“Play it, Sam.”
“You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss….”
Smoky bars. Intrigue. Broken hearts. Evil Nazis.
Casablanca is an iconic film, one that evokes instant response. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve seen it. Which I haven’t.
Frankly, I’m not a big Humphrey Bogart fan. I’ve never understood the man’s mystique.
I should also say that I have never been to Casablanca.
Truthfully, I can’t honestly come up with three things I dislike about Casablanca, movie or place. Yet you could be forgiven for assuming that’s what you’re about to read.
The fact is, we all make assumptions about the world around us. We must. It’s one of the ways we filter through the information bombardment that assaults us the moment we open our eyes each morning. Yet assumptions can take us down paths that cause us pain and conflict and resentment for years. At least, that’s my assumption.
A few years ago, my sweetie and I were broadsided by a truck when we were stopped waiting to enter traffic. The truck was flying and it was clear the driver wouldn’t make his turn at the intersection where we were waiting. “Brace yourself!” shouted Dan, and then slam! The truck hit on his side, caving in the door. There was smoke billowing from under the hood. Dan screamed at me to get out. I ran to his side, and between us we pulled the door open so he could escape. And then we saw the driver of the truck. He was staggering and slurring his words. We were furious.
A stupid drunk driver who could have killed us both. We wanted him charged and we wanted the police, who arrived a few minutes later, to take away his licence forever. But they didn’t. Instead they called an ambulance and the man was taken to hospital. He was in diabetic shock, on his way to the pharmacist to pick up his medicine. We had made assumptions based on his behaviour which had we pursued would have only made things worse. Should the driver have been more attentive to his medical needs before getting behind the wheel of his truck? Probably. But we never did find out all the circumstances.
There’s a concept in psychology known as the ladder of inference. Essentially, it says that in any situation we pick up data. Then we filter it and try to make sense of it. We start to add meaning based on our own experience. We come to conclusions, develop related beliefs and take action accordingly. It’s a concept that was originally developed by Chris Argyris and made popular in a book called, “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge. We see the problem of beliefs created through assumption played out daily. I believe it accounts for much of the conflict in which people find themselves embroiled. Another assumption, I know. But when we infer negative motive without taking the time to verify, we climb those inference rungs rapidly and demand action that only serves to escalate.
I often refer to the ladder of inference in leadership and conflict resolution training. I know this stuff. I understand it. I’m even aware of it when it’s happening. Yet still, from time to time, I climb the rungs.
In a negotiation class, I run a short exercise on the perception of fairness. It involves three pairs of participants and a bag of jelly beans. One member of each pair is given the bag of jelly beans and told to share it (or not) with the partner. This can be done in any way the person with the jelly beans wishes. If the partner refuses to accept what’s offered, nobody gets anything. Of course, there’s a setup. Unknown to the group, I ask one member of a pair to hand over all the jelly beans and another to hand over only one. More often than not, in each case, the offer is rejected because it’s deemed to be unfair, even when the person on the receiving end would have more than he or she started out with. Motive is assumed. You’re up to something. Why should you get them all?
The third pair is given no advance instruction. We simply wait to see what happens. In one class, the person with the jelly beans carefully removed all the green ones and handed them to his partner. The class groaned. She looked at them, sneered, and handed them back. The class was asked why they thought she rejected the jelly beans. Well of course he’d given her all the ones he didn’t like. Everyone knows green jelly beans are gross.
When I asked the young man who had offered the green jelly beans why, he surprised us all – participants and facilitators alike – when he said they were his favourites. And he was quite troubled by the negative vibes that were coming his way. An important lesson.
So let’s now assume there really are three things I dislike about Casablanca.
One: I’ve never been there. But I assume, like the movie, it’s fascinating and dangerous, full of men in white dinner jackets. I don’t like white dinner jackets. Therefore Casablanca is not worth the visit. And Morocco must be the same. Time for a public anti-Morocco campaign!
Two: Humphrey Bogart. He was short and had funny teeth. Although… that could also describe my sweetie. He’s short. And every few years, he breaks his bridge and waits months to get it fixed. That must mean Bogart really was wonderful. Kind. Generous. All short men with funny teeth are the same. Let’s elect one prime minister!
Three: Even though I’ve never seen the movie all the way through, why is it that nobody can quote the famous bar/piano scene correctly? Once and for all, it’s NOT, “Play it again, Sam.” Perhaps, like me, most people haven’t actually seen the movie. It’s a movie of a previous generation. Everyone knows old movies are irrelevant. And I’ll be happy to spread the word.
Clearly, there are no lessons to be had from the past. After all, my own experiences have held valuable lessons for me. Yet crazy inner dialogues continue. And, I assume, always will.
Thanks to Jason for suggesting this title. What about the rest of you?
- The Challenge https://saxbergonstuff.wordpress.com/2012/07/04/the-challenge/
- Challege Title #1: Wonderful Husbands https://saxbergonstuff.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/challenge-title-1-wonderful-husbands/
- If you could watch ‘Casablanca’ every single day, how about tonight at the Palace? (timesunion.com)
- On 70th anniversary of ‘Casablanca,’ son Stephen Bogart recalls great romance of Bogie and Bacall (miamiherald.typepad.com)