©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
Entering the lobby, I walked right into high drama. The principle actor was a slim young woman who was fairly vibrating with emotion. “That’s insulting, demeaning, sexist, racist, and you will pay for it!” she screamed, her long pony tail racing in circles.
Noticing me, individuals in the group began melting away until only the drama queen was left. Hands on her hips, ponytail still swinging, she glared in my direction and fairly spat out the words: “I expect you’re going to put me down, too!” When I remained silent she continued, “Did you hear what that b____ said to me? Did you?”
I shook my head. Negative.
“Well! She told me to get my s ___ together! That’s what!”
I refrained from smiling. It was difficult, however, based on the performance I’d just witnessed.
“If she’d said that to you, what would you have done?” the young woman demanded, staring at me expectantly.
“I don’t know what triggered her comment,” I responded. "At this stage of my growth and development, however, I’d probably try to figure out what I could learn from it before I did anything.”
“You are pathetic!” was her response, although her posture relaxed ever so slightly and her hands fell from her hips. “What could I possible learn from it?”
“What would have been your response if the comment had been “Grow up,” or “Get your life together?” I countered.
“Easy,” the young woman replied. “I’d just have flipped her the bird and told her that I am grown up!”
“And?” I persisted.
“I’d have said that I am getting my life together—as soon as I figure out how to do that, I suppose.”
“She didn’t say either of those things,” I said. “Rather, she gave you a metaphor, which certainly got your attention.” No matter that the language was rather primitive, I thought. Walking over to a comfortable chair, I removed my coat, sat down, and pointed to a nearby chair. The young woman strolled over nonchalantly and slumped into it.
“She got my attention, that’s for sure,” she said. “What’s a metaphor?”
“A metaphor is a type of story that can help people better understand a specific situation in their lives. Here's an example.” The young woman leaned forward in her chair.
“Scruffy is a rather large, somewhat unkempt, and very untrained hound that lives down the block from me. His owners, for whatever reason, have devoted little if any time and energy to teaching the hound how to be a valued member of society. Consequently, this rather lovably pooch runs wild in his corner of the world. He flattens freshly planted flowers, scratches paint off fences and doors, pees on gate posts, digs holes in gardens, and poops anywhere and everywhere without regard to where people walk or sit. He expects others to clean up his messes and generally is regarded as an unmitigated neighborhood nuisance.”
The young woman actually smiled. “I can just picture that,” she said. “Why doesn’t someone just bust the hound or call the pound?”
It was my turn to laugh. “How might this metaphor apply to your life?” I asked.
She shrugged, rolling her large dark eyes expressively. “I’m sure and certain you’re about to tell me!” she said.
“Only if you want to hear my brain’s perspective,” I replied.
She shrugged. I took that as a go-ahead.
“Compare yourself to Scruffy,” I suggested. “Is there any possibility that you’ve been pooping out bad behaviors all over your corner of the world and expecting others to pick up after you? Any chance your bad behaviors have invaded the boundaries of others and maybe even interfered with their recovery?”
“First, I need to know how you define a ‘bad behavior’,” she said, a quasi-belligerent tone in her voice.
“Any behavior that results in a negative outcome,” I said immediately. “Best behaviors are those that pretty consistently result in positive outcomes. Give you the results you want.”
I paused. Have your behaviors been resulting in positive outcomes for you?”
The young woman was staring at the floor. When she finally looked up, tears glistened in her large dark eyes. “Okay, I get it,” she said, but only because of your meta, meta something.”
“Metaphor,” I repeated.
“But I still don’t like being told to get my...” I held up my hand, signaling that I remembered.
“Whenever another brain shares its opinion, you always have a choice,” I said. “You can choose to exhibit what I call JOT behaviors: Jump to conclusions, take it personally, and overreact. Or you can realize it’s just that brain’s opinion. You can pick up their opinion and run with it or not, learn from it or not.”
“Oh, oh,” she said. “That’s exactly what I did, isn’t it? I assumed she was intending to put me down.” I nodded. “Then I took it personally and decided she hates me.” I nodded again. “And then,” she said, sighing, “I might have overreacted¾just a tad.” Her face crinkled into a beautiful smile. "Instead of biting her head off I could have busted my own bad behavior.” We both burst out laughing.
“Good on you, as they say down under. That’s how you start raising your EQ (Emotional Intelligence). Next time, in a similar situation,” I said, “you will respond more effectively. At least you will have the option to avoid JOT behaviors and respond more effectively.”
“Scruffy is in training,” she said, grimacing, then added after a moment of silence, “Were you serious about my performance being Oscar-winning?”
“If Oscars were awarded for bad behaviors that result in negative consequences, you bet,” I said, thinking to myself, Sometimes they may be.
“I’ve always dreamed of being a drama coach,” she said wistfully.
“Then go for it,” I replied. “Harness some of that innate ability and put it to good use. If your brain can perceive it, you can achieve it!”
Jumping up she pulled me out of the chair, threw her arms around me, and lifted me clear off the floor. Goodness! The woman was strong! Setting me down, she jogged across the lobby and headed down the long corridor, her pony tail making those interesting circles.
Her words drifted back to my ears. “Drama coach. Yes! I can do that!” These words were followed by, “No more pooping bad behaviors. Bust them instead!”
It took me a full two minutes to stop laughing.