Current political discourse reminds me of theatrical wrestling matches. The wrestlers ham it up, and the spectators boo, hiss and cheer from the bleachers.
For the joy of entertainment and the possible victory of favored wrestlers, the fans pay a high financial cost. They also hitch their moods to the roller-coaster ride of watching the wins and losses on the mat. Meanwhile, the wrestlers and businesses that run these matches profit handsomely.
As I recall some of the political debates, press coverage, and hearings of the last several years, I feel disbelief and shock. How have we come to accept watching the immature and drama-filled behaviors of what should be our states people? Since when is acceptable for politicians to wave open water bottles, hurl personal insults, mock individuals and groups of people, eschew personal responsibility, pad their pockets, and pull out unrelated sound bites with dramatic self-victimization when poignant questions are asked of them?
For us as citizens, how can we be happy in the long run, when our preferred party or candidates win using such tactics?
In our current political landscape, the ideals of statesmanship and public service seem to have gotten lost. We are forgetting that the role of government is not to entertain us, or to further special interests. The role of government is to represent all Americans and protect our individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As we approach the next election cycle, it may be useful for us to transcend our factionalism, and to demand more respectful behavior and accountability of ourselves and those who are tasked to be public servants.
We may want to heed Rumi’s words, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
We owe it to ourselves, each other and our children to remember what is good about our nation and build upon those qualities that we value, instead of fighting each other and allowing disrespect to be part of our public and private conversations.
We can do so by working on the enemy images we have of our fellow citizens who may not agree with our opinions and strategies. To do so, we can take the steps of 1) creating mutual understanding and respect, 2) dialoguing about what makes our communities, states, and country special, 3) identifying problem areas, and finally, 4) engaging in creative and effective problem solving.
The most difficult of the steps is of creating mutual understanding and respect, especially when at the surface we are at such opposite extremes. It involves setting aside our agendas and egos by showing curiosity and getting to the heart of the matter.
Getting to the heart of the matter is an active process of understanding why those we disagree with take the positions that they take, and realizing that while our strategies are different, we are all striving to achieve the same human needs for ourselves and those we love.
These basic human needs are physical well-being, safety, healthy social structures, positive relationships, a sense of belonging, spiritual freedom and the ability to meaningfully be engaged in and contribute to society.
Once we listen deeply to our fellow citizens who we disagree with, we can express that we want the same things.
After a mutual sense of being heard, understood and respected is established, it becomes easy to dialogue about what is going right, our perceived obstacles to fulfilling our needs, and creative and effective problem solving.
I hope these steps will help you move from being angry, frustrated, discouraged and hopeless, to finding peace, joy and empowerment as you are civically engaged.
As the South African philosophy of Ubuntu states, we are all connected in the bond of humanity, since “I am because we are.”
Jessica Dancingheart is a personal and organizational consultant. Find out more at www.openingtopossibilities.com.