The Drama Review (August 25, 2017)

Dear melted-retina drama watchers,

For the first and last time in my life this week, I got to witness the total eclipse of the sun. Yes, I was in the Path of Totality which sounds like a video game, an Xtreme sport, a book about religious devotion, or something that’s about to eat you.

For a few brief minutes, much of the United States—those in the Path or close to it, that is—put on special eclipse glasses and watched an astronomical drama. It did what entertaining dramas are supposed to do. It provided momentary distraction from the troubles of life. I’m saving my glasses because when the next eclipse comes along a billion years from now, I’m ready.

But once the moon exited stage left, we still had our drama down here. Dang it.

I said last week I’d like us to view what’s happening nationally through our special drama glasses. I thought I could get my thoughts expressed in one weekly installment but, alas, it’s gonna take more than one.

Just this week, I read an article in which the author made an astute observation about a drama person. He said,

“He’s like a magnet next to a compass making it difficult to get accurate bearings.”

That’s what drama people do. They throw us off. They disrupt our surroundings in such a way that we’re left feeling lost, bewildered, and discombobulated. Confusion eclipses clarity.

I’d like to tell you a story. If you’ve ever been in one of my seminars, you may have heard this already.

In the summer of 1997, I drove into downtown Nashville early one morning. There, a man with a mask knocked me out, slit my throat, and took my money. I’m not making this up, I promise. That actually happened to me.

Most likely, you’re thinking I just told you the story of a mugging. You may be perplexed as to how I could’ve survived such a gruesome encounter. So, let me provide some clarity to help with your confusion.

In the weeks prior to that early morning encounter, I was experiencing some troubling orthopedic symptoms—tingling in both hands and arms. I went to an orthopedist who said the symptoms were most likely reflective of something going on in my neck. An MRI revealed that one of my cervical disks had migrated out of place (from an old injury) and was pressing against my spinal column. That’s what caused the symptoms.

To my dismay, he said I needed surgery and without it, a simple rear-end collision could result in quadriplegia. When I asked him what the surgery would entail, he blithely explained, “Well, I’ll cut you open from the front and remove parts of two vertebrae and the disk in between. I’ll then take a bone out of your hip, place it into the slot, bolt it all together, and you’ll be fine.” Gulp.

I then asked him what risks came with such a surgery and he said, “Oh, I could paralyze you.” Gulp again. “But I’ve done 30 of these a year for 20 years and I’ve never seen it happen.” I was scared but reassured enough that I let him do the surgery.

Now, with that information as background, let me re-tell my story.

In the summer of 1997, I drove into downtown Nashville early one morning. There, a man with a mask knocked me out, slit my throat, and took my money.

I told you exactly the same facts both times. The first time, I constructed a lie using nothing but factual ingredients. You thought I’d been mugged. The second time, I explained the context of those facts so that you understood the truth.

Here’s what I’m trying to illustrate.

Facts require interpretation. You’ve heard it said, “Facts speak for themselves.” No, they don’t. They require an interpretive context without which erroneous conclusions may be drawn.

There are unreasonable people (drama people) on both ends of the political spectrum. Drama people always claim that the facts are on their side but they sometimes use those facts to support falsehoods. They draw conclusions and make all new facts fit those conclusions. And any challenge to those faulty conclusions is instantly dismissed as “fake news.” Is it any wonder that this is all so confusing?

But there are also reasonable people on both sides. Reasonable people want the facts but they also want to know how to interpret them accurately. Context is everything because without it, your conclusions may be faulty.

Let’s say, for instance, you read somewhere that going downtown in the early morning hours is dangerous. The drama person might say, “We know that’s true because Godwin went downtown early one morning and got his throat slit. That proves it, cities are dangerous.”  The normal person would say, “Godwin’s throat getting slit had nothing to do with this. Cities may be dangerous, yes, but we can’t use his experience as proof.”

For drama people, facts are used to support conclusions. For normal people, conclusions are supported when facts are interpreted accurately.

Here’s another thing to remember about drama people: rightness is more important than relationship. As we’ve said before, the drama person’s relational stance is: “I’m right, you’re wrong, end of discussion.” How do you get along with someone who views you as an ideological enemy who deserves to be demonized, shunned, or humiliated? Pretty difficult.

About our current climate of political polarization, David French recently observed, “I’ve seen shouting matches at social gatherings and social-media flame wars between old friends. And often the goal isn’t so much to win the argument as it is to hurt the other person, to deter them from ever speaking about politics again.”

But there are political opponents who disagree AND get along.  The media doesn’t highlight those stories because they’re not “dramatic” enough. These people can walk and chew gum at the same time. That is, they can hold differing opinions and relate respectfully and neither cancels out the other. Drama people call these individuals derogatory names like “squishes.” But they’re not the slightest bit squishy when it comes to political convictions. They’re secure enough in their beliefs to not feel overly threatened when someone disagrees.

That’s what grown-ups do. Drama people can’t do that because they’re children in the bodies of adults.  But then, the media thrives on children’s programming.

When’s that next eclipse?

I’ll say more about reasonable and unreasonable political differences next week.