Emotions run high as the hottest election cycle of the century is finally about to conclude. Non-stop tug of war dominates the media. Set opinions cling tightly and pull mightily at their chunk of partisan rope. All dig in for the duration, with little to be gained. Of course, one side will eventually win. But for today’s political battle, all winning determines is whether you fall on your face or land on your behind.
Gut brains call these shots, not our logical brains. It’s fight or flight chemistry putting “winning” above all else. That’s how survival works for more primitive existence. Losing could mean loss of food, family, property, territory, or our very lives. Likewise, stress chemistry encourages us to bond and work together to meet common goals. It supports meeting large threats, like groups of foreign invaders.
But what does this primitive infusion of adrenalin and oxytocin do for today’s heavy-duty political stress? Instead of leading us to solutions, we end up with something called “groupthink:”
- We identify “good guys” and “bad guys,” everyone either for us or against us.
- We defend whatever “good guys” say, regardless of whether the information or ideas pass closer inspection.
- We gather forces and fire upon the “bad guys,” no matter the merit of their ideas.
- When the opposing side counterattacks, our defensiveness and aggression feel justified.
- The winner is “right,” the loser is all the more defensive, ideologies become ingrained, and facts and logic now irrelevant. Story’s over.
Benefits found are emotional, rather than practical. We experience the feelings of certainty, safety, and “being right” that accompany jointly held rigid beliefs. We gain an automatic source of social support for difficult times. But for the election divisiveness, these groupthink perks come with a heavy price:
- Fanning the flames of discord, creating more stress and conflict
- Missing common ground where paths to answers may lie
- Injuring, perhaps destroying important sources of social support
- Alienating those we must work with to find solutions and make decisions
- Progress becoming extraordinarily difficult and conflict ridden
- Another four years of “my way or the highway” back and forth, no matter who wins the election
Groupthink is a tough nut to crack. Fortunately, our more sophisticated reasoning can step in any time. But only if we actively choose it–first, by noting evidence that we’ve succumbed:
- Viewing ideas or people as all good or all bad, all right or all wrong, vilified or deified
- Socializing only with those who are like-minded
- Becoming emotional and defensive, rather than listening to alternative points of view
- Looking only for merits of the favored side and faults of whatever opposes it
- Rationalizing away information if it counters group beliefs or supports opposing views
- Difficulty identifying solid logic or facts behind some “good guy” beliefs
- Engaging in social behaviors we later regret
Next steps to healing depend upon the type of groupthink factor we see. Do certain reasoning practices need reexamination? Does how we interact with those who disagree need adjustment? What other strategies can we use to cope when strong opinions and emotions are at hand, without using groupthink practices?
Often awareness alone brings change. If not, reams of self-help information are available for adjusting just about any factor that gets in the way. We need only be willing to look.
What better time to practice new skills than working to heal from the election process? After all, the election will soon be over. And then, we will need all the cohesiveness we can muster to find solutions for today’s challenges.