The Power of Paradox

Do you recall that old expression of “reverse psychology” as used to reference such things as how to get a toddler child to eat his spinach? Order him not to eat it for it would make him too big and powerful. Or how to stop a teenager from smoking cigarettes by ordering him to smoke the whole pack at once in order to practice adult inhaling. Crazy stuff like that? Always sounded too good to be true, but made for an interesting fantasy.

The field of counseling psychology has long considered this a kind of “strategic” formula for working with oppositional and defiant clients otherwise considered unworkable or untreatable. The great Austrian analyst, Victor Frankl, used the term “paradoxical intention” to suggest there are indeed times when ordering the opposite seems to have the best chance for success. Order the couple complaining of sexual frigidity or impotence to refrain from sexual intimacy for the next two months, or the individual complaining of insomnia to refrain from any sleep for the next two nights. This amounted to a kind of “reverse psychology” when trying too hard had made things worse in the first place. Trying too hard in opposite direction became known as using “the power of paradox.”

Jesus, per the New Testament Gospels, reportedly used this very strategy to spread the word of his healing abilities. Tell no one what you have just seen, was sometimes his strongest advice.  And his least taken prescription.

So I got to thinking the other day about who it is that has the power to influence the policies of our current US President. This, afterall, seems to be a man who seeks his own direction at all costs. No one, whether we’re talking personal attorneys or party officials, can get away with telling him what has to be done. To such strong advice, he typically responds with “we will see what happens.” Translation: “I will do what I want to do when I want to do it.”

There are those in our country who look to the assigned special counsel of Robert Mueller as one who has some actual power over our President. But I’m not so sure.

From my own perspective, the only person who really has actual power over this President is our previous President. That’s right. President #44 seems in my mind to have the greatest power over the behavior of President #45.

Were #44 to privately call and advise #45 to, for instance, be very careful not to submit to any non-scripted interview with [special counsel], I think we might begin to see the power of paradox take shape. Were #44 to further advise that under such a circumstance, #45 must plead the 5th Amendment or else claim amnesia if asked to reveal any sensitive information under oath, the paradoxical behavior of #45 might actually take place. And for #44 to then go public with a televised pronouncement such as, “I have no doubt that [45] will weakly lose such a contest if he agrees to be interviewed by a strong champion like [special counsel],” would pose real power over the behavior of #45. As would such a public statement as, “when I was President, I’d maybe not have had the courage to meet alone with such a [special counsel] in an oral interview unless by subpoena and only then if I could have pled the 5th or else have conveniently forgotten when asked an incriminating question.”  Or perhaps another public statement such as, “knowing #45 so well as I do, I would most definitely expect him to fire the special counsel rather than cooperating with any request for an unscripted interview under oath.”

In short, the bigger deal #44 might privately make over why #45 has to avoid cooperating with the Mueller investigation, while then publicly stating this as a matter of protection against some exposed weakness and defeat, the more power he would actually have to drive #45 away from such avoidant behaviors.

And so, for my own part as a private U.S. citizen voicing my own opinion in accord with my 1st Amendment rights, I hereby order President #44 to under no circumstances say anything directly about why #45 should refuse to truthfully answer this special counsel’s personal inquiry. In fact, #44 should refuse comment if ever asked to publicly advise his successor about how to best protect himself from further scrutiny in the matter of this alleged, by #45 and his attorneys, Russian “hoax.” That is my final prescription as #44’s personal advisor.


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