Words of Wellness

November 02, 2010 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner

"This Election Season, I Vote For......

Apparently negative political ads work. At least that’s what the research says. While these ads might get a candidate a few extra votes, I presume that we are all tired of the intensity of the negative and inflammatory language in political commercials. Once the elections are over, regardless of the outcomes, we will all be winners in that we will no longer have to endure the onslaught of negative political ads. My wife and I drove 1700 miles last weekend to visit our daughter, and we had the radio on during much of the time. It was fascinating to hear negative ads about candidates that we had never heard of--we didn’t even know their political party. It didn’t matter, because the message of the ads was all the same: elect me, because my opponent, if elected, will ruin both our country or state and your life as you currently know it. Even when a politician is asked about why he/she decided to “go negative,” his/her answer will usually be just another chance to attack: “you see, my opponent was the one that went negative first--I had no choice but to defend myself and respond in kind.” It is not uncommon for me to have a couple or family in my counseling office who are locked in a similar inflammatory cycle of negativity. “The way you spend, you are going to ruin us financially. You are so irresponsible,” which is followed by, “If it was up to you, our kids would never have anything new and we would never have any fun in our lives. You are such a tightwad!” Or, “You never, ever talk to me,” followed by, “Thats because you never stop criticizing me.” When couples get stuck in these negative cycles, I often tell them that they sound like a couple of politicians from opposite political parties who are just as intent on destroying the other person as they are on promoting their own perspective. What if couples or families who are in conflict, along with politicians of different parties, could realize that in the end they are all on the same team, with the same goals of building a stronger relationship or a stronger society? Maybe then they could work together, celebrating what unites them, while working to manage the differences that divide them. The beauty of democracy is that over time it is a self-correcting, self-balancing system. Whenever voters feel that one party or one perspective has taken us too far in one direction, they will elect someone who will move us in the opposite direction, back towards the center. This creates balance over time, allowing us to benefit from the wisdom of both political parties. Rather than each party demonizing the other party, they need to see that for the good of our society (and that is the ultimate concern, isn’t it?) they, and we, need each other to keep our country in balance. Healthy relationships of all kinds, whether within families or larger organizations, also work best when all involved see that no matter how sure they are “right” about things, they need the balance of other viewpoints. These differences represent both the challenge and the beauty of all relationships and communities. Healthy relationships and other healthy organizations know how to respect and manage these differences. Going negative may get results in politics, but it never works in relationships. What does work in relationships, is going positive. Going positive means you start with affirming the strength of the other person’s perspective, while at the same time affirming the positive strengths of your own view point. “I love the fact that you are so much more spontaneous and carefree then I am, and yet on this matter I feel the need to be very cautious. Is there some middle ground that we can find that will work for both of us?” Labels and name-calling are never part of “going positive.” Another essential factor in “going positive” is that we separate the person from their perspective. We can chose to remain affirming and positive about the other person--be it a spouse, child, or coworker--even when we disagree with their perspective. Going negative, whether in politics, or our personal lives can be contagious. It is an easy pattern to perpetuate, but one that will always be destructive of our personal, relational and societal wellness. Approaching conflict in a positive manner requires intentional effort, but it is well worth it, because it brings out the best in everyone, allowing us to think and work more creatively and to recognize the wisdom that comes from balancing multiple perspectives. That’s why this election season I’m casting my vote for “going positive”.

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