Making America Great Means Facing Our Pain

Why we must heal wounds to build a culture of productive political interaction

An adaptation of “Skrik” by Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch
  • Being self-righteous
  • Shaming people who think or act differently
  • Building like-minded “bubbles”
  • Resorting to name-calling and other personal attacks
  • Focusing on partisan fights rather than more inclusive larger struggles
  • Unmet emotional needs
  • Limited levels of emotional skills and intelligence (defined by Google as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”)
  • Lack of information consumption and communication (including debate) skills

Checking ourselves: Considering behaviors and wounds within us

Goals for taking this on:

  • Individual level: To encourage personal therapeutic approaches (how we seek to feel good or better) that promote collective well-being
  • Societal level: To build capacity for productive interaction in order to address common issues effectively, namely through policies that overall increase good and reduce harm

Eight underlying assumptions and definitions about productive interaction, pain, and therapeutic actions:

1. In functional societies, members work together to overcome challenges through productive interaction. This includes conversations and debates that yield greater understandings or connection among participants. For governments it also results in policies that overall do more good than harm (e.g., increasing access to clean air or other basic resources). Achieving such outcomes requires:

  • Participants having basic levels of accountability and emotional intelligence
  • Elected officials taking the time and effort to debate in good faith and listen to constituents’ concerns, as well as to share quality information with them
  • Healthy — causing more benefit than harm
  • Harmful — causing less benefit than harm (e.g., by causing others pain)
  • Counterproductive — impeding healing or blocking opportunities to produce benefits
  • Exogenous — alcohol, marijuana, and harder drugs
  • Endogenous/naturally occurring in the brain — adrenaline, endorphins, and oxytocin
  • Clear harm (e.g., disruption or injury) from our actions, especially if feeling compelled to continue engaging in them
  • Addiction or obsession with a therapeutic action that can’t actually fulfill a need but does provide short-term pain relief (e.g., by filling a void)
  • General emotional detachment (e.g., lack of passion, compassion, or empathy)
  • Chronic difficulty being in the moment and appreciating “the little things”

Walking the walk: Five implications for personal and public policies

Conceptual understandings alone don’t transform lives or systems. Putting them into regular practice allows access to their power. Below are ideas for that with benefits for interactions including political discussion. Dear reader: please comment on any you would like to improve this year, a way you are already taking on, or if you perceive any glaring omissions.

  • Choosing not to take things personally
  • Recognizing that wounds can be deep, and access to resources for dealing with them vary
  • Picturing how we’d all be limping around or bandaged up if our wounds were physical
  • Asking ourselves before we comment on something “is what I’m about to add kind, helpful, true, and necessary?”
  • Humanizing people who disagree with us, seeking common ground, asking questions (rather than just attacking flawed arguments), and establishing boundaries for constructive communication
  • Being “Self-led”: mindful and aware, open-hearted, curious, compassionate, calm, generous in our listening, and in the present moment
  • Telling an inclusive story of a society in which more people are promoting collective well-being (i.e., strengthening its “unity consciousness”)
  • Identifying how things we do to feel good or better may be covering up or distracting us from pain
  • Noting the presence of any signs of dysfunction listed above
  • Uncovering and facing sources of pain we’ve avoided, ideally with support (from coaches, therapists, counselors, family, or friends)
  • Celebrating signs of alignment (e.g., deepening connections with ourselves and people around us)
  • Calling out signs of misalignment (e.g., name calling or other forms of lashing out, cynicism, or arguing with logical fallacies)
  • Shifting approaches to address any apparent misalignment
  • Prioritizing general access to clean water and air, shelter, quality food, education, healthcare, and meaningful work opportunities
  • Supporting grassroots efforts to increase social or environmental justice, especially those led by people directly impacted by injustices
  • Supporting political leaders able to demonstrate emotional intelligence
  • Celebrating public efforts to improve emotional skills and examples of other healthy approaches to experiencing anger or grief
  • Expanding access to emotional intelligence training (e.g., in public education)

Special thanks to:

Alison Caswell, LCPC and Elle Snyder for their crucial contributions to this piece. Teamwork makes the dream work.

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Tyson Victor Weems

Non-profit founder, musician, coach, X-C skier/CrossFitter, artist, concerned citizen, mammal (not necessarily in that order). See https://weems.works for more.