Archive for the 'Democrats and Republicans' Category

Addressing fear

August 16, 2012

I made a comment to a comment, this morning, to a Gail Collins column about Paul Ryan’s plans for Medicare.  I talked about the fear I perceive lying behind Republican conservatism, and how instead of working on dismantling the fear itself people try to protect against the thing they fear.  I mentioned at the end of my reply how I think liberals don’t address or effectively address conservatives’ fear.

I thought I’d elaborate here on my thoughts about effectively addressing somebody else’s fear.

For example, telling someone to stop feeling fear isn’t particularly effective, I don’t think, and it usually comes across as pretty harsh and not very compassionate, which may exacerbate a fear reaction.  Sometimes helping someone shine a flashlight under the bed helps, or explaining how others have dealt with an analogous fear gives them a needed roadmap.  Sometimes it is merely a matter of exposing the person to the thing feared, of having them taste the green eggs and ham, in effect.  Sometimes it helps for the person to identify an event or image that seems to be at the root of their fear and to re-examine that situation in order to see it differently:  maybe not all large dogs are unfriendly, and maybe even the one who seemed so was just being territorial and reacting with his own anxiety to feeling challenged, while tied up in front of the house he was trying to protect, by someone who didn’t speak “dog.”

I guess, with regard to fear, conservatives, and liberals, I might start with an issue like guns or immigration and try to address people’s fears directly, respectfully, and compassionately without contributing to them or endorsing them.  I think fears can be dismantled or at least reduced, and from that would flow a change in attitude toward the need for such hypervigilant self-protection.  I think that might change the policy debates on these issues more substantially than other approaches.

Getting what we asked for

August 1, 2011

I get the impression that part of the reaction to the debt ceiling deal of many people who don’t agree with the Republicans is that they (the people doing the reacting, that is, not the Republicans to whom they’re reacting) have made no contribution to the situation that produced it.

While those of us who disagree with the deal, and with the Republican bargaining tactics and substance, didn’t ask specifically for those items off of some kind of menu given to us by the waiter (I’m picturing Grover, the Sesame Street monster serving the guy with the round blue head), we were not AWOL on Mars during the past thirty years.

How did we get here?

Ann Landers used to talk about how no one can take advantage of us without our permission.  I would re-frame that in terms I think I read about in a book called Difficult Conversations (by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen): interactions involve contributions from all involved.  There is also the perspective on the same issue, I think, of programs like Al-Anon, that our attitudes make a difference, that we may become unreasonable in our own way without knowing it and contribute to the chaos, having been sucked into it without realizing it.

I think it’s unfortunately true that behavior we think is justified and okay, other people may actually find hurtful, or at least they may react to it defensively.  We don’t get to decide how they will react.  I think this applies to the Tea Party.  They are reacting to something.  They seem to be vulnerable to styles of discourse that seem to involve factual errors, anger, and bitterness.  What shapes people to be receptive to this?  Why do people glom onto to charismatic television personalities and candidates with simplistic sound bites?  How do television personalities and candidates develop into these characters themselves in the first place?

We see the difficulties of reaching hearts and minds abroad — I think the same difficulties are present at home.  People tend to be “doing their best” in the sense that it is the best they can do given the way they have developed to date.  Their — actually, our — strategies may be maladaptive but they protect the self, at least in the short term.  People need to develop on the inside in order to exhibit different behavior.  What they — make that, we — need in order to undergo that development maybe is what would be more effective for us to focus on, including for ourselves as individuals.

For all of us to win

August 1, 2011

What would “winning” look like?  Legislation put forward by the Democratic caucus?  Legislation proposed by the Republicans?  Something floated by the White House?  The best thinking of our best pundits?  Even the ideas floating up from the electorate?

I actually think winning would look like interactions with less rancor and more sincere good will towards the other.  Every time we erupt with our own righteous indignation at “what the others have done,” we perpetuate the cycle, I think, regardless of how justified we feel according to some doctrine about the others’ content or process.  Every time we think we’ve won when our own preferred course of action carries the day, we achieve only a Pyrrhic victory if civility and caring for others are casualties of the process — we may win a battle but contribute to losing not just a war but our ability to live in peace.

Because I don’t think the it’s a game in which being right and getting our way is the object of the game — I think the “game” (if that’s another name for needing to build something together, whether it’s an economy, a social program, software, a widget, a school of thought, the Tower of Babel, or anything else we do together) is the means to the end, so to speak, the exercise we go through in order to achieve emotional fitness.   And I think that we’ve so lost our way by mistaking content, and getting it “right,” for the main event.

The main event is how we interact, what intangible products we produce through our emotions toward each other.  I’ve used the analogy of a canary in a coal mine dying for what we should be seeing in what’s been going on in Washington, and I see the gases as emanating from our negative regard for one another.

The ironic thing about this is that it’s actually something very much within our control to work on — how we treat each other.  To treat each other well, we need some inner peace ourselves, some self-awareness, too, to achieve this.

I don’t mean this as a speech against anyone, I mean it as guidance to do something other than pulling the tangle tighter by strenuously fighting back — we don’t have to agree with one another, we can believe in our perception of what’s right to do, but we need to relearn how to get along with each other, how to love each other, how to stop trying to control one another.

I suspect that part of the root of all this dysfunctional behavior is our inability to actually love ourselves — to love the part of ourselves that is our core, not our superficial skills and accomplishments.  We often love a false self, I think, and that misprision makes it difficult to love another.  But the encouraging thing is that we can always work on rediscovering who we are through stripping off all our encrustations, and when we have done that, we find ourselves freer to feel and interact in ways that are pleasant and helpful for both ourselves and the people with whom we interact.