Mowing down psychological tall grass and tangled weeds; clearing the field and planting new seeds. Thoughts lifted from my angry days, when someone asks my opinion and then denies it. If I tell you my favorite color, who else would have the "right" answer? Challenge it, oppose if you must, but to correct it is to erase my existence. If we all had the same thoughts, there would be no need for democracy. Cogito Ergo Sum.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a way of training people who react poorly in certain circumstances to recognize the triggers and signs that lead them to a particular response, then convince and train them to deliberately choose to behave differently. I have a problem with this in that in a purist sense, that attitude of reacting is in direct conflict with one of the other models of success in our society which is commonly given almost a cheer: “Be proactive!”. Being proactive is the crusade of the business community that tells one to anticipate and predict future conditions and have something prepared to deal with them even before they occur. Therefore it is not a “stimulus-response” situation, but an “awareness-planning-avoidance” model.
But I want to explain how in many circumstances the group of people in the pro-active community are shifting responsibility to the reactive community, and if the reactive community were to become pro-active in response there are often significant ________ (bad) results.
Let’s take foul language. Profanity. I tend to throw out a lot of profane words in casual speech, but I don’t’ do it as filler. There are those who can spit out the word “motherfucker” as if it were just another adjective like “green” and an adverb like “shaky” and actually insert it in-between syllables of other polysyllabic words. It’s almost an art form to those who work at it; it’s a sign of slow thought with an attitude to those who simply replace “um” with “fuckin” to give themselves more time to think of what word comes next.
Then there is anger and intent. Buddy Hacket once said that certain words have specific places where only those words are expected to be used. “if you drop an anvil on your foot, you do not say, “Spring is here! I dropped an anvil on my foot!”, you rightfully say, “Fuck! I dropped a fucking anvil on my fucking foot and it fucking hurts!” He continued that in such circumstances, even the one who isnt’ feeling the pain recognize the place for that word; When the Doctor orders the x-ray he says, “we must see if the bones of the fucking foot are broken. And the x-ray technician will report back with the results that “yes, Doctor, the fucking foot is broken”.
I believe I am in the anvil/foot category. When you start hearing the colorful language flying fast and loose off my tongue, it means there is a level of intensity in what I am trying to communicate that is not present when I leave those words out. In an interview George Carlin gave before his first HBO special, he said he could suspend the use of profanity in a six-minute monologue for Johnny Carson, but he would not want to have to suspend it for a two hour comedy show. He said, “I believe I would lose a lot of important emphases”
And therein lies the problem, which was the whole point Carlin tried to make for thirty years; Someone is trying to tell you something when they are profane. Some people are not, and I must admit that some of the people I worked with in the construction industry simply use “fuck” in place of the word “um” to give themselves an extra half-second to come up with their next word or idea. I concede that such usage does indeed dilute the emphasis for those who are trying to tell you something.
But some people have built a space where they can be completely insulated from things they don’t want to deal with and people like me who lace our words with profanity. Let’s imagine we are at Wal-Mart and the store is crowded. There are two or more people with shopping carts in front of you jabbering away in the middle of some conversation and they are behaving as if they are alone in the store, when in fact they are blocking the aisle you are trying to pass through. You bring the cart up to an uncomfortable distance to them, and wait silently. This is your first attempt to communicate by invading their personal space, but they are unaware of you so far. Then you clear your throat to give your first verbal cue that you would like their attention. Still you are invisible to them. Then you say, “Excuse me” in a conversational tone as your third effort to be noticed. And still the aisle remains blocked by these exceptionally insulated people.
Finally, you raise your voice loud enough to be heard above not only their conversation but by passers by. “EXCUSE ME, PLEASE!” Now you’ve got everyone’s attention, but in a hostile way,

“Hey, Buddy, there’s no reason to be rude! Geez. Some people have no patience…”

Now there was no opportunity for me to politely make it through that aisle not because of my behavior, but because the situation was structured so that communication went directly from too subtle to be noticed to so intense to be offensive. Is that because I did not try to communicate in a measured and reasonable tone, or the opportunity for communication at that level simply was not available because the recipients did not acknowledge any signals at that level?

Profanity is the same way. I can speak to my mother about a subject that may be uncomfortable to the two of us in polite tones, and I feel as if I’m not getting through. I’m not getting the reaction I’m hoping for: some acknowledgement that my problem is real, that my mother plays a part in it by not acknowledging it, and that there needs to be a change in the situation for me to feel better about it.  At polite conversational levels I can be safely ignored or belittled by saying, “oh, Joe, that’s nothing to get worked up over, now be reasonable”.
At some point, being ignored becomes uncomfortable to me. I don’t think I’m alone in this area, most people have a tolerance and a limit to it. But I have found that like in the Wal-Mart situation, the moment I raise my tone of voice, the resistance begins. Suddenly my mother is not comfortable with someone raising his voice to her, and she displays more insulation to the idea, not less. The impression that I am now being deliberately shunned, not just that someone is not yet aware I am serious, now triggers my next response – anger – and the profanity starts to unload.
Now my mother moves directly to stage three, which is indignance to my anger. “Well, I’m not going to let anyone talk to me in that language”, and she has effectively built a model where anything she does not want to talk about actually has no opportunity to ever be discussed. At low conversational tones it can be safely ignored until my anger builds, then when my anger is triggered she sends some signal that she knows about the problem but is not willing to acknowledge it  until my profanity begins, and now I have crossed a line that she feels eliminates the possibility for all conversation about anything.
Now Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tells me that if I am so astute as to be aware of these three predictable stages that I can temper my behavior and get through the situation by simply not allowing myself to lose my temper and unleash the profanity. If I am  not profane, my mother can never give the excuse that it was my language that made the conversation impossible and therefore…
Well, the brilliant therapist is asking me to be his experimental group. And I can tell you that there are certain situations where people in particular situations (your boss, your mother, a total stranger) have every right to simply change the rules once you figure them out and give some other reason why they still win.

So the cognitive behavioral therapy gives me a tool to deal with situation A and when I return to the original conditions the other party only needs to shift their power, authority, or positional influence to create a new situation “B” that forces me to into a different (but just as effective) space where there is no opportunity for resolution.

Now at this point the therapist says that I am simply being argumentative and resistant to his or her solutions. But the point I am making is that just as they see me as dodging their solutions, I see them as dodging my problem – I’m still reacting to other people. And people are always free to ignore the rules, change the rules, or to just be an asshole and shut this thing called communication down because they would rather avoid the topic altogether, so they just do..

And in the end, there I sit…the “reactive” one… 


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