So much vitriolic, unfiltered disdain. Some blame the internet and how impersonal it is, but at the end of the day, it's all about people. I'll tell you about some simple psychology you can use as a road map to improve your political discourse. Don't blame the internet, blame us.
A comment war that brings you to near volcanic frustration, a date gone silently south as your date tells you about how they really feel about policies and presidents or maybe religion, an office meeting or gather around the watering hole turns awkward and hidden animosity builds.
I think most of us have probably had a time where we felt our blood boil because we disagreed with someone, or someone who disagreed with us failed to see our point. We all like to imagine that this person just doesn't understand, or is too stubborn, or, worse yet, we might imagine them to be stupid. We do this without thinking about the fact that the other person is probably engaging in the same exact thoughts and feelings - without realizing that we are charged with the same crime, and have already judged ourselves innocent, being unwilling to let any others be the judge. We fear criticism, and we loath disagreement: this is unacceptable behavior, but completely understandable. Although, it can be a bit tricky to understand, I think. Time for some simple-ish psychology.
A guy named Maslow came up with this psychology idea we call the Masowian hierarchy of needs. Basically, it's like the food pyramid, except instead of foods and serving sizes, it's a ladder of behaviors and experiences that build off of eachother. To put this in simple terms, take a moment to imagine your dream house, everyone has one. Once you have that image in your head...
Imagine that each person's self, their soul, their mind, is the blueprint to their own dream house, but we must be built up into this home.
First Need, Physiological Need
First, you have to build a strong foundation that won't shift or fall apart as the earth around it moves. We refer to this as "Physiological need." This forms the base of the pyramid, and includes the knowledge and experience that water, air, food, and other things that are essential to your body working, will be obtainable. Imagine living in a reality where any of these things are potentially unobtainable - it would be pretty hard to think about anything else, and so we say that our minds need the experience of knowing that these needs are obtainable to even think about anything else.
Second Need, Safety
The next layer on the pyramid is "Safety," and in our house analogy, you can think of this as the wooden framework that makes up the skeleton that will hold the house together. This layer includes things like safety from danger, being of good health, and having access to resources that help you thrive rather than just survive. Think education, natural resources, employment.
Third Need, Love and Belonging
Once we have these very basic needs established then we can now sanely sort out the next layer, which is "Love and belonging." This is the utilities and roof of our house analogy - running water and electricity - and includes things like feeling satisfied with our friendships and family connections, feeling that we can depend on and trust these people. This provides us with a steady flow of what we need to start making our home very comfortable, now that our physiological and safety needs have been securely established.
Now the tricky part. Between these two layers of the pyramid, we can see some crazy disconnects.
Fourth Need, Esteem
The next layer on this pyramid is "Esteem," a concept more commonly known as self love. This writer thinks the concept of self love is completely misunderstood. In our house analogy, this layer makes up the walls and floors - the general layout of our (hopefully) soon to be cozy dream home. We tend to think of self love as blind, unconditional love, but this is wrong. We can't love ourselves unconditionally, because we are our greatest critics, our own most vicious judges. Nothing eats away at you more than your own guilt or regret. We must then, if we are to live with the mountain of errors and cruel actions and words we're responsible for, learn to forgive ourselves... But this is impossible without learning to forgive others, but we'll get back to that. Having esteem means knowing yourself, and knowing your worth. Seeing where you fit in to society and what you bring of value into the lives of those you love and to whome you belong.
Final Need, Self Actualization
In theory, the next and final layer of the Maslowian hierarchy is "Self Actualization." I would describe this in our house analogy as the final furnishing and decor we put into our house. Couches, beds, that blender you love, the room dedicated to your work or personal passions, all the details that make your dream house really the dream you want to live in. In practical application, self actualization just happens naturally once the other layers of the pyramid are sturdy enough to support it. If you're fed, healthy, have resources, are loved, and love yourself, then of course you're going to follow your dreams! This is where people pick a degree, or a career, or where they want to live, or act on decisions about who they are, or stand up for what they believe in, or make art - pretty much everything that's really, well, Human. This is also where political arguments happen, but the animosity? That comes from the layers of "Esteem" and "Love and Belonging."
If you're still reading, I applaud you. That was a lot to take in, and you deserve a break if you want it. You also deserve the answer to this question: What does this all have to do with politics? Isn't this article supposed to have something to do with politcs?
Well, put simply, politics IS people, and this, all this, is what people are, on a really fundamental level. Ask yourself, using your newfound psychological tools of human analysis...
Where's the disconnect?
Why does it seem completely unavoidable that these conversations turn so very sour when there's opposition? Do I feel uncomfortable with the possibility that my ideas of politics are wrong? What level on the Maslowian hierarchy does that relate to? Is it esteem? Or is it my realtionship with my family or friends that might be threatened?
If I were fully self actualizing, would I feel so much discomfort in these arguments? Would I feel so angry when I read about the opposition and what they've done or said? Should I see them all as stupid, or arrogant, or blind? Is that... right?
Can I accept it, if it were true, that these feelings I have felt so strongly about those I have seen as my enemy have been dead wrong?
I'm asking this of both sides. Left or Right, Red or Blue, even independents.
I said earlier that you have to learn to forgive others to learn to forgive youself. This may be misleading. The ability to forgive others and the ability to forgive yourself actually develop simultaneously. They happen, in my opinion, when you learn to see people for their own desires, pains, and as the sum of their experiences. When you recognize that you are a person, just like them, can see yourself in that same light and can see that everyone is probably just doing their darndest to figure out... anything... at any given moment. Every cruel gesture that was ever done was done as a response to pain. Every error made was made in ignorance, or in the desparation to be right and avoid self doubt. If only we all had esteem, if only we all felt true bonds to our friends and families... maybe then we would self actualize, instead of using these arguments we get in as a way to sooth what's missing lower on the hierarchy. Do you see the connection?
It seems to me that it has nothing to do with whose wrong or who's right. It should, but no one seems to really be focused on that. An outsiders perspective, for what it's worth. Personally, I just want the fighting to stop. I feel like that's the difference between the past, the present, and our future..
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