How To Recognize Different Types of Change Agents
May 14th, 2015

'The Devils' Advocate'

If you’ve ever tried to hold someone accountable to a standard of acceptable social behavior then you’ve probably encountered ‘The Devils’ Advocate’ – although you might not have known it until now. 

Allow me to introduce you to yet another of the types of change agent which you will meet on the road to a better life.  Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to discover this role that some people play – a role which functions only to prevent real social change from occurring in the places where you live, work, learn, and play.  Let’s say you’re going about your business, doing your best, trying to be well and do well in life and all of a sudden you find yourself being disrespected, deceived, or coerced by someone in the ‘villain’ role.

So, this is something that you have come to recognize as part of the change process; when people start to show signs of excelling at life villains will very often get upset about it and try to stop you from succeeding.  After all, if you succeed at life then other people might start getting the same idea and if everybody started being awesome then they might not be afraid of the villain anymore.  What would happen to the villain then?  They’d lose their ability to dominate other people and might have to start earning what they get instead of just taking it from others. 

So, since you know that emotional discomfort and social awkwardness are part of the change process (the confrontation part specifically) you go ahead and directly confront the villains’ bad behavior.  Of course, you’ll do it in a way that is socially-appropriate.  You’ll show care for yourself and for them – you’ll use assertive communication. 

But then something happens…

Just as you confront this other person for the destructive impact of their poor choice, just as you begin to talk about how you were adversely effected by their poor choice, somebody else pops on the scene and begins to run interference on you, on behalf of the villain. 

Enter ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ – they immediately begin to make excuses for the villains’ bad behavior and attempt to persuade you that you are wrong or are not credible.  They’ll try to get you to doubt yourself, to doubt your own experience - they’ll even try to get you to doubt your own ability to accurately perceive the social realities of your day-to-day life (this is psychological abuse by the way).  Most of all, they’ll work very hard to portray you as the villain.

You see, The Devils’ Advocate is ‘a rescuer’ because they rescue people from personal responsibility – from responsibility for the destructive impact of the anti-social choices that people make – from choices that are anti-self and / or anti-others.  In other words, The Devils’ Advocate is a person who lets villainous others get away with destroying the team or the groups’ ability to work together as a team. 

Generally speaking, The Devils’ Advocate is usually someone who typically communicates with others in a passive manner – they beat around the bush, they use indirect communication.  Also, people who are stuck in this devils’ advocate role often behave socially as if nothing is a big deal and they tend to not get involved in the social change process – because they don’t want social change.  Rather, they want things to stay the same, because they are oppressed – even on the inside.  The Devils’ Advocate is typically a person who thinks that they are moral, well-intentioned, helpers.  Yet, if you look at their behavior in social situations closely, you’ll notice that they never ‘rescue’ the hero from bullying or abuse and you’ll notice that they tend to look to someone else for social cues about what to say or do – they look to the person who is in the ‘alpha-male or alpha-female role (usually a villain) if you want to use a wolf-pack metaphor to describe a Dominator Hierarchy (or exploitative social group structure). People in The Devils’ Advocate Role have enmeshed psychological boundaries. 

The term ‘enmeshed boundaries’ means that they don’t differentiate between themselves and the other person mentally – at least not enough, or at least not when it comes to autonomy or free will.  They see themselves as a ‘team-player’ but really they are more like an extension or tool of the villain, saboteur, or politician.  Villains don’t want you to have a sense of self because if you did then you’d stop rolling over and peeing on yourself every time they approach you (like wolves do with the alpha).  In the same way, villains also don’t like teams because when people work together, as a team, they treat one another as equally valued allies in pursuit of mutual goals.  If the group functions as a team then villains can’t divide and dominate them.  If the group functions as a team everybody wins – even the villain and their defense attorney – The Devils’ Advocate.

So, what can you do to neutralize the effectiveness of The Devils’ Advocate?  Well, first, remember that you are not the one on trial here – you were the one who was mistreated in some way.  Second, don’t back down – not socially and not mentally.  Third, don’t act out when the villain lies about what they’ve done and lies about you – when the villain and their advocate attempt to provoke you into acting out.  Remember that they’ll do whatever they can to make you go away, and if they can make you flip out it’s all the better for them.  So, stay on point.  Tell the truth.  Say it in a nice way with a calm voice tone.  Use good eye contact and body posture.  Remember that social change and teamwork is what you’re trying to create.

Finally, never betray yourself or your own experience – this is the fastest way to crazyland [in my opinion].  If you want to remain heroic and keep your sanity at the same time then most of all, stay true to yourself and to the truth – tell what actually happened and why you think it meant whatever it meant to you.  As a change agent who has grown up in a society you are well versed in the socially-accepted meanings of body language and social behavior and nobody can tell you that you don’t know what you are talking about – especially if they weren’t even involved in the original issue between you and the villain.

So, ultimately, when you see that a devils’ advocate is butting into your interaction with a person whom you are trying to hold accountable to a standard of acceptable social behavior just ask them to kindly butt out because so-n-so villain can advocate for themselves.

For more info on how to become more heroic in your own life or on how to increase your own ability to create and protect healthy social ecosystems in the places where you live, work, learn, and / or play visit:

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