Although I am not a weekly viewer of the TV show The Office, I do find myself tuning in if I am home on a Thursday night.  The ensemble cast is brilliantly eclectic and they all have interesting quirks that makes for some very entertaining television.   But it is the boss of Dunder Mifflin, Scranton, Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) who is almost painful to watch.  Every week he says things so embarrassing that I cover my own mouth.  “This is our receptionist Pam, if you think she is cute now you should have seen her a couple of years ago.”

He is so socially inappropriate that it is funny.  That’s the point actually.   His unique ability to sexually or racially stereo-type is a running gag.  In one episode Oscar says, “Both my parents were born in Mexico, and they moved to the United States a year before I was born, so I grew up in the United States… my parents were Mexican.” Wow“, says Michael, “that is a great story. That’s the American dream right there, right? Um, let me ask you, is there a term besides ‘Mexican’ that you prefer? Something less offensive?” Then when Michael attempts to assemble a basketball team, Oscar responds, “I can play, if you need any help”. Michael rebuffs him, “I will use your talents come baseball season, my friend. Or if we ever decide to box.”

The thing that makes Michael Scott so funny is that he is usually not trying to be nasty.  He is hopelessly unaware of how mean-spirited he comes across.  He is obnoxious, narrow-minded and has no social graces.  Michael actually thinks he’s a wise boss, trying to teach, motivate, and entertain his employees.  Instead, his ignorance, desire to be popular, and enthusiasm, combine to produce some outstandingly inappropriate comments!   He is a caricature,  no manager would last 5 minutes in the corporate world being so insensitive.  Michael Scott is the world’s worst boss.

The reason we laugh at him is that we all know someone who is somewhat like him.  We were once traveling abroad with a group of friends.  One of our party was trying to impress upon us the dangers of venturing out at night alone.  After explaining that there were sexual predators in the region, he said to us, and to one of our group (who might be described as a dowdy middle-age woman), “They’ll go after anything… even you Rachel!”  Ouch!  Smooth move Bonehead.  A Michael Scott moment if there ever was one.  Pop culture has now given a name to this social inappropriateness.  It is called the Michael Scott Syndrome.  Life imitates art.

I watch The Office in awe wondering how the writers can dream up so many inappropriate remarks for only one episode.  I can only think of one or two stupid things to say on TV every week.  Michael is so incredibly obnoxious primarily because he has no sense of self-awareness.  It is all rooted in his insecurity and self-centeredness.  He has no idea how people really see him because he can only see things from his point of view or vantage point.  Although taken to the extreme on The Office, Michael Scott Syndrome is far more widespread than we might think at first blush.  Our goal in interpersonal relationships needs to be twofold; to seek to understand AND to be understood.  We are better at the later.  We want others to see our point of view so we talk incessantly, usually about our favorite subject… ourselves.  No one enjoys a one sided relationship where there is no effort to seek to understand.  Instead of listening to you, when they do give you a chance to speak, they are busy thinking about what they are going to say next.  It usually sounds something like, “Oh, that’s nothing, do you know what happened to me”! Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  (Phil. 2:4)

In any relationship we need to spend at least as much time listening as we do talking.  If you are always doing the talking, you are not learning ANYTHING that you did not know before.  You are probably far more boring and tedious than you could possibly ever tolerate from another.   And you don’t even know it!  Michael Scott Syndrome is when it is all about ME.  Millions suffer from the disease and there may be no cure.