“We must keep up the good fight! A good, strong offense, and brave defense!”
Over morning coffee I heard these words uttered by someone who supported a certain side of our current political divide. Actually, I’ve heard people on either side express similar sentiments. In spite of being polar opposites, both perspectives are driven by passion and convictions. Both are fueled by the desire to make a better world.
So what’s wrong with this picture? This–the more the two sides attack one another and get defensive:
- the further they drive each other away.
- the more they expand and more deeply entrench the divide.
- the less likelihood there is of differences being resolved.
Which is exactly how the gut brain would have it–identify the good guys and bad guys, then join in with “good” group and attack the “bad” one. A good offense and strong defense helped us survive the millennia, running from lions and enabling combat with hostile neighboring villages. Without such strategy on tap, our species probably would not still be around.
Unfortunately, when applying this mindset to today’s socio-political strife, things get worse, rather than better.
What else can we do? Do we just let all this passion and energy go to waste? Surely it’s good for something.
Of course it is. We can redirect it onto these destructive patterns that so frequently intrude into our thinking and social lives. The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Divisive Community and Fractured Science offers numerous suggestions for combating cogjam. For example:
- Note when you feel defensive, even if only as a mental state, as you react to a comment or media broadcast.
- Do not let ideological challenges or verbal attacks control your reactions; set aside defensiveness that may arise.
- Instead, truly listen to what the other side has to say–especially regarding what they fear will happen if their side does not “win.”
- Crank up your compassion for that suffering–how would it feel if you were experiencing such a fear? How difficult must it be for the sufferer?
- As your behavior softens, listeners naturally react less defensively, since their gut brains see less reason to engage.
- With logical brains coming back on line, solutions to today’s problems can be explored.
Compassionate caring and fight or flight mentality cannot happen simultaneously. The two stress responses each have supporting neurochemistry. However one motivates us to throw ourselves into the adversity in order to help those we care about. The other drives us to fight, run away from, or otherwise escape the adversity. When we let our fears run the show, they have the ability to override compassion.
Fortunately, we do get a choice. There are many ways to reexamine and set aside fears long enough to let compassion to take the lead. And when we act with compassion, we are also rewarded with feeling less stressed ourselves–a win-win for all.
So, yes–keep up the good fight. But instead of aiming combativeness toward those who think differently, aim it toward cogjam.