13 December 2008

The Wisdom of Mr. Singh

This post is dedicated to Meg and TH in SoC, whose comments to the previous post kept me thinking about the situation I described there. It's adapted very closely from my reply. I thought the concepts deserved a bit more emphasis than their placement in a comment thread would give them.

When writing that previous post, my first thoughts were along the lines of "Look, it really IS possible to recognize and fend off abusers in the real world, even the egregious ones... here's a recent example".

Thanks to Meg and TH, I had further thoughts. More along the lines of "Look at the teamwork that went into fending off the abuse. This was not the work of one person operating alone, it was a joint effort." What helped tremendously in this situation, and what I should have emphasized much more in that first post, was the wisdom of Mr. Singh.

Mr. Singh clearly understood abuse and abusers - and he's no slouch at nonverbal communication, either. The moment this aggressive customer tried to push her way into his interaction with me [a power play, basically, intended to take over his attention for her own needs], he and I looked at each other - just looked at each other. There was no wince or headshake. But just from that look, it was obvious to both of us that we 'knew the type'. And that we both knew the game.

Mr. Singh could have chosen to allow the bullying customer to divert his attention. He could have acquiesced to her hints about how busy she was, the unspoken but obvious demand that he stop assisting me [in the middle of our transaction] and immediately give priority to her. Had he done this, he would have chosen to enable a bully, would have allowed a bully to enlist him in abusing one of his own customers, and would also have been volunteering to be bullied himself.

Instead, he set a firm boundary by continuing to work with me and calling his son to wait on the new customer.

Both of us quietly observed her behavior as his son began to wait on her. We looked at each other again when she started berating young Mr. Singh for having an accent. This time, I frowned and shook my head, very slightly, then looked over towards the browbeating. Mr. Singh nodded almost imperceptibly as he moved towards his son.

The elder Mr. Singh was very calm and in control of himself as he gently moved his son out of harm's way. His demeanor did not imply any criticism of the customer, even in the slightest degree; it also implied no criticism of his son. It was one of the most beautifully neutral interpositions I have ever seen. He placed himself between an abuser and her target, in such a way that he did not offer himself as a substitute target, yet he also did not validate the abuse.

His son, either from a long history of trusting his dad or from shock at being treated so crassly, didn't protest, resist, or make any comment - he just moved smoothly over to where I was standing on the other side of their counter. This, too, was an extremely important part of the process. Any comment from him would have attracted negative attention from the other customer; instead, he removed himself completely from the interaction. Meanwhile, I positioned myself quietly as an active witness, and brought out my cell phone.

The whole process of containing and defusing the abuse was teamwork. It would not have worked half so well otherwise. The remarkable thing about it was that so much of the communication between Mr. Singh and myself, and between father and son, during the incident was nonverbal - except for my reassuring young Mr. Singh that I'd remain in the store, because I wanted to wait and speak again with his dad.

The outcome would have been very different if Mr. Singh, his son, or both had been vulnerable to this other customer's combative baiting, if they had themselves become combative or taken overt offense at her behavior. Had either of them chosen to play the Karpman game she was offering, I could have done very little to help.

This was one of the few times in my life when I have been privileged to see people knowingly decline a Karpman Triangle game [Messrs. Singh vs. the aggressive customer] and opt for a Quinby Triangle interaction instead [Messrs. Singh & Stormchild]. The fact that this took place interculturally - and we didn't all have to use the terms Karpman and Quinby for it to work - makes it that much more marvelous.

To refuse to play the Karpman game, and substitute a Quinby interaction, takes people who are committed to doing the healthy thing. The "Lion's Share" of credit for that positive outcome belongs to Mr. Singh and Son.


Anonymous Meg said...

I wonder if the woman was attacking Mr. Singh's son in order to get Mr. Singh to deal with her.

It was just a thought I had as I read this post, which I didn't have when I read the previous one.

I am not suggesting Mr. Singh fell for the tactic, but it would seem that the abuse was completely unwarranted, and when that happens, it is usually performing some other function. In other words, she didn't really have a problem with young Mr. Singh's accent, it was a ploy to get to the person she had wanted attention from in the first place.

Just a thought.

14 December, 2008 16:26  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Hi Meg

That's a definite possibility. Since Mr. Singh had finished helping me by then, it didn't cross my mind at the time either, but it is a definite possibility.

It's interesting that even when she got what she wanted, i.e. the attention of Mr. Singh, she still found it so difficult to curb her abusiveness. When he explained the cost for shipping the item, she nearly lost control of herself, verbally at the very least. [Amazing, because the cost was really quite low...]

Which is just further proof that no amount of attention, time, etc. is ever enough for an abuser. The whole point of abuse is to diminish and disempower the target, and therefore nothing the target can do will ever be acknowledged as sufficient or satisfactory. It's like the Laws of Thermodynamics: you can't win, you can't even break even, and they won't let you out of the game.

The only way to win is not to play.

18 December, 2008 21:33  

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