The faculty of Beaumont High School is hashing out possible
curriculum changes in an after-school meeting that’s been going on for hours. It’s finally the science department’s turn to present.
Roycc, a chemistry tcacher who’s been at Beaumont for
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thirty-three years, considers himself the elder statesman of the school. He’s much more fond of war stories than he is of neutrons and electrons, but the administration kind of turns a blind eye, because the guy’s a fixture.
At the principal’s cue, Royce clears his throat and begins to
yammer on incoherently about the similarities between curricu
lum development and battle preparations. His antics are so
embarrassing that the audience quietly heaves their shoulders as
they futilely try to stifle their laughter.
Next, it’s Brent’s, the new guy’s, turn. A couple of weeks ago,
the principal asked him to outline the science department’s pro
posed curriculum changes. Brent met with his colleagues (even
Royce), gathered suggestions, and came ready to present.
As Brent begins, Royce starts demonstrating bayonet offen
sives with a yardstick, and Brent snaps. Slamming his fist on the
table, he shouts, “Am I the only one who wonders why we even
allow this fosil to talk? Did he miss a pill or something?”
A room full of stunned faces turns toward Brent. Realizing
that his colleagues must think he’s possessed, Brent utters those
words we’ve all come to hate, “Hey, don’t look at me like that!
I’m the only one around who has the guts to speak the truth.” What a tactic. Brent slams Royce in public, and then instead
of apologizing or maybe simply fading into the shadows, he
argues that what he just did was somehow noble.
Two ugly options. This pernicious strategy is particularly well
suited for keeping us off track. It’s known as a Sucker’s Choice.
In order to justify an especially sordid behavior, we suggest that
we’re caught between two distasteful options. Either we can be
honest and attack our spouse, or we can be kind and withhold
the truth. Either we can disagree with the boss to help make a
better choice-and get shot for it-or we can remain quiet,
starve the pool, and keep our job. Pick your poison.
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What makes these Sucker’s Choices is that they’re always set up as the only two options available. It’s the worst of either/or thinking. The person making the choice never sug gests there’s a third option that doesn’t call for unhealthy behavior. For example, maybe there’s a way to be honest and
respectful. Perhaps we can express our candid opinion to our boss and be safe.
Those offering up a Sucker’s Choice either don’t think of a third (and healthy) option-in which case it’s an honest but tragic mistake-or set up the false dichotomy as a way of jus tifying their unattractive actions. “I’m sorry, but I just had to destroy the guy’s self-image if I was going to keep my integrity. It wasn’t pretty, but it was the right thing to do.”
Open Yourself to Change
Not only do Sucker’s Choices set us up to take ineffective actions, but they close us down to change. They present our brain with problems easily solved with restricted blood flow. After all, if we are simply choosing between fight and flight, who needs much creative thought?
They also keep us stuck in ineffective strategies by justifying our attacking or retreating behaviors. Why alter our behavior when we’re the only one savvy enough to keep quiet? “Stand up to my boss? What turnip wagon did you just fall off?” “Tell my spouse that her parental style is too controlling? No way. I ‘ll pay for years.” In a similar vein, why would you ever change when you think you’re the only one around with an ounce of integrity? “Somebody has to state the ugly truth. It’s the only way I can look myself in the mirror.”
I n summary, Sucker’s Choices are simplistic tradeoffs that keep us r rom thinking creatively of ways to get to dialogue, and
that justify our silly games.
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So how do we break away from perverted logic that keeps us
trapped in hurtful behavior