This week Dr. Samantha Hardy visited S-CAR (George Mason's School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution). Dr Hardy lives in Australia and does Conflict Coaching. We specialize in a "narrative approach" to conflict resolution and she worked with us on story "genres." I was fascinated to learn how she broke down the "tragedy/melodrama" while clients could come in to talk about their comedies or romances, frankly most people come to a coach with drama. She distinguished melodrama from tragedy in the following way. Note please this is a summary- please contact her for the full scope...
When people are in a space of recounting this genre, they tend to portray themselves as the passive protagonist, dependent upon others, and submissive to outcome. We are in this state when we say to others "Tell me what to do!" When we talk about others we make them one-dimensional and our quest is for certainty! We want a sure outcome and we romanticize the past..."Ah it was so much better before" we tell ourselves when recounting the melodrama. We almost pray for a kind of "dream justice" -- divine justice is what I would call it. "Conflict" for one in a melodrama is an aberration- it's upsetting the moral order of things.
This state of melodrama reminds me of Thich Nhat Han's note about suffering.
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
When we are in melodrama we hold on to the suffering because we are seeking certainty.
So what is the option when we find ourselves faced suddenly or even at our own doing the pains of life?
Dr. Hardy offered the alternative of the "tragic hero/heroine." What's the difference? Doesn't tragedy always end in pain?
Well for the tragic hero/heroine there is still pain. Pain is part of life, but the pain is more internalized. It isn't used to suck people in. Finally we have our active protagonist! Our hero who will face life's challenges head on, take the risk of making decisions and being interdependent. There is risk in decision making and our heros/heroines are not infallible but they are fascinating to watch and accompany because they are capable of self-determination. They have more interesting internal experiences- they are complex internally and their stories reflect this. When they tell of the situation, they acknowledge the complexity of themselves, others and the situation.
In her work, Dr. Hardy wants the Conflict Coach to help move the client from melodrama to tragic hero/heroine. But be careful if you try this with your family and friends. They often want you to jump into the story and be on their side. Her point though is a powerful one, we don't want to leave our clients, ourselves or our loved ones feeling the lack "agency" (in our lingo) or personal power (in coaching lingo), or self-determination (in philosophical terms).
I can remember many times telling a story to someone about a pain and leaving feeling without power to act. When I take the scarier road of owning life in all its complexity and not trying to making things simple to fast, I may not leave feeling "great" but definitely more whole.