“Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
Psychotherapy Magazine July/Aug 2020
One of the struggles I’m having in these divisive times is how to bridge the right/wrong politically charged moments that occur between friends, colleagues or strangers. It’s a good struggle. I’m learning a lot and I’m not alone in this struggle.
Awhile back, I was with a group of women friends and for the first time perhaps we talked about our political views; carefully, respectfully. As the discussion continued, I began to realize I was probably the only Democrat/liberal in the group and felt a bit alone with that. So, I asked – “Am I the only liberal here?” No response. Yup. Okay…
I’ve been in this position before – in my first marriage living in Idaho with Marty’s very Nixon loving parents, in my current husband’s family in the Central Valley of California. My father-in-law, Stan, and I used to have some great debates about the issues, respectfully, until Obama’s election. Then, my father-in-law’s anger and racism ratcheted up a few notches and debates felt too “I’m right – you’re wrong.” I finally said to Stan – “I love you and I believe that we both have a right to our opinions. But, like in families and in Congress, if we don’t work together for common solutions, nobody wins.” We stayed connected and when he’d try to engage about politics I’d just say – “We’ve gotta remember we’re all in this together.”
In Brené Brown’s book “Braving the Wilderness” which is about belonging, she dives right into the political divide that is happening in our country and the anger and loneliness it’s generating. Brené gets how angry people are on either side and how our anger comes out as judgment and in very hateful language at times “You’re a gun-loving ..”, “President Trump is a …”, “Liberal baby killer…” These labels reject compassion for “rightness”.
Brené says that this anger that we fling AT the other is driven by the pain we feel inside, but are either unaware of, or avoiding. We all suffer pain and most of us don’t have the skills for dragging that pain out of the closet and dealing with it. We haven’t been taught how to address pain or conflict. Maybe that’s part of what we collectively are trying to figure out. But we have to figure out how to talk WITH each other otherwise it may destroy our country and possibly the world.
While hard to do, if we can take a breath (or 5) and hold onto ourselves when our emotional and political buttons are getting activated and be genuinely curious and respectful about why someone believes as they do we can better understand what’s important to them and why. And, they then might be curious about how and why we think certain things. Working together, we can find solutions – in our families, our cities, our government.
During the 2016 election, we were heated to the boiling point. Brené tells a common and shared “joke” about Thanksgiving that families were suggested to have plastic cutlery so no major damage could be done. Funny, but not. I know of families who are now broken over their political differences.
Brené also shares that while divisiveness, anger and judgment at the other is rising, so is loneliness. During this time of COVID, loneliness is very present. We miss our families and our friends. We’re getting more depressed by the minute and we’re not sure how to handle all the difficult feelings. Isolation isn’t healthy. And yet, we seem to be pushing each other away in our “rightness” and rage.
I was a bit shocked to see that according to research about loneliness by Holt-Lunstad, Smith & Layton that air pollution increases the odds of dying early by 5%, obesity 20%, excessive drinking 30% but loneliness 45%!
Back to my group of friends. That evening as I left the table to head for bed I made another joke to cover my awareness of liberal aloneness – “Good night everyone and yes I am a Liberal 7 Days a week!” They laughed and said – “But, we love you anyway, Lynn,” and boom – the disconnected feeling disappeared.
I guess what I’m saying is not to be overly attached to whether you’re right and someone else is wrong. Yes… we believe differently and yes…we will get through COVID and the political divides… if we are willing to let go a bit, listen, and be respectful. And, don’t forget to enjoy the Holidays though in smaller groups than normal.