Surviving Our Behavioral Pandemic

Oct 4, 2020

I have spent the majority of my adult life talking about human behavior – specifically children’s. But this week I’ve been reflecting on adult behaviors and how they serve as a model for kids. A disturbing trend has been gaining traction in the past few years. There is an elephant in the room. And rather than being trampled by it, I am choosing to discuss it.

To say there is tension in our country is an understatement. I believe I can speak for many when I say I feel as though I’m living in a real-world WWE SmackDown event – two competitors and zillions of onlookers, all mirroring and fanning the crazy flames. It’s exhausting, sad, and frustrating. Let me explain the progression of how I think we all get to this point.

I believe for the most part we have fixed mindsets of what we believe to be right and wrong. We look for a candidate who confirms our beliefs and once we find that person, we view their actions through well-intentioned eyes – conversely, looking at the actions of the competitor through the lens of mal-intent. We then surround ourselves with others who share our convictions and step to one side of the political boxing ring, only interacting with “opponents” when competing.

In the political WWE environment, it is us against them – winners and losers – dog-eat-dog – survival. Chaos gets center stage and civility is lost. I don’t know about you, but I can’t live in this type of world. Luckily, I believe there is an alternative. For me, it starts with looking for the good intentions of people’s behaviors.

I watched both the Republican and Democratic conventions in their entirety. I know my default inclination was to praise the actions of my candidate and look for any opportunity to find fault in his opponent, so instead I approached both with a growth-mindset. Sadly, throughout both conventions, only one person on either side refused to engage in name calling and negative attacks. For all others, fear was stoked and opponents and their supporters were painted as extremists. This infuriated me.

The bell-shaped curve is designed that way for a reason. The majority of us fall to the middle with few extremes being the exception, rather than the rule. However, if we listen to social media, popular memes and political attacks, the bell shape curve is inverted. All Democrats are crazy socialist liberals who want open borders, don’t support police and military, and have no regard for human life. Republicans, on the other hand, are all self-centered racists who want to take money away from the poor and lock foreign children in cages.

I’m not buying it. I, like most, have family and friends across the entire political spectrum – individuals I love and respect – and none of them fall into the extremist’s category of the stereotype of the political party with which they identify. They make choices based on what they believe to be in the best interest of our country. Additionally, the majority their political choices are seated in their religious beliefs, whichever party with which they identify. They are all really good people trying to do good things.

My Recommendations:

  • Have face-to-face discussions. Many people say, “Don’t talk about politics.” I disagree. If we don’t talk, we don’t understand. And if we don’t understand, we will always have division. However, we need less virtual interactions and more in-person ones. When we talk with individuals, contexts can be provided, emotions can be registered, and our knee-jerk reactions are tempered. My neighbor and I have very different political beliefs, but we talk regularly about politics. We also get frustrated, laugh and agree to disagree – and that’s okay.
  • Step away from social media. It is easy to get consumed by the “Real Housewives” of Pennsylvania Avenue mud-slinging evident in our political arena. Attention is power, so stop posting, forwarding or commenting on anything you would not want said about you.
  • Advocate for what and who you want by highlighting the positive, but do so without commenting on the faults of the opponent. In other words, don’t tear down the other candidate as a means of building up your own. As much as I have to catch and stop myself, I refuse to engage in negative campaigning.
  • Most importantly, I believe we all need to look for more empathy and understanding in others and be less judgmental. I believe we all do the best we are able with the skills at our disposal. So, assume positive intent. This one step will go a long way in tearing down the WWE arena we all find ourselves in.

I remain hopeful as we move closer to the election – but I’m also concerned about the pandemic. Incidentally, I’m not talking about Covid-19. I’m talking about the spread of our behaviors. I’m certain our attitudes and behaviors are more contagious than any germs associated with Covid-19. So, be as purposeful about stopping the spread of misinformation and attacks as you are about stopping the spread of Covid-19. Our face masks serve as a filter. I hope they can also serve as a reminder to filter out all the negativity, and ultimately move us to a place of healing.

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