Ask Joe: Dismantling mental constructs causing separation
I try to read the headlines and some articles in the NY Times and Washington Post as well as the Anchorage Daily News as I live in southcentral Alaska. I also subscribe to a few newsletters like The Fulcrum but don't always have time to read the great things written inside them.
I love what you are trying to do. But I have to remark that most of the lack of civility I see and hear is from politicians. Not to profile but it’s hard not to: it is mostly Republicans saying very accusatory and degrading stuff and often very false. These are the things that rile up their constituents. I have written to my US senators, both Republicans, and asked them to tone it down as all they are doing is feeding the volatility. Alaska got a lot of money from Joe Biden's infrastructure bill which both our senators voted for. But neither one of them have given credit to the President or to his administration.
I am looking at your book, it's on my to-read list. Thank you for your work! Don't tire of it!
Thanks so much for your question and your kind words. Your generosity and encouragement go a long way! And imagine what the world would look like if more of us did this on a regular basis: if we went out of our way to encourage, inspire and acknowledge others with no agenda or expectation of something coming back – not only with people we know and love, but also with strangers and perceived adversaries.
I appreciate your observation about the lack of civility coming from politicians. Yes, the whole nature of running for office is based on a deeply rooted internal polarization of “I have to win, and if you oppose me, you must lose.” I would suggest that this is a choice, not a fixed reality. Winning at all costs is a symptom of a culture that humiliates and disempowers the loser. As we have seen recently, officials and citizens will be willing to break down a system in order to not, at any cost, be perceived as a loser.
With so much uncertainty and anxiety, we get caught in our flight=flight-freeze response. This causes us to unintentionally perceive anything that is different or new as a threat; this shuts down our hearts. And as you see, the higher the anxiety and trauma, the more threat we feel.
And in politics at this time, any success on one side is perceived as a threat to the other. Any setback for one side is celebrated as a threat to the other. Any attempts at collaboration are seen as weakness.
As I break it down in my book, Fierce Civility, the true polarity of winning is “not”-winning, not losing. In other words, at its highest level, not winning doesn’t make you a loser; it means that you have been provided an opportunity to pick yourself up, do what they call in the military an “after-action report,” learn from that and eagerly jump back into the healthy competition with new skills and strategies. This is how we grow; this is the spirit of true creative debate and collaboration that leads to new, innovative solutions that get more buy-in from all involved. Win-win.
Yes, Therese, the rhetoric on the extremes of the political spectrum are, as you say, accusatory and degrading, and oftentimes, not consistent with the facts. However, from the Fierce Civility lens, by only naming Republicans as the ones who do this, you are setting up a false polarity. My examination here isn’t to make you wrong or for a need to win; but to offer another perspective. I am suggesting that the very act of doing a more nuanced and critical analysis of the situation is the very bridge and solution needed to remedy how bad things have gotten.
When you say Republicans, is it all Republicans, or perhaps the ones that are most extreme? Is it possible to know all Republicans? Probably not. So, if you conclude that it’s some Republicans who are using incivility to stoke more animosity, then the path to hope here is to find those Republicans who aren’t as extreme and build alliances with them.
In your statement, you only mention Republicans. Is it factually accurate that there are no non-Republicans who engage in rhetoric or strategies that are very accusatory, degrading or stretches the truth? In the process of reporting on a situation, it is virtually impossible to not put your own interpretation on it, no matter how close you come to accurately reporting the facts. From this perspective, you may come to the conclusion that non-Republicans also think, say and do things that cause harm and breakdown of civil discourse; they just may do it differently. Once again, you have the opportunity to distinguish which ones are truly committed to civil, inclusive solutions to our problems, and establish trusting relationships with them.
There’s plenty more to say about this. I’m simply offering a way to break through the mental constructs that create separation for the purpose of getting us back to talking to one another and honoring the humanity in each one of us. That starts with considering that we ALL are using rhetoric and strategies that disempower our opponents and widen the divide – just perhaps in different ways. The more we commit to relationships that are built on trust, safety, discourse that is both civil and fierce, and inclusivity, the quicker we overcome this destructive patterning we are in and shift the culture to one of mutual empowerment, even in the face of challenges.
Keep holding space for what is possible, Therese.
Learn more about Joe Weston and his work here. Make sure to check out Joe’s bestselling book Fierce Civility: Transforming our Global Culture from Polarization to Lasting Peace, published March 2023.
Have a question for Joe? Send an email to AskJoe@fulcrum.us.