Doug Craig holds a bachelors in journalism and a doctorate in psychology. His monthly Op-Ed column for Shasta Scout explores the nexus of group, truth, bias and climate from a psychological perspective.  You can read more about Doug here.

I am inept at most things having to do with machines.  People, on the other hand, the way they think, feel and behave and how they relate to others, that I understand.  

What the two have in common – both people and machines – is their “repair” and restoration relies on “what works,” not what is good or right.

What works with people, of course, is to be completely non-judgmental and open-minded to the nature of the problem at hand.  The people we care about – whether they are a psychotherapy client, a spouse, child or friend – need to know we respect and care for them and that we are open to their experience.

We are all looking for understanding, empathy and validation; for someone who will listen carefully with curiosity and patience to what is said and to what is withheld; for someone to take the broken pieces of our minds and lives and to reveal the hidden wholeness that remains.  What works is a mutual commitment to truth, honesty, and connection to core values and to the actions that give them life. What works is understanding how our behavior disrupts and interferes with our growth and healing, how our resistance to pain increases our suffering, and how trying to win in our relationships often leads to loss.

The scientific methods in the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy I use with my clients “work” in healing minds, marriages, friendships and families. These methods could also work in our communities, governments, and news outlets if there weren’t powerful forces with their own agendas that benefit from keeping us in a perpetual state of fear and anger – deeply divided and polarized – as we obediently hate the “others” who we are told are a threat to our democracy.

The basics of healing the harrowing hatred harming our nation are not difficult to describe, although actually implementing these steps will require a fundamental resetting of our collective orientation to one another and ourselves and, as I will describe in a future column, the development of heroic consciousness.

  1. We need to start with an agreement that we will be mindful of our tendency to judge, criticize, and blame people with whom we disagree and instead remain open to listening and understanding one another.
  2. We need to recognize we are all driven by values, regardless of our political affiliation, as explained by Dr. Jonathan Haidt. We formulate our beliefs, opinions and convictions from core values — in many cases, the same ones. All progressives and conservatives, for example, will base their political beliefs on values of care/harm, fairness/cheating, and liberty/oppression.  In addition, conservatives have three other values that are critically important to them: loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion and sanctity/degradation. It is harder to demonize the other side when we understand their political views are values-based.
  3. We need to be aware that genetically, conservatives and progressives are different. Instead of hating one another for our differences, perhaps we can come to appreciate that our political orientation and ideology is in part influenced by our genes and the fact our brains are physically different.  For example, conservatives feel great empathy for their friends and family but are less likely to feel empathy for people who are different from them.  Liberals are more likely to be open to new experiences while conservatives  report feeling greater meaning and purpose in life than liberals.  This does not make one better than the other, just different.
  4. We need to recognize that we are all unconsciously biased.  Our beliefs are largely based on emotion, not logic. This is called affect bias. We feel first and only then use our intellect to justify “the truth” of our gut feeling. We are not primarily driven to discover the truth. Instead, we are motivated to be right and to protect our political or group identity. We would rather cling to our beliefs than find the truth if it means admitting we are wrong. We rely on cognitive dissonance to ignore information that is inconsistent with our views and motivated reasoning to find information that confirms our perspective. We all do this. And because it is largely unconscious, we are usually unaware of our biases. It is no wonder we are polarized.
  5. And finally, we need to be aware that most likely our media sources deliberately lie to us, twist and distort facts to fit a self-serving agenda, present half-truths, demonize the other side, ignore negative stories about our own side, and persuade us to believe things that are not true and not in our interests. We are easily manipulated to intensely hate others. Propaganda works. Outside of our own direct experience, many of the things we think we know are either not true or only partially true.

Once we recognize that whether we are on the left or right, we are all values-based, genetically predisposed to develop our political viewpoints, severely biased and closed to new information that is not consistent with our belief system, and intentionally misinformed by our media sources. We might then ask the question: who benefits from us demonizing and hating one another as intensely as we do? Certainly, media corporations and politicians benefit from our polarization, but do we? Do others? Do our children benefit from growing up in a country where the adults distrust and hate each other with this level of extreme disdain?

We have a choice. Each of us has a choice. We can remain comfortable in our politically closeted hate-rooms from where we know we are right and the other side is not just wrong but sub-human and evil. Or we can admit we’ve been played. We can recognize the futility of separation, judgment, and demonization and begin using the methods we know work to heal our damaged nation while we can.  Doug will be responding to comments on Shasta Scout’s Facebook page. Join us there!