What is an Accidental Audience?

USA Today this week  reported that in FERGUSON, Mo. — At least three people were shot and four arrested (Monday) during protests marking the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer.

“There is a small group of people out there who are intent on making sure we don’t have peace that prevails,” Belmar said. “That’s just the bottom line on this and that’s just unfortunate…We can’t afford to have this kind of violence.”

Have you ever heard the phrase – not my monkeys – not my circus?   In some ways, this illustrates the idea of becoming an accidental audience member.  How many of those involved in rioting today were spurred on by the protests of someone else?

Each of us has an agenda and hope to influence the people around us to agree with our perspective, our angst even.  We want to propel someone else to take action – just not ourselves.  Sometimes we succeed in gaining momentum with a group – raising dissenting voices into a fevered pitch that results in others (the accidental audience members) being hooked into your circus.

Consider for a moment what happens when a family member or co-worker come to you with a problem to solve.  Do you jump right into “fix it mode?”  I have to admit that this was definitely my MO for a big part of my career…. It has really only changed because now I actually get paid to dole out advice and problem solving.

It’s not a bad thing to be there for people, however, sometimes the best way to help people is to let them help themselves! Be a sounding board but don’t jump into their drama and spend your nights lying awake worrying about whether or not their problem has been solved.

If you always swoop in and fix everything, you deny people an opportunity to be independent and learn those important coping skills that they need to get by.  Not to mention the skill of holding their eyes wide open to new possibilities in problem solving.

When you find yourself getting super involved in someone else’s conflict that is when you are becoming an accidental audience member.  You have a front row seat in someone else’s circus.

Over the years I have found myself being sucked in to all kinds of drama that I had no business being in. There were so many times when I caused myself unnecessary stress by worrying about something that didn’t concern me. It takes a lot of strength to pull back from things that are going on around you, but I urge you to try!

When you find yourself becoming an accidental audience in another person’s circus, pause and ask yourself:

  1. Does this situation need to involve me?
  2. If the situation doesn’t really involve me, what is my motivation for getting involved?
  3. What will it cost me to get involved? We’re talking time, money, stress, etc.
  4. What will happen if I decline to participate in this situation?
  5. Do I have anything helpful to offer or am I simply taking their perspective on?


Excerpt from The Accidental Audience – A novel by Faith Wood

There is so much we read about in today’s world—we wake up to horrifying, beautiful, and mediocre news. We awake with the choice before us to move toward action inspired by what we hear. But, most of us just shake our heads, making tch–tch sounds, and do nothing. Some of us have jobs requiring us to make decisions that affect our employers, our co-workers, and, perhaps, even the world.

When we recognize something is a little off or rubs us the wrong way, do we take decisive action even if it means we might experience some type of discomfort? Probably not.

What do we often choose? Willful blindness.

We choose willful blindness by willing ourselves to look the other way. We hope someone else will come forward. We wish the issue will resolve itself—quietly.”

Rearranging one’s entire life to keep one’s eyes wide open rather than eyes wide shut is not an easy endeavor.  Willful blindness is as strong as a hurricane setting its sights on a specific target—sometimes it can’t be avoided.

The good news is everyday life choices fall somewhere in the middle, and those choices don’t have to result in total destruction. Simply recognizing the choice opportunities in front of you is half the battle—you can choose willful blindness, or not. Sun Tzu in The Art of War, chapter three, paragraph eighteen states, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”