I woke up way too early musing on our polarized election. In Washington State, where I live, there are two close races, for governor and for congress. The negative advertising is relentless and fierce. One gubenatorial candidate is backed by the builders' industry, which is pouring millions of dollars into villifying and lying about his opponent. And you all know the discourse at the presidential level.
I'm appalled, but not surprised. The name-calling of our current candidates is nothing compared to what our founding fathers did. No one is being accused of treason or sedition, or selling out to the enemy. No contemporary candidate is calling for the hanging of his or her opponent.
The psychoanalytic and object relations theorists talk about projection. Wikipedia defines projection as "a defense mechanism in which one attributes one’s own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts or/and emotions to others. Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the unwanted subconscious impulses/desires without letting the conscious mind recognize them." We, the good Germans/Tutsis/Royalists/Protestants/fill-in-the-blank, are for the common good. Those dirty Jews/Hutus/Seditionists/ Catholics/Black/other football team/different people are the bad ones. Politically, projection appeals to our most basic (and base) natures. We don't have to acknowledge our own aggression, greed, and hatred. They are the bad ones. Not us.
When clients hit the anger phase of healing from a trauma, they are often ashamed and sometimes aghast at the intensity of their hatred. Part of the therapeutic process is explaining that every human on this planet has aggression. It gets us going, it helps us defend ourselves, and it's innate. I explain that the trick is to own our aggression, monitor it, and process through it, like any other emotive state. And then cultivate the parts of us we of which we approve. Can you imagine a political leader saying, "Look, we as a people have been greedy, self-serving, and blind to the good on the other side. Let's talk about what's good over there. Let's talk about where we don't measure up. Let's make this work together."
Personally, I use the meta meditation to connect me with myself and the rest of the planet. As a human, I'm not above polarization, stereotypes, and bad thoughts about the "others". As a human, I've also got a thinking brain and willing heart to try to mend my innate aggression. You do each part, until it really sinks in and you feel connected. Here's the version I use. There are many. It takes me about 10 minutes.
May I be well. May I be happy. May I be at peace.
May my loved ones be well. May they be happy. May they be at peace.
May all the people in Seattle be well, happy, and at peace.
May all the people of this hemisphere be well, happy, and at peace.
May all the people of this planet be well, happy and at peace.
Then I bless specific trouble spots in the world. Then when my heart is really open, I focus wellness, happiness, and peace on some of the people, about whom, in another mood, I have other feelings, mostly specific politicians. It works for me, and for a little while, knocks out the automatic projection of evil onto those "different" people.
There is true evil in the world. I work with people who have been tortured, raped, and sorely used. My step-father was a Holocaust survivor. And I try to work against Evil. Scott Peck says that Evil happens when a human being doesn't see another as human. I'm trying not to cultivate blindness to others' humanity. And I am trying to cultivate the part in me that can see beyond my own knee-jerk projections.