I really enjoy the show “Friday Night Lights.” Ostensibly it is about Texas High School Football. But really it is about well developed characters in realistically complex relationships.
One of the characters that I really like is Landry. He is a smart, nerdy high school kid. But what I so enjoy about him is his reaction to stress and conflict. There will be times when someone else is upset or frustrated and Landry will try to help out or say something supportive. Often the frustrated character will lash out at Landry, taking out his or her anger and frustration on Landry even though it isn’t his fault.
I’m willing to bet you’ve been on both sides of that situation. And what do we often do when someone lashes out at us? We often lash back. And then things escalate. We put up our defenses and launch our attacks.
But not Landry. He keeps his cool and instead of arguing back he starts analyzing the exchange. He’ll keep his voice low and just start talking. He’ll say things like “Really, is that what you want to do? Because I’m just trying to be helpful but okay, if you want to be angry then fine but I don’t see how it is helping. I mean, you’re trying to figure out how to solve the problem and I’m just offering suggestions but you want to get mad at me. That’s fine, go ahead it just doesn’t seem very productive.”
Ok, it may not translate to text very well but try as I might I couldn’t find a youtube clip. But trust me, it is fun to watch. What he does is instead of injecting more energy into the situation and escalating it, he pulls the energy out, refusing to actually argue about the issue. We therapy types call that going Meta or discussing process over content. It is when you don’t talk about WHAT you are arguing about but rather HOW you are arguing about it.
Maybe you are arguing about who is supposed to take out the trash. But HOW you are arguing is by making accusations and trying to one up the other one. It isn’t really about the trash but rather about proving your point or hurting the other person. When you can remove yourself from the content and look at the process, it becomes much easier to change the dynamic and end the argument.
There are a couple of reasons that is true. First, it makes us own up to our own actions. We have to admit that we are really trying to doing something other than avoid taking out the garbage. The other reason is that it allows us to understand why the other person is reacting the way they are. And that can allow us to better empathize with them.
I’d love to be more like Landry. I’d like to be able to not get drawn into disagreements but rather to stay calm and analyze them, slowing them down before they escalate into something that doesn’t feel good to anyone.
I’ll keep working on it and I encourage you to, too. Fortunately there is one last season of Friday Night Lights that I haven’t seen yet. Maybe there is hope for me yet.