The Drama Review (May 12, 2017)

Dear trying-not-to-cringe-drama participant,

I travel a lot doing seminars.  I was checking into my hotel one evening and heard a clamor coming from down the hall that sounded like a cross between a hog-calling contest and what you might hear at a primal scream group therapy session.  Some of the noises occasionally coalesced into rhythmic, harmonic patterns that vaguely resembled familiar melodies like “Islands in the Stream” or “Wind Beneath My Wings.”  I asked the desk clerk what was happening down there and he assured me that all was well. It was just the weekly karaoke event hosted by the hotel bar.

I’ve never understood karaoke. If you can’t sing—as evidenced by the fact that the only place you get to sing is at a karaoke bar—why would you purposely get up and exhibit that? Do karaoke singers really think they’re good?  Talented?  Have they so little self-awareness?  There are exceptions, of course, but most karaoke singers sound like I would sound if I got up and tried it.  I have never and will never do karaoke because . . . I CAN’T SING.  And due to my keen self-awareness in this area, the world’s a better place.  A safer place.  A world with fewer incidences of auditory assault.

Which brings me to the focus of this week’s letter–awareness.  We’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking about humility which enables a reasonable person to acknowledge potential wrongness.  It’s a stance that says, “I could be wrong, you could be right, let’s talk.”  But the drama person, lacking in humility, takes the stance, “I’m right, you’re wrong, end of discussion.”

Whereas humility enables a person to acknowledge potential wrongness, awareness enables a person to acknowledge actual wrongness.  The reasonable person’s stance is, “I see where I’m wrong.”  Sometimes, this ability is simply referred to as “accurate self-appraisal.”  You can see your positives but you can also acknowledge your negatives.  You’re aware of both and exclude neither.

But the drama person, lacking awareness, takes the stance, “I only see where I’m right.”  He has a truncated view of himself, acknowledging the positives while diverting his eyes from the negatives.  He’s personally unaware of—or unwilling to be aware of—his flaws which are abundantly evident to others.  He can’t sing a lick but also can’t hear how bad he sounds. He’s convinced himself he’s the Luciano Pavarotti of karaoke singers.

That’s why we say pejorative things like, “That guy is clueless” or “She’s just oblivious” or “That fellow has his cranium inserted into the lower opening of his digestive system.” (Please note: This phrasing may not be as familiar as the cruder, more common version.  But class over crass is what I’m striving for here).

Let me give you two analogies that capture how the awareness muscle functions.

The first is that of a mirror.  Suppose you’re driving to a friend’s wedding and eating a grape pop sickle in the car.  Just before you get out, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the rearview mirror and notice a big purple ring around your lips.  You say, “Man, I’m glad I caught that,” and wipe the ring off with your handkerchief.  The mirror reflected back something that was wrong and you responded by making it right.

Close relationships are like mirrors in which we catch glimpses of our positive and negative attributes.  The awareness muscle enables us to see our flaws when they show up so that we can respond to the relational reflections by making appropriate corrections.

For example, I never thought of myself as a selfish person until . . . I got married.  More times than I can possibly count, I’ve caught glimpses of my unattractive, selfish self in the marital mirror.  My awareness muscle opens my eyes so I can see those nasty qualities when they display themselves.

Having an atrophied awareness muscle, the drama person’s eyes stay shut.  He doesn’t see—or probably more accurately, won’t allow himself to see—the reflections of his negative qualities that show up in relational mirrors.  Other people see them; he misses them.  He attends the wedding with an embarrassing purple ring around his lips but cares not because, after all, he never looked in the mirror.

The other illustration is that of a press box. I love college football.  And I love pro football, too, if the teams I care about are winning, that is.  The next time you watch a football game, notice what happens when the quarterback comes over to the sidelines.  More often than not, he takes off his helmet and puts on a head set.  Who’s he talking to? He’s talking to the coaches up in the press box who have a big-picture view of what’s happening down there on the field. Unlike the quarterback who has only ground-level perspective, they can see the entire field and can, therefore, accurately assess the game plan.  When he goes back onto the field, the quarterback is better off because he carries with him the big-picture perspective gleaned from that press box conversation.

But the drama person refuses to put on the headset.  He, therefore, misses the corrective feedback occurring in close relationships and, therefore, only sees things from his viewpoint.

He catches no glimpses of himself in relational mirrors. He doesn’t see himself fully but only the parts he wants to see.

With those illustrations as background, here are some common characteristics of the awareness-deficient drama person:

  • His stance when problems arise is, “It can’t be me, it must be you.”
  • He points out your flaws but demonstrates little awareness of his own.
  • He’s unaware of his negatives that are observable by you and others.
  • He defensively resists and makes no use of the feedback given to him by you or others.
  • He’s convinced he’s the normal one.
  • He denies having certain emotions (i.e. anger) while clearly displaying them.
  • He shifts the focus to you if one of his negatives is exposed (i.e. “OK, what about the things you do?”).
  • He demonstrates little concern about the negative consequences of his words and actions.

Now, we’re all lacking in self-awareness at times.  But when the blind spots of a normally-functioning person are exposed, the sting experienced motivates him to change.

Not so with the drama person.  He doesn’t change when blind spots are exposed; he covers up.  And if you’re to “get along” with him, you must participate in the pretense.  You must yell “bravo” when he sings badly.  You must ignore the purple ring around his lips.  You must tell the emperor his clothes are beautiful even though he’s naked as a jay bird.  That’s your obligatory role and if you refuse to play your part, you’ll pay a price.

That’s how dramas work.

I’ll say more about emperors and clothes next week.