A seminal, very useful book is turning 50 this coming year. Published in 1964, and the best selling non-fiction book of the 1960s, Games People Play by Dr. Eric Berne introduced Transactional Analysis, which looked closely at human relationships. He opted to study interaction as transaction, since he said we communicate to get something out of it.
For example, if one person says hello, and the other person doesn’t respond, the first person feels cheated or irritated, since he or she expected to get something out of saying hello.
Berne said we communicate in three ego states, as the parent, the child and the adult. Everybody has these three people inside their head, which explains the mental cacophony we sometimes experience. When we are emotional, we are the child. Supportive or exerting power over others, we are the parent. Acting rationally, and focusing on the objective problems at hand, we are the adult. And the obvious way to go is to be the adult. This still comes across as fresh to me. It’s good, solid, everyday advice, the very basis of Emotional Intelligence, i.e. applying reason to how we engage in social situations with others.
Berne identified six different ways in which people communicate:
rituals (highly standardized exchanges)
pastimes (predictable conversations, polite exchanges of opinions)
activities (eg doing math or building something together)
games (underhanded, exploiting others)
intimacy (a game-free relationship)
The games we play, he says, like “If it weren’t for you”, are all rackets. Anger is one of those rackets, he says. It makes you feel righteous for a while, but doesn’t solve anything. Instead he says we have to decide to look at what is making us angry and think about why the other person is doing it. That means not letting the other person win the game by allowing ourselves to get angry. It’s an interesting and engaging challenge, and one that can actually improve the situation.
Every game has three parts:
the con – the way of cheating used
the gimmick – the weakness that makes the other person play the game
the payoff – the feeling that people get from playing the game
Among the aspects Berne identified as worthy of therapy are scripts that he said we develop and follow early in life, and can for instance recognize in fairy tales.
Below is a wonderful 1966 NET Science broadcast special on the book. The reporter interviews Dr. Berne at his home in Carmel where the author explains the theory behind Transactional Analysis. The camera then follows the two of them along the gorgeous Carmel coast – where incidentally Helmut and I spent almost a week last summer. And finally we see Dr. Berne in with other California psychologists, Swinging Sixties style. Watch these four short videos for an exquisite introduction to the theory, and take an evocative journey into the epoch when Transactional Analysis was still new.
Eric Berne passed away in 1970. A website dedicated to him contains selected games he identified. See if any of them ring a bell with you. They did with me. ‘Uproar’, with slamming doors, is a game I used to play a lot with my dad when I was a trouble-making teen. And I find it quite sobering to recognize that I still like to indulge the Child in me.
On this note: I want a sun umbrella just like Dr. Bearne’s.
The acquittal of George Zimmerman, self-appointed neighborhood watchman, who followed and killed Trayvon Martin inside his own gated community (!) is a blatant example of racism. As has been said repeatedly, if a white 29 year old man had come up to a gated community and gunned down a 17-year old white boy, all hell would have broken loose. But a black boy tracked and killed by a white man, who got injured in the process? That is put down to self-defense. The perpetrator gets off, scot-free.
It’s sobering to watch the two main witnesses for the prosecution, whose testimony broke the case:
Then, medical examiner Dr. Shiping Bao saw the body and could have explained the wounds in clear terms if his English had been better. As it was, he was hard to listen to. Small wonder that the jury obviously switched off. See the summary of this case in the New York Times.
Here are parts of the two testimonies that prove, once again, how essential it is to learn how to speak well before an audience.
Improve your English, folks, or you won’t be able to get done what you want done!
I remember when “Neighborhood Watch” was introduced in my neighborhood on Capitol Hill in 1972. I was almost 10, and my dad was involved. This was certainly not the sort of outcome that his generation envisioned. Back then, people on neighborhood watch didn’t bear arms at all. It was their duty to call the police if they noticed anyone suspicious. In fact, to judge from the guidelines available online, at least in DC that is still valid:
I simply don’t understand why the prosecution didn’t try the defendant on these grounds. Today, it seems that taking law and order into your own hands is being condoned more globally. Is that any way to teach young people that we have a rule of law?
Self-defense is a very strange angle to take with Zimmerman. If a neighbor had pulled a gun out of the kitchen drawer on hearing the fight outside, and had fired as someone came in the door, that might be considered self-defense. But Zimmerman provoking a fight and then shooting the person he provoked? That’s profiling and then hunting down.
These are the phrases you hear the family of the victim say in their attempt to contain their disappointment at the outcome:
In the remarkable interview with the Guardian about why he blew the whistle on the NSA, Edward Snowden uses the second person ‘you’ to hedge the details of his unique role and position. The speaker using ‘you’ disguises and generalizes his own experience and range of choices, inviting ‘you’, the listener, to imagine how you or anyone else would do the same thing if it happened to you. Likewise, he uses the simple present to generalize rather than the past tense to report on what he did.
‘When you’re in positions of privileged access like a systems administrator for these sort of intelligence community agencies, you’re exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee. And because of that you see things that – uh – may be disturbing. But over the course of a normal person’s career you’d only see one or two of these instances. When you see everything, you see them on a more frequent basis, and you recognize that some of these things are actually abuses, and when you talk to people about them – uh – in a place like this where this is the normal state of business, people tend not to take them very seriously and, you know, move on from them. But over time, that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up, and you feel compelled to talk about it. And the more you talk about it, the more you’re ignored, the more you’re told it’s not a problem, until eventually you realize that – uh – these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who is simply hired by the government.”
Overall, he comes across as quiet and self-effacing, and very principled when he uses ‘I’:
‘I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things’
A Ukrainian reporter caused a scene in Moscow when, as one of a crowd, he asked Will Smith for a hug. WS obliged and gave him a “man hug” (patting him on the back). The reporter responded by trying to give him kisses on both cheeks, almost kissing him on the mouth. Will Smith reacted angrily, by pushing him away, saying “Come on, man, what the hell is your problem, buddy?” – with a backhand slap.