Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Advice to "Dr." Laura: RIDE It Out

I sleep at odd times.  I'm not talking about my nasty habit of getting drowsy in meetings.  I mean it is not all that unusual for me to take a 15 minute nap at 7 p.m., so that I can proceed in to another five hours worth of activity energized.  It works for me.

I was indulging in one of my 7 p.m. naps Thursday night, with CNN playing in the background.  As I was starting to emerge from my sleep state, I heard Rick Sanchez announce, "Dr. Laura Schlessinger engages in angry dialogue with caller, using the 'n' word 11 times."  This announcement rapidly pricked my consciousness and hastened my awakening.  

The story unfolded throughout the night (the actual conversation had happened on the preceding Tuesday night), with plenty of analysts chiming in with expert opinions.  

Dr. Laura's caller had been a black woman who wanted advice on how to handle her white husband's family (and friends); the family/friends made offensive racial comments in front of the caller, and her husband had not taken any actions in her defense.

The caller, Jade, stated her issue.  Dr. Laura asked for an example.  When Jade provided the example, Dr. Laura went off on a lengthy tangent about how the "n" word is frequently used in popular media, going on to say, "black guys use it all the time."  When Jade questioned Dr. Laura's logic and frequent restating of the word, Dr. Laura ended the call by telling Jade that if she is that hypersensitive then she "shouldn't marry outside of her race."  

I used to listen to Dr. Laura, mostly for entertainment purposes, when I was driving for business travel.  In the same way that "Dr. Phil" grates on my nerves with his directive approach that employs lots of bossy instructions with very little empathetic listening as a prelude, I would listen in amazement as she would hijack the interactions with her callers.  Most everyone who knows me in more than a passing fashion knows that I struggle with the fact that, as a working parent, I have far less time with my children than I would like.  Thus, every time Dr. Laura bragged about being "her kid's mom," I would struggle with a question that has dogged me ever since I gave birth.  She made it sound so righteous, so destined, so the only logical option if your children were to grow up well-balanced

When I heard about her conversation with Jade and the ensuing furor, I have to admit one of the first things I felt was a sort of smug, "well, it's about time she self destructed."  Of course Dr. Laura has had previous run-ins with those whose lifestyle she disagreed with.  At the heart of the matter (for me), lies something much more basic than her poor choice of words and her ignorance.  Had she used the very basic (but effective) technique that I was taught as a telephone counselor, a technique that went by the acronym RIDE, the call could have ended very differently.

"R" - establish a relationship.  After Jade said, in her introductory comments, "I'm starting to grow very resentful of him [her husband]" and proceeded to explain how her husband ignores the offensive comments, Dr. Laura asked for examples.  Dr. Laura's very first reply was, "I don't think that's racist." 

Dr. Laura was entitled to her opinion, and granted I do not know what relationship was established in any pre-screening for this call, but Dr. Laura did not invest any time or effort in establishing a relationship with Jade before jumping immediately to expressing her own opinion. 

"I" - identify the problem.  The problem is not that Jade is "hypersensitive" or that she should not have married out of her race.  Getting to the real problem would have taken time, intellect, and sensitivity; it is likely centered around Jade's growing feelings of resentment and powerlessness in the face of the types of comments she refers to in the call.  In addition, she does not feel that she has her the support of her husband -- maybe he doesn't understand how she feels or maybe he doesn't care.  But again, the problem is not her "hypersensitivity" or the fact that she married someone of a different race.

"D" - deal with the feelings.  Here is where I think Dr. Laura missed the boat in the most basic of ways.  I know time is money on radio, and anyone who has listened to her show at all or read her website, where potential callers are given a five-point set of instructions, including:

  • stick with your original story
  • don't present on-going never-ending layers of problems
knows that the goal is to avoid deviating from the problem at hand. 

Dealing with feelings takes time, but saying "I understand" or "I can hear your frustration in your voice" goes a long way when your goal is helping someone. 

"E" - explore alternatives.  A one-time caller to a radio show may not get to this stage, but the concept of "exploring alternatives" is a heck of a lot healthier than "blithely swallow whatever you are told to do by an 'expert' you will not ever see again."

I wish I could have Jade over for dinner.  I wish we could talk.  I wish she could see the amazing, accepting family I have married into, which has welcomed children from other racial heritages for two generations. 

I also agree with Susan Sarandon, who made this comment back in 2000 when she participated in a successful campaign to get Paramount Television to cancel its plans for a Dr. Laura tv show, referring to Dr. Laura as "a person who is clearly in dire need of compassion, education, and a good shrink herself." 

So next time you're in a situation like this, Dr. Laura, RIDE it out.  You'll be surprised how well it works.

I'll "run" into you next week, readers.


Derrick said...

Great post! I am in complete agreement with your perspective. Simply listening to each other before we make general assumptions would do wonders for us all. Thanks for being a voice of reason when emotions roll over.

Susan Fields said...

Great advice! It sounds like Dr. Laura would have done well to follow it.