I recently received a scathing email from a friend to whom I’d sent what I thought was an intriguing and responsible article about the background of one of the candidates in the forthcoming Presidential election.
The hostile email attack I received back epitomizes for me the problem at the root of the excessive divisiveness in our country. Overly strong emotional language antagoizes the receiver and wipes away impulses to listen, to stay friends, or even to talk together any further.
“This is absolute rubbish. Candidate X is stupid. He will be a disaster for this country.
I don't know where you get your news, but if it is just [MSNBC/FOX:pick one] you have no idea what is going on. Please don't operate in fear this way.
Candidate Y is the ONLY choice for this election. You are getting propaganda about X. Please do your own research and really look at the issues.
With Candidate X, Medicare and Medicaid will be destroyed. The middle class will continue its dangerous spiral downwards and pay more taxes. The already richest/poorest will get richer/poorer. And many many more things, bad, will be set in motion.
You REALLY need to listen to [MSNBC/FOX, pick one].
Candidate X also has no foreign policy capability. The man looks good but otherwise is a disaster. Research it yourself and don't buy into the lies.
On top of all this, just LOOK at the way the two men appear as they talk to us. Y sincerely cares about humanity, and not just this country. X really does not . Watch him.
Everything Candidate X’s radical left/right party does is a far cry from the party of old. Do you really like the progressives/tea party? They're kooks.
A vote for X is a vote against our country and all the values it was founded on. Please open your eyes.”
What is the problem with this rhetoric?
Extreme emotions tend to block out ability to uptake new information. They also block ability to share an alternative perspective in a way that the other person will take it seriously.
Most angry statements are in fact projections of what the person who is speaking is doing or thinking. For instance, the accusation of getting news from just one news source was probably accurate, but about the speaker (i.e., the writer of the angry email) rather than about the person (me) she was attacking. The receiver of the attack, in this case me, in fact regularly watches both MSNBC and FOX and also CNN and C-Span.
Without ability to give and uptake new information, people get stuck in one view with no potential for growth, shifts, or nuance.
The moral of the story?
Lower your voice volume. Open your ears. Enjoy constructive information-sharing, additive dialogue, agreement, appreciation and shared problem-solving.
Avoid any candidate, political supporter or, for that matter, friend or family member, who indulges in name-calling, sarcasm or blame.
And whatever your choice, be sure to vote.
Susan Heitler, Ph.D. is a Denver clinical psychologist whose books and website teach the skills for cooperative dialogue and collaborative problem-solving.