“ I enjoy talking with people (thematic).I can do dinner conversation; I don’t do speeches. (functional)”
“I am more comfortable with people I know (thematic: friend ship), and feel a bit anxious with strangers (functional).
But suppose my mate loves throwing parties? Do I sit in the corner reading my favorite book? No. That’s where our role repertoire becomes important.
Let’s start with the book. Why do I like to read? A few reasons pop up: I am not required to do anything else but read, and I am learning something every moment.
Is that what happens to those people who are good at making "small talk" at parties? Is that what "reading someone like a book" really means?
Perhaps they have taken the thematic “Curiosity” role, and developed that into the functional “good listener” role…they do not have to talk about themselves (difficult for some of us); they only have to develop a willingness to pay close attention to the person they are talking with. And to let themselves be as interested in that person as they would be with any new book. They need to be alert, genuinely curious, and willing to follow the story line as it unfolds in the conversation.
Time to try a new role
While this segment is focused on the role repertoire it points to the simultaneity of role interaction which we will get to in a little while.
For now, let’s stay with thematic and functional roles. And let’s see if you are willing to try something, perhaps a little new.
I am recommending “writing while you read”.
I use an 8” by 5” little spiral notebook. You are reading this on-line, and may prefer to make your observations that way…I recommend the notebook because I can take it with me and use it with other readings and for making mental notes as they occur.
Either way: think about and list some thematic roles that you are aware of or are becoming aware of. Thematic roles such as Father, Mother, Son, Daughter,Sister,Brother, and other family titles. Other kinds of thematic roles might be, as already mentioned, "Curious Student", or "Adventurer", "Leader", “Disciple”, "Warrior", and "Peace Maker".
These are fluid concepts. Their purpose is to assist you in your own personal self reflection, to help you learn another way to think about your behavior, and how that behavior presents who you are to other people.
Feel free to design your own understanding of these concepts. After all, is there any other way for us to understand anything?
Now identify for yourself, two or three of these roles and identify the functional roles that you associate with those roles. For instance:
Son, or Daughter--Good daughter or son:
caller of mother once a week--inquirer of health,activities, family news--reporter of personal news--declarer of affection--scheduler of visits, visitor....
Take a moment and fill in the roles that would define a Negligent son or daughter:
Get a cup of coffee or tea and give yourself over to these exercises for about five or ten minutes. When you come back, I will tell you another one of my personal stories about this kind of thing. Meanwhile you are developing a new way to read a book...a deliberately interactive way to read.
All right, I hope you took the time and used it as I suggested, if not, you can do it whenever you feel like it. Meanwhile here is the story I promised.
My wife and I have three children: two girls, and a son all now grown. Our son is the eldest, and at that time was about twelve. I was working as the Director of Marketing for a large real estate firm specializing in representing local builders. A lot of the days were long, and Saturday or Sunday (sometimes both) were busy enough to require my attention to a variety of the new home sites.
When I got home, I wanted to have a drink, and kick back. That was the role I was looking for to transition from the work roles into the family roles.
The kids, especially the son, had other ideas. So the “kick back” role got transformed too often into the angry patriarch: entitled and self-absorbed. Now the angry patriarch really didn’t fit me.
I could and did do it; but it didn’t feel right and I didn’t like it. Nor did the kids, nor did my wife, who taking on the role of the kind, understanding counselor said in essence:
“This isn’t working. You are not the director of marketing here. The kids have been waiting to see you and cannot wait patiently for you to have your “transition time”. Your transition time has to be on the ride home. When you get here you are the daddy, and that’s what you have to be.”
Of course she was right…and of course we didn’t arrive at the solution after one conversation. But we both knew that I had to change my behavior and my experience and understanding of role realities made it something, that with a commitment to being the kind of father I wanted to be, I knew I could do.
On the way home instead of thinking about a drink and kicking back, I would more deliberately think about the kids, generate my interest in what their days had been like, think about a little play time before dinner, and then story and bath and more story time as we settled them down for the night.
I needed a reminder to do that, and so I developed a new habit of pausing before I got into my car for the ride home. I would do a little internal "shaking off the day" and when I opened the car door I would think, "I'm going home, and the kids are waiting to see me."
Kick back time got delayed a few hours. But when the kids were settled in, and the evening had gone the way it could, kick back time became what I needed it to be…and now with a more complete summary review, not just of my work, but more importantly, of my family life.
Of course, I could have done what we often do, When our behavior is challenged. That is simply to say, "that's just the way I am." But what, exactly does that explain or accomplish? Nothing. All it does is build a barricade.
(my next blog will continue this opening into looking at ourselves via our roles)