20 March 2013

The Constant Crisis Mindset


Over the last decade or so, as I shifted from childhood into adulthood, I’ve noticed that there are a large number of men who feel compelled to raise their voices every time something goes wrong.  I mean this literally.  Every time something goes wrong, these men act as if the world is coming to an end and thus yell, scream, berate, and otherwise pitch a fit.

I suppose I should qualify myself and say that there are times in which yelling, berating, etc. are helpful.  Sometimes things go terribly awry, and circumstances demand authoritative volume and attention-grabbing behavior.  Sometimes people need a boot in their ass in order to get a certain message.  Sometimes there are legitimate crises that must be dealt with in such a way.

And yet, I can’t help but think that the method of dealing with every speed bump, trivial deviation from a plan, and minor inconvenience with yelling, berating, and general loudness expressing profound displeasure is inherently feminine, or at least unmasculine.  And thus I cannot help but be repulsed by men who respond to problems with volume and emotion instead of calmness and reason.

I call the tendency to overreact to every little thing the Constant Crisis mindset, and it seems to plague a lot of men.  Viewing every minor problem as an epic crisis that Must Be Dealt With Immediately Or Else The World Will End is not only unmasculine (or, if you prefer, beta), it is largely unnecessary, and often counterproductive.

In the first place, a lot of problems aren’t really problems.  To draw from my own life experience, I once had a boss who had a tendency to berate for not following his training.  There were, and are, a thousand and one ways to apply paint to a wall, but my boss was convinced that there was only one way to paint properly, which coincidentally happened to be the way he did it.  And so I was occasionally yelled at by my boss not because my results were terrible, but because my methods were wrong. (In fairness to him, though, my results weren’t generally something to write home about when I first started painting.  However, focusing on process over results is generally stunting since, as mentioned, there are a ton of different ways to get the correct results.)

In the second place, the Constant Crisis mindset can be counterproductive since it encourages emotional, short-term solutions over rational long-term solutions.  To draw from my own experience again, I once sat, and continue to sit, on the board of directors at the church I attend.  I am easily the youngest member of the board, and am half the age of the next-youngest member, and a good four to five decades younger than the rest.  I am on the board because I have more experience with IT, accounting, finance, and financial management than everyone else on the board combined.

About two years ago, I noticed that contributions were decreasing and costs were increasing, and that these trends had been occurring for several months and showed no signs of reversing in the immediate future.  At one business meeting shortly after I made note of these trends, I proposed a radical financial overhaul that would likely avoid the impending fiscal cliff the church was hurtling towards. When I proposed this plan, all of the old guys yelled at me for being radical and trying to destroy the congregation.  I was shunned, and called names, and was generally reviled.  And this was by males (I hesitate to call them men) who were thrice my age.

Every last one of my predictions came true, and we were eventually forced to implement large chunks of my financial plan.  Now we’re on the brink of bankruptcy and insolvency and we can’t pay the minister his full salary.  But at least, in the meeting when I initially proposed my plan, we made sure our short-term spending plan was viable, though it did not last very long.

So why, then, do so many men feel compelled to treat non-problem and minor problems are epic crises? And why do so many handle true crises poorly?

I suspect that this is because most men are beta, in both a relative and absolute sense.  Yelling and berating are both status signals, of sorts, and do signify dominance.  The man who can shout down other men, or women, is the most dominant man.  Thus, it doesn’t really matter if facts or logic is on your side; what matters is if volume is on your side.  Constantly viewing everything as a series of crises gives you more opportunities to demonstrate dominance.  However, this leads to a paradox:  if you have to constantly assert and demonstrate dominance, at least by yelling and berating, then you don’t really have dominance.  Dominance is self-evident; if you have to prove it, you don’t have it.

The truly dominant male, then, is one who is calm, cool, and collected in a crisis.  He is one who lets the little things slide and remains unflustered in the face of minor setbacks, deviations, and minor mistakes.  He knows that there is no reason to get bent out of shape over minor things precisely because they are minor things.  And because he always knows what he is doing, even in a crisis, he never really feels compelled to yell, berate, and scream.

The best example of this sort of dominance, in my mind, is the TV character Raylan Givens (from Justified).  Raylan can be emotional—he’s often angry—and he doesn’t shy away from his emotions.  However, he’s always cool under pressure because he’s always thinking of a way out.  Thus, Raylan rarely loses his composure because he always knows what he’s doing, and has very little to prove.  He knows his skills, his limits, and he knows what matters.  And therefore he doesn’t have to get in a shouting match every time something goes wrong.

I think, fundamentally, the constant crisis mindset reveals a man’s lack of status.  It enables a man to feel like he’s important, like he has status.  He really doesn’t, and those who defer to his volume know that he doesn’t have status or dominance.  They defer not because they respect him or because he’s so dominant, but because they prefer the quiet.  These men delude themselves into thinking that they are respected/dominant because everyone cowers in fear when they yell, but ultimately their status is as empty as the content of their raised voices.