This political season I embarked on a mission to understand political aggression. I found myself observing the political communication, attitudes and actions among presidential candidates, political leaders, families, classmates, peers, professors, and strangers.
It soon became clear to me that our nation is stuck in a cycle of political hostility.
But here’s the thing: Every citizen has the power to choose whether to fuel or break this cycle.
In the United States, political parties encourage citizens to “take a side,” and taking a side too often entails becoming irrationally defensive over that side, while ruthlessly bashing the other. This aggression has ultimately resulted in a range of violence, from citizens being assaulted at political conventions for supporting a candidate of their choice, to students being ostracized in classrooms if they dare to share a political view that opposes the majority. Day after day, Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds are filled with one-sided political messages which fuel anger and polarization, while leaving no trace of collaborative solutions to pertinent issues.
How will defending a political party, mainly because it’s “your side,” and hating on the other side, make our country a better place to live? Bashing others, whether it be a person or a political party, does not lead to solutions.
This vicious cycle of aggression is serving as a barrier to collaborative solutions and rational compromise.
So what can you do? Stop being a hater! Every citizen has the power to break this cycle of aggression, and to fuel a new cycle of collaboration. Here is how to start:
1) Recognize Defensiveness
We are all guilty. If we have chosen a political party, we have unfortunately become accustomed to being defensive of that party, even before we know the facts (not to mention that the “facts” are often difficult to come by). The first step to ending the cycle of aggression is to recognize our own defensiveness. Ask yourself these questions:
• Do I understand the wants and needs of both sides?
• Do I have all of the facts?
• Can I be sure that my “facts” are viable?
• Will being defensive of “my side” make this country a better place to live?
2) Stop Reacting, Start Listening
Once we recognize that we are being defensive, it is essential that we stop defending and start listening to what others have to say. Ask yourself these questions:
• What is the underlying want or need that is being argued for?
• Do I understand the want or need of all parties?
• Is that want or need a human right?
• Will that want or need cause harm?
• What might be a logical and fair compromise?
3) Recognize Flaws of every Political Party
Every political party is flawed, including our own. Every political party is guilty of repeatedly committing acts of hate and aggression. And every political party is failing at collaborating with one another in order to reach compromises and create positive change. It is essential that we choose to see and acknowledge these flaws, so that positive progression can be achieved.
Ask yourself these questions:
• Is my political party collaborating across political parties to reach rational compromise and create positive change?
• Is my political party causing harm to anyone or anything?
• Is my political party discriminating against anyone or anything?
• Is my political party respecting human rights of all people?
4) Post Mindfully
What are you posting? We are responsible for fueling the cycle of aggression. One-sided political posts often fuel anger and hate without providing opportunities for collaborative solutions. Instead of posting or sharing one-sided comments, problems or solutions, focus on the need and eliminate the bashing on others.
Before posting something to social media, ask yourself these questions:
• Will this post fuel anger, hate or defensiveness?
• Will this post provide or deter an opportunity for collaborative solutions or rational compromise?
• Does this post bash anyone (a political party or a person)?
• Does this post focus on the need, or focus on the hate?
5) Choose Collaboration
The paradigm of “us versus them” serves as the greatest barrier to progress and solutions. Instead of focusing on the best interest of our political party, we need to focus on the best interest of all citizens, and the nation as a whole. We all have the power to choose collaboration by working to understand all sides of the want or need at hand, and by exploring and inviting compromises and solutions.
Political leaders, regardless of party affiliation, are failing to work together to understand all angles of issues in order to produce progressive solutions. Instead of commending the bashing between political leaders or presidential candidates, ask for collaboration. Recognize that every time a political leader bashes another, they are perpetuating the cycle of aggression, and creating a barrier to collaboration.
Whenever possible, we can—and should—speak up and remind our political leaders that they need to stop bashing and start collaborating.
Author: Cathleen Bottini
Image: Nate Angell at Flickr
Editor: Renée Picard