Who Will You Be in Divisive Times?
I recently decided (for the bazillionth time) to remove as much sugar from my diet as possible. I don’t become totally puritanical about this, but I do set the intention of simply choosing “no sugar” every time I remember to.
It doesn’t take long before I start tasting how sweet carrots actually are again. As I drastically reduce the amount of sugar that my taste buds have become accustomed to, I realize how desensitized I’ve become to the natural sweetness of whole foods.
We become habituated to what we consume. We stop noticing how sickly sweet and toxic something actually is when we are so used to the taste of it.
Violence works this way too.
It starts with an irritation. A prickle. Followed by just a few judgmental thoughts. A few labels and diagnoses thrown out in exasperation. Damn those people… Who the blankety-blank does that?… What an a**hole!…
Many of us increasingly find ourselves embedded in cultures running on violence and fueled by criticism, judgment, competitiveness, snark, paranoia, and cynicism.
And many of us consume this on such a daily basis that we’ve become completely habituated to it; we hardly notice it anymore.
It’s become normal to be mean. Funny, even. Cool.
But so, so terribly toxic.
Like refined sugar, it may taste good initially but becomes poisonous for our health and well-being.
Human relationships do not run well on power struggles.
We do not thrive in cultures that legitimize or normalize snark, unkindness, manipulation, forcefulness, or criticism. Psychological aggression, unchecked, often escalates into physical violence.
If we cannot solve our problems by talking about them, by empathizing with one another, by figuring out how to restore connection and trust, if we cannot figure out how to do that, and our helplessness, pain, and despair get big enough, we will end up literally shooting, murdering, and killing one another.
Our history books are filled with civil war, genocide, and the atrocities committed by oppressive, domination systems over time. Unfortunately, many of us live and breathe domination culture and have absorbed the conditioning of domination consciousness.
It takes intentional effort to swim against the culturally normative streams of this kind of domination consciousness. However, the current momentum toward more division, more polarization, and more violence can be redirected if enough of us make the conscious decision to begin detoxing the effects of this programming from our systems.
We need to stop eating the metaphorical sugar.
The psychological and physical violence that wants to erupt is also calling for an equal and opposite healing presence from those of us who feel called to live into a new way of being.
So, how do we change things? How can we become a more humanizing force in our communities?
Every time we catch ourselves thinking about “those [bad] people” we need to take a deep pause and develop new habits. We need to make a collective commitment to dissolving dehumanization.
One of the main tools of domination systems is the process of making a person or group of people seem less human and more deserving of punishment or suffering by using lower-status labels, diagnoses, and judgements. The seeds of violence germinate inside each of us when we indulge in this particular form of thinking and when we adopt a particularly ethnocentric worldview.
Here are some key practices for dissolving dehumanization:
- Replace asking “what’s wrong with them?” with “what’s their story?” Wonder what happened in their lives that caused them to be/see/think/feel this way. Cultivate curiosity.
- Reclaim our sensitivity. Counterintuitively, sensitivity strengthens us. Connect with whatever feelings we want to avoid: vulnerability, fear, worry, helplessness. Practice staying with our feelings: once our feelings are presence-ed, healing follows. Our hearts soften. Whatever we cannot feel, results in a hardened, psychological scab inside of us that adds to the collective desensitization.
- Connect to our shared humanity, our collective human needs. Most of us long for more safety, trust, freedom, connection, belonging, and significance. Let’s start working for more of that in the world. Validate the person and their humanity (not their attitude or behavior per se). Focus on what deeply universal human needs they are trying to serve. Humanize them.
- When you disagree with someone about anything, name the issue at hand and express curiosity about their thinking on the issue. Listen deeply and non-reactively. Reflect their words back to them. Check for understanding and accuracy.
- Reveal your own humanity. Instead of arguing, explaining, or justifying a position, choose to tell a personal story about how you developed your own loving, thoughtful, and respectful position on this issue.
Let’s stop turning on ourselves and each other. Let’s commit to seeing problems as the problem, not people as the problem. The problems we need to solve locally and globally are simply too complex for us to be wasting time fighting with one another or losing our energy to our unresolved inner conflicts.
Include more points of view. Listen more deeply. Each of us can stand for something more inclusive, more sophisticated, more thoughtful. Each of us can start imagining what would work better and start talking about that.
Let’s harness our attention to stay present to the violence that is increasing in the world while amplifying our vision for what would work better.
Let’s serve a new vision of a direct, kind, inclusive, collaborative, growth-oriented culture that nurtures a way of being that counterbalances the fracturing that is happening all around us.
Connecting with our common humanity is a powerful tool in nonviolent peacemaking and much-needed cultural change practices. Let’s build cultures of empathy, starting with our own inner lives and inner beings. Join me.
Looking for a supportive, empathic, and growth-oriented community for learning and practice? Consider joining my free Q&A calls, Conversations from the Heart. We meet every Wednesday at 10am CT via Zoom. Click here to learn more.
Dr. Yvette Erasmus is a psychologist, teacher, and consultant who specializes in transformative education for human healing and growth. Synthesizing mind-body medicine, somatic experiencing, diversity and inclusiveness, nonviolent communication, and integral-relational-cultural psychology, Dr. Erasmus integrates core insights from multiple wisdom traditions and offers various programs for community learning as well as one-on-one consulting. To learn more, visit yvetteerasmus.com.