Yikes! Holiday cheer seems to be tempered this year with uneasiness among family, friends, our community, and the nation.
The election took a turn that was unexpected for most of those on both sides. Unfortunately, though the election is over, there continues to be an ugliness to whatever communication happens across political lines. Whether our preferred presidential candidate won or lost, the underlying divisions are still present. It seems the divisions were already there, but were deepened during this interminable election cycle. Fear is running high. There is lots of uncertainty about the future, which fosters fear. Fear can quickly become anger as we push back against what we fear.
Anger gets a bad rap, but it’s an extremely important emotion. Anger brings our attention to something that’s wrong in our lives, a need that’s not being met. We need to acknowledge our anger and then look to see what’s behind it. What need is not being met for us? Safety? Respect? Fairness? The basics of food and shelter? Compassion for others?
We need to distinguish between acknowledging our anger and expressing it, however. How we express anger is key to our success in getting along together. Anger is not a pleasant emotion. Sometimes we seek to soothe it through a natural tendency is to blame someone, so then we can lash out at them. We think that if we can just hurt the Other, we’ll feel better. And we may, for a little while, but then it comes back, because the real need has not been met. This can too often lead to an upward spiral of violence in word or deed.
Anger is also one of the easiest emotions for others to manipulate. Once we get angry, we can’t access our higher brain function, our “thinking”. Our anger rules us, so those who feed our anger control us.
With the current unrest and lingering tears in the national fabric, our skills for getting along are being tested. Perhaps it’s harder right now, but the same behaviors apply: Reach out and engage with those we see as the Other. Learn the names of those you disagree with. Learn their stories, why they believe what they do, how they think. Not to change them, but to change us. How can we learn from them? What can we learn? Listen to what they have to say. Retreat into our comfort zones as needed. Repeat.
In this way, we expand our comfort zones. As we talk with others, it also helps us get more clear about what we really believe. Maybe we will end up changing our minds a little bit after we hear another perspective. Or maybe we will realize that we still feel the same way, but we know more about why.
We can create connections with others in our community, beyond our habitual circles. It may be really tough, because we’re most comfortable with others who are like us. A great starting point is to concentrate on values we do hold in common with each other. For example, we all love our children, our valley, our country. We all want life to be better. We should not make our neighbors into the Other, the enemy. Always, always remember that we’re all just human, doing our best.
We may communicate in different ways than those outside our usual circles. There may be more or less directness, more or less formality, different words used. Forgive yourself and others for inevitably making mistakes in communicating across our differences.
This is hard work. Democracy isn’t easy, but we must find a way to get along. Floating aimlessly in our waves of fear, blame, and anger will not magically bring us what we need. We should make sure we leave plenty of time to enjoy comfort and the connection of family and friends, but we also have to make the effort to reach out of our comfort zones toward the Other. We owe it to our community and our precious country.