©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
Hickory, dickory, dock, the mouse ran up the clock,
The clock struck one, the mouse ran down, hickory, dickory, dock.
—Old English Nursery Rhyme
“It’s that I don’t get the respect I deserve!” the woman fairly shouted. “And all because of a mouse!” To my listening ear her words sounded like a combination of whining (anger squeezing out of a very small opening) and reactionary self-pity (a behavior that is low on the Emotional Intelligence Continuum). Peralta’s story came tumbling out.
It seems that she had found tell-tale mouse tracks under the kitchen sink. “Mice make me crazy,” she said, waving her arms expressively in the air, “flaming crazy!”
“You found tell-tale mouse tracks?” I asked. “You didn’t even see the mouse run up the clock?” I couldn’t help it. Her story made me think of the old rhyme my brother and I had learned in childhood.
Peralta looked at me for a moment like I was “flaming nuts.” Obviously, my nursery-rhyme memories weren’t ringing any bells. “So in response to a recent television commercial,” she continued, “I bought a better mouse trap at the local hardware store.” Evidently, she had shown the better mouse trap to her husband when he had came home for dinner that evening.
Peralta stood up and walked around my office. Her body fairly vibrated with emotion. “Do you know what he said?” she asked. “Do you?”
I shook my head. Of course I didn’t.
“He picked up the mouse trap and asked, ‘How much did it cost?’ He wanted to know how much it cost!” she exploded. “Isn’t that just like a man? No sensitivity to my fear of mice!” Peralta was on a roll. “I told him,” she continued,” that it was more expensive than cheap wood traps because it was disposable. And besides, it would save a great deal of time, energy, and drama.” She clamped her lips together in a thin line.
I waited. Silence.
“And?” I prompted after more silence.
“He said,” Peralta continued dramatically, crossing her arms and sticking out her chin, “he said, ‘Less drama would be a treat.’” Her face darkened with rage.
“And?” I prompted again, thinking to myself that less drama likely would be a treat.
“That was rude, uncalled for, showed an utter lack of respect for me, his wife . . . and I’ve been mad at him ever since.” Her chin jutted out even further. “We hardly speak.”
“So when did this happen?” I asked.
“Two months ago,” she snapped.
“Two months ago!” Now it was my turn to be astounded. “You’ve wasted time, energy, and drama for two whole months?” I asked. Really, I hadn’t intended to say that but my brain seemed to have had a mind of its own.
“Well, what would you have said?” Peralta demanded.
“I don’t know for sure,” I replied. “At my present state of growth and development, however, I know it would have been quite different from my response thirty or forty years ago.”
“What would you have done thirty or forty years ago?” Peralta asked, her face lighting up with curiosity.
“Honestly?” I asked. Peralta nodded. “I probably wouldn’t have said anything, but I likely would have spun on my heel and left him standing in the kitchen holding the better mouse trap. And I probably wouldn’t have been oozing with conversation for a while either,” I added, chuckling ruefully.
Peralta laughed. “I can just picture that,” she said. “What would you say now?”
“First of all,” I responded, “a tiny creature like a scuttling little mouse might startle me, but I would not be terrified and I wouldn’t waste any energy on drama.”
“What would you have SAID?” Peralta demanded.
“Probably something like this,” I replied:
Don’t tell me you’d miss the drama of having me climb up onto the counter while screaming my lungs out! How could you live without that?
“He probably would have shrugged and replied, You wanna bet? And then both of us would have burst out laughing. And I would have thanked him in advance for handling the trapping.”
Peralta stared at me for a very long time. Finally she said, “You’d have made a JOKE about it?”
“Most likely,” I replied. “Life is far too short to waste any time on needless drama. Especially with interactions that could drive a wedge between partners or friends.”
I shared with Peralta some of the research about how laughter can be used very effectively to defuse tense situations and to help participants put the events into some type of perspective. For example, mirthful laugher has been shown to:
- Reduce the secretion of stress hormones such as cortisol
- Help dissipate hormones such as adrenalin that have increased due confrontations or threatening situations
- Form the most direct link possible between people—limbic brain to limbic brain
- Be the most contagious of emotional signals and creates a bond between the individuals who are laughing
“It’s difficult to remain upset or stay angry at someone with whom you are laughing,” I pointed out.
“Now I feel like a flaming idiot,” said Peralta, looking out the window.
“You’re hardly an idiot,” I replied, “but you must be quite an actress, especially to sustain not speaking to your husband for two months.” I paused for a moment and then asked mischievously, “Do you think he’s been enjoying the silence? Has it been a treat?”
Peralta burst out laughing but quickly sobered as she replied, “Maybe initially, but it’s not been very pleasant around our house.” Again there was silence.
“I’ve been a fool,” the woman said, “but I am a good actress, and I have a great idea.”
“What is it?” I asked (and then quickly wished I hadn’t).
“I know where there’s a costume store,” she began. “I’m going to dress up like a mouse. And when my husband gets home tonight I’ll squeak that I need to be trapped and...”
She had stopped speaking because I had both hands in the air. “Too much information,” I said.
And then we talked about what she could do differently in the future, should a similar situation arise. “That’s how you begin to increase your level of Emotional Intelligence,” I explained. “You replay the video in your head, stopping it when you reach the spot where you’d really like to exhibit a different behavior. You picture yourself doing the new behavior and that gives your brain a new pattern to follow.”
We chatted a while longer, and then Peralta, glancing at her watch, jumped up. “I’m off to get a mouse costume,” she said as the door closed behind her.
Oh, my. Well, whatever it takes, I thought to myself, hickory, dickory dock....