Watching a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis shows you a drama. Reading about it shows you a dilemma. The book makes you imagine the color, sound, tone and tension, the logic of events: It makes your brain do work. A movie is received passively: You sit back, see, hear. Books demand and reward. When you read them your knowledge base deepens and expands. In time that depth comes to inform your work, sometimes in ways of which you’re not fully conscious. – Peggy Noonan, The Politics of the “Shallows”
“There is so much drama” or, “I’m just being dramatic.”
Usually when I hear this the implication is some kind of sweeping away of the experience as if it is a melodrama (read: not serious or meaningful) that should not be consumed.
And usually my reaction is to pull the person back to their experience. Because usually these sweeping away comments come after a description of a difficult situation or experience.
It’s almost like in calling them drama we act out a drama.
Rather than focus on the dilemma.
The dilemma involves us holding two or more, often opposing, feelings.
The dilemma also involves multiple people and someone or many people are having a difficult experience – upset, angry, afraid, etc.
So in the dilemma of national security or who makes the turkey at Christmas the more difficult thing is to stay with the competing feelings:
It’s always been done this way.
But it’s too much for me this year.
Can my mother accept my own needs and know I still love her?
We all have them.
I won’t privilege books over screens to the extent Peggy does but I do think asking the question of how we’re consuming information and spending our days impacts the way we think is a great one.
Sometimes people sound like they’re on a TV show – the way they describe stories and moments – the building arc, the reality show private camera outtakes. Television has become a part of how we communicate.
Yet all of this scripted and unscripted drama is just that, drama – i.e. stories designed and edited to provoke, to have impact.
And each of us has stories. But we also live dilemmas. Tensions between life and death, beginnings and endings, fury and love. They’re all in us all the time and every moment is some kind of choice in response. And the stories never end – there is no tidy finish – only a new chapter.
Drama seems designed for the outside world. Sometimes I have the thought, while listening to a story that sounds like it’s a TV screen play, “somehow this person thinks they need to have drama to be heard.” Or, said differently, they need to construct their words in a way that provokes feelings in order to garner the attention they need. Attention for the dilemma.
The dilemma is what is really going on. Sometimes there is action and plot but dilemma is the inner state. Which is always ambivalent – holding more than one feeling. The dilemma is to make the best choice even when it isn’t always (or ever) clear what that best choice is.
And the dilemma hurts. Like hell a lot of time.
In a sense the drama gives the feelings of the dilemma away to the world – “feel this about me” it says. While the dilemma is more like, “Does anybody care about me? I feel so alone”.
There is also a way in which I think drama comes from trauma. It’s quick and black and white. “How could you do that?” “You are a ____”. Drama is blind rage, panic, mania, not getting out of bed.
So I think it needs our compassion too.
Here’s the dilemma of this post: compassion and at the same time leaning forward and trying to think and feel rather than reflexively react. Understanding ourselves and our wounds and the very busy world we live in and having compassion for that. And also knowing we and others need a bit more ground, too. Grounding in our dilemmas.
This dilemma isn’t punchy. It won’t go viral. But I hope it does open up some hope and perhaps some new thinking.
To support my work, please share it with someone.