The Drama Review (November 10, 2017)

Dear sickened-by-the-drama observers,

I’m feeling a little testy this week. Sort of like that codger yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off his #$!@ lawn.

But that actually makes sense the more I think about it because what I’m really miffed about is immaturity–the juvenile ways in which supposed “grown-ups” on the news and social media squabble with each other. They seem to relish the battle more than resolution because if they solved the problems, they could no longer fight. They’re children doing battle with each other in the bodies of adults.

I’m having an acute episode of bystander discomfort. You know, that sickened feeling one gets when people close by fight like cats and dogs, insensitive to the fact that bystanders can’t help but hear the whole thing. It afflicts restaurant diners seated next to the table of a loudly squabbling couple. It afflicts kids trying to sleep upstairs while Mom and Dad altercate downstairs.

I caught mine from social media. Not that this isn’t a daily occurrence, but the national tribal battles of this week seem particularly fierce in the wake of last Sunday’s shooting carnage. Tribe A is locked in mortal conflict with Tribe B over what should be the proper response. Next week—actually, already this week—will bring another round of gladiatorial slugfests in which the youngsters fight bitterly and win nothing. But fight they will.

I have three observations I’d like to make, not about the particular issues being argued but about the ridiculously immature methods the tribes are using. No issues, big or small, ever get resolved when arguments are characterized in the following ways.

Pride Over Humility

The stance of a mature adult is: “I could be wrong, you could be right, let’s talk.”

That’s humility.

The stance of a child in the body of an adult is: “I’m right, you’re wrong, end of discussion.”

That’s pride.

Emblazoned on the mission statement plaques of tribal headquarters is the phrase: “We’re right, they’re wrong, end of discussion.” As I’ve said before, if you’ve pre-concluded that no possibility of personal wrongness exists, what would be the point of interacting with anyone from the other side? That would simply be a waste of time.

Tribal people have convinced themselves that humility is synonymous with “squishiness.” But precisely the opposite is true. It’s the prideful who are weak. They lack the fortitude to leave their tribal headquarters and test those ideas out there in the marketplace. They’re ideological agoraphobics, never leaving the warm environs of thought conformity. They’re strong only in the Wizard of Oz sense, keeping the curtain closed so the man behind it is never seen.

And how does anything ever get resolved without an exchange of ideas. It doesn’t. By the way, humility is persuasive but pride is repulsive.

Power Over Persuasion

Lacking the courage to enter the marketplace, tribal people interact only with those who think like them. They preach to their massive choirs but reach very few unbelievers. They’re more invested in winning the moment than winning the argument. They’re not interested in persuading others with the strength of their ideas but in gaining the power to stifle the expression of ideas they oppose.

Just this week, Brene’ Brown posted some material adopted from her book Braving the Wilderness (2017),

The ability to think past either/or situations is the foundation of critical thinking, but still, it requires courage. Getting curious and asking questions happens outside our ideological bunkers. It feels easier and safer to pick a side. The argument is set up in a way that there’s only one real option. If we stay quiet we’re automatically demonized as “the other.”

The only true option is to refuse to accept the terms of the argument by challenging the framing of the debate. But make no mistake; this is opting for the wilderness. Why? Because the argument is set up to silence dissent and draw lines in the sand that squelch debate, discussion, and questions—the very processes that we know lead to effective problem solving.

Our silence, however, comes at a very high individual and collective cost. Individually, we pay with our integrity. Collectively, we pay with divisiveness, and even worse, we bypass effective problem solving. Answers that have the force of emotion behind them but are not based in fact rarely provide strategic and effective solutions to nuanced problems.

She continues,

When we engage in the “us versus them” argument, we lose. The only person who wins is the person who owns the framing of the argument.

This winning-over-wooing approach taken by tribal juveniles only serves to exacerbate our polarization.

Rightness Over Resolution

Remember the Venn diagram? My friend who works at The Google gave me this definition:

A Venn diagram is a diagram that shows all possible logical relations between a finite collection of different sets. These diagrams depict elements as points in the plane, and sets as regions inside closed curves.

My friend can be a little obscure so let me say it this way. The Venn diagram shows where two or more circles overlap, usually by shading the overlapped area.

Mature adults at least have a willingness to seek common ground, the overlapped areas of the Venn diagram. We may have vastly differing ideological frameworks but is there some way forward that can satisfy the interests of both sides? Can we find a mutually agreeable resolution? Mature adults engage in that quest.

But tribal children, having concluded that no such resolution exists, derive all the satisfaction they need from being “right.”  And being right seems more important than being truthful. If new information presents itself that counters their conclusions, they’ll either disregard it or dismiss it as being “fake.” This is usually followed by social media preening about how they just “DESTROYED” the other side. (Note: tribal members seem to believe they discovered the caps lock key).

Well, I could go on and on but my bystander discomfort seems a little better now, so thanks for listening. It’s actually been displaced by another discomfort. I’m writing this from a hotel where a man in the next room is blowing his nose and clearing his throat loudly and repeatedly at a decibel level somewhere between that of a fully-cranked-up bull horn and the voice of Gilbert Gottfried. Which raises the question, just how much mucous can a human body produce?

That’s just a rhetorical question, no need to respond.