We think it is anger. But I believe it is more. I believe our anger is just an outward symptom of other ills that are best understood by thinking differently.
We watch from our varied positions with anxious expectations as we move through one of the strangest and most polarizing election cycles in our history. It seems we watch with fear or frustration, all of us wanting something and all of us afraid that someone will take away the America that we want to see arise from the ashes.
This growing fear has a history, and it has a cultural context. And yet far too often we put all of our hope in this moment, and we wish we could put all of our hope in a single candidate.
So we ask questions like…
Who will turn this ship around?
How can we make America great again?
Which candidate has the “right answers” to deliver us from this ever deteriorating cultural chaos?
As a guest on the Glenn Beck Show, I had an excellent opportunity to discuss this recently with he & his crew. Glenn, like all of us, is trying to understand what the heck is going on and like all of us he is wondering what we can do about the mess.
Here is a summary of my answers to Glenn and some thoughts that I believe can help bring resolution, instead of sharpening the claws that tear at our cultural fabric.
9 Stepping Stones to a “Pathway to Sanity.”
1. We always say two things at once: Be Intentional.
We are always saying what we think, but whether we realize it or not, we are also saying something about our regard for the people we are addressing. If we don’t stay alert to that as speakers, writers or thinkers, be certain that our intended audience will know it. They will know if they are valued or devalued.
2. We must begin to value again the personhood of our fellow Americans.
We all have a choice about where we begin in our communication. We either start with our guns locked and loaded, immediately de-personalizing the people we communicate with, or we start with humanity first.
The vitriol of the American dialog has been ramping up for decades, and it is on full display right here in our quest to find a unifying leader. If we do not begin by seeing and acknowledging the value and personhood of each of us then we feed the very fire we will ask our elected leaders to extinguish.
The tone of the national dialogue must change, and each of us are participants in that dialogue. America is only as great as it’s people, but we will only rise to the level of greatness that we will acknowledge in one another.
3. Learn to acknowledge others beliefs without giving in to fear and hate.
Differences can lead to dialogue and attempts at understanding. Good people are trying to bring good solutions as best as they understand the problems and as best as they design their solutions.
4. Develop Empathy: People are driven by emotions and needs.
The more afraid people are, the more they are moved by emotion instead of logic. What moves people to act is far more often our emotions and our needs, not our accumulated information. If you want to understand why people behave in ways that seem irrational to you, look no further than this… our hearts are the center of our being not our intellect.
5. Healing is Essential: Our nation is filled with pain and fear.
Anger is actually pain and fear, finding an outlet. Whether we fear terrorists or economic collapse, or we are in pain because of losses already endured, these overpowering emotions too often drive our national consciousness.
6. People who are in pain do not need information; they need care.
When people are in pain, they function from a different part of their soul. When we are in pain we want to feel less pain, so we unconsciously begin to function from our defenses more than our hearts. When this occurs, we then begin to contribute to the pain of others.
We become less than who we are and as a result, we treat others as less than who they are.
7. No quick fixes: Our current state of affairs is the result of decades of dynamics
You can never build unity by strengthening polarities.
Consider this practice. Republicans fight amongst each other waiting for a victor to rise to the surface. Their champion will take on the one who vanquished their “teammates” among the Democrats. These two will now fiercely battle each other. The winner of all this fighting is now responsible to lead us into unity and peace. What are the odds?
Leaders who have changed the course of cultures do not choose a side and fight more fervently for that side. Leaders who heal a people find a way to rise above the fray and find what is common ground in the souls of the people in the conflict. Often those leaders are not political leaders.
8. Processes always lead to outcomes: Fix the processes first.
Or more simply put, we all discuss topics but the way we discuss them is the key that leads to the outcomes of our conversations. The ways we communicate often have more power than what we communicate. (Refer to point #1.)
9. Be Responsible: When we look to another to be our solution we give away our freedom
I leave us then, with this final thought. To look for other people or a candidate to resolve the problems of our nation, we have already forgotten the most important thing. We are our nation. America is more than one man (or woman).
We cannot truly live in freedom and dignity unless we first live in responsibility. No candidate, no election and no cultural condition has the power to take away from us our God-given identity.
We cannot wait for another to tell us who we are, and we cannot heal a broken nation by asking someone else to do what is actually our role.
We must learn to think for ourselves when the rising tide demands groupthink. We must learn to choose love when the storm around us is filled with hate. We must learn to respond with respect and care even when people around us don’t respect and care for themselves.
It is not too late to turn our nation around, but our government won’t fix it. You and I will.