We're seeing lots of drama throughout the 2016 political debates. The good news is that we are also seeing some positive results. Those who have never been interested in politics before are getting engaged.
Yet we're still a country divided.
I'm not talking about the division between Republican versus Democrat, conservative versus liberal. I'm talking about the two extremes I call enragement and detachment.
Enragement is about screaming, punching people, and using social media to bash anyone who doesn't see things your way. Enragement is destructive engagement. Those who are destructively engaged lose their ability to listen, to learn, and to be curious. As a result engagement turns to enragement. There are many tell-tale signs:
• Certainty that your opinion is "right"
• Anyone who doesn't agree is crazy or a communist
• Missing facts
• Decisions fueled by emotion
• Absence of critical thinking
• Lack of curiosity
• No tolerance for conflicting opinions
The opposite of enragement is not engagement, it is detachment. The basic sign of detachment is staying out of the conversation altogether. Not that you don't have ideas, but you hesitate to engage for fear of being pulled into battle.
Both enragement and detachment are rooted in the same emotion: Fear.
Enragement; screaming so loudly that no one dare disagree is not an act of courage. Neither is punching people and using social media to intimidate, harass or shame. Protesting by using force, vandalizing and harming other humans are not actions born of strength but of fear.
Then there's detachment. The refusal to get caught up in the drama of it all. On the surface detachment seems more sophisticated and more civil than enragement, yet detachment is rooted in the same fears that drive enragement. The root cause of detachment isn't that you don't care. It's the fear that if you speak up, there may be hate instead of curiosity from the other side. There will be drama instead of dialogue. You fear being misunderstood and don't want to face the harsh criticism, being called uninformed or being attacked on social media.
If enragement is justified adult bullying, detachment allows it to continue.
The problem with fear isn't the feelings or behaviors fear produces. The problem with fear is that fear inhibits curiosity.
It is through curiosity that we grow. Curiosity enables us to listen without always needing to prove a point or debate an issue. Curiosity helps us understand someone or something. Curiosity helps us learn something new. Curiosity enables us to change our minds without losing face. Curiosity puts an end to enragement and detachment. Curiosity enables engagement.
Yet curiosity is a paradox.
Curiosity leads to conversation. Conversation leads to controversy. Controversy leads to triggers. Triggers lead to defensiveness. Defensiveness leads to enragement.
The question is this: Do we have the courage to be curious without getting caught up in the seductive drama of being right? Could we for a moment, be a little less certain and a little more curious? (Don't get me wrong; there is a place for certainty,) however achieving a state of certainty before entertaining curiosity creates clouded vision where we view the world through the lens of victim, villain or hero. It becomes difficult to discern fact from spin.
• Donald Trump is like Hitler or Donald Trump is the Great White Hope.
• Bernie Sanders is the hero to start a political revolution or Bernie Sanders is a socialist taking away our freedoms.
• The problems are due to previous leadership: Obama, the Clintons, and Carter.
Looking for the Great and Powerful Oz to solve the world's problems contributes to a victim mentality; a coin with two sides. The belief that one president is THE answer one side of the coin. The belief that our problems are due to Obama, Clinton, or Carter is the other side. Until we eliminate the either-or/ victim-hero mentality we add fuel to the thought engine that keeps us moving in political drama circles as the story repeats over and over as it has throughout the history of our nation.
We are victims.
Someone is to blame.
We need a hero.
We elect the hero.
The hero didn't keep his promise.
The hero becomes the villain.
It's time for a change.
New hero is that change.
New Hero didn't keep his promise.
Nothing is better.
We are victims.
Old Hero and New Hero are to blame.
Rinse and Repeat.
Stop the Political Drama
The real problem is not Donald Trump, Obama, Sanders or Clinton. Every four years a majority of the American people look for a savior but say uninformed and uninvolved until election time. No matter what you or I think the problem is, the real problem is systemic and belongs to all of us, not just a few who happen to be applying for the job of president. The answer is not "out there," but within each individual willing to take the vow of personal responsibility to be the change.
Productive engagement is the path. Not enragement and not disengagement. This decision requires curiosity and curiosity requires courage.
Marlene Chism is an executive educator, consultant, and author of Stop Workplace Drama, (Wiley 2011) and No-Drama Leadership (Bibliomotion 2015). She works with executives, and high-performing leaders who want to transform culture in the workplace. To explore opportunities please email firstname.lastname@example.org