I recently listened to this episode of the Invisibilia podcast about “flipping the script.” I don’t want to give everything away because you should really listen to it but the basic concept is that most of the time, humans exhibit “complimentary behavior.” Meaning if you’re hostile to me, my instinct is to be hostile to you. If you are nice to me, my instinct is to be nice to you. It talks about some very interesting examples of “flipping the script” or breaking that instinctual complimentary behavior. Such as when a gunman interrupted a dinner party to rob everyone and was invited to sit down and have a glass of wine. Or the story of a town in Denmark where many teens were going over to radical terrorist groups and the story of one in particular that shows how more terrorists are probably created by being harassed, oppressed and unfairly labeled as such by bigots than by any religious beliefs or active recruiting by the terrorist groups themselves and more so how a few police officers made a huge difference by “flipping the script” and reaching out with kindness to Islamic teens who had come back from Syria.
None of this information about meeting hostility with love and kindness was news to me, but it did clarify and remind me how much I need to keep this powerful tool in the forefront of my mind. It’s a hard thing to do and something that doesn’t come naturally to most of the human race and is, I believe, a root cause of so many problems and conflicts. I fail at this constantly. Someone says something rude, mean, attacking or whatever, and your chemicals surge and you start plotting how to verbally eviscerate them, shame them, and belittle them into submission. Which of course, pretty much never works and only serves to solidify them in their hostile and opposing position. There is endless evidence in the world, in history and in my own experience and that of others that this “flipping the script” concept works and is powerful (of course, nothing is 100% or black and white) and yet we still don’t embrace it. We give in to our most primitive animal instincts to lash out.
Since this podcast, I’ve been on high alert, really paying attention to these interactions and have caught myself getting caught up in these situations many times. Luckily for me and my highly privileged life, all pretty minor and petty examples (mostly, but not entirely). And I’ve seen that when I can “flip the script,” it changes everything. When I can manage to be kind, calm, generous, forgiving and extend a hand trying to understand, things immediately take a turn. There was actually a fairly volatile social media “discussion” (I use the quotes because on social media, it’s rarely a discussion as much as two sides yelling, attacking, unfollowing and blocking each other), where after a lot of dicey and tense discussion, I did actually manage to reach one person. One person who actually eventually saw what I was saying and admitted that they needed to really consider the other side because they might have been wrong all this time in their hateful beliefs.
I’ve seen it in trivial interactions between Pokemon GO players and haters. “This game is dumb and you people who play it are dumb!” Most people’s first instinct is to lash back with barbs and insults, but in the instances where someone has instead tried to be cool and explain why they like it and think it’s cool and the benefits of it, etcetera, some people have at least stopped being ass-hats about it while others have actually decided they wanted to download and try it.
I recently had a band gig with a very surly jerk of a sound engineer. It threw my whole night off. I could just let go and have fun at the gig and my playing suffered for it. I was just so in my head about what a judgmental, know-it-all jerk this guy was. He had a huge bias against digital gear (which is all I use and am a huge fan of, and I’m no inexperienced newbie). There was a hum which he insisted had to be my gear, despite several facts that easily proved this could not be the case but there was no talking to him because he knows everything and his sound system is worthy of world class touring acts and he knows all there is to know about everything. At the end of the night, I was still irked but I stopped and took and breath and approached the guy and said “Hey man, I’m sorry if I seemed like a dick. I’m not trying to be a dick and I do appreciate your feedback, knowledge and opinions,” and started a dialogue with him. Immediately, the entire tone shifted and while it wasn’t a 180 degree shift where we walked away best buddies or anything, it was a huge difference and diffusion and suddenly he seemed at least open to discussion as opposed to a brick wall with no flexibility or room for discussion.
Again, “flipping the script” is not easy. In fact, it’s very difficult, at least for me. But I’m hoping it’s like a muscle that can be trained and strengthened, because I have no doubts in its effectiveness even if I suck at it. At least I’m aware of it and always trying to have that awareness and vigilant eye on my interactions. I hope you will too. If more people would, I think it could change the world. And that’s not hyperbole.