The purpose of the "Live…and Let Live" Bully Prevention Program is to facilitate the development of a culture of cooperation stemming from a theory for evolving cooperation as developed by political scientists Anotol Rapport and Robert Axelrod.

     Axelrod posed the questions: When should a person cooperate, and when should a person be selfish in an ongoing interaction with another person? He used a game called the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma to answer his questions. The game allows players to achieve mutual gains from cooperation, but it also allows for the possibility that one player will exploit the other, or the possibility that neither will cooperate.

     Rapoport created a four-line strategy for cooperation based on reciprocity and submitted it to Axelrod to compete with other strategies in a computer tournament. Cooperation based on reciprocity was the shortest and clearest strategy submitted to the tournament. Cooperation based on reciprocity won the first round of the tournament.

     Subsequent tournaments with more complex strategies were conducted. Even when other contestants were aware that cooperation based on reciprocity won in previous tournaments, Rapport’s strategy proved to be the most robust of all the strategies entered. It seemed cooperation based solely on reciprocity was possible.

     Axelrod went on to use game theory to study cooperation in more complex systems. When noise was introduced into the environment, reciprocity with the addition of generosity and contriteness, still did the best when individuals know they will be encountering each other on an on going basis for an unspecified length of time.


     Most think conflict is bad, something to be avoided. In reality, conflict is as essential to life as breathing. We can’t live without it. Conflict is the perception of a difference that matters.

    A conflict is what occurs when we notice something needs to be different, and we have to do something about it. If we don’t notice, (perceive) internal and external environmental changes we’re brain-dead. If we do notice these changes but none of them matter, we do not feel the need to do anything about them; we’re physically and/or emotionally dead.

    For example, if we’re alive, when the temperature of the room goes down, we feel uncomfortably cold, and we must take action.  We have options, but once we notice feeling cold, and feeling cold matters to us, we must do something about it. We can put on a sweater, turn up the heat, close the window, go to a warmer place, or decide to tolerate the discomfort but we must do something.

    Conflict motivates action. It’s the only thing that motivates changes within and between people. Even if the action taken is as seemingly minor as a change in attitude, when there is conflict, action must be taken.

    An interpersonal conflict occurs when two people disagree about a matter of importance to both.  When we notice a loved one is angry with us we have to do something to settle our differences. We can terminate the relationship. We can sulk in silence. We can ask what the other person wants from us. We can offer a solution. We can attempt to find a solution that will benefit both of us. We can retaliate with our own anger. What we differ about however is often less important than how we negotiate our solutions.

    Obviously, resolving differences is more complicated when the conflict is between groups of people, or nations.  Regardless of the number of people involved however, the quality of our life will be determined more by the way we settle things than by the nature and intensity of our differences.

    Nations often attempt to settle differences through combat. In combat, there are no rules that either side can be trusted to follow. Information is purposefully withheld, fabricated, and distorted. Both sides are determined to win even if it means one or both will be destroyed. In combat there are only losers, and solutions are temporary.

    Coercion is similar to combat; however the damage is psychological rather than physical. Like combat, there are only losers and solutions are unsatisfactory.

    Many think the optimal way to settle a conflict is to compete, to fight for what we believe is right and to get our way, but to do so in the spirit of fair play.

    In competition, the context of games and sports, there are winners and losers. The stakes are not as high as they are in combat or coercion and gains and losses are not meant to be life threatening. There are rules the players agree on, and for the most part they trust the rules will be followed. When winning is very important cheating is to be expected and is tolerated to a certain extent. But there are rules to discourage and punish cheating and these can be enforced if the cheating gets out of hand.

    In the market place, competition between businesses is the norm, and there are laws to keep cheating under control.

    Often, administrators attempt to use competition as a management strategy. They believe that pitting one employee against another, one department against the other, will result in a better product and more creative solutions. Prizes are offered to individual workers that come up with the best solution for a bug in a new product line, or to employees who satisfy more customers, save more money for the company, etc.

    Competition works well in sports, and between businesses. However, competition between spouses or friends, players on the same team, or employees of the same company rarely produces creative and satisfying solutions. And, of course, by its very definition, competition produces at least as many losers as it does winners.

    When the context is one of compromise, both sides win and lose a part of the prize. Negotiations are about an equitable and fair resolution. Participants in the problem solving don’t necessarily end up agreeing with the other’s point of view, but they are willing to settle for part of what they want in exchange for giving the other side part of what it wants. Solutions may not be all that creative, but they do tend to be more personally satisfying.

    Collaborative cooperation is the most challenging and the most satisfying way to settle differences and solve problems. The most creative solutions are achieved with a high degree of trust and a healthy respect for differences. Information is openly and honestly shared. Diverse strengths, skills, expertise and talents are valued and utilized to promote creative solutions and better products, and all share in the rewards. In this context, there are no losers. There is excitement, exhilaration, and pride in the achievement of a common goal.

    Reciprocal cooperation is most appropriate when there is no product or common goal to be achieved, other than peaceful co-existence, and when people are likely to encounter each other on a regular basis for an unspecified amount of time. The rules for reciprocal cooperation are simple and clear. Be nice first. Be nice back. When someone is nasty, be nasty back, but only as nasty as the other person was to you. Never up the ante and retaliate with a behavior that is worse than the insult or the injury received.

    Avoiding conflict is like avoiding life. The quality of our lives and our relationships with others however is determined by the way we negotiate our solutions. We have choices of how we resolve differences (conflicts) within us, between us, between communities, and between nations. We can choose combat, coercion, competition, compromise, or cooperation.

Please view the Human Interaction Continuum Table
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Hypothesis 1

     A cooperative environment reduces the number and severity of violent interactions between members of a social system.

     Axelrod devotes a chapter in The Evolution of Cooperation to describing how World War I trench soldiers on opposite sides of the trench spontaneously developed a system of reciprocity that resulted in a cooperative effort to diminish the number of casualties on both sides of the trench.

Hypothesis 2

     Reciprocal interactions between members of a social system encourage the evolution of a cooperative culture.

     The rules for Reciprocity are nice, provocable, forgiving and clear. Once recognized, it’s easy to perceive that the best way of dealing with reciprocity is to cooperate.

Hypothesis 3

     The social skills necessary for the communication of reciprocity can be acquired.

     Behaving in a reciprocal manner does not require complicated mental or physical dexterity. Reciprocity does not challenge mainstream core beliefs or attitudes.

     "Real people are more likely to use trial-and-error behavior than detailed calculations based on accurate beliefs about the future. The evolutionary approach is based on the principle that what works well for a player is more likely to be used again, whereas what turns out poorly is more likely to be discarded."

—Robert Axelrod
The Complexity of Cooperation:
Agent-Based Models of Competition and Collaboration

Princeton University Press
Princeton, New Jersey

Hypothesis 4

     The school, the workplace, the church or temple, and community organizations provide an appropriate environment for cooperation through reciprocity to take hold and become robust.

     The Theory of Cooperation according to Axelrod and Rapoport states that reciprocity promotes cooperation in a context where individuals know they will be encountering each other on an on going basis for an unspecified length of time.

Hypothesis 5

     When reciprocal communication skills are acquired and used by members of a system those members will be able to direct the evolution of a cooperative culture.

     Once started, a culture of cooperation has the potential for positive broad and long-range effects in social systems.

     "The most promising finding is that if the facts of Cooperation Theory are known by participants with foresight, the evolution of cooperation can be speeded up."

Robert Axelrod
The Evolution of Cooperation
Basic Books
New York, 1984