Dear exasperated ones,
I sent out my first “weekly” email two weeks ago requesting an advance on grace points for times I might miss a week. Having missed last week, I’ve already had to cash in. Three things derailed my plans: travel issues, technical difficulties, and discipline deficiency (not necessarily in that order). But as United Airlines recently assured its shareholders: “We’re gonna try to not let that happen again.”
Have you ever noticed the verbiage shift that takes place when talking about drama people? If you’re describing a normally-flawed friend or acquaintance, you might say, “Oh, well, nobody’s perfect. We all have our shortcomings.” But if you’re describing an abnormally-flawed drama person, you might say, “That guy’s so full of %#&@!”
June Cleaver never said out loud what she really thought about Eddie Haskell—she was far too genteel for that—but it was written all over her face. You always had this sense that she was struggling to restrain her inner Nicolas Cage.
Indeed, most of us find ourselves linguistically challenged when it comes to expressing what drama people stir up in us. The exasperation we feel is real but we’re hard pressed to say it ways that feel adequate. On a purely rational level, you might think, “The audacity and intrusiveness of that fellow makes me quite angry,” but what blurts out of your mouth is, “Aaaarrrrrggggghhhh!” Somehow, the second way just captures the emotions being experienced better than the first. (Please note: The term “argh” has countless variations, some clean and some profanity-laced.)
Why is that? Why do normally articulate people morph into monosyllabic blurters in the wake of drama person encounters? Or why do non-swearers become cussers? A friend once jokingly described an irritating drama person this way: “That guy could make Jesus cuss.” Not true but you get the point. Why do drama people affect us so?
Here’s why: because you can’t reason with them. They are un-reason-able. That is, they have neither the ability nor willingness to engage in reasonable discussion. They just want to be right. They can’t be wrong.
If you—being a reasonable person—have a dispute with another normally-wired reasonable person, you’ll engage in a process that potentially leads to a mutually agreeable resolution. That process is called problem-solving. But if you have a dispute with an abnormally-wired unreasonable person, you’ll engage in a process that ends with you being wrong and the other being right. That process is called drama. Drama people lack the prerequisite abilities that are needed to engage in relational problem-solving. That’s why they rely on drama as an alternate method of relating.
For drama people, rightness is more important than relationship.
Here’s the drama person’s unspoken—but very real—relational demand: My role in our relationship is this. Your role in our relationship is that. As long as we both stay inside of our drama roles, we’ll have a great relationship . . . any questions?
The drama roles are rigid and obligatory. You’re not permitted to do anything else but stay in your role and if you dare to violate your role obligation, you’ll pay a price.
I have discussions all the time with clients who’ve become drama participants. I counted just now and I’ve had 18 of those so far this week—and my week’s not done. Let me give you one quick example.
A lady the other day was telling me about a controlling relative. As long as she acquiesces and lets her relative be in charge, they . . . get along. But if my client voices an opinion or asserts herself in any way, the relative cuts her off and stops talking to her. So, there’s my client’s dilemma: 1) stay in the drama to get along and suffer the inevitable emotional turmoil or 2) refuse drama participation and suffer the inevitable relational alienation. If she didn’t care about this relative, she could perhaps blow it off. But she cares deeply. That’s why it’s such a difficult dilemma. It’s a Hobson’s—take it or leave it—Choice.
And you know what being stuck in that drama dilemma makes my client want to do? Cuss.
“Attempting to reason with a person who has renounced the use of reason,” Thomas Paine noted, “is like administering medicine to the dead.” A more current expression of that axiom is, “You can’t reason with an unreasonable person.” And if you can’t reason with them, what do you do? The exasperation that results from being put in that position often comes out in words that reflect your visceral frustration.
It wasn’t really my goal in this letter to discuss the etymology of cuss words. But if all the drama people on Earth were suddenly dragged off the planet and transported to Neptune, I suspect there’d be a lot less cussing on Earth and much more on Neptune.
I wonder if United Airlines could arrange that.