How (Not) to Make the Most of an Empty Chair

Author Jonathan D. Moreno has a fascinating Op-Ed in Saturday’s NY Times, What the Chair Could Have Told Clint, offering unexpected insight into the use of an empty chair in an imagined dialogue, and the opportunity that Clint Eastwood missed when he gave his unscripted talk at the RNC Thursday night. Turns out that Moreno’s father, J.L. Moreno, was a psychotherapist who developed the use of an empty chair in therapeutic work, leading to use of the term ‘psychodrama.’

A technique that the younger Moreno points out Eastwood could have undertaken would have been to take a turn sitting in the empty chair himself–a suggestion that his father encouraged and which psychiatrists still make to their analysands, in hopes of having them truly comprehend the other in their midst. Moreno regrets

Mr. Eastwood wasted an important educational and therapeutic moment from which our deadlocked political system could benefit: putting himself in the role of the other person of whom he is critical and coming to understand that person’s point of view “from inside.”

Moreno also points to a missed opportunity from the 60s and the Vietnam era. His father offered the Johnson administration his professional services in a bid to conduct a psychodrama with LBJ and Ho Chi Minh. He laments that

Perhaps the deaths of so many tens of thousands of men, women and children could have been averted. But my father got a curt brushoff from Bill Moyers, then the White House press secretary, informing him that diplomacy was not a psychotherapy theater game. But of course any practitioner or historian of diplomacy knows that often that’s exactly what it is.

Moreno knows these fields very well, and I urge you to read his entire column.

According to the bio on his 2012 book, Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century, he has been “a senior staff member for three presidential advisory commissions and has served on a number of Pentagon advisory committees.” For the sake of full disclosure, I want to note that I am connected to Moreno through my friendship with Erika Goldman, his book editor at Bellevue Literary Press. In June, when I began consulting with Speakerfile–the Toronto company that connects conference organizers with authors, experts, and thought leaders who do public speaking–Erika recommended the platform to Jonathan and he became one of the first authors to sign up for Speakerfile during my tenure as a consultant for them.



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