Avoiding drama is not always easy
“Don’t stir in mess,” my mother said on many occasions. “It makes worse the sight and smell.” She did not mean just physical mess but any kind of mess.
Every elected official encounters mess. Every public personality encounters mess. In fact, most of us encounter mess of one kind or another. We just have to remember not to stir in it.
There are many kinds of mess. Mess ranges from he said, she said statements to outright lies to implied threats to vicious rumors and so on. Mess can involve almost anything from relationships to money to status to gender to race to history to news and so forth. We just have to recognize it as mess and refuse to stir in it.
When I was a child and someone said something about me that I thought was bad, I felt compelled to challenge them, to straighten them out and to get to the bottom of the mess. I never succeeded in straightening anyone out or getting to the bottom of any mess. It just kept going and growing. I eventually learned that even when I was well intentioned, I was just stirring in the mess.
So much mess comes from rumors. Therefore, we must understand the power of rumors if we are to avoid stirring in mess. Rumors are very powerful and mess is their core energy.
When we don’t know, it is often too much for us to feel ignorant and powerless. Therefore, we speculate. Others pass on our speculations with their own spins, twists, additions and perception.
Rumors feed on our hopes and fears. If we hope something will happen, we add that to the mess. If we fear something will happen, we add that to the mess. Every time we pass on any rumor, we add to the mess regardless of our intentions. With the telling of each rumor, we stir in the mess.
Rumors are empowering. When we receive a rumor, we are empowered. When we pass along a rumor, we are empowered. For some of us, this is the only power we really feel. How can we deny ourselves the only elixir of power we have?
Therefore, we stir in the mess.
Rumors take on a life of their own. They grow or diminish. They move in various directions. They change shape to fit the current circumstances. They are responsive to our imagination.
If the rumors are bad, they tend to expand. If the rumors are good, they tend to contract, but rumors are usually mess makers.
In the mid-1980s, I was in a very difficult campaign. I was on the road a lot, running hither, thither and yonder. I was glad to have people ride with me just for company sake. When we are traveling a lot in our cars, we talk more. One man, a preacher, often rode with me. I started hearing from folks that I had said this or that. Each statement had a strain of truth. However, I was appalled because the end result of what I heard I said was just the opposite of what I really said. I felt like I needed to handle the situation.
I recall that one statement was about a woman who said to me, “I love you.” She said it because I was in a struggle. It was nothing out of the ordinary because lots of people say to me “I love you.” I also say “I love you” to lots of people. It’s the filia kind of love or the agape kind of love, not the eros kind of love.
I talked with several people I trusted. I asked them who said what and exactly what was said. They told me about the eye, facial and body language of the person. It turned out that the person riding with me would actually say what I had said and then do something with his eyes or face or hands to corrupt the meaning of the spoken words. He was making a mess.
When someone tells an outright lie, it’s easy to defend. When they take the truth and twists and turn and corrupt it, it’s much harder to defend. We have to admit that we did say something and then try to explain what was really said. Our believability is greatly compromised.
I did not confront the person. I realized that he needed the power derived from making a mess. I just cut off the opportunities for him to ride with me. I did not talk with anyone else but my trusted friends to get advice. I did not follow up on the statements. I did not stir in the mess.
Sometimes we inadvertently create mess by complaining.
My mother said, “Son, complaining does exactly two things: first, it makes your friends avoid you because no matter how much they love you, they don’t want to hear you complaining all the time; second, it puts your business in the street and by the time it comes back to you, you can hardly recognize it because it has changed so much.”
Nearly every time we complain, we plant seeds for a mess.
Then we don’t even recognize the mess we planted. We even complain about that very mess. I try not to complain because it creates or stirs in mess.
Every week I encounter mess. I encountered mess during the 2014 primary election. I encountered mess this week. I will encounter mess next week and month. I just keep working. I don’t stir in mess.
Mess is a constant companion when we are elected officials. Mess is a constant companion when we are in public or other service.
In fact, if we are doing anything, mess will find us. The challenge is to manage the mess without stirring in it.