We like to believe that the world can be separated into those that are ‘straight shooters’ and those who obfuscate, dissemble, ambivilate and annoy. Most of us like to think we’re in the first group but the truth is we are all fence sitters. We hedge when we think it’s in our best interests to do so, and we speak straight when we have a) power on our side, b) the truth is so obvious that no one can challenge what we say, and c) we’re in a support group whose knees jerk to the same cliché’s as ours do.
Entertainment psychologists are masters at acting as if they’re talking straight when in fact they are carefully orchestrating every phrase. It’s what we want. Apparently. The trouble is very little that’s new, creative or truly provocative will come from a mass media strategy.
In terms of relationships between men and women ‘pop’ psychology finds it’s way into clever dinner conversation but we question if there’s any real change in women relating to men or men to women. Saying, as I overheard a smart middle aged upwardly bound beemer driving couple say the other evening – that ‘he goes in his cave’ may look like an insight but it is really a borrowed cutesy. It is a way of dismissing real conversation and acting ‘as if’ conversation were taking place.
What’s real? Dumbed down conversation between men and women is not new to our generation. Previous generations had the same disease and generations following will surely follow in our footsteps. Why? There are several factors that keep us like the famous deer in the headlights who not only cannot move but who don’t realize why they can’t move. There’s little hope when you’re mesmerized (an old term related to hypnosis) by lights too bright for you to see your own path.
Media dominates most families. I have a friend who has a bunch of children and she told me recently that she just doesn’t have enough time to have ‘quality’ time with any of them. I asked her about her driving them to school in the morning. “It takes about twenty minutes,” she said. “What do you do during that time?” I asked. “Oh they’re listening to their music. They all have these head phones. The youngest is playing a video game.” I noted that twenty minutes times two trips a day times five days a week times forty or so weeks a year equals approximately one hundred and thirty five hours a year. Divided by her bunch that would allow about thirty five hours a year per child if she could focus on one at a time and log her hours.
Of course that didn’t take into account the amount of time they all watched television, their time at the movies or the time spent at other ‘entertainment’ venues. These children are learning. They are getting that just about anything the world has to offer is of higher value than simple conversation with someone who loves you and wants to know you.
Couples mirror this. I coach couples who typically do not talk to each other. They do talk at each other, they do chronically argue or they do watch television together but they don’t converse.
In fact, my wife, who is a psychotherapist, observed a few months ago about a couple she was working with that “perhaps the two hours they spend with me weekly is the only time in the week when they actually talk.” I had a business idea. Rent my office for a couple of hundred bucks for two hours. Serve tea or coffee. Lock the door and force them to spend time together without any media.
What’s wrong with Dr.Phil? Nothing. But the appearance of meaning and the promise of insight that talk shows offer is deceiving and misleading. Starting with marriage we need to challenge the existing (operative) paradigm. We need to question our approach to conflict within relationship.
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