Trust is crucial for getting along together. We trust others to keep their word and depend on them to do their part in our community. Others trust us to do the same. It seems so basic that we don’t notice it most of the time. But without trust, we would devolve into chaos, with no connection, only suspicion and discord.

When we trust someone, we have confidence that we can rely on them. We can depend on them to be able and willing to do what they say they will. We know they have integrity, honesty, and good intentions.

When trust is there, successful communication is much easier. People who trust us will give us the benefit of the doubt when we say something wrong or say it badly. On the other hand, with those who don’t trust us, not matter how carefully we phrase something, they will assume the worst. They may even twist our words to mean something we didn’t ever intend.

The current lack of trust in our political climate is a great example of this. Instead of assuming a politician is in the position to make the world a better place, we immediately suspect their motives. Many of us expect the worst until they prove otherwise, which is very difficult for them to do. This dynamic isn’t uncommon in the workplace either. Just one person who is not worthy of trust, especially if that person is in a position of leadership, can poison the work environment. As a result, productivity falls and colleagues start to dread coming to work.

Trust is part of the foundation of society, but it’s also hard to know who to trust and about what. We shudder when we hear stories about those who trusted too much, losing their life savings, or even endangering their lives. Yet we likely also know someone who does not trust enough and has become isolated and bitter.

How do we find that balance between trust and wariness?

A good place to start is to trust openly, but conditionally. If we start by assuming trustworthiness in small matters, we can then increase trust as it is earned. It’s interesting that those who research trust tell us we have the best odds for trusting wisely by starting out trusting most people, rather than automatically suspecting them. Expect the best at first, but then take your lead from how the other person acts. If we give our trust and they show trust for us, we continue to trust. If they react by not trusting us, we stop trusting them. Using these guidelines, we would reap the benefits of deepening mutual confidence, while minimizing misplaced trust.

Most people respond positively to trust, working to live up to it. Occasionally someone will abuse that confidence and that’s not fun. We feel anger and shame that we believed the person and got “taken”. Even though betrayal is the exception, we humans are wired to remember painful times better than ordinary moments, so we tend to inflate the risk of deception. We forget that there are also significant dangers that come with suspicion, which brings missed opportunities for synergy, fun, creativity, collaboration, ease, learning, joy, love, and all sorts of other things that make life worth living.

Rely on your ability to discern how much to trust in a given situation. We usually know the answer if we stop and ask ourselves if a person is to be believed. Assume the best, but don’t ignore warning signs, like words at odds with a tone of voice or actions. Our bodies also send us messages about whether to believe someone, based on subconscious signals we’re picking up. Who we are inclined to distrust has a lot to do with our unconscious biases, so we should question our reactions to someone who looks or sounds significantly different from us.

When we rely on someone, we open ourselves to the possibility of disappointment. There is always a risk in trusting, but when trust is warranted, it usually pays big dividends in connections with others. And it is a necessary risk in order to get along and function as a community.

Some days it seems that everyone wants to share their stories and opinions. In the morning, we’re assailed by a friend sharing her outrage over what she read on Facebook last night. A co-worker takes every opportunity to share the unfolding drama of his divorce. Someone behind us at the store loudly shares their opinion on who’s to blame for this or that problem, trying to engage us in an argument about it.

Listening all day can be draining, it can be a major time-taker in our already busy lives, and it can leave us feeling trapped. Overly talkative people can turn a quick trip to the grocery store into a head-down race to get our items before getting waylaid. Even positive stories about a friend’s daughter’s wedding can feel overwhelming when relayed in too much detail, at the wrong time.

Getting along doesn’t mean we have to listen to everyone as long as they want to talk. Conversation can create connection, but only when it’s balanced. When we’re hearing more than we can take in, we can feel irritable. Once we’re triggered, we can start passing along the frustration – irritation is contagious.

So, where do we draw the line? For the most part, each of us gets to decide for ourselves. That’s right, we each get to decide how much conversation we participate in and the topics discussed. (If it’s the boss whose talkativeness is a problem, that’s a different story for a different column.)

When we’ve decided that we’ve had enough, how do we stop conversations? It depends on the nature of the relationship. If the talker is an acquaintance, a simple, “Thanks for the update, but I’m afraid I have to run.”, followed by leaving, will do it. Of course, we need to make sure we’re not misleading others in how much we want to hear, too. If we don’t want to hear how a person is doing, it’s best not to ask them.

If the talker is a good friend or family member, the ongoing relationship requires a bit more openness. It’s okay to interrupt the person talking and let them know we can’t take in any more at the moment or can’t listen as well as we’d like. Let them know that we’d love to hear their comments at another time (but only say it if that’s true). Then, later, when we have a chance to really listen, ask them about what they wanted to tell us.

Each of us has different levels of comfort with talking and listening. We may be more open to listening on some days than others, too.

Overwhelm from too much input can come from virtual contact, too. Give yourself permission to unplug from Facebook, or the internet, or Twitter. Those endless streams of news and views are specifically designed to draw us in, so conscious limits are often necessary.

To be fair, each of us also needs to look honestly at whether and when we’re corralling others to listen to our long or often-repeated stories. It’s important to feel heard, but we don’t always get to choose who hears us, or when. If there’s no willing listener at the moment, we can write what we want to say. Writing a long email, or even a letter, can balance our need to be heard with the listener’s desire to have control over when they give us their attention.

We each have the freedom to limit the subject, when, and with whom conversations happen. Tell your friend that you can’t talk politics with her today. Sympathize with your coworker’s difficulties, and then politely, but firmly, end the conversation with him. Ignore the invitation to argument from the overly loud shopper. Give yourself some quiet space in the midst of the day.

Be polite, talk politics.

Those two recommendations aren’t often linked.

Politics is still big news and it doesn’t look like it’s going to fade into the background any time soon. We have created a time in this country right now where the political divide is wide, with rough edges. People are getting louder in expressing their opinions. And that can be good – the United States is a democracy and democracy works best when the citizens are actively involved. But what does that mean for getting along in our little corner of the world?

Some of us were raised not to talk about politics in a group, it wasn’t polite. These times may call for a different approach. There’s a lot going on and we are going to talk about politics. Let’s just do so politely. That is, with courtesy and respect for everyone.

We don’t have to hide our opinions from the world just to get along. In fact, in a democracy it’s crucial that we work for what we feel is right. We are the government. We must be involved to fight for what is right. That does not, however, mean denigrating our neighbors who hold different opinions.

If we find ourselves belittling the character of someone with whom we disagree, calling them names, or being mean in other ways, we need to pause. Talking politics doesn’t have to involve meanness or cruelty or assuming the other person is a monster or stupid. It is so easy for us to equate people with their opinions: If we don’t like their opinions, we don’t like the people. But two good people can have honest differences of opinion and making one of them bad only leads to increased separation.

Keep in mind that making personal attacks can say more about us than about the person we’re badmouthing. When we go for the person rather than the idea, it might be taken as a sign that we’re afraid of the ideas the other person is talking about. Or even that we don’t know how to argue against the ideas we feel are wrong.

We must respect ourselves, too. Silence is often taken as agreement, so we may need to speak up to make it clear that we do not agree with what is being said. We can do that by stating our own position and even arguing about it. That’s fine. The Founding Fathers called this “discourse”.

However, we may not want to get into it right then. In that case, we can say something as simple as, “I do not agree with your position. I don’t want to go into it, but I need to make it clear that I do not agree.” Then, we can change the subject or leave the conversation. (What will not foster getting along is to drop a big bomb of insults and then say we don’t want to talk about it!)

All of this doesn’t mean we must accept views we strongly disagree with or even find abhorrent. And, yes, there are a few people who do not have the common good in mind. Yet we have a much better chance of making positive change if we bring others along. Community doesn’t work if we decide the opinions of others are not worth considering. We need to remember that we’re all in this together.

Wherever two or more are gathered, there are politics! We don’t have to be quiet around politics. Go ahead and talk about politics; just be polite about it.

A family member makes an inflammatory political comment at a family gathering. A co-worker makes a snarky comment about another of your colleagues. The person behind you in the checkout line makes a “funny” comment about the chocolate and potato chips in your basket relative to your weight. What do you do?

These are baited hooks. The speakers are fishing for attention, trying to get a rise out of you. And it’s often easy for them to be successful. We initially perceive these kinds of provocative comments as threats, activating the same fight or flight reactions that saved our distant ancestors from being a leopard’s lunch. We may fire up an argument with the speaker, to convince them that their opinion is wrong and they are a jerk for voicing it – always a losing proposition. Or we may make a non-committal sound, a false laugh, and then try to get away from them as soon as possible. These reactions are automatic, we usually start to do them without consciously thinking.

Such encounters often leave us feeling rattled and derailed. As if that weren’t enough, sometimes we carry the incident with us for hours or even days, replaying it in our minds, wishing we’d made some brilliant put-down, ignored them completely, or calmly expressed that we felt the comment was inappropriate. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have done that?

Often, though, we do get hooked. We let the person trolling for a reaction catch our attention and provoke an angry response. Or we let the offending person, the bully, get away with making hurtful comments to us or others. And then we feel bad about it later.

So, what can we do, especially if our threat reaction is triggered? That threat reaction, after all, is automatic and quicker than our conscious thought. But there are ways to train ourselves to insert a short space between the stimulus of the comment and our response. That little pause gives our conscious mind time to catch up with the situation and decide what we should do.

We then have time to quickly consider such questions as: Do we want to be having an argument with this person now? Ever? Does the comment require a response in this situation? Would speaking up disrupt an incident of bullying? Would it be physically safe for us to speak up? Will we regret it later if we get into an argument with this person, or if we pretend the comment wasn’t hurtful? And so on.

The best way to train ourselves to put a pause between stimulus and response is to rehearse mentally before we get into such a situation. We can take time now to decide the response we’d feel best about in any of the situations where we often get hooked. And then we can practice those responses ahead of time. Some people even memorize a short script to use, such as “Uncle John, let’s not talk about politics.” and have another topic of conversation ready. Or “My groceries and appearance are not your concern. Please keep your comments to yourself.” and practice turning away from the person.

Regardless of how we respond to baited hooks, we can learn from each reaction. And then let it go. It is not helpful to anyone if we continually berate ourselves for not responding perfectly every time. Bottom line: is our relationship with this person worth any more of our time and attention stewing over it?

We may not be able to avoid an emotional reaction inside ourselves, but can learn to choose our outward response. That will help us get along better, as well as helping us feel better.

Yikes! Holiday cheer seems to be tempered this year with uneasiness among family, friends, our community, and the nation.

The election took a turn that was unexpected for most of those on both sides. Unfortunately, though the election is over, there continues to be an ugliness to whatever communication happens across political lines. Whether our preferred presidential candidate won or lost, the underlying divisions are still present. It seems the divisions were already there, but were deepened during this interminable election cycle. Fear is running high. There is lots of uncertainty about the future, which fosters fear. Fear can quickly become anger as we push back against what we fear.

Anger gets a bad rap, but it’s an extremely important emotion. Anger brings our attention to something that’s wrong in our lives, a need that’s not being met. We need to acknowledge our anger and then look to see what’s behind it. What need is not being met for us? Safety? Respect? Fairness? The basics of food and shelter? Compassion for others?

We need to distinguish between acknowledging our anger and expressing it, however. How we express anger is key to our success in getting along together. Anger is not a pleasant emotion. Sometimes we seek to soothe it through a natural tendency is to blame someone, so then we can lash out at them. We think that if we can just hurt the Other, we’ll feel better. And we may, for a little while, but then it comes back, because the real need has not been met. This can too often lead to an upward spiral of violence in word or deed.

Anger is also one of the easiest emotions for others to manipulate. Once we get angry, we can’t access our higher brain function, our “thinking”. Our anger rules us, so those who feed our anger control us.

With the current unrest and lingering tears in the national fabric, our skills for getting along are being tested. Perhaps it’s harder right now, but the same behaviors apply:  Reach out and engage with those we see as the Other. Learn the names of those you disagree with. Learn their stories, why they believe what they do, how they think. Not to change them, but to change us. How can we learn from them? What can we learn? Listen to what they have to say. Retreat into our comfort zones as needed. Repeat.

In this way, we expand our comfort zones. As we talk with others, it also helps us get more clear about what we really believe. Maybe we will end up changing our minds a little bit after we hear another perspective. Or maybe we will realize that we still feel the same way, but we know more about why.

We can create connections with others in our community, beyond our habitual circles. It may be really tough, because we’re most comfortable with others who are like us. A great starting point is to concentrate on values we do hold in common with each other. For example, we all love our children, our valley, our country. We all want life to be better. We should not make our neighbors into the Other, the enemy. Always, always remember that we’re all just human, doing our best.

We may communicate in different ways than those outside our usual circles. There may be more or less directness, more or less formality, different words used. Forgive yourself and others for inevitably making mistakes in communicating across our differences.

This is hard work. Democracy isn’t easy, but we must find a way to get along. Floating aimlessly in our waves of fear, blame, and anger will not magically bring us what we need. We should make sure we leave plenty of time to enjoy comfort and the connection of family and friends, but we also have to make the effort to reach out of our comfort zones toward the Other. We owe it to our community and our precious country.

We are finally coming to the end of this presidential election cycle. It has been long and brutal. This column was written prior to the election, so the results were not yet known, but that hardly matters. Whichever candidate becomes president, we have some serious bridgebuilding work to do.

Much of what has been reported at the national level during the past several years has focused on sowing divisiveness. So many media sources want our attention, and dramatic conflict is a great attention-grabber. Everything is exaggerated for maximum shock value. Fears are promoted and manipulated.

But we’re all in this together and must find a way to work with those who have very different ideas about what needs to happen. We have to put things into perspective. While this campaign has been extremely divisive, remembering the horrendous events of the Civil War can give us pause to reflect on how bad it once got.

It’s not that we are bad people – in fact, we are good most of the time. We are just so busy and the issues are so complex, that we try to simplify to make sense of it all. One way to do that is to pick a stream of information that feels comfortable to us, out of the hundreds now available, and just listen to that. Comfortable means non-threatening and known, so we often choose streams that reinforce ideas we already hold.

With so many sources of news, we can now stay in our own little information bubbles. We get out of the habit of listening to those who hold different views. Before long, we start to defend our own preferred ideas as the only truth. We begin to see not only other ideas, but the people who hold them, as threatening. Once we feel threatened, our brains start thinking of ways to protect ourselves from Those Other People. Sometimes we even see a good offense as the best defense and become threatening to others.

As the Civil War so vividly reminds us, that seldom ends well.

So, what can we do? We can choose to counteract the drama. To decrease drama, we should pay attention to the words we use, even when we’re upset. We can avoid distortions in the things we say and avoid using misleading words like “never” and “always”. The vast majority of our communication is non-verbal, so we can choose to pay attention to how we say whatever we say. We may moderate our tone of voice, avoid disrespectful behaviors (rolling our eyes, snorting, and disdainful sighs), and refrain from interrupting.

We can use our best listening skills: separating the person expressing ideas from the ideas they are expressing; cutting people some slack for not expressing themselves eloquently; looking to see what important needs are not being met for others and what needs they are trying to meet through their positions on issues; seeing the good intentions in others.

It also doesn’t hurt to stand back and question our own thoughts. We can allow ourselves to listen to views different from our own. We can even listen to what others say about our favorite ideas! Surely our ideas are strong enough to survive some questioning, and they will likely even improve with some fresh air.

It takes courage to listen to others and consider changing our ideas. Yet this is the home of the brave, so let’s challenge each other to see how well we can move away from this divisiveness and get along better.

It’s easy to feel powerless these days. So much is changing. Life can seem too big, too complex, and out of control.

This sense of powerlessness fosters hopelessness, helplessness, depression, anxiety, and apathy. We think there’s no point in doing anything, since it won’t fix everything. In reality, no one has the power to change the world by themselves, even Bill Gates. It’s an illusion that we have no power at all, though. Each of us has some area in which we can have an impact.

To rediscover our sense of power in the world, it helps to look at one aspect of how power works. There are four dynamics of power between two people: I have power and you don’t, you have power and I don’t, neither of us has power, or both of us has power.

We see the results all around us of the power imbalance when one or the other has power: The assumption that richer people are smarter and more capable than those with less money, regardless of whether the rich people were born into wealth or had a lucky break. Bosses who demand more work are often exploiting a power imbalance, exhorting their underlings to put in sixty hours a week or more.

When neither of us owns our power, it creates a vacuum into which a third party is attracted to wield power over both of us. Many of us have been involved in a work situation where a coworker exerts undue influence when the boss is unwilling to act.

We can group these first three types of interactions as examples of power-over. When one person (or group) has more power than the other, there is a subtle or blatant perception that the one with power is better than the other – smarter, more capable, more deserving, even more blessed by God. This seldom ends well. Power imbalances leave the less-powerful one feeling exploited and resentful, so conflicts inevitably arise.

Power-over scenarios are the basis for the saying “power corrupts”: those with power over others, or who assume power over others, begin to feel entitled, even obliged, to run the lives of others and ignore their desires.

The fourth dynamic, power-with, has more potential for helping us get along. Power-with is based on mutual respect. It acknowledges that we all bring skills, ideas, and energy to a situation. Using that power together brings more creativity to solving problems, creating better systems, and making positive changes in our world.

This is not to say that there should be no leaders, no hierarchy, and no distribution of tasks. It just means that we can all be responsible for bringing respect to those around us, regardless of the structure. I may lead in one area and you in another. And we can combine our power and work together to accomplish changes that will foster a well-functioning community. Shared power breeds cooperation and synergy.

It’s important that we recognize and use the power that we have. Each of us can make a difference. When frustrated with a national or international issue, we can channel that energy into addressing a local example of the same issue. Small actions empower us and empower others who see our behavior. Do something small and non-violent to promote the kinds of changes you’d like to see made on a larger scale. Have conversations. Share your concerns. Vote.

Power dynamics are much more complex than this model, but as we use well the power we do have, it will tend to increase our actual power to get along better.

Some conflicts are problems to be solved: Where is the boundary between two neighbors’ properties? Which days and times will children reside with separating parents? Who will be the project manager on the big project?

But there are a few conflicts that involve finding the sweet spot between two mutually exclusive, equally important and connected opposites, each of which has its own pros and cons. These are referred to as polarities. They often pop up in intractable conflicts and heated discussions of change. Opinions on which “side” is “right” are often deeply held.

The classic example for understanding a polarity is breathing. We cannot inhale and exhale at the same time, but the processes are closely tied to each other and both are absolutely crucial for our continued life. The pro of inhaling is the necessary intake of oxygen into our lungs. The con is the build-up of carbon dioxide in our lungs from the bodily systems that used the oxygen. The pro of exhaling is expelling the toxic carbon dioxide from our lungs. The con is, you guessed it, the lack of oxygen intake. The only way to make this work is for our lungs to alternate in a well-timed movement that makes the most of the advantages of both actions, while minimizing the disadvantages.

So let’s explore other non-biological polarities a bit, and look at how we might manage them successfully.

Protection/openness, independence/connectedness, gun ownership/gun control, individual rights/common good, stress/tranquility, even cultural identity/inclusiveness – these are a few common polarities. Each has significant positive and negative qualities on both sides. We can’t have the pure form of both at the same time, yet we also can’t have one indefinitely without feeling its inherent disadvantages, like trying to inhale constantly without exhaling. Both aspects are true and necessary.

We can’t solve polarities; we can only manage them through time. Our best bet is to take the best from each, while minimizing the worst, creating a dynamic balance. It is a question of both/and, not either/or. We map the pros and cons of each aspect and tweak the system to get as many pros from both sides as possible.

It’s simple in theory, but challenging in practice. Usually we swing wildly from the disadvantages of one to the disadvantages of the other. For example, the extreme of individual rights is anarchy and chaos (think the Old West), which can lead us to idealize the common good and social rules. But a total focus on the good of the whole can lead to the quashing of individual expression, a group-think mentality, and strong censorship. The trick is to catch the point at which we begin feeling the drawbacks of one pole (chaos) and bring in some advantages of the other pole (commonly agreed upon rules of conduct), without succumbing to the drawbacks of that second pole.

In terms of discussing issues that are polarities, we have to be careful. We can get caught-up in arguing for one or the other end of the polarity, as though we could do without the other end and solve things once and for all. Our tendency is to romanticize either the status quo or the pie-in-the-sky change, downplaying the negatives of our side and touting the negatives of the other.

Instead, let’s accept the challenge of seeing the negatives of our “side” and the positives of the other. Rather than insisting that we’re right and they’re wrong, we can acknowledge the interconnectedness of the two poles and recognize that neither pole will be sufficient on its own, we need the perspective of those who see it differently. We can ask them: “Can you help me understand how you see this?”

Managing polarities is not easy, but, then, neither is enduring ongoing divisiveness.

We’ve already explored in this space the effect of stress on conflict. In short, when we’re experiencing too much stress, we become irritable and this readily provokes conflict. A big factor in experiencing high stress levels is expecting ourselves and others to get too much done. We run constantly, crashing into bed (too late) at night, and dreaming of a more relaxed time – like summer.

Summer is supposed to be a relatively relaxed time for many of us, with longer days, good weather, and school being out. So why doesn’t summer feel as relaxing as we’d hoped? There’s a curious pattern when things let up a bit: we either attempt to do everything on our list that we didn’t get to during the busy times, or we just crash and do nothing, yet all too often feel guilty about it.

Rather than either of those options, during slack times we can allow ourselves to relax and take stock, re-evaluating what we expect ourselves and others to do.

What is on your list? It’s helpful to actually make the list. Include everything that’s floating around in your mind, big items and small, work and play. Now it’s time for a reality check. Test the reasonableness of your expectations by mapping out the hours in each day and filling in the blocks. Start with sleep – most sources recommend seven or eight hours of sleep a night for adults to stay healthy and to function well, so fill-in those hours first. Now block out the times for getting ready for the day and mealtimes, including meal prep and clean-up. Add working time, including getting to and from work. And don’t forget family time, too. What’s left is the time for getting to all those things on your list.

How’s that look? Daunting?

Most of us have too much on our lists to ever accomplish in the available time, so we have to choose which to do. When life is crazy, our default method of choosing is often doing what seems most pressing. We don’t think about taking the time to decide if the urgent task is really the most important thing for us to be doing.

It’s particularly helpful during down times to focus on tasks that are important, but not urgent. What items, if done, will help things go more smoothly during busier times? In looking at the list, maybe it makes sense to spend an hour clearing the cluttered desk and let the overflowing closet wait until a rainy day in November. And it’s August – it’s okay to let go of sending the holidays cards that didn’t go out last winter!

Be choosy about which things you commit to doing for the rest of the summer. When we focus on doing the things that are most important to us, whether attending the kids’ games, finishing a project at work, or tending the roses, we experience less guilt when we take the time to just relax.

To increase the realism of our expectations of those close to us, we can do the same process for their days, but remember that we don’t get to fill all of their open time!

With a realistic set of expectations about how much we and others can accomplish, we can relax more fully, knowing we don’t need to run full-tilt all day, every day. We can take time to play and recharge. Being relaxed lowers stress and lower stress helps us be less reactive to each other. And that can take us a long way toward getting along better.


There’s a dynamic so common in our lives that we barely notice it. It forms the basis of most of our stories in movies, books, songs, and in the tales we tell when we get home from work.

It’s called the Drama Triangle.

As the name implies, there are three roles in the Drama Triangle: The Villain/Persecutor, The Victim (Poor Thing), and the Rescuer/Hero.

The persecutor, of course, is the bully and bad person. A villain is portrayed as mean and uncaring, with the worst of intentions. The victims are at the receiving end of the villain’s dastardly deeds. The poor things are down-trodden and helpless. The Hero rushes in to rescue the defenseless victim(s) from the nasty villain, who is utterly vanquished, and the victims are endlessly grateful to the hero for saving them.

Sound familiar?

It makes a great story, but causes endless problems when we see events in our own lives this way. The triangle is very appealing and magnetic. Not surprisingly, the Hero/Rescuer role is the most inviting spot on the triangle. After all, doesn’t it sound great to be the one who comes into a situation and saves the poor thing(s) from one or more nasties? It can be a big boost to our self-esteem.

Troubles arise because none of us is completely good or completely bad. The story is simple, while life is complex. Our intentions are seldom to harm others, we’re just trying to navigate a complex world, and that usually means trade-offs. (Of course, there are some situations, such as domestic violence, where the abused person must be protected immediately from the abuser, and there is some necessary drama involved in that. Most situations in our lives, however, are not that stark.)

An unfortunate and surprising aspect of this dynamic is that once we enter the triangle, regardless of which role, we can slide into the other roles in the blink of an eye. “I was just trying to help!” cries the would-be rescuer, now claiming to be an injured victim, after having been told what they can do with their well-intentioned fix. A victim can easily turn on the hero when the latter’s fix made things worse.

How do we get out of this story? As usual, awareness of the dynamic is the first step. Stand back and look at the situation from an outsider’s perspective – is there someone playing the victim, persecutor, and/or rescuer? Which role are we playing?

A really good way to break the hold of the victim/villain/hero story is to focus on the problem, not on the people. Instead of blaming a perceived villain or trying to be the knight in shining armor, assume the problem is more complex. See if everyone is willing to step off the triangle to consider together all the messy complications and competing desires.

Also, if the victims are adults in a non-life-threatening situation, assume they are able to help themselves, to ask for and accept help, and to be able to survive the current crisis. Otherwise, we can create dependency on the rescuer(s) and more feelings of powerlessness in the victims. If we think we have some aid to offer those who seem to be suffering, it’s best to ask them whether they would like help, how we can help, and when. Most of us are stronger than we may seem when we’re caught off-guard by a crisis. The best way we can help each other is to lend a hand, rather than take the lead in someone else’s life.

Once we become aware of the drama triangle, we can see it at all levels – at work, in our families, in our communities, in our government, and in the world. We can feel helpless and out of control by telling ourselves this three-actor story about issues. But if we take time to consider, together, alternative ways of seeing the situation, we can end up with a solution that can work for everyone.