I have to admit, this election drama has really piqued my interest.

I find myself watching the drama unfold on TV and I actually have an opinion about some things. In the past, I have gotten so frustrated with both parties and their talking points that I have avoided offering opinions or thoughts because I felt like they really didn’t matter.

Well, they matter now.

I am not alone in my renewed interest in the political playground. Mind you, I still don’t like politics, but there is some new stuff happening that is important. I have seen a new, even passionate, interest among some of our adult children. There is new interest and activity in all demographics. More people are speaking up. More people feel free to express their opinion. And more people are actually pulling the lever. That’s amazing, and good for our country.

Friction and conviction

As good as I think the new drama and conversation is for our country, it can wreak havoc within families. Children are breaking ranks with their parents. Wives are offering differing views than their husbands. Special interest groups appear to be thinking in unexpected ways.

People are angry, enthusiastic, obnoxious, excited, wary, focused and opinionated. And they are talking. That’s awesome. Even as many are bemoaning the fear that our nation is headed down the tubes, and are threatening to leave the country if one person or the other wins, I think we are on the road to real change. We need real change; have you noticed?

The entrance of new players is really creating strong opinions, fear of the future and a real shaking of the status quo. From a therapist’s perspective, this is not a bad thing. Every day I see people who are in some kind of crisis or overwhelmed by chaos. Our country is in both.

This is the platform from where change is made. And pretty much, because of how much we humans resist change, it is almost the only platform from which real change is made.

In a family, for example, where there has been infidelity, I see fear and anger and insecurity and chaos. This is exactly what I see in this election cycle.

But chaos can be a good thing. It creates action where in the past there has been inertia. Our normal reaction to life is to keep our heads down and keep moving in the same direction we have always moved, keep doing the same things we have always done, often hoping, praying and expecting things to change. Albert Einstein reportedly labeled this pattern a sign of insanity. I agree.

Marriages get in a rut, but it just takes too much effort to change. Children seem to be getting off course, but we convince ourselves “that’s just the way it is.” As a result, nothing much changes until a crisis arises. Then we get scared. Then we jump into action. As crazy as that sounds, that’s the truth. That’s when people come to therapy, because they see no other way.

That’s when people begin to pray in earnest, saying, “Well, I guess the only thing left to do is pray.” If we were a little more proactive before things got into crisis mode, there would be fewer crises. But as humans, we have trained ourselves to run on adrenaline and we don’t realize it’s killing us. Why would things be any different, then, in the larger community?

Listening versus winning

We have created this crisis, by being so polarized, not listening to each other and not really seeking solutions. The main thing we have sought is to “be right.” That doesn’t work in families and it doesn’t work in politics. “Right” has all sorts of facets and nuances and we need each other to see from different angles. Including your children who are voting for some “outsider” with crazy thoughts and policies that you believe would never work. “They might destroy the country,” you might find yourself saying.

Many people are hearing things articulated that aren’t very politically correct, but they mirror some of their frustrations. They are hearing what many are calling fantasy and craziness, but they are hoping for possibilities.

Try to listen to your kids and your brother-in-law and your spouse about why they feel the way they do without judgment or reaction. Listen to learn, not to prove them wrong. Listen to learn about your family and respect their thought process. After all, you raised them to think for themselves, didn’t you? Well, it worked. Good job.

Step back from the drama and emotion to see the bigger picture. Do not let the “silly season” of the presidential election cycle break apart our families or communities. Let’s allow it to open a dialogue.

Perhaps we will learn a new way to communicate. When people feel heard and validated, there is more of a chance for negotiation and change. When people feel unheard, shut down and vilified, they dig their heels in and stick to the talking points, even though they don’t understand them or their consequences.

People are screaming, “Listen to me! I want to be part of the process.”

Can’t you just hear Columbus’ mother as he sets sail for the new world?

“Columbus, don’t be an idiot! You’ll fall off the end of the earth and be eaten by sea monsters. If you follow that path, you’re no son of mine. I will write you out of the will!” Good thing he didn’t listen.

Reaching across the aisle at home

Do you deal with family members who hold political opinions in opposition to yours? Marianne Clyde suggests the following:

Step back. Your family members are independent and have arrived at their beliefs on their own. Their differences create an opportunity for everyone to learn.

Try to listen. Hear them out without judgment or react. Listen to learn, not to prove an opponent wrong.

Go beyond talking points. When people feel unheard, they dig in their heels and double down on their beliefs. A sincere attempt at listening may open a path for your family members to see your point of view… and the other way around.

Marianne Clyde is a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist, best selling author of Peaceful Parenting: 10 Essential Principles and Un-Leashed: Practical Steps to Get Your Life Unstuck, and founder of the Marianne Clyde Center for Holistic Psychotherapy.

Original article published by the Virginia News Group. Used with permission.

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