I once had a theater director tell me “Drama belongs on the stage; that’s where it’s welcomed, not in my off stage life.” Or as Aristotle is believed to have said, violence onstage purges violence in day-to-day life. Put another way, Aristotle held that theater and theatrical violence has a cathartic affect. This is in contrast to what psychologist Albert Bandura’s social learning theory purports, which is that we learn from the examples we encounter in life.
In short, Bandura’s contention is that we learn new information and behaviors by observing the behaviors of others. As Bandura himself wrote, “…most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling.”
These considerations bring to mind an unpleasant encounter I recently had at a neighborhood Starbucks. I regularly meet with an old friend there. We sit on the patio of the coffee shop and discuss philosophy, politics, Shakespeare, issues of the day, as well as bits and pieces of personal gossip.
On a recent Sunday afternoon my coffee chum and I were discussing what led to World War Two and why the Japanese military forces chose not to invade the west coast of the North American continent. My well informed, albeit verbose, pal (a former high school teacher and union leader), speculated that it was a matter of the Japanese military commanders focusing on tactics rather than strategy, on the micro event of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, rather than the macro vision of winning a war. After a swallowing a gulp of java from his venti cup, my friend suggested that had the Japanese made more of an effort to strategize with German military forces, they perhaps could have coordinated a winning formula to win WW2 and defeat the allies.
Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, a man confined to a wheelchair looked toward our table and shouted “Useful idiot!” My friend engaged the man in a friendly and conversational way, saying “Hello, what was your comment?” The man Loudly repeated, “Useful idiot!” When my pal attempted to engage the man in order to understand what he meant by hurling those two words at us, the man replied “You’re an f…ing fascist. Pull up your face mask to cover your ugliness and stay six feet away from me.” He then placed a pith helmet upon his balding head, presumably for protection from the Sunday sunlight and possibly in search of another pithy adventure, as he sped away on his motorized wheelchair.
Dramatic? Yes. Cathartic? Perhaps for the man. But troubling for my friend and me. A welcomed encounter? Not in the least. A man, hearing what must have been only fragments and broken portions of our conversation, rushed to judgment as to who we were and what we were discussing. Was the aggressive behavior displayed by the man based on something he had observed and learned from his own life experience? I don’t know and likely will never know. Nevertheless, this encounter confirmed for me what that theater director asserted so many years ago: I prefer my drama onstage. Oh, how I miss drama onstage.