The Joy of Awful

“A person overtly expresses distress, but it is covertly gratified at the prospect of the satisfaction they can wring from their misfortune.”
– Dr. Eric Berne, Games People PlayThe Joy of Awful

Even as a kid, dynamics between people interested me. I was ten years old when Eric Berne’s book Games People Play came out, and since I helped myself regularly to my parent’s reading material, I dove into it, intrigued by the title. I understood about half of it, but the 50% my boy brain could glean really stuck with me, and darned if the years haven’t proven the good doctor was right on several counts.

The gist of his book is that certain patterns of unhealthy behavior – games, as he calls them – can be spotted wherever there are human relations. If the people playing the games have the integrity to examine what they’re getting from these practices, then both they and their relationships will mature. Some of the games he lists will ring a bell with you, I’m sure, “If It Weren’t For You I Could” and “Let’s You and Him Fight” being two obvious examples. But the one that I think enjoys the most popularity is “Ain’t It Awful.”

Let the Games Begin

The game involves two or more players who regularly discuss how awful certain things or people are. Of course, it can be played solo, and often is by those who use the awfulness of life as an excuse for paralysis, but more frequently, it’s played out in conversations. The rules are simple: Focus on someone’s weakness, failure, or error (someone not present; penalty points for face to face directness) and milk the subject until all players have achieved sufficient levels of self-induced superiority. Extra points are added if the conversation passes for “concern”; bonus points if it passes for a prayer meeting.

But I know this gets tricky, because how do you have honest talks without expressing honest concerns? There’s a lot to be concerned about, after all. I don’t see how any believer in 2017 could browse a newspaper without being saddened over our cultural trends, angered over epic injustices, and rightfully afraid for our nation and world.

My wife and I talk almost daily about things bothering us, many of them political or social; many of them having to do with trends in the Christian population. These are all legitimate concerns, but we have to be careful – and we try, really – to not belabor someone else’s wrong then congratulate ourselves for being right. Because when you go down that road, you’re well into a round of Ain’t It Awful? The end goal of the game is, after all, to be able to not only say Ain’t It Awful but also, having thoroughly dissected someone else’s faults, to say, by comparison, Ain’t We Great?

Pharisees Need Not Apply

This is on my mind today because, more and more, I’m torn between two concerns. One is the epidemic lack of Biblical discernment we’re seeing today, evidenced in horrendous decisions some denominations and leaders are making, and gross errors promoted by some teachers and pastors who should know better. The other is with the self-righteous obsession some folks seem to have with railing against, publicizing and harping on, the errs of others.

True, public admonishment and Biblically based disagreement is not only valid but, these days, it’s called for. But needless, ongoing chatter about how wrong a brother, group or church is, without fair recognition of that same brother or group’s virtues, much less prayerful petition to God and loving discussion with the person in error, seems more to me like games than godliness.

So I’m trying to stop myself before discussing what someone else is doing or saying what bothers me. I’m trying to, instead, first ask myself if it’s something I’ve talked directly to the person about (if possible), something I’m not guilty of myself, and something I can discuss without needlessly damaging the person being discussed or the person I’m in discussion with. And, it should go without saying, I cannot express my grief over someone else’s wrong without then praying for the
person in question.

Those are rules Renee and I are trying to follow. We know there are problems, everywhere, big ones warranting lots of concern and, hopefully, lots of corrective action. But today more than ever, we want to do more than articulate the problem. We’d be grateful for any opportunity to be part of the solution.


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