I’m a big fan of American Pickers, the tv show where Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz scour the country side for fantastic, eccentric and sometimes forgotten antiques hoarded by some of America’s most interesting characters.
Mike and Frank seem to have a great relationship. It has always appeared quite even keeled and supportive. They have their job to do and they do it well, collaboratively and cordially. So I was stunned the other day when, during the closing dialogue at the end of the show as they drove down the road, Mike confronted Frank over his potpourri of odors emanating from the mix of his cologne, deodorant and shoe powder. To paraphrase Mike: you smell like a combination of a Paris perfumery and a locker room.
Like I said, I’m a big fan so my heart sank to hear Mike put down his buddy, Frank. It was so out of character for Mike. It was so out of character for the show.
So much of our comedic entertainment employs put downs as a punch line. From Ralph Kramden’s insults to his wife Alice through countless Disney kids shows right up to this day, we love to laugh at a well crafted insult. Funny, as defined by insulting someone, is promoted as socially acceptable, even enjoyable. We are conditioned to it. Like so much of art, it has seeped into our conscious and leaks out into our communications with those closest to us, even when it is a terrible, horrible idea.
“Don’t dance; you can’t dance.”
“You call that a voice? That’s more like a frog croak.”
“Your mouth won’t stop long enough for your brain to catch up.”
What kind of relationship are we building when we insult those closest to us? Are we promoting camaraderie, closeness, consideration and compassion? Or are we promoting pain, distance, egotism and confrontation? It is our choice. What do we want out of our relationships?
In family law, people grow closer and people grow farther apart. Oftentimes, this happens to the very same people, just over different phases in their lives. It is far better when the couples are mindful of their intent and therefore mindful of their words chosen to facilitate that intent. “I want to be closer to you so I will choose my words to support that end.” Regardless of where they are in the spectrum, they “lean in” in their expressions rather than lean out. They sound the tone of support whether their interest is waxing or waning.
So, back to American Pickers. Given how out of character this was, I worried that Mike was trying to one-up Frank to gain more of a starring role in the show. I worried that they may have tired of each other after many, many hours traversing the countryside looking for forgotten treasures. But even if that is the case, the raw footage of Mike’s insult would have found its way to the cutting room floor, not been the show’s closing thought. Because Mike’s put down turned up in the show it has to be an intentional part of the show’s strategy. It was intended to be entertainment. We, the audience, are supposed to enjoy it. I didn’t. I don’t.
Insults aren’t funny. They just drive us farther apart and we already have far more than enough of that.
This Christmas time, it will be infinitely better if we listen to our better angels and do our small part to steer our communications, even our culture, toward kindness and cooperation. We’ll be happier and far more content if we do.
May it be so.