Misery Loves Company
Avoiding Unnecessary Drama
We live in an overly dramatized world. Drama is a seductive force whether we watch it play out on the world stage or act it out in our own lives. This continuous over dramatization has a down side. It can be exhausting, overwhelming and unproductive.
In England, growing up in a ‘mustn’t grumble’ culture where politeness was valued above all, things were quite different. We even made comedy out of our no drama stoicism. The knight in Monty Python’s film Holy Grail proclaims “it’s only a flesh wound” when he hangs onto life by a thread, illustrates this cultural peculiarity perfectly. Only yesterday I saw the New Yorker headline: “Prince Phillip’s Death and the End of British Stoicism”. In today’s world even the Brits, it seems, have now fully embraced drama.
So what does every day, overly dramatic behavior look like? It shows up in numerous ways including temper tantrums, sulking, yelling, over-sharing, crocodile tears, passive aggressive behavior and so on. All are very familiar, highly contagious and we all have the potential to be super spreaders.
There’s an old adage ‘misery loves company’ and, at the heart of this overly dramatic behavior, is the desperate need for attention. We need an audience to share our pain.
A classic example of this can be found in Aesop’s Fable,The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The boy kept raising a false alarm about a wolf who attacked the sheep. The villagers stopped believing him. When the wolf finally came to attack, they didn’t believe him and the wolf ate all the sheep. It’s a graphic portrayal of the serious consequences of ‘making a mountain out of a mole hill’. Whether we are audience or protagonist, there can be no winners. By taking center stage with our drama one time too many, we will lose all credibility and, the day will come, when we look out from the stage and there will be nothing, nothing but empty seats.
This sad and lonely picture shows us that to be happy and productive we need to be part of a collaborative production. It’s impossible to have a hit show once we’ve driven everyone away.
So what can we do to limit the damaging effects of drama?
First let’s ask, who brings drama into my life? And whose life do I negatively impact with my drama? There will be people we can easily avoid and people we have to get along with. There will be people who trigger our acting out and there will be those who like to act out around us. Without self awareness nothing will change.
And when we find ourselves acting out, we need to examine what triggered our behavior. When we’re furious about dishes in the sink, are we really distressed by the mess or are we feeling powerless and deflect something we are scared to face, respect in the relationship? And what if we leave the dirty dishes? We may have a good reason, maybe it’s laziness or maybe we actually want to trigger someone’s reaction.
Because so many lives are consumed by these exhausting petty dramas, we explore our complex triggers in greater depth in my Empathy Workshop Series: What am I bringing to the table? What are my true intentions? Should I take it personally? Am I being triggered by a past experience? Self-exploration and compassion for self and others are key if we are to rid ourselves of unnecessary drama.
During the tumultuous days leading up to World War II (arguably a time as complex as our own), the British Government produced a motivational poster designed to combat the negative effects of drama. The aim was to raise spirits, strengthen collaboration and create resilience. The now legendary call to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ did much to help the embattled population endure some of the most dramatic events in history. That, I would say, is pretty good advice for today.