The Need for Flow State Diplomacy

Volume 4, Issue 13

The peacefulness of a Saturday morning, left alone to write. Even the animals inside and around the house who consider me Daddy sense the time calls for his isolation. From the back deck the feel is of a tree house. A green thicket of suddenly leafed-out trees exude exaltation in their bloomery. Through their generous expanse the river is now just barely visible as a patch of undulant sun reflection. The brook tinkles merrily downstream into the river. All’s right with the world.

Still a chill in the morning air recalls the aggressive winter, and then the memory is beaten back like a boat against the current. A chill in the back has always felt thrilling to me, as if there is something happening to me that is glamorous and interesting. I felt that way sneaking my first subway ride to Coney Island at age 12. Standing on the platform letting the wind rip through my leather jacket gave me that thrilling chill perhaps for the first time.

Memory jump to 1984. Weston Gavin and I are the only Westerners on the ramshackle bus jammed with Chinese tourists on their way with us to the Great Wall at Badaling, outside Beijing. For some reason in the subzero temperatures the Chinese are hot and have all the windows open. Weston has apples in his pockets and gives me one and I start to eat it. The Chinese man on my right gestures that he wants a bite, so we share it. We have just signed a contract with the People’s Republic Cultural Ministry to co-produce a movie in China. That thrilling chill again…

China, the oldest continuing civilization on Earth, abounds with founts of wisdom from ages of experience. Lao Tzu. Sun Tzu. Confucius. Today China is the fastest growing winner of the derby race called Capitalism. Weston recently visited us from London, arriving at our new (to him) home on May 8. Saturday morning at breakfast he called our attention to a tiny article in The New York Times about China plunking an oil rig just off the coast of Vietnam. The three of us (including my wife Lalita) couldn’t believe that this esteemed paper would bury this story deep in its pages, and Weston wondered if perhaps Washington had put out the word to keep the story at a low profile until it figured out what to do if anything. A recent Forbes article has all of the key information.

Contemplating what ought to be the optimal American response, I remembered how the Chinese always react to meddling, and my first assumed principle was to form a response that could not be knee-jerked with the usual Chinese response, but instead could bring discussions to a higher level. Why bother just going through playing those same old tapes? Another round of that just makes China feel stronger and more contemptuous of the USA. The rest of the kids on the block can only lower their estimate of the USA for running the same losing play again. Yet this is apparently what happened. The State Department’s official statement was that China’s state-controlled oil company Cnooc’s actions were “provocative and unhelpful to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region”. China’s Xinhua news service wrote in response, “The U.S. is in no position to make irresponsible remarks on China’s affairs.” Wu Shicum, head of China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies, attributed the deployment of the oil rig at this time — despite gradually thawing relations between China and its client nation Vietnam — ironically to the Obama trip around the region. In other words, we stirred up this trouble by continuing to act as if we are the undisputed singular global superpower in all respects, whereas China wants to be an equal to the USA and anyone else. It is these key attitudes in us and in China which draw incidents like this to manifest.

Rather than place blame on individuals or countries, the Flow state way to react to the present situation is to change the game. The old game is not working. The old game is which nation has the most power. That’s testosterone talking. We need frontal lobes talking, not limbic systems. In the 21st century, we don’t need to project our influence into the Pacific in order to have influence everywhere. We’re all digitally interconnected up to the neck. We all have influence everywhere. One tweet is like the proverbial Amazonian butterfly changing the whole Earth’s weather pattern. What then is the highest way to look at what is going on so that we may transcend it?

Territoriality is built into our brains. It goes all the way back in evolution to the earliest creatures. Robert Ornstein refers to the oldest part of our brain as the Reptilian brain because we can see how reptile behavior exhibits similar patterns to those of animals at later stages of evolution such as us. Although most of us associate the term with Dr. Ornstein, the term goes back to 1936 work by Paul D. MacLean who said that the fish started the Reptilian brain and drew this picture of the brain:

Paul  D. MacLean's illustration of the reptilian brain

Note that the Reptilian brain is associated with decision making! That’s how important it is. Only in Observer state and Flow state is the individual free to overcome this powerful influence within in order to see things as they are and be clear enough to solve problems such as those between nations.

Before the USA reacted, in my contemplations, I developed a scenario. The USA has a quiet talk with China, not in full public view. The USA says it understands China’s reasoning: in a brief war in 1974 China won the Paracel Islands from Vietnam, and it still feels it owns those islands. The oil rig is within the zone China considers to be the territorial waters of the Paracels, which is China. Others may dispute this claim but we start from acknowledging that we understand China’s position. As fellow stewards of Planet Earth, what guidelines or new ideas or old forgotten good ideas can we together come up with to solve the island disputes here and elsewhere in the next few centuries?

We don’t stop at having that conversation with China, we start there. Then we have the same conversation over and over again with everyone else, respecting the privacy of what we say one-on-one, while going public about our new principles. These really are our Founders’ principles of live and let live, applying reason, kindness, and understanding, giving everyone a chance to be happy.

In my scenario, China and the USA get into the Flow state during their conversation and agree that the better way for China to have played the oil rig hand would have been to talk about it first with Vietnam, agreeing to give them a discount on the oil from that rig just to show that the emotional bond is real. The USA for its part in the Flow state conversation says that in retrospect we should have visited China in that swing through the region.

This is the level at which this conversation should continue so that the two biggest kids on the block get to protect the whole block (Earth) in a way that demonstrates true leadership and how the game is to be played from now on.

“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.”

                          —John Lennon, “Imagine”

Best to all,


My new book, You Are The Universe: Imagine That is now available.

Follow my regular blog contribution at Jack Myers Media Network: In Terms of ROI. It is in the free section of the website at  Bill Harvey at


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