||[Mar. 8th, 2007|03:49 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
Back on March 3rd, I asked:
Here's a question for ya'll: how do you decide when it's time to meddle and when it's time to stay out someone else's conflict?And ya'll had some interesting and thought-provoking things to say about that.
I have thoughts, some of which I've documented. But I ultimately decided to not put them in this post because I'm curious to hear what others have to say. Although I will add this: do you consider me to be a meddler?
Thank ya'll very much for responding.
Below, behind the cut, are some of the thoughts I had when I asked the question. I've since added more thoughts, refined by thinking about your answers and realizing how other people defined meddling and approached it.
I should mention that this was not provoked by any single incident. I wasn't thinking about you when I wrote it, I was thinking about a bunch of different situations I've run into lately. And I was reflecting on my own personal growth and experiences over the past eighteen years or so (within the context of what I've accomplished in the last six years).
Finally, I was also thinking more generally about psychodrama. Psychodrama and how it happens has always fascinated me. From my perspective, drama seems to happen when others get involved in a conflict that is ostensibly between two people. More on that below.
Anyway, my long, overly-detailed, and extremely self-involved thoughts:
In my 20's I was a vigorous meddler. I was always up in other people's business, partly because 20-year-olds are usually seriously messed up, partly because it gave me a sense of being useful & strong, partly because focusing on other people's problems kept my mind off my own, and partly because I-have-no-fuckin'-idea. END BACKGROUND
But I overtaxed myself, fell off of several pedestals, and generally got my ass kicked for interfering. In places where it didn't go horribly wrong, people came to rely on me to be the fixer and the savior and that was exhausting.
In the virtual world, I often interfered in arguments and flame wars and pointed out things I considered obvious, like the fact that that people were arguing opinions as if they were facts, or that they were in violent agreement except for their terminology, or that they were getting angry and abusive, or that they'd shut down all other conversations on the mailing list, or whatever.
Later, as people came to expect "firehose" behavior from me on mailing lists and to really revel in my meanness (when I would rant and tell people to SHUT THE FUCK UP and what-have-you), I realized that I didn't want to be mean.
Which brings me around to the connection between meddling and meanness. To be a meddler, you have to make judgements. Judgements like (1) the situation is damaged and that (2) you can help. Being in that judgemental space leads directly to meanness (at least for me; once you're judging people, it's tough to stop).
The hard thing is that it's FUN to be mean. And it feels good to get just the right narsty description or a true zapper of a comeback or to just yell at people who are being (IMO) stupid.
But people were mean to me for most of my childhood. I did not want to grow up to be a mean person.
And yet there I was, a mean grown-up.
I found myself kinda disappointing.
Thus, I decided to actively change. I made an effort to smile more, to reach out to people more, and to generally be less judgemental. I stopped bitchy behaviors, I stopped being the firehose, I stopped insulting the intelligence of people having (IMO) stupid arguments. I think I'm a much nicer person now. You may or may not agree, as the mood (and your experience of my behavior) suits you.
Also in my 20's, I loved being in the middle of a social swirl, loved knowing what the hell was going on behind the scenes, loved having enough money to do fun things for myself and others, loved hosting social events. My social life came to me and I enjoyed it.
There were trade-offs; it wasn't always fun having a constant underlying social buzz - like running a drill for too long or riding a motorcycle too far, that hum can damage you after a while.
And no matter how inclusive I was, people felt left out. Things I said got twisted and distorted and things I did hurt people (never my intention, but I have hurt people through carelessness or misunderstandings; when I actively seek to hurt you, which happens so rarely that I can't remember the last time I did it, you'll know it because I will be looking you in the eye and telling you - I'm not a subterfuge or whisper campaign type of person).
I learned a lot of lessons about unintended consequences, popularity, perceptions of popularity, and kindness during those years.
Despite being nicer, I still enjoy a bit of gossip here and there, mostly for my own information, to understand the behaviors, stressors, and connections of the people around me. I don't tend to gather gossip like trading cards, using the ones I have to get new ones. I just like knowing what's going on. And I occasionally function as an information depot for significant information (these folks got engaged, these folks broke up so don't ask how the other one's doing). But it's funny - to this day, people assume I know everything that's going on, so they never tell me anything, figuring I already know about it. And I almost never do.
That wise and all-knowing thing people occasionally accuse me of having? It's probably gas.
Sometimes I can't help it and I make snarky comments. I try to remind myself EVERY DAY to have patience with people, but that doesn't always block the urge to scream "YOU TWITS!" at the top of my lungs. I try to remember, after getting cut off in traffic, that the driver is probably a perfectly nice person but in a terrible hurry and didn't mean to do it, and I might be the only person s/he cuts off all week. It rarely works, but it makes me feel a little better.
Still, I leaned out a car passenger window recently and yelled "ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?" to some twits who cut us off, deeply embarrassing my friend, the driver of the car I was in. I admit, I have anger issues. Well, they're more like fairness issues. I like to make things fair. There's probably a psychological study out there about how people like me drive ourselves insane trying to force the world to be fair.
BACK TO MEDDLING...
I listen to people. I like being a sounding board, a vent pipe, a devil's advocate, a sympathetic ear, a problem solver, and so on.
But I try not to say stuff like "GO DO THIS" - it feels like judgemental space and it's not my place to do that. I make suggestions. Unless I'm trying to get 60+ people to move an outdoor wedding into a barn because it's started raining.
I also, when told by PERSON-A of a drama between PERSON-A and PERSON-B, resist the urge to go and tell PERSON-B that he or she is being unfair/an asshole/selfish/whatever. Because it's NOT MY PLACE. It's my place to be supportive and helpful to PERSON-A, who is talking to me. If that means referring to PERSON-B as a Twitter-Pated Seed Spitter to lighten the mood and get PERSON-A to laugh, it's not meant to go any further than my friend's ears.
The URGE to tell PERSON-B that he or she is being a Twitter-Pated Seed Spitter might be NIGH OVERWHELMING. But in the spirit of not being mean, and not fomenting drama, I resist.
There's also the fact that in my youth, I did regularly and with GREAT ENTHUSIASM go tell various PERSON-B types that they were Twitter-Pated Seed Spitters, only to hear THEIR side of the story. And damned if their side didn't make things look a lot different.
At which point I switched tactics, talking to PERSON-A types, then going and talking to their PERSON-Bs, and then figuring out where the friction or disconnect was and trying to reconcile them to some level of civility. This was occasionally fruitful but NOT REALLY ANY OF MY BUSINESS. I was a helluva busybody and I paid the price.
I haven't done the go-between thing in years, but I'd still be willing to do it if I thought it would help reconcile or at least alleviate stress between two people whose irritation with each other has consequences for all their friends. But that hasn't looked viable, really. And, like the FBI, I've shifted my mandate to prevention and try to stop Mighty Battles when they are still Irritating Misunderstandings.
Also, we're all older and psychodrama isn't as appealing as it once was. Tempers aren't as hot, timing isn't so urgent, and working up a good anger takes energy that many of us don't have anymore (thank the spirits of wisdom).
The upshot of this long, extraordinarily self-involved rant is that it amazes me that psychodrama still happens, probably because I have extracted myself from it as much as humanly possible and in my Standard Issue Human Brain I think that everyone is just like me (see previous post). I've stopped having psychodrama, hasn't everyone?
It just seems to me that psychodramas still happen because people make judgements and publicly take sides.
That is bad juju because (1) you're making judgements that aren't within your rights to make, (2) you haven't asked the other party (your PERSON-B) for their side of the story, and (3) you took it public, inviting comment on your biased or one-sided presentation of the situation (which is already fraught with subjectivity).
Selfish and self-serving behaviors still startle the hell out of me, which is a good sign I suppose. But people who actually ask others to take sides just plain piss me off. They are playing into the inherent urges we have to be judgemental and bitchy. Oh the temptation! Oh the feelings of being needed and wanted! The Wicked Warmth of the Flame!
Ultimately, I'm meddling. I'm meddling by writing this post, by presenting my experiences and generalized faux pas (paz? pas's? pases?) to try and influence people to stop and think before propagating psychodrama.
And I'm judging, because I deem psychodrama to be a Bad Thing and the people who propagate it to be Wrong.
At least I ain't comin' out and tellin' you what to do... yet.
P.S. If you read the entire thing, I thank you. If you ignored the entire thing, that's cool too, just don't put TL;DR in my comments; I already KNOW it's too long.