By now, everyone to some degree recognizes that today’s real enemy is political divisiveness itself, rather than the particular political figures or persuasions that fall victim to it. Likewise, plenty of evidence has revealed that divisive social media posts and conspiracy theory revelations are often perpetrated by hostile foreign operatives, ones with whom we would not align ourselves in a million years.
Yet, when we come across politically divisive posts, tweets, and the like, the temptation to argue with them or pass them along is huge. Why do we so easily succumb?
Yes, once again it’s our little defender: the inner lizard. The gut brain sounds the alarm, and immediately jumps in to save us from whatever internet atrocity we encounter.
He instantaneously scours the environment, seeking to identify the foe to fight or flee from. But unfortunately, the gut brain is not designed to perceive abstractions like divisiveness. So he urges us to strike out at the concrete foes he’s programmed to identify, such as people or specific groups. What better way to fight back than throw mud at the “offenders?”
Afterwards the gut brain feels satisfied, and backs down. In these times of a pandemic, a toxic election cycle, rampant natural disasters, economic disaster, and social unrest, we actually experience a corner of relief. That’s what may end up as the addiction–the rewarding inner sensation that follows acting out this way.
Yet where does such an approach leave us?
- We unwittingly fan the flames, increasing divisiveness and hostility.
- We punch the buttons of everyone aligning with opposing views, releasing an army of inner lizards poised to take aim.
- We alienate those who might otherwise consider our views.
- We may even alienate those upon whom we rely for social support during these difficult times, and create more distress for ourselves.
So, how do we help our gut brains settle down?
- Notice when your buttons have been pushed–that surge of adrenaline, and the rush of indignation or anxiety.
- Slow down, rather than react as the gut brain would have you.
- Take a deep breath, remind yourself that acting out will only result in receiving more of the same, or find a physical activity that helps you use up adrenaline.
- Assure your gut brain that he’s been heard, you’ve taken care of the “threat,” and he is free to stand down.
Then, switch gears. Think of ways you might help resolve today’s divisiveness, rather than attack or fear those who at times succumb to it.