Clinically Speaking…

06 Apr

When I originally started this blog, I intended to cover a much wider area and range of topics. It seems, though, that in Ravena-Coeymans, I can find all the material I need. I don’t really know if that is a compliment or not. 

Ever try working together?

I may have written that I have no interest in what is playing out in the RCS Board of Education meetings and that might have been a bit of a fib. Once I established that there was a problem, and a problem there is, I began reviewing the videos that are published on the Internet, and I have found them to be a rich source of clinical material, indeed.

A couple of weeks ago I presented a presentation on crisis intervention and conflict management to a group of graduate students at a local college, and one of the topics in my lecture was the emotional element involved in conflict, specifically the unconscious emotional contagion that can occur. As I watch, study, and analyze the speakers in the videos, I sure wish I had known of them when I was preparing my lecture. They are must-see’s for a clinical course in crisis intervention and conflict management.

You see, the speakers are in crisis and there is a major conflict that needs managing or it’s going to tear you all apart. But do you realize it? I wonder.

Problem is, most people in conflict enter into a phase called “simplification” where the issues are either too unwieldy or there are too many issues, so you simplify things down to what you can handle. It’s natural but not very helpful. Simplification is followed by polarization, where, in order to more easily pigeon-hole things, you turn the issues into black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. That requires minimal mind work and you don’t have to get involved with details. That, too, is natural but not very helpful.

What I also see in those videos is a bunch of people who are emotionally flooded and have lost control of themselves, the issues, and the conflict; they’re spinning their wheels down to the axles.


I observed one woman who speaks at almost every meeting, always choked up, always befuddled, always with a neurotic squeal and breathlessness to her voice; we’ll call her Ms H. At the March 27 meeting she opens her remarks with, “I’ll try not to cry this time.” Well, you try hard, honey.  Thank you! Ms H. No emotional histrionics? Would the spectators find that boring? I think Ms H. welcomes the attention, needs it in some sociopathic way.  Ms H., the choked up and weeping performance means only that you are unsure of your intellectual presentation so you need to move people with something more primitive. What you got? Emotion. No-brainer! But not very helpful.

Scared and Lonely

What about the guy, we’ll call him Mr J., again at the March 27 meeting. His bag was:  ‘Look at me! I’m a patriot!’ “I’m going to Afghanistan.” (We understand he’s Nat’l Guard and clerical, not combat.) Again, he’s not appealing to issues, he’s parading himself, probalby hoping it will give him credibility, authenticity. Maybe. But he would have been more convincing if self-control were part of the preformance. This became even more obvious when he spent a good deal of his 3 minute slot to chiding someone on the board for…NOT MAKING EYE CONTACT! Do you think you’re that pretty or interesting Mr J? One wonders if Mr J. were in love or something. But that revealed a lot about Mr J’s need for attention and recognition. I don’t believe that Mr J’s self-esteem issues were before the board that evening.

 The main performers of the evening–they appear to be regular features in many of the videos–were Ms Amy Bartlett and Mr Gerald “Jerry” Deluca, who were joined with  the cameo  guest performance by Ms Cathy Deluca. (Hear the fanfare? NOT!)

There’s definitely a good deal of narcissism going on in these perps, to be sure.

This is how you come across. Really!

 These performances are regularly characterized by toxic aggression in the form of unbridled criticism, insult, accusation, and brimming with Guess what? Emotional flooding!
As I have said, the videos are classic material for a clinical colloquium on conflict, but regardless of whether the performances are clinically interesting, they are being played out in a public forum and that is dangerous, indeed. For all the notoriety the performers are deriving from their public self-pleasuring, they are infecting others with their irrationality. I mentioned emotional contagion and that’s what’s happening: these irresponsible braggards are infecting others with their negative contagion. This happens, really, and it’s happening almost every time Ms. H., Ms Bartlett and Mr Deluca take the floor–and you don’t even know it’s happening because it’s happening in your unconscious minds.

Not very pretty, but it's you!

There’s also a phenomenon known as triangling. This happens when two parties are in conflict and one of the parties involves a third party. A two-party system, like Deluca and a boardmember, is unstable because it tolerates little tension before involving a third person. But a three-party system, a triangle can contain much more tension without involving yet another party because the tension can shift around three relationships. If the tension is too high for one triangle to contain, it spreads to a series of “interlocking” triangles. Spreading the tension can stabilize a system, but nothing gets resolved. That’s what I see happening.

People’s actions in a triangle reflect their efforts to ensure their emotional attachments to important others, their reactions take on too much intensity in those attachments, and the result is their taking sides in the conflicts of others. This complicates the conflict enormously. That’s exactly what’s happening in your meetings but none of you seem to care. That’s why I’m departing somewhat from my satirizing or parodying you to trying to help you with a different approach.

Actually, if I genuinely thought you wanted to resolve your conflicts or reframe your issues, I’d offer to sit down with you and mediate or intervene, but from what I can see, a couple of you are really thriving on destructiveness and would probably reject any attempt to transform your destructiveness to constructive or functional conflict. That’s really too bad, because in most systems functional or constructive conflict has a great number of positive outcomes, and serves very effectively in problem solving.

Patience is the Companion of Wisdom

But on a positive note: I am amazed at the boardmember’s patience and fortitude in the face of your aggressions, and I have to commend them all for their patience, dignity, and courtesy to you when you probably should be banned from speaking. It takes a lot of self-control to be able to say Thank you! after being unceremoneously abused by the very people you are giving up time and resources to help.

As I frequently tell clients, “It takes two to make a marriage but only one to destroy it.” It’s obvious to me that some of you are trying your damnedest to break up the party.

I’ll continue monitoring your cases and reporting back. In the meantime, thanks for the material.

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5 responses to “Clinically Speaking…

  1. Simon

    April 8, 2012 at 1:38 am

    All [the board] is supposed to say is “Thank You”. Generally speaking, as much as it would be just easier (and more polite) to answer any questions and concerns immediately, it’s not considered proper for the School Board to answer questions even in the public comment part of the meeting (just as the State Assembly wouldn’t answer questions from the rafters).

    It’s a silly practice, but he’s not supposed to answer or respond to anything.

    And that guy’s name starts with a J, not an H. And those other speakers should be gaveled for not commenting on issues related to the School Board.



    • Fides qua Creditur

      April 8, 2012 at 2:06 am

      Thank you, Simon, for your observations and for the corrections. I agree with you on the ad hoc answers and, if I were in that position and questions were posed at a meeting, unless I had the facts and figures in front of me to cover all bases, I would respectfully defer my answers to the next meeting, explaining that I would rather provide an authoritative answer than a quick answer. Thank you. I also agree that any answer should come from the board and not from one member unless that member has exceptional expertise or special knowledge that qualifies him/her to respond as an expert or specialist. My particular practice would be to discuss the questions in closed session and arrive at a consensus on the answer to be provided. That would avoid a lot of the complaints as to the appropriateness of the answer, and derail some of the ad hominem abuse and bickering.

      But then I have no standing to tell an elected body in the RCS administration how to run their operations, nor am I really qualified to comment on the correctness of your observations. I’m merely saying that they make sense. I’m also wondering whether it would make much difference to those who seem to demand answers NOW! rather than defer until they can have a well researched one. Sometimes reminds me of feeding time at a zoo: Feed me NOW!

      I noted on another blog that a RCS resident was complaining that the RCS BoE employs Roberts’ Rules, and that commenter goes on to say that there is no provision in the RCS BoE constituting statutes that provides or requires RR to be used. As usual, the commenter makes no further recommendations, an MO that I find to be typical in most of the comments even on this blog. Do the finger-jab, holler a little, and then go back to your seat grumbling.

      I’ve just reviewed D. Westen’s book, Political Brain, and have a number of relevant journal articles that I’m reviewing on the subject of negative and positive affect in group interactions. I just may purchase the book and make it a gift to the BoE–maybe they could pass a resolution to make it required reading for all boardmembers.

      Thanks again for the corrections. I appreciate your inputs.

      Peace and Joyful Holidays!


      • Simon

        April 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm

        {Editor’s Note: We are publishing this comment with the reservatoin that we do not necessarily agree with the comment nor do we vouch for the correctness, nor for the identity of the commenter.]

        But seriously, John as president of the board is the selected representative. None of the other board members should be addressing the public. He is authorized to speak on behalf of the other 8 as long as his comments are not his own, but the consensus of the board.

        The board’s actions and meetings must be done in public. For them to “discuss the questions in closed session” is illegal in New York under the open meetings laws (unless they pertain to *specific* personnel. In the past, a “thank you” is sufficient, and the Superintendent is charged with providing a return contact to the individuals in order to answer or help them. [redacted]

        Again, I reiterate that the way government operates in general sucks; I’m explaining, not justifying. Everyone should be able to just talk it all out, everything in the open. Unfortunately that’s not the system that has been allowed to develop in society. [Editor’s Note: We agree entirely with you! But too many people are self-interested; some have axes to grind.]



  2. 123123

    April 7, 2012 at 4:59 am

    you truely are an asshole, [redacted]!


    • Fides qua Creditur

      April 7, 2012 at 11:39 am

      Opinions, opinons! They’re like anuses: everyone’s got one and most are unpleasant. I guess we have 123123’s contribution to the issues and their resolution. We also have some idea where 123123’s brain is. Are we rocking your kayak, 123? Couldn’t you come up with something a bit more intelligent? 123…123…DUH!

      We know you and know you’re one of those hypocrites we were talking about. Remember our discussion? You need to be liked and have no scruples about gossiping behind closed doors to get your nose browner. Those around you DO notice. (BTW, glad to see you stopped using the word “prick.” Now that was offensive in public, R.



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