Got election jitters? I have.
One fear I have is that when the election is over we will have no skills left to us to share its results as one America. It is now painfully evident, and has been for a while, that no matter which side of the political spectrum to which we belong, we can’t seem to speak to those on the opposite side in ways we can be heard and understood –– not to agree, but just to be heard and understood. This chasm renders any significant conversations almost impossible as if both parties were speaking in different tongues.
Of late, good will in political conversation and communication has begun to atrophy, leaving in the wake only party sound bites and tense recriminations as if vitriol and moral indignation were all that was needed to establish one’s credibility and to clarify differences. This also occurs in families, my own included. I fear I can’t talk about the election in any way with some members of my family for fear, not so much about what they’ll say, but what I will. The result for me, and I know it is for many, has been to duck the whole topic with the relatives we differ with. This gets tense.
There’s an old story that marriage counselors tell about fighting couples.
Betsy and Bob sleep together in the same bed. They have one electric blanket with two sets of controls. Bob gets cold easily so he turns the heat up. Betsy, likes it cooler so is always turning her dial down. Unbeknownst to both is that the control dials are mixed up: she has his and he has hers. As each of them try to find their own comfort zone, they inadvertently create more discomfort for their spouse. They become angry. They don’t realize that ultimately, the mechanism available to regulate their own comfort must be in their own hands. I think we Americans are in a similar fix.
If there’s good will and curiosity about what had been happening, that the couple in fact did have the means to regulate their own comfort and at the same time accommodate their differences, it might save the marriage. The problem in standoff’s like that is that people get so angry, they begin building up stories and rationales in their minds that justify their feelings. That makes attempts to meet in the middle feel like weakness or even personal defeat.
In situations of marital discord, establishing good will is critical in resolving conflict and preserving a marriage. It works pretty much the same way in a democracy. Good will is where accommodation begins, not in the courts.
Pray for good will.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.