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Beyond Polarization: Toward a Healthy Equilibrium/Parties-System

Our nation needs healing, so we can return to a healthy and strong two-party system - an empowered system, in which there is unity to promote the common good, yet enough difference and strength to maintain a fluid distribution and rotation of power.

Since the stunning electoral results of the November 2016 American Presidential election, there has been a serious escalation of political polarization in the US. Other Western democracies are seeing the same phenomenon, such as the controversy around Britain’s June 2016 Brexit vote, Italy’s and Austria’s new governments and other populist movements that recently unsettled European politics. Is this movement for structural change the Western version of the Arab Spring?

Healthy discourse about American political issues, debates and disagreements, usually part of the American culture, has just disappeared. There are confrontations and a breakdown of civility, with a possibility for aggression and violence. The population is divided, and positions have hardened. Finding their differences with “the other” intolerable has strained people’s relationships with friends and family. Social media accounts are blocked, holidays visits are impacted, and couples have divorced over voting choices. Colleges make knee-jerk decisions about controversial campus speakers; people are being drummed out of restaurants and attacked on the streets. Many completely mistrust the media, which has clearly declared it needs to remain ideological. Half of the country is in a state of shock, sleep-deprived and feeling politically doomed. The other half is upset they and their political choices are being denigrated and ferociously opposed. Both sides see that social media, with its Internet anonymity, has contributed to the loss of the boundaries of courtesy and civility, allowing the flourishing of vitriolic hatred, abasement and the most absurd conspiracy theories.

Many have entered into what is called “an adversary collective trauma vortex,” a whirlpool of negative, violent emotions, fixed beliefs and aggressive behavior, whereby “the other” is thought of as a mortal adversary, whose actions are deeply threatening and dangerous and who is to be fought at any cost. From this collective trauma vortex, one can only see the negative side and only hear the extreme voices of “the other.” People concentrate only on what’s hurting them and their values; they ignore or reject any positive qualities, experiences and actions from the other side. A serious sign of polarization is when the adversary is from your own country, and you wish their failure even if it is going to hurt your country. The more we stigmatize and demonize those who have different values, the more we reinforce polarization and create enmity, and the less there is safety and peace for anyone.

Collective Trauma

Here are some examples of when we are in the trauma vortex:

· We label, call names and demonize people instead of addressing issues. We feel justified to be rude, offensive and aggressive – “the other deserves it.” We believe in conspiracy theories, focusing only on the differences and on the negative.

· We stigmatize, threaten and “shut down” the other or give up on communication, eliminating any possibility of dialogue.

· We focus on the other side’s most extreme voices and incidents, while minimizing any wrong-doing on our own side.

· We are unaware or shameless about our double standards- the same faults in our candidate are human, while intolerable in the other. We ignore any good intent or action from “the other,” indulging in dishonest thinking; the ability to achieve a balanced view just disappears; reason is subverted, in subtle or flagrant distortions.

· We use scare-tactics, exaggeration and prediction of doom, unaware this just fuels negative feelings and attitudes, mistrust and hardening of positions in “the other.”

· At times we act violently, with contempt towards the others’ persona, beliefs and values. We feel superior, more sophisticated or more moral. We lack compassion for our adversary’s plight or unfulfilled needs and feel it is all right to be selective in our compassion.

Growing polarization:

“The other” is seen as rigid, ignorant, crude, uncaring for the downtrodden, immoral, hawkish, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, dangerous, ill-intended, prejudiced and malevolent. They support police brutality, compromise freedom and equality, belittle sciences, ignore the environment, are deplorable and should be opposed at all costs.

One side believes “the other” is naïve, unrealistic, hypocritical, dangerous and fascistic; they control discourse and the cultural worldview – brainwashing youth with national, racial and gender self-hatred and suspicion of patriotism. They harm the security of the country. They are in denial of the faults of the underdog groups they protect; they harm the dignity, autonomy and competence of the under-privileged. They are against religion and God; hate the nation, favor globalization, court socialism, and lie about sciences for ideological reasons.

Both sides believe that the media has reinforced polarization by declaring their ideological positions; that many media outlets sensationalize, present doom, polarize passions, and knowingly indulge in Fake News. However, some media has contributed to excellent, sober analysis of news not covered by mainstream media.

Still, we witness people of diverse ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds, different socio-economic brackets and careers, different appearances, gender, age and lifestyle, interacting in real life, working together and living next to each other. Moreover, most people are essentially kind, tolerant, moral, respectful and caring and when needed, help families, friends, neighbors and the occasional stranger. We need to remember that different ways of interpreting life events can effectively enrich us. Humanity can thrive from diversity, while rigid systems do not add to life.

How can our world reunify and return to bi-partisanship, balance, moderation and unity?

The Healing Vortex

The counter-vortex or “the collective healing vortex” refers to the desire and ability to communicate one’s needs and concerns in effective ways, to understand and integrate opposite points of view, and communicate with the intent to find solutions that work for all.

People who want to contribute to peace need to learn to recognize when they and “the others” are thinking, feeling, and speaking from the trauma vortex (from despair, anger, hatred and disdain for the other) or from the healing vortex (with openness, the desire to listen and understand, and the capacity to communicate and be flexible). We need to recognize immediately which feelings are controlling us and what feelings does such speech elicit in “the other.”

We need to learn to discuss our differences in civil ways. To speak from the healing vortex, and help break the polarization means to exhibit the following abilities and tendencies:

· Be present, compassionate, embrace tolerance and connection; look for common ground and use a respectful approach to issues and to cross-cultural differences- all based on a regulated nervous system, both individually and collectively- in sum, conduct ourselves responsibly and ethically.

· Address divergent political and social opinions without labeling and demonizing the people who hold them; avoid disrespect, derision, and hate language. Don’t justify violence in words or actions and always prize intellectual honesty.

· Inspire a sense of safety, openness and curiosity in the other. Understand that emotions do not control behavior.

· Be flexible, validate suffering without differentiating by skin color, social status, gender or ancestry, while being able to show when the means expressing the suffering are destructive.

· Attempt to fulfilling the needs of all parties involved.

UNIFYING WORLD VIEWS

We can use this present polarization as a springboard to connect the two seeming opposites, without clouding the differences between them, creating a third possibility for the country – the union of both valuable worldviews.

One focuses on humanitarian concerns, prioritizing human rights, protection of ethnic, racial and religious minorities and the poor, women and LGBTQ rights, reproductive choice, medicine for all, concern for the environment; adoption of globalization and open borders as positive and humane forces.

The other focuses on physical safety, impermeable borders and protecting the jobs of workers; national integrity, national pride and civic values prioritizing moral and religious values and pro-life issues; a place for religion in the public space, personal responsibility and autonomy, traditional family, hard work ethics; law and order; strong army and police; gun ownership. It believes people can rise on their own efforts, that help must come from civil society and the size of government must be kept small.

Our task is to see how to combine these two valuable and reasonable worldviews without thinking that they are necessarily mutually exclusive. Both are required for a healthy country and citizenry. The word that comes to mind is the kabbalah-informed word – balance.

EmotionAid™ – Achieving Balance

We have tools that help people navigate polarized situations, lower stress, traumatic activation and verbal aggressiveness and empower effective and positive actions. EmotionAid™ can help release stress, manage strong emotions and control reactions. You can follow these steps, or you can also find it on the website at www.traumainstitute.org.

Print this page and keep it nearby to regain self-regulation when needed. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, notice how it is manifested in your body. Is your heart beating fast and your breathing getting shorter or faster? Do you feel confused, disoriented, anxious, panicky or helpless? Do you feel dread and hopelessness or feel explosively angry?

These are natural reactions in times of stress, trauma, or emergencies. These reactions can be changed on-the-spot. On a scale of 1-10, what is the degree of tension you feel now? If it is six and above, follow all the steps below. If it is below six, go straight to steps four to seven. You can choose one from the four following “grounding” exercises, when you are at six and above:

Step 1: In a safe place or wherever you are, cross your arms and tap them alternatively with open palms for 25 times; then take a deep breath. Keep doing it until you feel calmer.

Step 2: Press your feet hard on the ground and feel the support of the ground. Look around you and count ten different textures, such as wood, glass, plastic, etc.; or count ten different shapes, or ten objects of any one color. Now notice how you feel less agitated.

Step 3: Put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach and track your breath.

Step 4: With the tips of your fingers slightly together, make the shape of a heart. Touch the tip of your tongue to the top of your palate. Close your eyes and track your breath; focus on the top of your head. To center yourself, focus on a word, phrase or image which is a resource for you. This exercise can calm you but also take you into a spiritual space.

Step 5: Just pay attention to your inner sensations- fast heartbeat or pulse, short breath, pain, heat or tightness in chest, arms, neck, etc. Choose one sensation. Focus your attention on that sensation and see what happens next. Just be curious, with no judgment or analysis, and the release will happen automatically. Release signs are deep spontaneous breaths, shaking and trembling, yawning, heat wave, warm sweat, goose bumps, gurgling of the stomach.

Step 6: Keep focusing on the constricted sensations that come up and release them one at a time, by paying attention and giving them time to release, until you have recovered your calm.

Step 7: To strengthen the sense of calm you have achieved, think of a resource – something that makes you feel stronger or calmer. Pay attention to the soothing effect the resource has on you. Resources can be internal (faith, inner strength, resilience) and external (friends, family, activities).

Remember, stress is contagious. Stress affects us and all those around us and creates a chain-reaction that amplifies reactivity and fear. To prevent this, use these tools to calm yourself first, and then give support to others. The calm we gain with this process allows us to impact others and empower resilience and balance all around us.

Gina Ross, MFCT, is Founder/President of the International Trauma-Healing Institute in the US (ITI-US) and its Israeli branch (ITI-Israel). Born in Aleppo, Syria, Gina has lived in eight different countries on four continents. A specialist in individual and collective trauma, she authored a series of books “Beyond the Trauma Vortex into the Healing Vortex,” targeting 10 social sectors implicated in amplifying or healing trauma. She created “The Ross Model: Working with the Collective Nervous System, and Free from Conflict: A Protocol for Conflict Resolution and Successful Communication.” Gina focuses her analytical work on the collective trauma behind politics, specifically the Israeli-Jewish/Palestinian–Arab conflict.

For more information about our next workshops on EmotionAid™ and Conflict Resolution and Successful Communication, contact us at: (323) 954.1400 or email: [email protected]

You may reproduce (print, photocopies, downloads) this information without prior permission for non-commercial purposes; but you must provide proper attribution to Gina Ross, MFCC, in all copies. More information at www.ginaross.com; and www.traumainstitute.org.  

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