By The Rev. Dr. Graham Standish, Executive Director
We are a perilously divided country. For a long time it has felt as though we’re on the verge of destroying each other. How do we overcome this division?
You may believe that the incoming administration simply cannot bring healing. If that’s the case what can be done to start the healing? The work Samaritan does offers guidance because we are in the personal and relational healing business. So, let me offer you some ideas that America might hear from one of our therapists if it came to us for counseling:
Control and change what we can; live with what we can’t: For our country and our communities, WE are the answer to healing. WE have control over how we will respond to the anger and division around us by deciding to act on our fundamental freedom—to choose whether we’ll be controlled by anger, fear, and resentment, or choose a way of love, faith, and forgiving. We are responsible for being part of the solution. There are things we can do to promote that. One is to simply cut back on our social media addictions. We can reduce our constant views on Facebook, Twitter, and more. Another huge step would be to stop watching cable news opinion shows. Watch the news. Ditch the opinion. Finally, stop arguing either in reality or in our minds with others. Surround ourselves with media and influencers and activities that nurture peace, kindness, community, and compassion.
Choose the path out of dysfunction: Most people misunderstand the word, “dysfunction.” It doesn’t mean “not functioning. It means “functioning in pain.” The key is the prefix, “dys,” which means “pain.” When we are dysfunctional, we create pain in others. We are in deep pain as a nation. The key to overcoming dysfunction lies in people deciding that it’s time to reduce the pain. That means that we’re responsible for lifting others up rather than tearing them down. It means that we are responsible for changing our behaviors in ways that nurture healthy relationships.
We can’t change their behavior, but we can change our own: We can’t force others to be committed to healing, but we can make the decision to be healing ourselves. That means changing ourselves. It’s intentional, but it is also educational. To choose a new way we have to learn new ways, which means doing things like reading, praying, and talking with others (we have both counselors and spiritual directors who can help you with this) about how to change our behaviors. We can still have our political beliefs, but do they need to spill out to the point where we are responsible for dividing our families and our communities? An important question to ask ourselves is how committed we are to helping the country heal? Decide to be a healer. Making that decision for yourself and you may inspire others to join you.
Healing isn’t about figuring out who’s right, it’s about figuring out how to love: One of the things that causes division to persist in marriages, communities, and nations is the constant need to be “right.” “Right” is the enemy of relationships. The need to be right—not only when we’re wrong but especially when we’re right—creates division. The more we’re convinced that the other is a fascist, a communist, a traitor, or a seditionist, the more we turn the other into an enemy. Read that again: “…the more WE turn the OTHER into an enemy.” I’ll always cherish what C.S. Lewis wrote about “rightness” and “wrongness” from the perspective of heaven in his book, The Great Divorce: “That’s what we all find when we reach [heaven]. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke. There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living.”
Healing isn’t found in compromise; it’s found in collaboration: Many people think “compromise” is a bad word. I consider it to be a great word, since at its root it means making a promise with others—“with” (com) + “promise.” It’s a promise to agree in some way. Still, compromise is painful because it means giving up what I cherish with the promise that the other will give up what she or he cherishes. There’s a step beyond compromise. It’s collaboration. We may begin with compromise, but we take the next step of “laboring together”—“with” (co) + “labor” (laborare). To collaborate means to work together to achieve something greater that binds us together. We don’t just give up, we create together.
Healing is found in validating each other, especially when we don’t agree: What fundamentally causes division isn’t the disagreement, it’s the invalidation of another person that comes from the division. When we are deeply divided, we tend to believe that the other person has no redeeming qualities. The person is less than human, and even more, the person is unworthy of my love, consideration, or even regard. With couples in turmoil, they often invalidate each other, meaning that each believes the other is terrible and unworthy of love, respect, and care. Validating others means that we communicate in some way that we care and respect them, especially in disagreement. A quick example: once at a party at my house, a guest and I had a very strong political disagreement. Both of us were starting to get angry. In the midst of this I noticed that his glass was empty. I said, “Hey, if we’re going to continue this, you need another glass.” We walked over to the bar and I talked to him about the different wines and said, “Let me go get another bottle. I want you to try one of my favorite wines.” I validated him by basically saying, “I may disagree with you, but you are worthy of my best!”
We face a long road ahead in our country. You and I can’t change that, nor can we overcome the division by ourselves, but we can learn from therapy how to begin the healing, and that’s what we’re each responsible for.
The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA