Society, as we know it, brings out the worst in people. Before and after the recent election, the evidence was everywhere – on television, on Facebook, in the street. Whether you found yourself on the “winning” side or not, you undoubtedly experienced – and were possibly troubled by – the nastiness. I know I was.
Reinhold Niebuhr, the Christian theologian and a favorite of Barack Obama, is perhaps best known for his book Moral Man, Immoral Society. The title says it all. As individuals, human beings are driven towards goodness. As a group, however, the claws come out.
So how do we deal with political hostilities in a way that moves us towards a wiser, more compassionate society and not deeper into the divisiveness that already characterizes our political process?
1) Remember Niebuhr. Individuals are driven towards goodness. Rather than replicate the lowest common denominator exemplified by the mainstream, remember what’s important to you and communicate from your highest values, i.e. friendship, compassion, brotherly love or unity. Our own goodness is not an instant fix for others’ anger and fear – but you’d be surprised how far you may get asking a disgruntled Obama hater what’s really going on with them.
2) Unclear what your highest values are? Now would be a great time to get clear. At a time when so much media exists to frighten us into actions/inactions that bypass our higher faculties, knowing your values can help you feel empowered by your choices. When you know what you value, choosing what to consume, communicate and engage in feels like a choice rather than a reaction. And there’s power in that.
3) Examine your own anger.
It’s seductive to get caught up in a mutually self-righteous argument about politics. But what, exactly, are you angry about? Do you think everyone should agree with you? Are you afraid of what will happen if we all don’t think the same way? In my case, I’ve found these both to be true.
4) Understand that a wiser, more compassionate society begins with you. Societies are immoral because good people commonly fail to think for themselves or stand for their beliefs, and instead go with the status quo. There are a lot of angry, damaged, uneducated people out there. You are not one of them. You have wisdom and education. Use it for the greater good.