Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Thought Experiment

You like to hang out at a bar. It’s a great bar and you helped design it by imagining the bar where you would like to hang out. You’re proud of what you’re a part of. Your friends come to this bar and talk and hang out and sometimes you have conversations that really help you understand something you’ve been puzzling over. And sometimes you just laugh together. You’ve met lots of cool people when they became regulars at your bar. You really value this dialogue and you really value that your favorite bar is a place where all kinds of people can come together and hang out. Sure, you tend dominate the conversation, but everybody’s fine with that and your whole group tends to have a great time.

Sometimes people lose their tempers, but so far, nobody’s ever gotten kicked out. And you like going to a bar that gets a little wild sometimes.

But lately there’s a problem. There’s a guy who hangs out in the bar named Phil. He’s not like the other patrons. Phil has had a hard life and spends most of his time complaining, blaming everyone but himself for his problems. He can be rude to the other patrons, some of whom he seems to blame for his difficulties, but nobody pays much attention to him. You don’t have any proof the bar has lost business because of him and you remember when Phil had a little hope and didn’t behave so badly. You kind of like arguing with Phil sometimes. As much of a jerk as he can be, to you Phil is a beloved local character.

But now there’s a problem. Because you hang out in several other bars. And in these bars, Phil has started to really pick on a woman whom he felt was mean to him. He calls her names and yells about her in a most unbecoming manner. This woman is a friend of yours and you don’t feel she deserves to be treated that way. You saw what she did to Phil and you think Phil is really, really overreacting. Phil has never yelled at her in your bar that you can remember, though he’s yelled at other people. You know that eventually Phil will stop picking on her and leave her alone, but you want your friend to feel safe in your bar. (Safe in an emotional sense. Phil has never physically hurt anybody and you don’t think he ever will.)

Phil’s behavior has gotten to the point where lots of bars don’t let him in at all, adding to his sense that the world is against him.

And that’s the problem. Because you don’t like to make a big point of it, but your Dad owns the bar. And your Dad says “I’d just as soon let anyone in, but if you want to throw Phil out, you can any time you want to.”


Do we try to talk to Phil, though we suspect that reasoning with him won’t work?

Do we kick him out when he’s rude, which is pretty much always these days? (Though we’ve never kicked anyone out for rudeness before…)

Do we feel rotten about what’s happening to our friend but stick with our bar being a place where people don’t get kicked out?

Advice welcome.


I will defend my actual dad's honor as a Texan by saying that there is no way "I'd just as soon let anyone in" would have been his response. He is not currently in a condition to do much to anybody, but if, in his prime, he saw a man in a bar harassing a lady and calling her names, his justice on the guy would be swift and brutal. Not saying that's right. It's just how they raised them in Texas in the 1950's. And the Chalicedad is unusually refined. He used to sing Opera.


Anonymous said...

Do we try to talk to Phil, though we suspect that reasoning with him won’t work?

I would try talking to Phil once. If he does not respond, then...

Do we kick him out when he’s rude, which is pretty much always these days? (Though we’ve never kicked anyone out for rudeness before…)

Having stated your expectations calmly and rationally (maybe in a place where some other friends can hear you), then you act consistently to enforce no-rudeness rules.

Do we feel rotten about what’s happening to our friend but stick with our bar being a place where people don’t get kicked out?

It depends upon what the point of the bar is. It's your family's bar... and as much as you have a tradition of not kicking people out, that's probably that way because you want to uphold a certain environment. It sounds like Phil is ruining that environment.

That's my take on your thought experiment. Freedom isn't about license to be rude and self-serving. Freedom is a means to an end, the end of a better society where constructive conversations can occur.

(See the real life example at Columbia University recently, where a group of students shut down a panel discussion that they disagreed with--by shouting them down. That isn't being a hero or using civil disobedience to bring attention to wrongs...that's being a jerk.)

Lilylou said...

Interesting post, CC. Reminds me of churches I've been part of. And the hard-won, fiercely-debated rationale I've seen used, mostly successfully, is that the safety of clients/members (emotional and physical) is top priority; the inclusion of someone who chooses to be offensive is low priority.

So the process becomes insuring the safety of the client (aka churchgoer/bar aficionada) by setting limits for the offensive one and 86ing him/her if the limits are not observed.

There will be a certain amount of uproar. The formal leadership (bar owner/church leaders) and informal leadership (patrons/members) need to have an intervention with the offensive one, with anecdotal evidence (you can tell I used to work in schools) about the offensiveness of certain acts.

Then the compassion and limits are expressed: we are sad that you are not happy/satisfied/whatever; we would like to be helpful if we can, but we insist that you be civil; otherwise you are gone.

And the limits need to be observed by the leadership, not bent out of misguided sympathy. A broken leg doesn't heal properly unless it is immobilized until the bone knits. An offensive person doesn't get less offensive unless s/he is "immobilized" until s/he learns better ways.

Joel Monka said...

My first reaction would be pretty much the same as the Chalicedad, but then I too was raised in another era. Today, I would give him a "time out"- a 30 day ban. The third such ban, should it go that far, would be permanent. 99% will either change such that no second time out is necessary, or be offended and make the first ban voluntarily permanent. Either way, it would be his decision completely.

Anonymous said...

Does the lady ever 'overreact' to things?

Anonymous said...

I think I see what you are getting at with your thought experiment, but I think the bar analogy coulds some isses.
First of all, harassment isn't healthy. And be it a bar or a church, if someone is harassing one or another group of people then they need to leave. Because the issue isn't with the group it's with that one person who has it out for the group.
Second, this is going beyond rude. It's hurtful behavior. You make someone cry because you are insulting/attacking them or even make them think badly of themselves in a public setting, that's abuse. So we have harassment and abuse. If I owned a bar, Phil would be on the sidewalk in a moment. A bar isn't a psychatrist's office.
Which brings me to my final point, if it was a church setting, I'd feel like yeah, tell that person to leave and when they've begun therapy or treatment or whatever for their issues and they show intiative in sticking with it, then welcome them back.
But once that person reaches the level of abuse, what's next? What's Phil going to do next? Start a fight? Kill someone? The next level above emotional abuse is physical abuse, and that needs to be dealt with before he can re-enter the space. The community is at risk, and the community should be more highly valued than an individual person.

Chalicechick said...

Answer to Anonymous:

The lady’s behavior isn’t the problem. She has been known to vigorously defend her views in arguments in other bars, sometimes more vigorously than you personally wish she had, but that’s part of the issue. You actually do want to keep an atmosphere where vigorous discussion happens, even if it does occasionally get too rough for you personally.

You do think there’s a line between attacking someone whom you’re arguing with acceptably and unacceptably and do not trust your own feelings to be that line. You’re just not sure where the line is objectively and you don’t want to be thought of as the person who draws the lines and enforces them.

Which could be a sign that the “you” being referred to needs to grow up.

Don’t know.

Keep discussing. This is interesting.

chutney said...

I like the timeout idea. A week, then a month, then forever.

The question you have to ask yourself is, do you want a bar full of Phils? If he keeps it up, he'll run off someone, and then two someones. And they'll tell their friends, and then their friends won't come. And the people who saw it happen will be uncomfortable, or even ashamed for not intervening, or angry with you for not intervening, and they will quit coming.

Pretty soon, no one will be at the bar but you and the Phils. And then it's no longer your family bar. It's the Phils' bar.

powderblue said...

When Phil goes into overdrive with complaining and blaming, those present should form a healing circle around him, clasp hands, close eyes, and "tone" him with sacred humming. One or two doses of that may freak him out enough to stop.

UUpdater said...

I would tell Phil in fairly plain and simple terms that he was putting me in an awkward position where I might have to choose between a friend, and Phil. then let Phil know that if he forces the issue I won't be choosing Phil. I would point out that others have already kicked him out, and that curbing his behavior is probably in his best interest. If possible give clear guidelines, and specific examples of inappropriate behavior.

Wild times can be fun, but if inappropriate behavior is condoned it's in no ones best interest. Sometimes it's unpleasant to be the one putting the foot down, but if you want the bar to be appealing then it's probably a wise decision.

Steven Rowe said...

Let me just say that you are far more charitable than I would be. My day job revolves around situations like this, but you definately read Phil differently than I do.

LinguistFriend said...

Joel's idea seems to be a good one. I do not believe that Ms. Kitty's idea of an intervention is practical for such a medium as the blog, unfortunately, although I know that it can be powerful in other circumstances. The workability of Joel's suggestion depends on whether Phil can be dealt with by ordinary behavioral techniques. Closing the blog permanently to him now cuts off the opportunity for him to respond to ordinary behavioral techniques. If he does not do so after some escalating sequence such as Joel suggests, the case is beyond what you and your guests can reasonably be expected to accept.
So far I have considered the case purely in terms of what happens on your blog, but there are issues that you may choose to deal with where Phil's well-attested behavior in other contexts suggests that you may choose to consider the issue on a community basis.

Lilylou said...

Agreed that my idea wouldn't work with a blog, but it's funny how similar the situation is to a church, where dysfunctional characters act out and must be reined in. Good exchange of thoughts!

Chalicechick said...

And in all fairness, it MIGHT work in a bar. Not that interventions are usually in a bar's best interest...


Bill Baar said...

Beer please

Jamie Goodwin said...

Here is the thing about Phil. We all go through bad times right? I mean we all have days and nights when we feel wronged and feel hurt.

This happens in bars, in churches, at work, and even in our homes.

Back to Phil, Phil's problem is that he cannot let it go. The Phil I am thinking of has been contacted and talked to many times by people who honestly want to help him. To no avail. Phil just isn't interested in being polite or joining in on a conversation.

For Phil his problems are the center of his world and he feels should be the center of everyone else's.

After 10 years Phil's behavior has just gotten worse and worse, to the point where even the guys with the little tiny food carts on the corner, which service like 10 people a day, have had to keep Phil away. Everywhere he goes he has only one motive, to complain about how he was wronged in a way that pretty much no one else can understand.

Of course, the specific Phil I am thinking of may not be the same as the hypothetical Phil.

Anonymous said...

I have not seen the conversations you are referring to, but i have a story to share:
In a group I was a member of, there was a guy named Steve, who was a slimey turkey. He tried to be one of the group, but he kept acting like a slimey turkey, and people, especially women, kept putting him down. One day he said something untoward to Emily, who called him a slimey turkey and said she'd like to give him a piece of her mind -- and he said, "OK, tell me what I'm doing wrong, I really don't know." and she did. At length. And he started doing much better, and is now a beloved and accepted member of the group.
I wish I knew what it was she said.
I think that was really brave of Steve to admit he didn't know what to do, or not to do.