Greta Van Susteren,
Fox News Analyst
We have been talking about the model of REBT where demanding (“shoulds,” et al) is at the root of disturbance. Â I thought it might be a good occasion to reprise my concept of “disguised shoulds.”
I used to enjoy Greta Van Susteren when she was regular guest on Larry King giving legal analysis, which is, after all, her area of expertise. Â However, she has risen way beyond those “humble” beginnings to become a so called “news analyst” on Fox Nooze, and although softer than many of the other analysts and guests, she nonetheless lends her voice to the chorus of relentless complaining, criticizing, and harping, seemingly designed more to inflame than inform. Â This post is not really about Greta, and it is definitely not because the incident I am going to describe is so special. Â Quite the contrary, it is all too common, unfortunately, a typical toxic strategy, and hardly limited to Fox Nooze, and hardly limited to the media. It is just that this is such an easy, Â juicy example, and become an excellent teaching point. But keep in mind this is not a political discussion and not about the point Greta was trying to duplicitously make.
Very simply, as part of the ongoing attempt to degrade President Obama at every and all opportunity, speaking of recent terrorist attacks domestically and abroad, Greta posed the questions about President Obama, Â “Why doesn’t he call it ‘terrorism’?” Â and “Why didn’t he do something about ISIL sooner?” Â Then she went on t repeat the questions more than once, expressing her exasperation, “I don’t understand why . . .”
Now, the important thing here as that the vast, vast majority of people exposed to this toxic stuff never question it. Â At first blush, it sound like a perfectly reasonable, innocent question, and that is the way that people hear it, regard it and process it . . . Â unless they have some training in rhetoric, REBT and/or General Semantics. Â This “why?” question and “I don’t understand why . . .” are what I refer to as “disguised shoulds.” Â (c) Rex 1989-2015 Â (hehehehe . . . ). Â Once you are on to this, such toxic rhetoric is remarkable easy to catch, identify and de-code into real English. Â It’s easy! Â The translation of “why?” here in real English is: “President Obama SHOULD call it terrorism, Â and he SHOULD have done something sooner about the growing threat in Syria!” Â And then, although she did not say this in so many words, her exasperation and subsequent comments strongly imply “And is it TERRIBLE that President Obama didn’t do what he clearly should have done! Â And as he didn’t do what he SHOULD do, he is a BAD PRESIDENT!” Â Bold red, as always, indicates specific cognitive distortions.
- Â So, why is this important? Aren’t I just quibbling and playing “semantic games.” Â Definitely not to the first, and definitely not to the second, if you understand that the common usage of “just semantics” meaning an intellectual exercise that has no practical value, is not the way we understand and use the term in REBT or General Semantics. Â Basic REBT 101 Â reminds us that language matters, especially as irrational beliefs, distorted thinking and unhealthy, negative self-talk provoke disturbed emoting which pushes us toward behavior that is unrewarding and self-defeating. Â These are high stakes, even though my message may have become diluted from repeating too often.
So, what is the problem with Greta’s “why?” question tact? Â
First of all, it is inherently inflammatory. Â Remember that shoulds, et al directed outward toward others tend to provoke anger, often righteous indignation in the person who is shoulding. Directed inward, toward self, and they tend to provoke guilt. Â While guilt–experienced as objective regret and as accepting-responsibility-for one’s behavior–can be constructive, and while anger-tied-to-justice can sometimes be noble, for the most part, in my opinion, these emotions have little practical value in the modern world, and their possible occasional usefulness is over-shadowed a hundred-fold by their destructive capacity. Â So, wile inflaming people or attempting to do so may sell papers and increase viewers, I don’t think it is a very healthy or constructive thing to do, especially for Â vast numbers of people who are completely naive to the nature of the process we are exploring here, an do not realize they are being manipulated. Â I also think there may be an unfortunate and unhealthy tendency for people to delude themselves into believing Â that being provoked and inflamed, passes for thinking deeply about an issue, and is the same thing as actually doing something about it. Â However, this inflammation is no more constructive than any Saturday night bar room argument among friends. Â Fun, perhaps, but not very useful, and can and does lead to dangerous escalation.
Secondly, these “disguised shoulds” are dishonest. Â They attempt to pass of opinion as fact, and try to lend authenticity to the opinion by calling on some abstract entity or principle. Â Who says you “should”? Â God? Â The Universe? Â The Supreme Court? Â The local sheriff? Â We don’t know exactly, but it points to some higher abstract principle without having to say so outright.
If Greta simply says “I want President Obama to call it ‘terrorism,’ and I wanted him to act sooner regarding the crisis in Syria,” that puts the discussion on an entirely different level. Then she has to take responsibility and explain and defend her view. Â And it affords us the opportunity to respond “I understand what you are saying, but I disagree. Here is what I think . . .” Â That’s a dialog, that’s a fair and open debate. Â But should stops any real sense of debate. Â If Â you buy into the should, consciously or unconsciously, you don’t get to have an opinion about should. Â Should is should, it is absolute and surely comes from some “higher authority.” Â It also deprives the shoulder of insight into their own thinking if they delude themselves into believing that they are advancing some “higher authority” rather than merely stating an opinion. Â Opinions expressed honestly–even passionately–are inherently neither right nor wrong. Â That may scare the hell out of some people who are more comfortable operating on the basis of some “moral authority,” rather than from what Gary Emery coined Â The Choice System vs. the Should System.
Understand that even though, as I discussed in a recent post, behavioral science and therapy is evolving at lightning speed, this old stuff, this basic stuff is still a BOMBSHELL for many people, and for them may represent a paradigm shift comparable to the shift from Newtonian to Einsteinian physics. Â So, tread lightly, and don’t necessarily expect to win too many debates over it, make many friends, Â or save too many souls!
Still, anybody who does “get” this, can being working with it immediately. Â Old fashioned soap operas are a great place to start, and the entire trajectory of the plot lines and the dramatic tension is (artificially) generated by having the characters relentlessly trying to persuade each other what the should or shouldn’t do. Â Fox Nooze is another obvious place to practice decoding, however, Fox hardly has the Â monopoly on shoulding, nor do conservatives. Fox is just probably more tenacious and relentless about it than other news outlets. Â Your friends and family probably also supply an endless supply of shoulds and other material to decode. Â Then, of course, there is the nutty thinking that comes out of your own dear, sweet noodle.
. . . So, get busy!
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