It's political season. Thanksgiving is approaching. Interesting convergence ...
We have a Tea Party movement. We have Occupy Wall Street. We’re mere months away from the Presidential primaries. We all have opinions, we all have expectations. I certainly have mine, and - I really believe this - anyone who entertains a different idea to mine is blind to reality, probably sociopathic, and not worth a microsecond of my time.
Okay, I'm wildly exaggerating, but not by much. Let’s be honest about this - I know the rest of you feel the same way I do. Here is what is going on:
We have decades of research to show that our genetic makeup influences our gut-level reactions to all manner of things that go on around us. Recent studies strongly suggest that this also applies to our political preferences.
One study, involving brain scans on political partisans, found that the participants lit up with pleasurable emotions after being supplied with unflattering facts about their respective candidates (Bush and Kerry during the 2004 campaign). This result is completely counter-intuitive, until other brain functions are taken into account. What happened was the “thinking” parts of the brain were fully engaged in finding a way to rationalize their respective chosen ones’ unpleasantness.
It was as if the test subjects were required to solve a complex puzzle, and once they found a solution - namely, my candidate is not a chump, after all - they experienced the same primal dopamine rush one gets from a succesful Angry Birds sling shot or sinking a hole-in-one.
So - the “thinking” parts of the brain are not really thinking. They are simply doing the bidding of feeling parts of the brain.
Here’s where it gets tricky: Reason alone is not going to cut it. We need input from our emotions to guide us in our thinking. Thus, to give a recent example, when we heard about the Joe Paterno/Penn State scandal we all knew in our gut that a terrible wrong had been committed.
Our emotions guide us in every decision we make. Often, that is good. But there exist entire industries whose sole purpose is to exploit the way our brains are wired. The advertising industry is one example. The political demagoguery that passes for news commentary is another.
So, imagine the two of us in conversation. I am right, you are right. So I ask you - are you going to shift my thinking one iota? I know I am not going to shift yours. And you wonder why the US is so polarized. Trust me, our Founding Fathers, men of reason, did not anticipate this.
I could go on and on, but I want to hear from you. Just one more thing:
Our bipolar adds a whole extra dimension to this. Thanksgiving is coming up, and if you’re a liberal Democrat you really don’t want to be choking on your gravy around a table of conservative Republicans. The same is true if you are unfortunate enough to be a conservative Republican in a den of liberal Democrats. Seriously, who needs the stress?
Question: How do you handle situations in which you encounter individuals with totally opposing political/moral/social views?
Do you try to engage in a dialogue? Do you breathe through your nose? Do you get confrontational? Do you clear the room? How does it feel?
Extra credit: If you are a nose-breather, are there times when you decide to get confrontational? How did it feel?
Extra extra credit: Does the situation change if you happen to be in the majority?
Comments below ...
Published On: November 19, 2011
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