidally dangerous places, pointlessly offering ourselves as a free meal to the Hyenas, because this also ends the project as surely as if it were not begun at all.

Posted by John Bell on December 10, 2006
Tags: The Fifth Principle of Dialogue

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[…] into my work, but I have no doubt that it was an influence. Where I speak of the Unwilling Autonomous Principle, I realize that in my own thinking I include this idea of an “Antagonist”, which is to […]

March 6, 2011 10:39 am

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