a direct threat

Tonight, I read an article in Time about how South Korea is hosting the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. Which is called THAAD because every good program needs an acronym. I have seen acronym creation at work and just as you’d suspect, people really do sit around re-choosing words just to pick initial letters that will make another word. But that’s another story.

THAAD is an anti-ballistic-missile system to defend the US, Japan, and parts of South Korea against potential nuclear weapons’ attack by North Korea, as their emerging development of nuclear weapons starts to make these close range countries worry about this kind of thing. Given that recently North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test of a bomb comparable to the size of the one the US dropped on Hiroshima, it seems reasonable that some sort of defense plan, acronym or not, might be worth considering.

Here’s what jumped out at me in the article, something Charlie Campbell wrote about China’s reaction to THAAD:

“But Beijing–already tangling with Washington over the South China Sea–sees the deployment of THAAD on the Korean peninsula as a direct threat.”

I stopped reading. A move that is defensive, designed to protect against another’s aggression, is perceived as a direct threat.

rhee_tkd_self-defence_drillIsn’t that strange? I mean, everyone knows that isn’t true, right? If I begin to swing a punch at you (I won’t do it, but say I did) and you throw up your arms to protect your face, it would sound ridiculous if I said: “Hey! You raised your arms like that and I felt like you were being aggressive!”

No one would listen to that. They’d say: Uh, stupid, that’s called blocking a punch. Defense 101. Punching is Offense 101, don’t get it twisted.

But life isn’t as simple. Say your friend is married to a man who continues to press her to “just talk to me, you won’t even talk to me.”

She’s telling you that their marriage is terrible, she can’t talk to her husband, in ways she can’t quite describe. You’re trying to understand, but they seem to be arguing over the stupidest stuff, and it’s not fitting into anything you can make sense of.

Meanwhile her husband tells you that he begs her to talk, but she won’t. Then he finishes with this:

“I feel like she’s determined to destroy our marriage.”

Offense 101 right? Something else I learned this week: ghosting. This is the new way you let someone know you do not want to see them ever again–you just never text them back. It’s super rude, I think, but on the other hand, it’s also super efficient. (I still can’t bring myself to do it, but that’s the term: ghosting. Nice, huh?)

So there’s something you finally do understand about their relationship: He wants to talk, but she won’t. So you start there, with what you know. You say, look, you have to talk, how will you ever work any of the problems out if you won’t even tell him what’s wrong?

You can almost see how he would perceive her silence like it’s an attack.

But is it?  Is the THAAD system a direct threat to China? These are missiles with no payloads, just made to collide with enemy missiles at high speeds to destroy them before they hit their targets.

Campbell quotes Cheong Seongchang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute in South Korea: “China believes…THAAD puts its hegemony at risk.”

I googled: Hegemony means leadership or dominance, especially by one country or social group over others. (Side note: I almost hope that English is not Cheong’s second language, because if it is, he knows my language better than I do. I know that’s prideful, but it was my first thought.)

OK so China is upset (according to Cheong) because their leadership or dominance of the region is at risk. It has nothing to do with a defense system–it’s that I’m not in charge anymore. Whether a nuclear bomb lands on South Korea or Japan (again) is really out of scope.

Back to the wife who won’t talk to her husband. What if we stopped thinking of her behavior as offensive and started wondering if it was defensive? What if we brainstormed about all the reasons we don’t want to get in conversations with people?

I mean you know that when you run into some people in the hall at work and they stop to say hello, you’re thinking ARRGHH!

So why that reaction? Well, you could be a hateful person who’s bent on destroying relationships. That could be one reason.

Or that person could almost always chat your ear off for twenty minutes, unable to perceive a single social cue you put out. You have tried all the techniques, the watch checking, the trailing off comment, the “hey can we talk later?” and maybe he says something like “Sure, that’d be great, but I just wanted to tell you this one thing…”

And then without fail, he makes you late to wherever you were going.

Until one day, he tries to stop you in the hall while you are nearly running to the next meeting with your boss. So you immediately put up one hand and say: “I cannot talk right now.” And you just keep walking.

He, of course, tells the next person he sees that you were so rude to him just now. And he describes everything. And it sounds like you were really rude.

But no one believes this version because they have the same experience with him in the office. They think, yeah, that was a defense move. Nice one.

Offices are easy. Shoot, even hegemony might be easy. Homes? Those are hard. No one else watches. Except maybe, sadly, some kids.

After my oldest son was grown up and moved out, he said something I’ll never forget:

“I always thought Dad was the calm center of our family, and you were the crazy, angry one.”

Perception is powerful. I was crazy and angry, that part was right. But by then, my son was grown up enough to know that calm center was also the description of the eye of a hurricane.

So what about your friend? Her husband says he feels like she’s determined to destroy their marriage. Maybe she is. It’s a possibility.

But is that the only reason people don’t want to talk? My daughter said this to me recently:

“I don’t want to talk because you ask questions that make me think about things I don’t want to think about.”

Ah. That’s insightful. And interesting. It wasn’t my general abrasiveness or being a pushy mom, though I’m capable of both of those. It was because I made her think. Before she said that, I thought maybe she was trying to shut me out, but in reality, she is just trying to maintain a very low level of introspection. (I discovered all this by asking her questions… I think that’s irony.)

So there’s another non-destructive reason people don’t choose to talk to someone. One that is defensive in nature, too. There are so many more.

So ask the question: What’s it like when you talk to him? What is your experience? Is there something you’re legitimately trying to protect yourself from? Are you throwing up your arms to block a punch that I can’t see?

Maybe it’s been ten years of knowing that what she says makes no difference, or that everything will be shifted back to blame her. I just heard a friend’s request for her husband to do the dishes that he promised to do two days ago turn into an argument about how she was too demanding and also not forgiving enough.

Can you come up with a reason why you might stop talking in that situation? Might it just be that you are beaten down and trying to avoid another argument so you can get enough sleep to keep performing at work tomorrow–oh, and also have enough energy to pick up a few more of the household chores? Never mind that she’s slowly realizing that she’s married to someone who doesn’t mind offloading more of life’s necessary work onto her.

But what if he describes it like this: My wife is giving me the silent treatment because she won’t forgive me. I tried to talk to her but she’s shutting me out. I think she really wants our marriage to be over.

If he’s perceiving (and describing) her defense system to be a direct threat and it’s actually a defense system–even without an acronym–you’ve missed an opportunity to know and understand what is really happening to your friend.

And she will feel even more alone than she already does.