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Wiley Wandering

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September 11, 2010

Wandering in Redondo Beach While Wondering About Social Class’ Privilege: PART TWO

The scene from the film “The Hurricane” also made me reflect upon a recent conversation I had with two men when vacationing in Redondo Beach. Before our friend Jark arrived my cousin TJ and I had been discussing the difficulties in communicating with Jark. Back in the day we were part of a rather large crew of guys, mostly college students, who went in mass to clubs and parties, played dominoes, tonk (a card game), and flag football, and depending upon our preference that day, found various ways to achieve an enlightened state. TJ, who interacts with Jark much more than me since I now live on the East Coast, was disinterested in being in the mix with Jark. TJ claims that all conversations with Jark somehow always morph into a conversation about Jark. Now, it had been twenty years since I had even seen Jark, and TJ is prone to hyperbole. Back in the day Jark was often construed as somewhat boastful, but not so if the old adage “it aint bragging if it’s told to family” is one of your mantras. TJ, a really nice guy, often disparages people to others in a somewhat understated fashion that doesn’t appear vitriolic. However, armed with enough time his criticisms can be somewhat intoxicating to the listener. His criticisms can contribute to the development of a dysfunctional perspective of whomever it is that TJ deems odd. In this instance, TJ was insisting that he had no time for a front road seat to Jark’s soliloquies.

Now, to provide a bit of context here, Jark is stereotypically successful. He is a 40 year old, college educated, well invested, person who has set himself up nicely with some strategic moves. However, considerations of Jark’s success could include the fact that Jark has never had many friends, an essential ingredient of success with many friendship theorists, dating all the way back to Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics. TJ could also be seen as successful, but dependent upon your value system, in a very different way from Jark. TJ, with some college under his belt, is a health conscious, highly disciplined, ladies man whose discipline is exemplified in his never having gained weight from his high school days. TJ has an entrepreneur mentality and has constantly been in search of that breakthrough opportunity that will allow him to call his own career shots. However, TJ’s work ethic appears to be more intense with opportunities that appear to have less probability of viably sustaining him. So, armed with that context, here’s what happened.
Now, for those of you concerned with me outing my crew, the names and certain other identifying characteristics were changed to protect their identities, so relax. Anyway, Jark arrives, and true enough he begins his verbal domination of all subjects broached by somehow turning every topic into a Jark journey. TJ is seriously trying not to roll his eyes, but his “I told you so” expression shows every time I’m looking at him and Jark isn’t. For me it’s not a problem because I planned on asserting myself into the conversation and finishing my points. I refused to let him dominate conversations that I started before I made my point, even having to say to him at times “Jark, let me finish my point!,” or “Jark, you cut me off!” TJ, on the other hand, after complaining about how Jark would be, completely acquiesced to Jark’s rather inconsiderate, if not outright disrespectful and rude, (albeit non-intentional) communication style, by allowing Jark to dominate his conversation. After 3 hours of conversation that covered the high school we all attended, our families, female-friends/lovers, ex-female-friends and wives, Terrell Owens, Tiger Woods, President Obama, The Party of No, Tea Parties, and television Commercials, we had not only broken a lot of ice, but crushed most of it. However, we were also exasperated and exhausted for different reasons. Jark had traveled hours to hang with his home boys (me and TJ), while TJ and I had both endured Jark’s self-centered conversation. Eventually, the moment of truth arrived, or at least a moment where someone’s truth was going to be challenged.

Before Jark had arrived that night I had responded to TJ asking me what was the biggest difference in my self esteem by now being known as Dr. J.W. Wiley instead of J.W. My answer was that overcoming the doctorate’s significance with other people in terms of them expecting me to think I was now “all that” was a task I hadn’t expected. On the other hand, I knew that there would be many people who would be proud of me and prepared to extend a bit more respect my way because of their recognition of the work I must have put in to finish the doctorate. I also told him that it was definitely an odd status symbol for someone like me who had been a top athlete in high school and fairly popular guy in both high school and college. I had heard the horror stories of cops who were pretty much nobodies in high school who with their new found power and prestige as law officers were now out of control egoists. Or people who are given an opportunity to lead and somehow eventually abuse their newly acquired power. But, though I had heard similar stories about people with their doctorates—who were never popular prior to completing their doctorates but immediately after wards became excessively haughty— you would have to know exactly how much more manipulative and devious the games can be played amongst these so-called professional intellects. So, I was committed to not become the obnoxious intellectual, while still trying to find a way to keep it real. I refused to be framed as the obnoxious intellectual, even though that definitely would be a card played against me by those who had no other intellectual armament (no other cards to play).

So (now that you are equipped with that back story), following Jark’s brutal usurping of TJ’s initiation of two more conversations, I asked Jark if he had a crew that he hung with, since we had all drifted years ago. When he said that he actually didn’t have any sort of crew, that he mostly hung out only with his children it confirmed my suspicions and I told him just that. I said I wasn’t surprised because his communication style was somewhat dominant in that he not only didn’t have a problem interjecting and redirecting the course of any and unfortunately all conversations, but inherent in his doing it was the appearance of no interest in what others had to offer. I further stated that with a crew he wouldn’t be able to get away with that type of communication style because the crew, at least the type of crew that I always surrounded myself with, wouldn’t play that. My crew would put me in check a myriad of ways behind any attempts of mine to dominate dialogue beyond the occasional venture into lengthy explication of a point to adequately frame it. (Even then my crew might be apt to break me off to keep me honest in the future.)

So, I told Jark that I was a proponent of the fact that steel sharpens steel and that “good friends say what you need to hear, not what you want them to,” and what I was saying to him at that time was a perfect, or perhaps imperfect, example of that fact. I let him know that I wasn’t sure if anyone had ever challenged him to consider his communication style, or if everyone was more comfortable pretending that the emperor had new clothes. To say the least, he was dumbfounded, but contrite.
Later, after Jark left, TJ went the typical places he goes in the post-awkward conversation assessment. He first told me I was a trip to have gone those places with Jark, saying Jark probably hated me now. When I told him I went the places I felt were necessary to give me and Jark an opportunity to get past our awkward conversations. When I challenged TJ to do the same instead of back-biting the people that he hangs out with, he got angry. He attributed my going after Jark as a symptom of my ego as a result of now being Dr. Wiley. I called him on his poor and easily anticipated playing of the doctorate card and admonished him for his lack of courage. Is this game that people play with social status familiar to you? Have you had a friend/associate or knew of a friend/associate that needed to be challenged for some dysfunctional behavior, but no one would step up to the challenge? Were you that person? If so, why didn’t you act?