Dear Drama Observers,
We started a few weeks ago looking at five abilities needed to do the right things when flaws are revealed in close connections. Normal People have developed these abilities, but Drama People haven’t. We looked at the first two and then got detoured because, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, there’s a lot going on in the world. I’ll discuss the third ability today.
I actually wrote about this three years ago:
To recap what we’ve been discussing, our flaws become evident to us in close, personal relationships. Reason muscles enable us to do the right things with personal wrongness. Humility is ability to acknowledge potential wrongness. Awareness is the ability to acknowledge actual wrongness. This week, we’ll look at responsibility which is the ability to feel bothered by personal wrongness.
Here’s the contrast:
Normal Person: I could be wrong, you could be right, let’s talk
Drama Person: I’m right, you’re wrong, end of discussion
Normal Person: I see where I’m wrong
Drama Person: I only see where I’m right
Normal Person: It bothers me when I’m wrong
Drama Person: If I’m wrong, so what?
Do you know what’s supposed to happen when you observe a personal flaw? That observation is supposed to elicit a cringe reaction. You see the flaw and say, “Blech, I need to do something about that.” And it’s that cringe reaction that provides you with the intrinsic motivation change, to grow.
But when a Drama Person sees a personal flaw, he doesn’t cringe, he shrugs. He blows it off and says things like, “Oh, well, that’s just me,” and goes on his merry way with the flaw being unaddressed. He’s not bothered by it so why would he work to change it?
Another term for the responsibility muscle is a conscience. It restrains you—though imperfectly—from acting out your negative impulses.
In his landmark book, The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck spoke of the differences between what he referred to as neurotics and character disorders. (Note: character disorders and Drama People are being used here synonymously.)
“Most people who come to see a psychiatrist are suffering from what is called either a neurosis or a character disorder. Put most simply, these two conditions are disorders of responsibility, and as such they are opposite styles of relating to the world and its problems. The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough. When neurotics are in conflict, they automatically assume that they are at fault. When those with character disorders are in conflict, they automatically assume that the world is at fault.”
Did you catch that? The Drama Person is under-responsible. The negative feelings a neurotic experiences from personal-flaw-observation might very well keep him awake at night. But the Drama Person sleeps like a baby.
If The Road Less Traveled description seems too lofty for your tastes, let’s try Leave it to Beaver. (I know what you’re thinking. “Why can’t this guy use more current illustrations?”) I feel your pain.
In one episode, Drama Person, Eddie Haskell, had done something that made Wally want to clobber him. But before committing assault and battery, he discussed it with his dad, Ward.
Wally, do you really think beating Eddie up will change him?
No. But gee, Dad. What is going to change him?
You take a guy like Eddie and the kind of attitude he has, and it seems like nothing’s ever going to change him. And then, just when you’re about to give up on him, he wakes up one morning and just can’t stand himself any longer. That’s when he starts to change.
Does that always happen?
No, it doesn’t always happen, Wally. And that’s the tragedy of it. But, for Eddie’s sake, we need to hope that it happens.
The responsibility muscle is what makes you wake up and not be able to stand yourself any longer. It’s what motivates you to change, to grow, to become a better version of yourself.
Some Drama People are capable of having such wakeup moments—a subject we’ll discuss more fully in a future letter. But, as Ward pointed out, some never do and stay tragically the same.
In keeping with the downward trend of my illustrations, let me throw this one at you. There’s a phenomenon observed by some in the addiction community called, “Seeing your reflection in the toilet.” Here’s what that means.
Binge-drinking is often followed by the barfing up one’s guts into the toilet. Sometimes, the person kneeling before the porcelain throne will catch a reflection of himself in the putrid liquid and say, in effect, “What am I doing? I’m sacrificing important things in my life for what, this? I need to stop.” And then he does.
That ugly image gets so burned into his brain that it serves as a permanent incentive to straighten up and fly right. He sees the ugliness, feels bad about it, and changes. That’s how the responsibility muscle works.
But some people catch no reflections of themselves in the toilets of life. And without those reflective moments, they never change for the better.
If we keep this up, the illustrations are likely to get even grosser, so this is probably a good place to stop. But before I do, here are some characteristics I discussed in my book of people with atrophied responsibility muscles:
- They refuse to accept blame or to acknowledge fault for anything.
- They are adept at shifting blame onto you or others.
- They seem unbothered when their maturity gaps are revealed.
- Their apologies, if given, seem superficial and/or insincere.
- They display very little personal guilt but often lay guilt trips on you.
- They respond to criticism by saying things like, “Oh, well, that’s just the way I am” or “That’s just me” or “Hey, I’m not perfect, OK?”
- They frequently accuse you of the very things that characterize them. (The pot calling the kettle black)
- They skillfully excuse their bad behavior.
- They deny that their bad behavior is bad.
- They project blame so well that you frequently find yourself wondering, “Is it me or is it them? I don’t know, maybe it’s me.”
So, sometimes, feeling bad is good.
Till next week.