Flipping the Script

By Noah Graff

I just listened to a fantastic story on the National Public Radio podcast, Invisibilia.

The episode began with a story about a group of friends sitting outside in the backyard having dinner and drinking wine on a beautiful night. All of a sudden a man broke into the yard, pointed a gun at them and demanded money. Unfortunately, none of the people at the dinner party had any money on them so they all began pleading with the man to spare their lives. After a while one of the women asked the burglar if he wanted a glass of wine. The burglar was stunned by the offer, but he decided to take a glass. He sat down, took a drink and then said something like, “Damn, that’s a really good glass wine.” He put his gun in his pocket, drank some more wine, ate some cheese and then said, “I think I’ve come to the wrong place.” Everyone sat in silence for the next few minutes until he suddenly asked if someone would give him a hug, so several of the guests hugged him. Then he asked if everyone could do a group hug, and they indulged him on that request as well. After the group hug he told everyone he was sorry, got up with his glass of wine and walked out of the house. Later on in the evening the dinner guests found his wine glass neatly placed on the sidewalk.

The title of this episode was “Flip the Script.” It featured several stories that demonstrated the powerful effects of when an individual or group reacts to an adversary’s negative behavior with an opposing positive behavior, also called non-complimentary behavior. History has shown that when hate and cruelty are met with positive reactions such as empathy and restraint it has the power to catch aggressors off balance and move people, as was demonstrated by the nonviolence movements led by Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi.

One story in the show took place in Aarhus, a town in Denmark where 34 Muslim boys had run away to Syria to join Isis in 2012. The desperate parents of the disappeared boys went to the town’s police for help to find their children.

Anti-war demonstration in front of the Pentagon 1967 (Courtesy of humanrightsdemocracy.com)

At that time, Denmark was ranked second on the list of European countries with a homegrown terrorist problem. Other European countries such as France and England introduced harsh polices to combat domestic terrorism. They severely punished people who went to fight in Syria or who showed suspicious behavior, locking people up and confiscating passports. But two white Danish police officers in Aarhus, Allan and Thorleif, decided to take the opposite strategy. They believed that many of the young Muslim men in the town who exhibited suspicious behavior, or even people who went to Syria, were angry and confused but they were not all terrorists. They argued that some people may have gone to Syria to work as medics or just to see what it was like. They also thought that if you label people as terrorists, if they are not terrorists yet, they will become terrorists. So rather than combating the Muslim boys with hostility, they decided to approach them with love and caring.

When one of the 34 runaway boys returned to Aarhus from Syria, Allan and Thorleif met him. He told them that he had been volunteering as a medic. There was a good chance that he was actually a fighter rather than just a medic but the police officers told him they believed him and took him to a hospital to treat a gunshot wound. They listened to his frustrations and why he was inspired to go to Syria. Then they helped him get his life together and set him up with a mentor, a successful Muslim man. This boy made a call to another boy who had gone to Syria, telling him how he had been treated, and then that boy came back. Since that time, 18 of the 34 boys have returned to Aarhus, 6 have been killed and 10 are still in Syria. More importantly, the program set up by Allan and Thorleif has prevented hundreds of Muslim boys from leaving for Syria by seeking them out early when they exhibit hostile behavior.

When I reflect on these stories of non-complimentary behavior I can’t help but think of our current Republican presidential candidate. It appears that non-complimentary behavior is not in Donald Trump’s DNA. He has demonstrated an inability to react to an adversary’s hostility with humility. He can only respond with matching hostility, even when it is a counterproductive option. When confronted with hostile criticism from the Muslim parents of a fallen American soldier Trump had the opportunity to flip the script. He could have turned the other cheek to the insults and shown respect for a Gold Star family, which would have shown a human side of him. But Trump seems incapable of responding to hostility with empathy; his only instinct is to portray himself as a victim and sling mud back. He needs to learn that sometimes a good passive defense is the best offense.

I was trying to think back to a time in my own life that I flipped the script, and I recalled a salsa dancing party I threw for my birthday last year. A week before the party around 50 people had RSVP’d, and I was very psyched. Then I received a blunt email from my neighbor who lived above me who happened to have a two-year-old. My neighbor wrote to me that it was wrong for me to have a party that lasted so late into the night (2:00 or 3:00 a.m.), which he said would displace his family. Prior to that party I had thrown two others. I had warned him before the first party that it would be loud and end late, so his family stayed at his in-laws that night. The second party he decided to test how bad it would be and by 1:00 a.m. he was sending me desperate texts for me to turn the music down. I understood why he didn’t want the upcoming party to go late—keeping a 2-year-old up late at night can have bad consequences. But I was pissed. I wanted to reply that I was only throwing parties once or twice a year and that it was my building too, so he should just suck it up and deal with one late night. But after pausing to think for a moment I decided that response would not get the outcome I wanted. Perhaps I could just ignore his complaints and do as I pleased, but I liked my neighbor and felt some empathy for him, and it’s not good to make an enemy of a neighbor. So instead of going off at him in a hostile email, I wrote to him that it would be my pleasure to pay for he and his wife to stay at a hotel in downtown Chicago. I doubted that he would accept this offer but I figured I had nothing to lose by trying it. The next day my neighbor texted me that he and has wife liked the hotel idea and said he had found a deal on a hotel for a mere $130. I texted back and told him I would drop off the money in cash under his door mat that day. The party was fantastic. People stayed at my condo making lots of noise past 4:00 a.m. We even broke out some musical instruments. A few weeks later I ran into my neighbor’s wife, and she told me that the hotel getaway was wonderful. She said it was great to get away from their house and have some private time. (They dropped off their two-year-old at her parents’ house.) I had successfully flipped the script. By reacting to hostility with generosity the scenario changed from one of tension and resentment to a win-win outcome where everyone felt great afterward. We had the same arrangement for the following party, and I hope we agree to do it for my party next week. The $130 party expense was worth every penny.

Question 1: Have you ever reacted to aggressive hostility with kindness?

Question 2: Is Donald Trump capable of restraint?

Listen to the Invisible podcast: http://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/485603559/flip-the-script

Share this post

34 thoughts on “Flipping the Script

  1. chuck snow

    yes I have reacted to hostility with kindness and it totally turned the situation around and I was able to deescalate the madman’s actions
    Unfortunately for all Americans this is going to be a one horse race because Mr Trump does not have enough EQ to restrain his behavior. The man has grown up loving the sound of his own voice and is incapable of listening. Not a good quality for a future president.

  2. JoeyB

    The problem with this question is this: how much of the conflict between Donald Trump and Mr. Khan is a media generated conflict? The mainstream media is very loyally Democrat and quite willing to align with whatever lines are coming from the Democratic party. Amusingly they changed the polling methodology of one of the major polls to show Hillary with a seven point bump following the Democratic convention and no one in the mainstream media has made a peep about it. If this script was flipped, I guarantee a firestorm. But I digress.
    I have reacted to aggressive hostility with kindness on a number of occasions. Said hostility was usually the result of a mistake – mine or the other party. Reasonable people react well to attempts to clarify things and move on.
    To your second question – Donald Trump has been a very successful business man in a highly visible profession that requires accommodation with multiple groups of people. How much of this “lack of restraint” is true and how much of it is a figment invented by those who have opposed him in this election cycle?

    1. Noah Graff

      I can agree with you that he trapped by the media. But he fell for the trap. It’s his fault that he was too angry and impulsive to outsmart his adversaries.

  3. Greg Anderson

    Q1 Yes
    Q2 I doubt Trump will ever show restraint and its damaging him. At first I liked his boldness and some of his ideas but he’s gone off the rails now and doubt he’d be a good president anymore.

  4. Steve H

    Yes, certainly we should react with the appropriate measure. In some cases, it is kindness and understanding that will defuse the situation. In other cases, mr. nice guy is the dead guy. Clearly, you are liberal in your views so I would not waste my time to respond to your question about Trump. Why not ask if Clinton is truthful or if you think she defamed all those women who came forward about her husband’s affairs, or how could they take money from Saudi Arabia, one, if not the biggest abusers of women in the world? We all know that this is a race between 2 people who will not lead America in a good direction in one way or another.

    1. Noah Graff

      The question is not if Hillary is good or bad or if she would be a good president. That’s an entirely different question.

      The question is only about the temperament of a man who claims to have an Amazing temperament.

  5. Michael Gore

    Question #1 I have talked my way out of it. But the scenario illustrated is fantasy. I am sure some thing like this may have happen some place some where but, I would wager a lot of money this is not the norm under a armed robbery or any other hostile aggressive situation. Again NPR manages to blur the lines of reality and imagined reality. They have a agenda and it is paid for by our tax dollars and personal contributions.
    It is always wise to know the source of your information and who pays for it for you to hear.

    #2 He is capable of restraint, just as our current president is capable of not calling a terrorist a terrorist. Food for thought here, this is a presidential campaign. With one candidate with more dirt under her nails than a 7 year old playing in the dirt all day. And another candidate with a ego that is larger than were used to seeing in a presidential candidate. The reality is both parties have sold us a bill of goods that is a steaming pile of manure the past 4 or 5 presidents. Lets declare war on Drugs, terror ( at home and abroad), gangs etc… All at the expense of as taxpayers with dismal results and wrecking our financial future in the process. Meanwhile Wall street continues to get fat with out accountability.

    Mr Trump offers the American taxpayers a bit of respect, a bit of anger, and a true possibility of a change of the status quo. Which Ms Clinton would be so much more of Obama, Bush & Bill Clinton administartions combined. Ie the Stats Quo.

    Will he show restraint, Yes I believe so. He is campaigning right now. What we will get with him is unknown to some degree. With Hillary I know the worlds largest intercourse job of the American public will continue as it has for the last 3 presidents. If you don’t think so your not paying attention.

    At least Mr Trump is not being investigated by the FBI
    At least Mr Trump has a proven business record, while not stellar at least he has not lived off a government salary most his life. Some thing Hillary cannot say in the least.

    1. Josh

      Your criticism of Invisibilia because its related to NPR is an ad hominem attack. You cannot attack the integrity of the podcast simply because it is distributed by NPR, that is disingenuous. Invisibilia is it’s own entity and they are not beholden to NPR, it is made by people who came from This American Life which is not an NPR production.

      Furthermore, your assertion that NPR is paid for by tax dollars is demonstrably false. The only federal money that NPR itself receives is from competitive federal grants that could go to anyone. About 6% of member station funding across the country comes from federal contributions, and this is mostly so that radio stations operating in poor rural areas without much funding are able to exist, and they most play classical music because they can not afford the programming of more affluent NPR stations. So when you say that NPR funding is pushing an agenda, if anything it’s the agenda of your fellow Americans who donate to their local member stations and to NPR.

      I actually agree with your points on the war on drugs, terror, gangs etc and their complete failure.

      As far as Trump having a proven business record, yeah, it’s proven that his businesses have declared bankruptcy 4 times in the last 25 years. The man is a demagogue who is interested in the presidency for his own legacy. And Hillary isn’t much better.

      1. Marvin

        You Sir are a shallow human being. NPR is most certainly using tax dollars to support one side. One side and the tax dollars are not from one side just as the abominable abortion is funded by those who disagree and do not want to support such things, This world is basically evil and it takes a lot of spirit to bring it out of the gutter. It takes a lot of good peeps to bring bring in the light and rid this world of darkness. Just like it would take gallons of white paint to make black even gray. Your comments regarding bankruptcy amuse me. How often do businesses do such things? More than you can imagine, 4x. Pfsst!

      2. Josh

        First of all, nice ad hominem by calling me shallow. You know nothing about me as a person other than that I posted some facts that dispute your opinion. Too bad. Well run businesses don’t usually have to declare bankruptcy, yes sometimes it’s the best choice but there are decisions that lead up to it. If Hillary had gone bankrupt 4 times you’d be leaping down her throat about it and you know it, hypocrite. Also I posted facts about their federal funding and you’re pulling stuff out of your derriere.

  6. Joe

    Donald is to ignorant to change. He doesn’t know any better. Every time he opens his mouth lies, made up controversy and adolescent drivel comes out. He’s a toddler in a suit.

  7. Jack C

    You are a millennial baby . It is not all about you. Just because you wanna have a party does not give you the right to deprive your neighbors of a good night sleep.Cities have noise ordinances and your neighbors would be within their rights to call the police to make you turn the noise down late at night.Maybe next time you have a party you should buy all your neighbors hotel rooms not just the ones you like.Or maybe have your party at the Graff machinery warehouse where you will only disturb screw machines.

    1. Josh

      What does that make you then? A grumpy old boomer who decided to get upset about a conflict that was resolved in an incredibly adult manner? Seems to me that Noah handled the situation a lot more maturely than you handled his telling of the story.

      1. Jack C

        Grumpy-OK old- perhaps but Doc,Bashful,I ,and especially Sleepy agree that a mature adult does not throw loud parties that keep neighbors with small children up til 3AM. If he was an adult there would be no late party therefore no conflict.My point was that bribing a neighbor so he can have an illegal party is hardly a noble achievement.

      2. Josh

        “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

  8. Jerry Johnson

    Whenever I see you authored the script, I know that it is going to be provocative (at least to me). So, a few observations:
    1. None of the people at the dinner party had any money? Must have been a bunch of the Chicago Machine Progressives enjoying all the “free stuff”.
    2. A guy bursts in with a gun, threatens to rob them, and ends up with a group hug? Loretta Lynch must have been in attendance at the wine and cheese party ! This is not reality my boy. Stop listening to PBR. It’s delusional.
    3. Trump is a Warrior. You hit him, his inclination is to hit back harder. That’s his DNA; no PC BS. Unfortunately, the media knows this and baits him. HE’S LEARNING !! Trump is still exponentially better for the USA than the alternative of Salsa Dancing with the She Devil.
    4. Yes, I have tried non-complimentary behavior. I recently lent a young Muslim Lehigh University Student money so he could pay his utility bill. It was the dead of winter, and the gas company had shut off his gas service due to non-payment of his bill. He was freezing, and with his solemn promise to repay me with a mutually agreed upon schedule (group hug) he took my check MADE OUT TO the gas company so he could get the service restored. Reimbursement time came and went with no word from him, in spite of my many efforts to contact him and remind him of his commitment. Checking the mail one day and continuing to hope, I saw that my bank statement had arrived. I opened it, and saw a number of ACH Transactions with Western Union debiting my bank account. Long story short, this young, black, muslim Lehigh Student had apparently scanned a copy of my check prior to paying the gas company with it, altered the scanned copy to make mobile deposit payments to people that he owed money to thru Western Union, using money in my bank account! A warrant was issued for his arrest, and he is now in Northampton County Prison charged with 31 Felonies, under $75,000.00 bail. Moral to the story: sometimes this shit just doesn’t work.
    5. The Kahn con – Their son is a hero (reminder, he died in the line of duty 14 years ago). Khan the father is a close associate of the Clintons, and they drag him out from under his rock when they think it appropriate for this kind of crap (baiting). He is a lawyer, worked at a law firm with HRC, is associated with the “Clinton Foundation”, as well as the muslim brotherhood espousing replacing the Constitution of the United States with Sharia Law. Not exactly the kind of guy who should be waiving a copy of our Constitution at you. Maybe PBR will run and expose on him??
    6. That’s it until your next epistle. VOTE TRUMP, AND MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.

    1. Joe

      I can’t believe the conspiracy theorist’s here. Why are you in this country if you believe the crap coming out of your mouth. Facts please.

  9. mike fassbender

    1. no – been generally an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” person. mixed results – at a cost . . .

    2. maybe . . . but do we want that? is Hillary capable of telling the truth? Do most liars even know what the truth is?

    Donald Trump represents us working stiffs in the trenches, albeit from a different place. Hillary Clinton (the Clintons), Obamas, etc. do not. How can one justify paying Chelsea $ 2,000,000 to run a bogus foundation? what is the difference between that foundation and one like Jerry Sandusky -other then one taps money and the other hurt children? both are criminal – yet the Clintons continue to reign . . . and prevail.

    Christ spoke the truth Lloyd, what did it get him? Maybe that is why Hillary’s mantra is hard to decipher? liar that she is . . . .

    1. Josh

      I’m a working stiff in the trenches. Trump doesn’t represent me at all. But neither does Hillary for that matter.

  10. Art Santana

    Great provocative and informative blog; good job as always Noah. My question is better placed this way: If in November I choose to vote for the lesser of two evils; wouldn’t I still vote for an evil ? The Donald has not decency because he has gone through life bullying everyone that does not agree with him. The Old hen, Hillary has yet to figure out what is a lie and what is the truth. half of what she says is a lie and the other half is suspect at best. I am more perplexed to see so many people take one side or the other and willing to forgive or ignore the enormous shortcomings of these two in the name of political affiliation.. meanwhile, the rest of the world is just laughing and amused at our ineptitude to get a real presidential candidate. these are not the parties of Lincoln or DFR anymore, that is a given.

    1. Noah Graff

      Don’t you think the Donald is big fat lyer too? How many accounts are there of him breaking promises in business!

      But most politicians are lyers and tons of presidents are. Actually no…. All politicians are lyers! Some we know about and some we don’t.

      I don’t trust either of them to tell the truth. But one of them wants to be best friends with Putin, is racist, impulsive and doesn’t know the strategy of non-coomplimentary behavior. They both would lie a lot if they become president. But one I can’t trust with the launch codes. Since you asked how I really felt!????

      1. Leo

        The best one-liner I’ve heard so far about this election is we have a choice between “Grandma Nixon and the 5th Horseman of the Apocalypse”.

  11. Marvin

    Albeit you propose a very positive ending in those two matters, it varies with every scenario. The first example worked well because there were some compassionate men that didn’t see anything positive about the methods that were practiced currently and were bold enough to attempt an experiment. There were young men that needed a positive role model so their experiment had a chance, plus they were singled out and not together as a gang where they can support one another on the evil side. Your story regarding the burglar was most heart warming to say the least but is definitely unique. I really doubt that you will see that type of reaction in most cases. However; I would have called the authorities when he calmed down. His intentions and first actions needed to be dealt with. Whose to say that he wouldn’t do it again and go through with it regardless of how the people reacted. Your last example is something of a hoot. Why didn’t you just invite your neighbor instead of costing yourself a hotel visit for the night? Now every time you want to have a party you will need to include the extra cash for the hotel. Whey should we need to bribe one another just so we can have some fun. It may get to the point where he may decide you should find a nicer place as time goes on. Your thoughts are interesting to say the least but somewhat delusional in my opinion. There is right and wrong in this work along with good and evil. The time it may take to “bribe” these peeps with money and or favors just to get them off of your back sets a bad example, peeps need to respect one another and not expect anything but a thank you. As far as the Trump remarks go, I think one needs to be a bit forgiving there as well. The choices are what the choices are as far as an actual winner goes and Trump, trumps Hillary by far. He may be awkward and coarse at times but his heart is good and he means well. The other only thinks of herself and what she can get away with just like the current Narcissist and Chief. They are lying their butts off everyday with not regrets and Americans are letting them do it for whatever reason. They all seem to be Stepford children in front of the both of them. Let’s cut to the chase and get some truth back into the system. They lie and no one not one Congress person or Senator calls them out for it. Trump doesn’t have that problem. It is high time America woke up and challenged the few that are ruining this country for us and the future generation. Before you know it, it will be too late. Alas it probably is too late. Paying cash ransom for the hostages was just blatant and they are just testing us, yet no one comes forward. Good bye.

    1. Josh

      You just accused Hillary of being a narcissist in comparison to Trump? Trump is the absolute king of narcissism. This campaign has nothing to do with America and everything to do with him putting a book end on his legacy of failure.

      1. Marvin

        Hahahah … yes of course he is because that is what America wants, a confident and strong leader. Not some lying incompetent, that is only out for themselves and selfish. I listen to the both of them talk to us like children and like we haven’t any sense. We can see through all that now, at least some of us. Obama cannot hold a candle to Trump, he hasn’t worked in a real job, in a real world, anytime anywhere in his life! It has been all theories and fantasies and thinking he knows better. Let alone stripping America of all of it wealth and conformity. Hasn’t had the GDP better than 2% all his term. I like Donald’s form of narcissism!

  12. Bill

    It is truly a shame that we debate which of two poor choices to make, when the libertarian
    offering is arguably the most reasonable and capable pair out there. The team of Gary Johnson and Bill Webb did well as governors and can’t even get an invite to the debates.
    I am voting for them. Might be an easy decision if you give them a listen or two.

  13. Bill

    To answer your question,
    1) Dale Carnegie suggested treating aggressive behavior with a smile or a chuckle.
    Read this 30 years ago and have practiced it since. Works well most of the time.

    2) Trump is a shill for Hillary. His behavior wouldn’t work in most businesses. I’m
    sure that he can show restraint and no doubt can kiss ass when necessary.

  14. Michael

    Trump has not screwed us yet! Hil and Bill screwed the whole country, rammed nafta, china, and other things unknown down our throat while Hil set on the board at Walmart!!!! I wonder what that paid. You know the old saying, screw me once, shame on you, screw me twice, I must be a damn fool!!!!!!!

  15. John

    Flipping the script as you label it is a technique I’m learning to use. I work with buyers and execs in large 1st tiers. My experience of trying to force my will on them when we receive a bad deal has been futile. The feminine manipulative approach rather than the male fight or flight approach seems to create a better outcome in many cases. ***The biggest hurdle has been for me to learn to pause rather than instinctively react to either aggression or a poor me story***.

    The election:
    I don’t like either choice.
    As others have pointed out, the media creates much of the drama.

  16. allen

    To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong but that’s the way the smart money bets.

    Yes, the story as told on PBR probably happened, although I wouldn’t put fabrication beyond all consideration, but so what? I’ve seen a lion and a lamb, or at least a very young antelope and a leopard, lie down together. Doesn’t mean it’s not the sort of relationship that usually results in the leopard burping contentedly in the vast majority of cases. It is or there’d be no leopards.

    Similarly, in the vast majority of cases the gun-wielder won’t leave with the glow of good-fellowship and wine but with everyone’s wallets and jewelry with maybe a few bodies thrown in for good measure.

    So what’s the point of PBR’s advice on the value of pulling to an inside straight? It’s an invitation to cheap, moral superiority.

    “Cheap” because everyone who finds themselves nodding to the story does so without the muzzle of a gun pointed at them so have nothing at stake. “Moral superiority” because nary a one of those who find themselves nodding to the story can see themselves doing anything other, with the same outcome, then what was done by the very refined woman at that party who led others to this non-violent resolution.

    Question 2: Of course he is although putting the spotlight on Donald Trump means Hillary’s escaping the same inspection. Gee, I can’t imagine why.

  17. Mike

    #1 The NPR podcast is a highly fictionalized. Your personal example of “Flipping” the Script is much more realistic. Congratulations on achieving a win for both yourself and your neighbors.

    #2 I believe that Donald Trump’s will exercise the necessary “restraint” when American lives are at risk. “Flipping” the question to Hillary Clinton is fair game. Ms. Clinton in her previous role as Secretary of State used “restraint” in denying numerous requests for additional security prior to the 2012 killings at US Consulate in Benghazi. I am the proud father of a son who is an active member of the US Navy. I believe that my son has a better chance of coming home alive with a strong and assertive Mr. Trump than with a weak and passive Ms. Clinton.


Comments are closed.