Monday, April 18, 1994
Adversarial Behavior -You Too Can Help Cool The Scene
The Wall Street Journal, mid-April, hasd a story about a chronically unemployed young ex-journalist who wents his aggressions and frustrations by going to the daytime TV "talk shows" and screaming at the panelists. Since these talk shows specialize in in tabloid freak psychology, inspired by the National Inquirer, airing sick behavior between spouses, inappropriate lovers and horrid parent/child relationships, his screaming is on the "right side." These shows have a role in society - in a sense, they help the watchers realize that no matter how sick their family problems, there are others that are sicker. That is cheaper than the psychiatrist's couch.
Getting back to the screamer, the story is that the producers of the talk shows give him best seats and encourage his hostility, for the sake of excitement. That is bear-baiting and fostering gladiator shows, like Morton Downey Jr., who got too repulsive, even for the average hockey fan. I am for cooling everybody down.
There is too much adversarial behavior in our everyday life. We have learned to react to slights with anger, of which the extremes are stabbings due to bad "eye contact," gang wars, drive-by shootings, motorist gunning-down and drug vendettas. The city has too many people, and will have more, as population increases (see Wally Dobelis on Population Explosion). We must learn tolerance, low treshhold of anger. I do not dare to ask for good manners, which are unfortunately mistaken for subservience. Good manners are actually a way of recognizing the reality of the other person.
We have innate good manners - we turn our eyes down to people who act up in the street, and pass them by. We do not need talk show producers to teach gratuitous hostile behavior. Nice sensitive comments would be more to the point.
I'm teaching myself non-hostile behavior for the putative 21st Century lifestyle, should I ever make it. I practice smiling, when I think of it, since I have a naturally forbidding face. I practice speaking in a pleasant, not "now what" voice, because I know the costs of bad vocal tone in my personal relationships. A bad word in the waking up can set the tone for an entire day. I practice a little Alphonse-and-Gaston "after you" and "please, go ahead" behavior. In a super market, I will let the single item purchaser go ahead. At a gas station, I will pull up to the furthest open pump, so as not to block off others. And if forgotten, I will apologize to the driver behind me. You will not believe how nice that feels. I feel like Mr. Sensitivity.
When the ubiquitous coffee cup man sticks out his badge of office, and I am tapped out, I will speak up cheerily: " How are you doing," and get a cheerful brief response. That makes the cupman feel good, and me too, better than pinching my lips ans shaking him off. (Some day I will have a long writeup on my homeless acquantances for your review and criticism.) And when the insolent high school student in front of Washington Irving Higsschool glares at me, daring me, I have learned to suppress my "You don't own the sidewalk" retort. I visualize him in a adversarial daily environment, "me and my family against the world," in the projects, with drug shootouts. Or in an after-school and gang environment (that is another "me and my family" script). So I do another "How are you doing" and if that's positive, "How's school," and we walk away like Arafat and Rabin. One kid wanted to know if I was queer, and I told him that I was a conflict resolution counselor (you must think ahead for these encounters), which satisfied him.
In a sense, we are all conflict resolution counselors, in personal and business interrelationship way. I do not go to a business or association meeting without visualizing the potential controversies and my responses to them. Or the issues that I will raise and the objections. "Win-win" is the term that is almost tritely applied to these encounters. In its simplest terms, it requires that you think out how the people to whom you will offer an idea, can benefit from it. Once you get the idea, you can apply it to any encounter sutuatuion, and it will come naturally to you. But it takes a shift in attitude, a "paradigm shift," to use the current catchword.
Now, you can do whatever you want. I am doing these things because there have been costs of mindless behavior in my life, and I have learned better. Do not discard advice that comes free to you, it may have cost someone else a lot, if not in money, then in personal relationships.