Dear I-could-stand-a-little-less-drama readers,
It seems to be one of those axioms of life that whichever line you choose at the bank drive-through will take the longest. And the bigger your hurry, the longer the wait. Why it works that way I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure the axiom operates at the same level of predictability as other things we accept as givens—like the revolving of planets around the sun, gravity, or putting four socks into the washer and only three coming out. Things like that.
I was in line at the bank the other day and the lady ahead of me slowly (I didn’t say that strongly enough so let me repeat it, S-L-O-W-L-Y) pulled up to the pneumatic tube when it was her turn. She sat there for a while fiddling with something. I could only assume she was writing out her deposit and double checking her math. She then pulled the container thing out of the tube, placed her deposit inside, put the container thing back into the tube, and pushed the send button. (Note: to capture the full effect of the story, imagine viewing it through the miracle of slow-motion technology).
Anyway, when the container thing came back through the tube, the bank-drive-through axiom enabled me to accurately predict what would happen next. She pulled the container thing out of the tube and spent the next one to two minutes fiddling with something. Maybe she was putting the deposit receipt into her wallet’s special deposit receipt compartment. Maybe she was recording the deposit. Maybe she was meditating. Maybe she was clipping her fingernails. I don’t know, but whatever she was doing, it took for-EVER. Only then did she place the container thing back in the tube and prepare to drive away.
But that’s not all. I could tell from her tail lights that she had put the car in gear but she apparently felt it was inappropriate to just, you know, drive away. So, she let off the brakes and S-L-O-W-L-Y pulled up a few inches, only to stop again, fiddle with something else, and S-L-O-W-L-Y drive away. There’s your bank-drive-through axiom in full operation right there.
I tell you this because it always baffles me that people can be so oblivious to the needs of those around them. If this lady had more empathy, she’d have realized that people were behind her, waiting on her, irritated with her. But, as such, it was all about her—her clueless self.
I’d like to re-cap what we’ve been discussing in the last few weeks. We’ve looked at four of the five reason abilities that we all need to be reasonable or reason-able. We’ll look at the fifth next week. Drama people lack these abilities which is why we call them unreason-able. All of these abilities have to do with how we handle personal wrongness. Normally-wired people do the right things with personal wrongness. Lacking these abilities, drama people do the wrong things when personal wrongness becomes evident in close relationships. Here’s the contrast thus far:
Normal: I could be wrong, you could be right, let’s talk
Drama: I’m right, you’re wrong, end of discussion
Normal: I see where I’m wrong
Drama: I only see where I’m right
Normal: It bothers me when I’m wrong
Drama: If I’m wrong, so what?
Normal: It bothers me when I hurt you
Drama: I’m only bothered when you hurt me
Empathy is what enables you to see things from the other person’s point of view. You may disagree with him, but at least you’re able to understand why he sees things the way he does. It enables you to consider the impact of your words and actions on the other person. That’s called being considerate.
Last week, I told you about Chiny, a lady who demonstrated empathy better than anyone I’ve ever known. Drama people are very un-Chiny-like. Lacking empathy, they overlook or disregard the needs of those around them, which leads us to use phrases like, “It’s all about him” or “The world revolves around her.”
If everyone was suddenly and miraculously infused with empathy, the bank-drive-through axiom would cease to exist.
Remember, drama people are less interested in truth and more interested in rightness. Rightness is more important than relationship and if the two of those come into conflict, they’ll jettison the relationship to maintain their rightness. Truth or exposed wrongness typically leads to relational alienation or termination.
“Narcissistic leaders,” said Aubrey Malphurs, “are willing to sacrifice people on the altar of ego. Unfortunately, most of the time they don’t even realize that there is a trail of emotionally damaged people in their wake.”
We often think of empathy as a feelings word—feeling what the other person feels. Sort of a touchy-feely concept. But it’s also a knowledge word. You understand the potential adverse effects on the other person and use that knowledge to shape your words and actions.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an ebook entitled, Marriage Myths: 10 Things That Sound True About Marriage but Aren’t. I was trying to debunk some common ideas about marriage that have some truth to them but often do more damage than good. One of those myths is “love means talking about feelings.” I said,
This myth isn’t usually stated quite so succinctly but the idea is pervasive. And admittedly, it emanates more often from the feminine branch of the Homo sapien tree. Talking about feelings: not exactly a prominent motif in man flicks starring Steven Seagal or Vin Diesel. I’ve never seen a prison movie in which a 400 pound inmate named Skull Cracker couldn’t wait for group to start so he could talk about his feelings.
So, what does the phrase “talking about feelings” even mean? I’ll use an old illustration to answer that question. Think of emotions as serving the same purpose as the lights on your dashboard. You’re driving down the road and suddenly notice this newly lit up dashboard light. When that happens to me, two things go through my head: “Oh, no. How much will this cost and how much trouble will this be?” At that moment, I don’t have a light problem; I have an engine problem. The light is serving the very useful purpose of telling me I need to take my car to the shop. If I take my car in and they fix the engine, the light goes oﬀ. Good thing I had that light. That’s what emotions do. They alert us to something that needs correction.
But imagine this scenario: I’m driving down the road, the dashboard light comes on, and I handle my discomfort by covering the light with black electrical tape. Sure, I may feel better at the moment, but my engine burns up because I’ve disregarded the light. Similarly, it hurts us to ignore the signals our emotions provide.
Let’s answer our talking-about-feelings question in the context of this illustration: One meaning of the phrase would be to sit in the car and stare at the dashboard light. The better meaning would be to take the car to the shop because you noticed the light.
Some people think talking about feelings simply means articulating your emotions while the other person listens. Helpful to a point, but not so much. For example, suppose my wife tells me she’s angry and I say, “It’s important for you to feel your feelings, so tell me about your anger. Go ahead, get it out, vent that rage, let your inner child scream. That’s good, you’re making real progress. Can I go watch ESPN now?” Not so helpful and not so loving.
The better meaning would be to heed the emotions to make needed corrections. Suppose I said, “Why are you feeling angry?” and she said, “Because you dropped one of your dirty socks in the spaghetti and now the whole meal is ruined.” Then I say, “Oh, no wonder you’re angry; I’d be angry, too. I was pitching my socks into the washer from across the room and one fell short and landed in the spaghetti pot on the stove. Sorry, I won’t do that anymore. Dump out that spaghetti and let’s go to a restaurant.” That would be helpful and that would be loving.
In the first example, talking about feelings accomplished little. In the second example, talking about feelings helped the relationship. That’s love.
OK, four down, one to go. We’ll talk about the fifth reason ability next week: reliability.