Oh, the games we play, Chickens…the language games we play are my particular fetish.
All the things we say and don’t mean, the things we mean and don’t say, all the meanings we hide, the truths we twist, the false intents…all the things we don’t say, wish we hadn’t said, don’t know how to say and to infinite…
I love games…but this game of human communication is one at which I am a perpetual loser. I blame my parents.
My family embraced its fractional Italian heritage. When we discussed what to have for dinner…onlookers might think we were conducting mid-east peace talks…we spoke with that much intensity and “passion” on even the most mundane topics. Conversation was a visceral sport, but old-fashioned common sense and quick wit were equally valued. If you couldn’t play the game by these rules, don’t bother sitting down at the table.
We fought, we laughed, we learned. We discovered our humility, intellect, identity…and our truth. So maybe it’s this openness, this trust, this loud blue-collar, Indo-European hangover…that leaves me interpersonally flummoxed in the broader world.
Here’s the latest play that’s captured my imagination:
I’m sorry. It’s my fault. (when it really isn’t)
In the playbook, you’ll find this identified as a ‘deescalating’ or ‘defuse-ing’ technique.
So…you fail a test. You visit the instructor. You’re hot…(e.g.→having a normal human response…an emotion).
You tell the instructor she “didn’t cover the material adequately” and “didn’t clearly identify what content would be covered on the test.”
She says, “I’m sorry. It’s my fault.”
Wait. What now?
Consider yourself disarmed.
Damn right, you think, that’s wat I’m talkin’ ’bout!
Your anger melts, flying away like so many Monarch butterflies during a great migration.
But wait. You still have an ‘F’?
Even if it is the instructor’s “fault” (and it isn’t), have you figured out the real ‘why’ of your ‘F’? How to avoid the ‘F’ next time?
I mean, I get it…we have lizard brains…we have visceral responses as a defense mechanism…historically…if we were to blame, we could have been beheaded, burned at the stake, drawn and quartered…so “your fault, not mine..your fault, not mine” is a deeply rooted survival instinct.But at my kitchen table…nobody jumped in to ‘de’fuse the visceral response…because that would only have ‘con’fused matters…we would have hashed it out…we would have found where blame was to be laid…and those parties would have (eventually, with varying degrees of reluctance) owned up. After that…the real conversation started about what happened and why and who and how we’re going to learn from this mistake and fix it and avoid it again…
There may have been some yelling, a tear or two, feelings hurt…and usually enough blame to go around (not a’one of us is blameless, my dad liked to say).
But without facing the awkwardness, the discomfort, the growing pains of the “real” conversation…to find our collective truth, cop to our individual responsibilities, learn from our mistakes, empathize with our human fallibility…well…no family were we. No strength and no character had we.
So…I’m willing to concede (concession- playbook, page 5) that defusing, putting out fires, is sometimes the name of the game. But to keep a level playing field, there need also be time to sit down at the kitchen table and light it up!
And for God’s sake, Rule #1: Trust the game. If you know it’s not your fault…don’t apologize!