I just don’t get it… I have to admit it publicly… I just don’t get it…
Here in the UK, Ulrika Johnsen just won celebrity Big Brother. She moaned about being in the Big brother House from day one. She openly admitted that she was only doing it for the money. She has 4 children with 4 different fathers. She has had more public affairs with more people than I can recall here.
She is not textbook material for being a BIg Brother winner… She looked amazed at the result as much as I was.
I was surprised, though I am not claiming to be bothered, I rather like her simply because she was a vital component in one of my favourite, all-time favourite, TV shows of all time, a real favourite with me — Shooting Stars.
She seemed to have a manner and a way in the house that got her up for eviction every single time it happened… She communicated in such a way that most of the housemates commented on how hard it was to live with her… Yet underneath, the public warmed to her, and voted her the winner. So did we see beneath the immediate words and manner she spoke?
Are there things in the publics insight here that we can all learn to enhance our relationships? let me explain some more…
Do you ever find yourself in the midst of heated conversation when, all of a sudden, your partner, your friend or another close person says something that just takes your breath away?
He or she might as well stop talking at that precise moment because you are no longer paying any attention to a single word being spoken! All you hear is your own internal dialogue screaming, “I can’t believe he just actually said that,” “She is so annoying.” You take a moment to digest the message you picked up on and prepare your battle tactics and frenzied response…
Maybe as you take that moment out before your internal Mount Vsuvious erupts in their direction, you notice, “It’s not what he’s saying, it’s how he’s saying it,” or “If she would just word it differently, I might be able to respond less defiantly.”
Then, in your effort to resurrect the conversation, you tell your spouse, “Why can’t you just say it this way,?” and you proceed to reword the statement in such a way that it feels less toxic… And just when you think you should receive the Nobel Peace prize for your obvious, beautiful communication skills, your spouse replies with an ungrateful, “Why do you always try to tell me what to say and how to say it,?” or “Since you know what I should be saying, why don’t you just have a conversation by yourself?”
or some other smart-alec retort that is the seeming opposite to wjhat you intended.
What we have here in this example is a failure to communicate. (I said that in the same voice as in the film!)
So what is it that makes us tolerate a celebrity who says things in such a way that it really gets the backs up of those living with her… That the public stepped over and warmed to… I mean, essentially, Ulrika communicated the same way to us, yet we responded differently to her housemates, didn’t we?
I have worked with numerous couples over recent years whose patterns of communication closely resemble the example offered above.
When attempting to get her husband to use what relationship experts refer to as “I-messages,” a strategy that aims to have the individuals take personal responsibility for feelings and ideally leads to less defensiveness, one woman said, “I wish you would stop saying that I’m controlling when I ask you to spend less time on your laptop at night. Instead, why can’t you say, ‘When you tell me to get off my laptop at night, I feel controlled by you.’ I could handle that. But when you tell me that I try to control you and everything you do, I get really angry. I don’t try to control you even if you think I do. My being controlling is not the reason I want you to spend less time on your laptop.”
“Well put,” I thought, but apparently her husband wife thought otherwise. In fact, he took her suggestion as further evidence that she was manipulating… that she knew what he was like and now that they were married, she was trying to turn him into someone else…
Hmmm… Soooo, the chances are, that even if you tend to be the sort of person who really dislikes your other half “telling you what to say,” you might see the logic in the previous example, no?
It just makes good sense that people should take responsibility for their feelings rather than ascribe malicious intent to their partner’s actions. But consider the next example and see if you can understand why things can get a bit more ambiguous.
A woman that is being a case study for a new realtionship programme I am working on asked her husband not use a particular word that for her, triggered a lot of emotion. However, her husband felt that his choice of words best described his feelings and was unwilling to use a less inflammatory alternative. Furthermore, he didn’t like being told what to do. Suffice it to say, their conversation didn’t go too well to begin with.
Language is an extremely powerful tool. The words we choose can mean the difference between loving, constructive conversations which result in real intimacy, or verbal competitions ending in misunderstanding, emotional distance, and even divorce.
With that in mind, the next time you hear, “Why can’t you say it this way,” (as so many of Ulrikas housemates said to her and behind her back!) remind yourself that your partner, friend or singnificant other is not necessarily saying, “this is the only way to communicate with me, get it right and don’t improvise, don;t do your own thing”- that is not what I am blogging about today.
Puuuurhaps… Choose to do what the public did with Ulrika in the recent celebrity big Brother…
Because maybe, that person is really saying, “Please be gentle. Say what you need to say in a way that I can hear you and not become defensive.” Then, honour the request. Back up a step or two and have another go — even if you think that other person is over-reacting. Have a go at it… While I still attempt to make some sense of what got into the enlightened British voting public…
Celebrity Big Brother. Only Channel 4 would have the audacity to bring it back after the whole Jade incident. Mind you, this year they really were struggling to find celebrities. I think there’s a strong case for arguing that Ulrika won because she was the only vaguely famous person on the show. I mean, they had the leader of one of the socialist fringe parties in Scottish politics on the show for goodness sake.
I’ve never managed to “get into” Big Brother (be it the celeb version or the narcissistic wannabes wanting five minutes of fame version). People sitting in houses watching other people sitting in another house. Whilst they watch these people sitting in another house far away, they make judgements on people they’ve never met and base their ideas about what’s going on solely on edited material in the TV programme and what some hack writes in the national press. All the while you have the relentless shouting machine that is Davina McCall.
Ulrika won because more people could be bothered to ring up and vote for her. Each to their own and the reality TV genre must have some redeeming features hidden somewhere. But I think ascribing deep meaning to who wins celebrity Big Brother is a difficult task when the whole concept is shallow enough for an amoeba to wade through it.
The viewing public saw Ulrika through carefully edited segments of a TV programme. The rest of the house saw her all the time. That might just be enough to explain the different ways Ulrika was viewed. Again, looking for deep insight in something that was cooked up by a Dutch television network in 1998 as a way of making an incredibly cheap TV show is a difficult task.
Relationships are about communication and good communication is essential in any good, lasting relationship. But how far can any of us take the pursuit of good communication in our relationships? Failure to communicate effectively results in emotional distance and possibly even divorce or separation. Too much communication results in the establishment of the family life of The Waltons. I’m not sure which is worse.
Language is important in relationships. It’s very rare these days to see any couple sending each other love letters. As Derrida pointed out, we privilege speech over writing. What we say and the way we say it matters a lot. But what is the meaning of any communication? Does the meaning of a vocal statement lie in the meaning ascribed to it by the speaker or does the meaning lie in the response that the communication receives?
My head is full of so many different phrases in so many different languages thanks to my language learning challenge (www.joinmartin.wordpress.com). In Mandarin, if you get the tones wrong in what you’re saying you can still be understood but you can also end up asking for a cup of “black” or “death” if you’re not careful instead of ordering your favourite, refreshing hot beverage.
Talking of communication (apologies for the play on words there), you can now follow the Join Martin Challenge on Twitter: http://joinmartin.wordpress.com/2009/01/24/follow-join-martn-on-twitter/