Friday, September 30, 2005

"Why don't you --- yes, but..."

The very qualities that make self-help one of publishing's most despised genres -- its formulaic simplicity, its reduction of human beings to cartoonish types, its unrelenting optimism -- also make it popular with people who rarely read any other kind of book. Each new volume of advice promises life-changing lessons; each delivers more or less the same fistful of homilies.

But even despised genres can have a creative heyday, and for self-help the peak came in the 1960's and 70's.

Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships ... hovered on the best-seller lists for a couple of years.

Eric Berne ... provides the general reader with a field guide to "games," familiar patterns of interaction that rely on plausible cover stories to conceal ulterior, often unconscious, motives. In the game of "Why Don't You -- Yes But," players begin by bemoaning a problem and inviting others to suggest solutions, all of which will be shot down. The real object, Berne writes, is "to demonstrate that no one can give them an acceptable suggestion."

Cataloging such games necessarily fosters an ironic, if not outright jaundiced, view of human nature, evident in Berne's taxonomy; game titles include "Let's You and Him Fight" and "Now I've Got You, You Son of a Bitch." (The player of the latter game secretly welcomes being wronged: "Ever since early childhood he had looked for similar injustices, received them with delight and exploited them with the same vigor.")

Laura Miller

I read Games People Play long ago; "Why Don't You... Yes, But" was my favorite.

Extracted from Chapter 7 of "Games People Play."


Seven years after Natalie Phistie and Bill Winnerton got married, she and some friends are having a discussion over coffee while her husband is out bowling:
Natalie: "I'm so upset - I just don't know what to do about Bill. He doesn't seem to be listening to me any more and he is always running out on me."

Friend 1: "Why don't you sit him down and have a serious talk?"

Natalie: "Yes, I've tried that but he won't sit still."

Friend 2: "You probably have cabin fever. Why don't you take a vacation from each other?"

Natalie: "Yes, but we can't afford it."

Friend 3: "Well, why don't you just get a divorce?"

Natalie: "Yes, but what about the kids?"

Friends (thinking): "1 give up, this situation is hopeless.. ."

Natalie (thinking): "Nobody can help me."
This conversation is recurring: Natalie and her friends have been through it many times. As a matter of fact, much of their time has been spent playing Why Don't You, Yes But, and it is the type of conversation which occurs over and over again, especially in therapy groups.

The pay-off: it proves to Natalie she is doomed; it proves to her friends that there is no use trying to help people because they never accept advice anyway.

This game is played skillfully by many old folks, which is why I stopped volunteering at a local retirement home and decided to work with children instead.

Mrs. Schenktman, an extremely able woman, a former university professor and craftsperson, had decided it was now time for her to be truly retired - i.e. to do nothing but read, go to meals, and worry. Since she was still in possession of all her marbles, well, she was very bored. Her considerable grey matter had to be occupied with something so she turned to complaining.
  • The food was bad;
  • The residents were stupid;
  • The management was uncaring;
  • Her closet was too crowded.
I couldn't do anything about the first three items, but I thought I could make some headway on #4. I opened the closet door and we embarked on a months-long project of my making "constructive suggestions" about what could be done with the things in her closet and her shooting my ideas down.

The biggest space hog was a dismantled floor loom. Since Mrs. Schenktman had a bit of arthritis she had given up this hobby.

The loom was of no use to her only son, a 65-year old "artist" who had been living on disability insurance all his life because he was "unable to work." This quotation-mark skepticism stems from his being able to do a great many difficult - but pleasurable - things - it was only work that was beyond him. Well, and laundry.

"I keep having to buy sheets for my son and mailing them to him in California."
"Why don't you ask him to wash the ones he has, instead?"
"Yes, but I don't think he will."

The floor loom was quite the white elephant. Or, hmm, her bête noir.

"I don't want it in there any more."
"So why don't I sell it for you?"
"That seems too complicated."
"I'll take care of everything."
"But I don't want strangers in my apartment looking at it."

After several weeks of these debates she decided selling it was a good idea. I advertised the loom and found a buyer.

When the person came to pick it up, Mrs. Schenktman had changed her mind and I had to send the buyer away empty handed. The complaints began anew. "My closet is too crowded..."

I was a patsy for this game because I really wanted to help. Speaking of cartoonish types, below find a familiar patsy, unwilling to believe nothing can change. Signing off for today...

Technorati Tags: , ,


At 12:52 PM, Blogger daimon said...

usually, it's useless getting *really* involved with people who play WDYYB. they are going to throw away every piece of reasoning or logic, if it disturbs their existence.

had a similar situation with my grandma, who always said she'd like to move from her old apartment, and get a new one plus the money to furnish it. however she was never ready to leave, thus she kept throwing excuses : she waited for the market to settle, then she waited for it to stir in order to have a chance for more money, then she didn't like the buyer, then she didn't trust the lawyers, and so on, for many a year. until i got bored and walked out of her game.

you can only do one thing, i guess: tell them in their face that they're playing a game, that they're stuck in a loophole, and if they don't want to snap out of it, they might soon run out of listeners too.


At 9:50 AM, Blogger Bill said...

I am laughing. the whole article seems like another version of the same game. Why don't you help people, yes but you can't...

Maybe the answer is to say to people, you will have this same problem until you change your mind about accepting it. the answer is with you, and you are the one who must change.

At 6:52 AM, Blogger Nancy Cummings said...

It is a very bad day at the office when a production manager begins a new round of wdyub. I tried to snap him out if it yesterday but, all I got was, that's not the way we do things and more whining about his plight (one that I could find many solutions for).

After spending about 1.5 hours after my shift ended, I gave up on his game, collected my personal items, locked my desk and began my own round of wdyyb. It was the first time I ever turned the tables on him. He was not going g to reverse roles. So he said, "see ya tomorrow, " and walked away!


Post a Comment

<< Home

Find me on Google+