What Matters Most?

Using your strengths to impact well-being

Politics Getting You Down?

When your political debates get heated, you better use your strengths!

As the Presidential race progresses over the next month, there will be many opportunities for you to fight with those who disagree with you. This is fine – and actually quite healthy – if both sides practice openness in listening and refrain from personal attacks. That’s the hard part.

I had a recent encounter with a friend who baited me with some negative comments about my favored candidate. Typically, I fell for the trap. I would attack his candidate in retaliation. And back and forth we would go. It’s the same ‘ol story: You attack my candidate, I’ll attack yours, we’ll continue until someone gets hurt (at least emotionally). In the end, nothing would have changed about our beliefs. Nobody would miraculously have swayed the other side. Yet, perhaps there would be a new wedge placed in the relationship.

I’ve played this game many times. It’s a visceral experience. When someone attacks our candidate, it feels as though some ferocious beast is suddenly waiting to be unleashed. But, I decided to take a different approach with my friend. This time, when my friend attacked my candidate and also me personally, I stopped in mid-sentence. I considered my character strengths. What strengths were needed in this moment? How might I play any of my character strengths to respond in a balanced way?

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I decided to play several of the following strengths. Which resonate most with you?

  • Love and perspective: These two strengths are often needed in combination together. I needed to step back and see the bigger picture, reminding myself of my love and care for this friend and the fact that our relationship is about much more than a different political viewpoint. The perspective strength served to remind me that one cannot jump into another’s mind and change their view so acting from that agenda is pointless.
  • Curiosity and judgment (critical thinking): If one is going to have a political conversation, these two strengths should be at the forefront. Curiosity means you will ask questions in which you are genuinely attempting to understand the other’s views rather than gaining more information for an attack. Judgment refers to allowing yourself to see multiple angles of the same issue while staying open to new possibilities.
  • Love of learning: Taking a growth mindset which is a view that any obstacle or difference can be seen as an opportunity for learning and growth. This type of mindset is linked with success and positive relationships.  
  • Kindness, fairness, and forgiveness: These are core “other-oriented” strengths in all of us. Let others have their views. If everyone was on the same side, life would be a bore. Don’t lose sight of taking a compassionate approach to people. Viewing someone that has offended you in a compassionate way has been found in research studies to be linked with forgiveness and positive emotions so it ultimately serves you (and the other person) well.
  • Bravery: Use courage, but in a different way. Most people in these situations consider an attack to be the brave approach because they are not stepping down and they are speaking their mind. Indeed, that is one of many ways to exert bravery. But, isn’t the “higher road” a path made manifest by courage? Isn’t it brave to allow discomfort within oneself while walking away to preserve a relationship?

As situations become complex, the more our strengths will be tested. One of the many challenges of character strengths use is to maintain the usage over time. This means we will have to rally constellations of strengths, frequently. It’s never a “one-and-done” expression. It’s an ongoing journey.

I suspect the more we can maintain a balance of multiple strengths, the more we are on a pathway of virtue and goodness.

This entry focused on character assassinations we make of one another during political discussions. For interesting insights into Presidential character assassinations, read Neal Mayerson’s post here.

Dedication:

This entry is dedicated to psychologist/researcher, Chris Peterson, who passed away this week. He was a man of towering intellect, quick wit, and endless generosity. He will be missed by countless educators, scientists, students, and practitioners around the world. His final blog entry on Psychology Today can be read here.


References
:

Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York, NY: Pantheon.

Kashdan, T. B. (2009). Curious?: Discover the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life. New York: HarperCollins.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Witvliet, C. V. O., DeYoung, N. J., Hofelich, A. J., & DeYoung, P. A. (2011). Compassionate reappraisal and emotional suppression as alternatives to offense-focused rumination: Implications for forgiveness and psychophysiological well-being. Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(4), 286-299.

Learn more about strengths:

To measure your character strengths and discover your signature strengths, go to www.viame.org

To apply character strengths in your practice and life, go to www.viapros.org

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D., is the education director at the VIA Institute on Character.

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