Can't we all just get along?
In the wake of the Kavanaugh hearing, Americans are discussing the midterm elections like never before on social media, at family dinners, in waiting rooms, in therapy. Turnout is expected to be higher than anytime since 1960. And the conversations seem to have one thing in common: polarization. It’s as if Democrats and Republicans are rival teams headed to the super bowl. And things are getting ugly before the big game.
This isn’t all that new (the fervor around the Kavanaugh hearing was reminiscent of the OJ trial), but it’s a kind of ugly that only seems to be getting uglier. The mention of Trump automatically conjures Hillary. People are either furious at the Mario Cuomo Bridge’s new name or that Columbus Day is still a revered holiday. You’re either a trumptard or a libtard. I can almost always guess who is going to agree with my social media post and who is going to start a debate with me. It’s getting to be awfully predictable out there.
Although America is very team-sport driven, can anything bring us closer together? If a teacher were asking that question in class, I’d be enthusiastically raising my hand.
As a therapist for couples, I help each member of the couple express their thoughts and feelings to one another. If the couple is not effectively or productively communicating, their relationship can be replete with frustration and resentment. Moreover, if a partner can’t identify or articulate the feelings behind a thought or an act, something very significant is missing from the discussion. My job is to highlight the underlying emotions that are at the heart of the problem. It’s not really that you don’t do the dishes; it’s that when you don’t do the dishes after I cooked dinner, I feel unappreciated. You don’t have to call me all the time; but sometimes I feel unloved when it seems like I’m not on your mind. When partners share what’s underneath a sarcastic comment or an angry door slam, they have more empathy for and feel closer to one another. I often tell couples, “You can’t argue with an emotion.”
Why should it be any different when discussing politics or social issues with our friends, family, and strangers? Why are emotions discounted in these discussions? Because emotions are weak; for some, shameful. And, if you show emotions, you’re a snowflake. I’m trying to have a logical, rational discussion, and you’re talking about your feelings and taking things so personally. Libtard! Trumptard! Sigh...it’s no wonder we’re so divided. We’re completely ignoring each other’s and our own emotions.
I hate to break it to you, human...you have feelings. You can’t help it. And, no one can argue them away. Social issues are not team sports; they are issues we feel very strongly and passionately about because we feel. All the rational thought in the world isn’t going to change our minds. Underneath it all, we feel threatened or ignored or marginalized. A white man, a black man, a woman, a queer person—privilege or prejudice aside—can feel all of the above. F-E-E-L. And, remember, you can’t argue with feelings.
So, can anything bring us closer together? A resounding YES! Just like with the two members of a couple, articulating one’s feelings and listening to another’s feelings can allow us to be vulnerable and feel closer to one another. And, being aware of our own and others’ feelings evokes empathy. While this may sound a little snowflakey to some, please keep in mind that insult-hurlers hurl insults because they, too, have feelings. Anger, frustration, irritation...they count as emotions last time I looked. If you express your anger by saying, “I’m angry,” anyone within earshot might have some empathy for you and might just stick around to find out why. If, instead, you express your anger in an abusive or passive-aggressive way, you might find yourself angry and alone.
The irony of logically and rationally discussing the benefits of expressing feelings in this blog is not lost on me. How can I expect you to feel comfortable enough to express your feelings if I’m being rational and unemotional? Good question. How’s this: I’m angry that we’re so divided. I’m hurt by my friends who argued with bullet points about the Kavanaugh hearing and how they dismissed my side of the argument because it was emotional and not rational. I feel shame around sharing my feelings on the subject of and my experience with #metoo. I’m worried for future of the people in my country. Feel at least a twinge of empathy for me? Hope so. Ok, your turn.
I’m not saying it’s easy, especially if it’s something you’re not used to. Group therapy can be a great place to try it out. Individual therapy, too. Or of course, with someone you trust. There’s no shame in trying. And if there is, well, that’s a perfect place to start…
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