“I’m taking a picture of you. Please smile. Nooo not like that! A big, natural, spontaneous smile”.
Everyone understands this example, right? When someone asks you to act… spontaneously, you’re stuck in an awkward grey nauseous mood. It’s called “the be spontaneous paradox”. It can happen anywhere, in a couple, a family, at work : one person requests something that can only be given spontaneously – love, interest, appreciation, desire, tenderness… You’re now stuck in a Double Bind.
Here’s a good dialog from the 2006 movie “The Break-Up” :
- I busted my ass all day cleaning this house and then cooking that meal! And I worked today. It would be nice if you said “thank you” and helped me with the dishes.
- Fine. I’ll help you do the damn dishes.
- That’s not what I want.
- You just said that you want me to help you do the dishes!
- I want you to want to do the dishes.
- Why would I want to do dishes?
- Why? See, that’s my whole point.
- Let me see if I’m following this, okay? Are you telling me that you’re upset
because I don’t have a strong desire to clean dishes?
- No. I’m upset because you don’t have a strong desire to offer to do the dishes.
- I just did.
- After I asked you!
Imagine a club, a private club with big mellow armchairs. The boss enters the room and solemnly criticize the atmosphere, and then asks everyone to be a little more gay and happy, “a few more laughs would be perfect!” – Imagine the disaster!… (I saw this one day from a web forum administrator. I tried to explain him, but without any effect).
Tool 1 : Learn how to detect when someone asks you to “act spontaneously”. And beware of this when it’s meant but unsaid, perversely implicit : it’s worse ! Your answer can be multiple.
- If you try, you just have to put a mask. But it’s not you, it’s theater. Maybe you will have to wear it!
- You can just say no, of course.
- Go meta-communication : talk about this, explain the paradox and that you will not stay stuck into this.
Tool 2 : Do you do it? Putting other people into these “Please change and act spontaneously like this and like that“? If you did, can you detect the desperate unease and awkwardness you put in the other’s brain? Can you see the mask?
I will always remember this example I got from Watzlawick, a father punishing his kid telling him “Go to your room, and come back when you smile”. Horror!