The Summer Gathering of the USATAA in Salem, Massachusetts, this summer is focusing on the theme of “Community and Relationship.” Transactional Analysis has much to offer on the topic of community and cooperation which is the antithesis of disenfranchisement and violence. I would like to focus this discussion on three areas: The TA concepts which support the notion of community and cooperation; how Transactional Analysts explain violence; and, finally, how we impact groups and communities to minimize violence and maximize cooperation.

First, however, I would like to define community and cooperation as I am using them in this discussion.

Community refers to a group of parts which together make a whole, such as a family, city, business organization, street gang, professional association, classroom, school, the United Nations, the Hispanic community, the Gay community, the Christian community, and so on. Community also refers to the group of selves within a personality, such as ego states identified by Eric Berne in Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy (1) or selves as described by Erving Polster in his book A Population of Selves.(2) Important to this discussion of community is that each community, group of parts, is part of a larger community which eventually includes the whole world community and the Universe. So, a family community is part of an extended family, a neighborhood, city and state, and so on, and each has an impact on the other. One business is a community of people working together but is also a part of many other communities that it impacts, such as the community of their customers, the community of their industry, the community to which each member belongs, e.g., as family, ethnic, and religious groups. “No man is an island,” someone said, and so it is true about community. Every community is an integral part of all other communities. The elements of community that apply to one community apply to all other communities and the community as a whole. The most basic community, which forms the foundation for all others, is the community of selves within each of us. How we relate to the different parts of ourselves will greatly reflect how we relate to others.

Cooperation is an attitude toward individual rights and equal power that promotes win-win outcomes as differentiated from competition in which some win, some loose, and people with power make decisions for all. Cooperation means that people are working together and each person’s rights and input are taken into account and respected. A cooperative community is one in which all members are contributing in their own ways to the betterment of the whole community.

The following are some of the concepts which we as Transactional Analysts use in helping ourselves and others, whether in clinical, educational or organizational settings, to maintain cooperative relations.

The concept of ego states and cathexis is basic to taking charge of behavior. Berne’s theory of the executive ego state and the capacity to learn to manage the energy, cathexis, within ego states, lends itself very well to learning to think and solve conflicts in cooperative, “I’m OK, you’re OK” fashion. Volumes have been written by Eric Berne as well as his disciples in explaining which of the ego states are useful in maintaining effective relationships and which are used to create conflicts. Some of those publications are listed in the reference list at the end of this paper. For a complete bibliography of TA literature, you may want to refer to TA Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis (3).

The theory of OKness (4) and the OK corral (5) is quite useful in supporting the idea of equality and mutual respect. As Transactional analysts we maintain that every human being has worth and value which deserves respect, “I’m OK, you’re OK,” this is the position on which cooperation and community is based.

Transactional Analysis proper is very useful in analyzing where violence starts and how to intervene. We know the positive as well as the negative use of crossed transactions and how they can lead to escalations that result in violence. We know the negative effect that can result from the ulterior aspects of transactions and the results of being hooked into responding to the hidden message. (Games)(6) We are also aware of the importance of responding to our own internal needs and finding clear and effective ways of responding to them and the importance of listening and responding to each other in a mirroring and clarifying manner. (7)

In TA terms, violence is a result of an “I’m OK your not OK; get rid of you” position. This position we know often hides an “I’m not OK” self that we hate within ourselves and project on to others. Violence from a TA point of view is a third degree game sometimes involving only two players but often involving many players as in street wars. It is behavior which demonstrates an “I’m OK your not OK” position. It is a form of passivity that ignores thinking and fosters symbiosis.(8) Violence is an escalated form of rage or threat which can be identified and confronted at lower stages of the problem and the energy redirected in a positive and constructive manner.

How can we intervene? What can we as Transactional Analysts be doing to curb violence and promote cooperation? What are we doing already? I will share some thoughts here, and I know that there are many of you out there who could comment on what you are doing in terms of reducing the incidence of violence, alienation and disenfranchisement in communities. I know that those of us who are clinicians, educators, and organizational developers make great strides in terms of aiding individuals and groups to operate more cooperatively with themselves and as groups. It is difficult, however, to prove the results of Transactional Analysis on communities. Research on the positive results of TA in schools and communities could help verify the effects of TA and fund projects to work with the poor.

I believe that consciousness raising activities to differentiate between healthy competition and destructive competition is vital in fostering community and cooperation. Competing to win at a game such as cards, football, or a race is very popular and billions of dollars are spent each week in these activities, normally considered “healthy competition.” We are all aware of the excellence that music competition, for example, promotes and how sports develop character and team spirit; but winning must be kept in perspective. Winning is conditional. Winning in terms of getting rich or getting degrees or high grades or winning at sports does not necessarily make one feel like a winner. Many people after winning in marathons or in education often feel very depressed. This is because these people have been lead to believe that winning will make them winners and it doesn’t. A fifteen year old in my community committed suicide recently. He was a straight A student and people asked, “I wonder why. He was a star athlete and a good student, a model child.” Conditional winning and over adaptive behavior does not give one the feeling of being OK. Being a winner is being OK with oneself being aware of one’s unique value and dignity. One is a winner, OK, because one is human! James and Jongeward in their international best seller book Born to Win described a winner as follows, “When we refer to a person as a winner, we do not mean one who beats the other guy by winning over him and making him lose. To us a winner is one who responds authentically by being credible, trustworthy, responsive, and genuine, both as an individual and as a member of society.”(9) This type of winning is not earned; it is instilled and modeled. This is unconditional OKness and is developed because of love, respect and limits from significant others, both as children and as adults. Antisocial behavior often is a result of not feeling OK about self or others. Competition does not lead to unconditional OKness. In fact, competition often leads to violence because within a competitive frame of reference no one wants to loose, so “winning” is pursued at any cost, including revenge, resentments, violence and cheating. Rape and domestic violence are also examples of unhealthy attempts at control and feeling of power by persons who feel powerless and not OK. We must help people be aware of their own dignity and worth; then they can be respectful and loving of themselves and others. Winning and losing will then not affect one’s sense of value as a person.

Cooperation is based on the “I’m OK, you are OK” existential position or on Martin Buber’s “I-thou” relationships. (10) Cooperative relationships are those in which each person strives to do their best, which demonstrates their OKness, while at the same time are supportive and encouraging of others doing their best and succeeding. In cooperative communities everyone can be a winner. Celebration comes from the love and support shown to each other rather than from beating someone. This is a paradigm shift which takes many of us believing it and modeling it and making an impact on our community. Most of us believe it. Do we model it? Do we confront unhealthy competition in ourselves and in systems when we experience it? There is a natural inclination in each of us to beat another or to become defensive. We must learn to be aware of it and shift to a cooperative attitude. It is this type of competition that destroys families and communities. The following is a list of behaviors and attitudes which compare and contrast cooperation and competitive and can be useful in teaching and practicing cooperation and confronting unhealthy competition.

fighting to win negotiating to resolve conflicts so that everyone wins
revenge forgiveness
polarizing inclusion
racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia respect, understanding or appreciation of uniqueness and differences
winning or losing being OK, making others OK, doing your best, excellence
hoarding sharing
power plays, passivity, games responsive communication, intimacy
Us vs. Them I-thou, Integration
secrets honesty, oneness
parliamentary procedure consensus
fighting illness, disease,pain healing, transcending, exploring options
comparisons: best-worst; right-wrong appreciating, understanding respecting differences, options
violence communication, conflict resolution, problem identification and resolution, positive regard for self and others.
orders requests, suggestions, invitations
failures mistakes, further learning opportunities
criticism, judgments feelings, information, teaching, appreciating differences
blame responsibility, confrontation
symbiosis, codependency interdependence, autonomy, synergy
endings transitions
problems opportunities, options
control, power over cooperation, power with
fear, envy, hate love

Building on a sense of OKness by being responsive with each other is one of the ways to work at confronting violence at low levels before it escalates. Relating authentically with each other and resolving conflicts so that everyone ends up feeling OK about themselves and the other is the goal for fostering cooperative community. One may not like another and choose not to relate to the other and still maintain a sense of OKness about oneself and the other. If violent beliefs and attitudes are not confronted at low levels, they will escalate because violence (competition) is not the way to win. Put downs, ignoring, and, of course, name calling are all low, first degree, forms of competition. Shoving, pushing, slapping, and spanking are second degree forms. Impacting families and other social groups by confronting low levels of violence and unhealthy competition is important as is boycotting movies and other forms of entertainment that glorify violence and unhealthy competition. Schools promote unhealthy competition by their great emphasis on sports and grades rather than on learning, creativity, character, and citizenship development. Law enforcement tries to fight violence with violence which, of course, fosters more violence. Suing, instead of dialoging, negotiating, and forgiving, are too common in our culture. Reaching out to children at risk with programs that instill self respect and respect for others, such as the parent and teacher programs designed my Jean Ilsly Clark (11), is very helpful.

Yes, we as Transactional Analysts are doing much to shift consciousness from a competitive win-lose mind set to cooperative community building behaviors and attitudes in families, in organizations, and in schools. We need to impact policy makers, “correctional” institutions, and law enforcement agencies, and the poor as well as the rich. We need to begin with the vision that a cooperative community is possible, that peaceful coexistence is achievable in the home, on the streets, and all places where people work and live together. We will have a great opportunity to explore and expand on this topic at our conference in Salem, Massachusetts this July and August; in the meantime sharing how you foster cooperation using TA through the USATAA web page could be of value to many of us and to all communities.


1. Berne, E. (1961) Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy. New York: Grove Press.[back to text]

2. Polster, E. (1995) A Population of Selves: A Therapeutic Exploration of Personal Diversity. Jossey – Bass Inc.[back to text]

3. Stewart, Ian and Joines, V. (1987) TA today: A new introduction to transactional analysis. Chapel Hill: Lifespace Publishing.[back to text]

4. Harris, T. (1969) I’m OK-Your OK. New York: Harper & Row.[back to text]

5. Ernst, Franklin H. Jr (1971). “The OK Corral: the grid for get-on-with” Transactional Analysis Journal, I (4).[back to text]

6. Berne, E. (1964) Games People Play. New York: Grove Press.[back to text]

7. Garcia, F. N. (1991) “Responsivity” Transactional Analysis Journal 21 (4).[back to text]

8. Schiff, J. L. with Schiff, A. W., Mellor, K., Schiff, E., Schiff, S., Richman, D., Fishman, J., Wolz, L., Fishman, C., & Momb, D. (1975) Cathexis Reader: Transactional Analysis treatment of psychosis. New York: Harper & Row.[back to text]

9. James & Jongeward, (1971) Born to Win: Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments. Menlo Park, California, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.[back to text]

10. Buber, M. (1958). Hasidism and Modern Man. New York: Harper & Row.[back to text]

11. Clark, J. I. (1978) Self-Esteem: A Family Affair. Minneapolis: Winston Press. [back to text]

Response by Gaylon Palmer (GaylonLCSW

Felipe N. Garcia has thoughtfully discussed several key ideas about how communities either act cooperatively or competitively. His list of different behaviors between these two approaches to power within relationships gives the foundation to the notion of choice. Violence, as well as antisocial behavior, can be described as a lifelong belief that people act in a threatening way, and therefore, must be responded to with outrage and/or more power. I think the most violent people are unable to acknowledge internal fear.

How would a person unaware of his/her feelings of fear be able to act cooperatively? I think it would be very difficult to teach a person dealing with this feeling, to chose forgiveness or to go for options for problem solving. One of the best examples of suggesting that the violent “think” about what was going on was in a movie I saw about six months ago, with Drew Barrymore, called “Boys on the Side”. There was a particularly ugly scene of physical violence as a response to being lied to, and possible infidelity. When the secondary character intervened with a suggestion to consider other options in that situation, the two characters involved were so dumbfounded that someone would suggest that lying and infidelity could be addressed by looking at other options, they just stopped. No more fighting.

In my work with particularly violent couples, there is also the illusion that violence is the ONLY way to resolve a conflict. Slug it out. When I suggest the notion of choices, and to identify what is the underlying fear, by the question, “What is at stake for you here?” there is usually a moment of silence . Once there is silence, then there is the opportunity to make a choice.

Frank Ernst’s OK Corral is a useful tool in teaching about choice and looking at outcomes. I think that a commitment to cooperation must be first made as a conscious choice. Returning to the marriage counseling example,the couple who has decided to change the patterns of violence, is the couple who will use such tools as the “Walk Away” or the Time Out. These tools are only temporary stops to violence, and may be misused, unless the individuals within the relationship also take charge of their internal thoughts. Each of us has a choice to feel like the underdog, e.g., “She just wants to control me,” “He always gets to get his way,” and so on, or each individual can use positive self talk,as described by Pamela Butler, in her book “Talking To Yourself” By continuing the positive self-talk, the individual takes a look at the ways he/she continues the fear talk, and thus, the violence. In TA we talk about this internal dialogue as the Adult control of the Parent – Child dialogue.

What is the potential of such dialogue within larger communities? I think dialogue is powerful and useful. There have been examples of how getting to know the unknown inner workings of the “enemy” has resulted in greater cooperation and lessening of violence. In short, compassion and violence cannot exist in the same dialogue.

Response by Jonathon Wagner (

Some scientists are coming to the conclusion that cooperation is at the heart of all existence, a cooperation that stands on the edge of chaos.(1) Every move toward individuation, toward creation of new structures brings with it the possibility of breaking the delicate balance of our existence. On the other hand there seems to be a cooperative spirit that binds all structures from molecules to planetary orbits in a habitual balance that regulates new creation to incremental changes that maintains existence.

This emerging view of science puts me in a peculiar dilemma as a person diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Do I view the diagnosis as an indication of my existence falling into chaos? Or do I view it as a mechanism to maintain the balance of creation? Or is it the emergence of a microscopic new life form? From a strictly personal view I can only see the MS as a destructive competition that is destroying my well being. When I consider the five billion people that inhabit the earth who are fast destroying the balance of life I can view the MS as a cooperative effort to limit life.

One view of MS as a disorder is that an unidentified virus lodges in the body early in life which leads to destruction of the host body. It is possible to view that scenario as a new life form that has not yet learned to live cooperatively with its host as do many other organisms that live on and under our skin. Several months ago the National Public Radio program To The Best of Our Knowledge discussed one of these organisms that lives at the root of our eyebrows; I am bothered by this cooperation. Even though it is a friendly organism, now I have a new urge to frequently scratch my eyebrows.

I can not make the clear cut distinction between cooperation and competition that Felipe Garcia makes.(2) For me cooperation and competition are part of the same fabric of life. Each is useful for existence. I agree with Garcia that competition is often presented in a way that promotes autocratic positions and violent situations. But I have also seen competition used to stimulate everyone to be excellent. My sons played on championship water polo teams in high school. At one game when they were playing a new team in the league the score was becoming very unbalanced. At that point my son’s coach required everyone on his team to use his non dominate hand. His team gained skill and the other team was given a level of competition that spurred them to do their best. From childhood attempts to pile blocks higher and higher to Olympic competition we value discovering our abilities.

Just as competition can be constructive, cooperation can be detrimental. The current revolution in health care is fostering unforeseen cooperation that is destroying the checks and balances that assured us of quality care. As the companies that distribute the health care dollars develop more cooperative relationships with providers, clients begin to worry about who will advocate for their needs. As multi-national corporations amass economic control of resources greater than the governmental resources of many countries how to protect the welfare of workers and customers become issues. Cooperation and competition can be seen as merged together into an intricate dance. One group of cooperators becomes competition for another’s individuation.

The Newtonian view of the world as a machine, that would someday be understood with mathematical precision as a unity, is dissolving under the insights of quantum physics.(3) The perfection possible with Newton dissolves into multiple orders eked out of chaos. While hard nosed competition is not conducive to promoting new life, cooperation evolves because of the limited options and the possibility of chaos.(4) We live in a world of “both and” rather than a world of “either or.” We have a thread of unity that connects us to other aspects of existence and we have an individuated reality.(5) We are all one and we are all separate. Each of us are a mass of billions of cells cooperating to become an individual. Each of us is an individual competing and cooperating for the food, air and water we need to exist. The same tension between unity and diversity can be seen within each person. We are one person and many separate persons.

Transactional Analysis provides a system to explore the unity and diversity of each individual and the unity and diversity between individuals. As a person discovers the make up of ego states there is a discovery of unity and diversity. Those same ego states interact with the ego states of another person cooperatively and competitively. The more we are able to interact internally and interpersonally with the attitude of being OK with me and OK with another the more likely we are to cooperate and compete in a way that enhances life. To ignore the beneficial tension between competition and cooperation, to devalue the positive roles each play, limits and distorts existence. To expect ourselves to use only the positive aspects demonizes the negative, making the negative more difficult to manage and confront.(6)

To accept the holistic world view means to accept both our cooperative base and our competitive individuation. To be whole we must recognize that we live as individuals even when we attempt to see the whole. This means that our view is always distorted, always participating in both constructive and destructive forces. It is by recognizing our dual nature that we can live a more balanced life. When we deny part of our existence we propel ourselves into deeper distortion and destruction. The tools of transactional analysis enable a person to discover hidden parts of ones personality and thus maintain a more balanced life.

A fully balance life is not desirable. One of the recent discoveries in science is that too much orderliness is destructive. Fractals, disorderly orderliness, are required to maintain many systems. Our heart beat has an irregular irregularity to it.(7) When the heart becomes regular, it leads to a stroke. The courage to be, is the courage to act; knowing that each action has potential for great good or harm. Yet to not act, to become balanced brings death. Cooperation without competition is an illusion. Competition without cooperation is impossible.

1 Briggs, John; F. David Peat: Turbulent Mirror, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1990. [back to text]

2 See Garcia’s article on this Web site. Note his lists that compare competition and cooperation. [back to text]

3 Briggs and Peat, p. 21. [back to text]

4 Briggs and Peat, p. 156ff. [back to text]

5 Briggs and Peat, p. 154f. [back to text]

6 See bibliography of trasactional analysis on this Web site . [back to text]

7 Briggs and Peat, p. 107f. [back to text]