I will not attempt to address the issues, methods, theories, or oddities of this year’s presidential election. I thought maybe I would, but the more I read and the more I think, the more certain I am that I am wrong. While I don’t mind being wrong, I would rather not write it down.
What I would like to talk about is what I didn’t see very much as the election unfolded: “mindfulness.”
I am not talking about Eastern meditation. I am talking about the ability to acknowledge your feelings and emotions, pause long enough to process them, and then choose a measured response from a place of stability and authenticity. Controlling your responses instead of your emotions controlling you. Basically, self-control. More on this later.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy often used to treat anxiety disorders, depression, and addiction. It assumes that the psychological processes of a normal human mind are often destructive. The core concept of ACT is that psychological suffering is usually caused by experiential avoidance, cognitive entanglement, and resulting psychological rigidity that leads to a failure to take needed behavioral steps that align with core values. Put in simpler terms, when our thoughts and feelings become what is true about us, we will try to avoid painful or difficult things by quickly reacting to our experiences in judgmental and rigid ways. This works in the short-term, but in the long-term it keeps us from moving toward goals that are based on our core values.
Another way to describe ACT is the practice of Accepting my emotions and being present, Choosing a valued direction, and Taking action.
This is what we are trying to accomplish with children when we put them in “time-out” or give someone time to “cool off.” We are preventing them from acting on their emotions while giving them time for those emotions
to pass—at which point, they might be able to choose actions based on their values instead of raw emotion.
Somewhere along the way, we quit valuing this practice—this character quality—in our culture. Over time, we have become tolerant of people acting out of their raw emotions. We hesitate to call people out for this behavior because others might say we are invalidating their emotions or we have no right to judge someone’s feelings.
It is true that we should not invalidate another person’s feelings or judge someone’s emotions. There is a unique combination of life experiences and circumstances that brings each person to the present moment, and this journey has enormous impact on how each person feels. Remember, emotions by themselves are amoral. They are not good or bad, right or wrong—they just exist in us. They come and go. We have little control over them, yet they often have significant control over us. We owe one another the right to have our feelings and not be judged.
However, it is fitting that in community we expect one another to control the responses we have to our emotions. The ability to do this is self-control, mindfulness, and authenticity.
I told you we would get back to self-control, which means rejecting our initial, emotionally driven desires until we can choose to do what is congruent with our core values.
Interestingly, we have no problem expecting that addicts should control their behaviors. We ask addicts to stop using their drug of choice and become “sober.” But addicts face the same problems we all face, including uncertainty, pain, confusion, and disillusionment. An addict reacts to these painful emotions by rejecting the thing that hurts and finding something to numb the pain. The need to avoid reality is so strong it overrides the addict’s ability to think or act rationally.
Sober is a form of self-control. However, self-control as a lifestyle is more than just managing not to do something. Truly being “in recovery” means the addict has developed a new method for staying present, addressing the pain and difficulties that life brings, and responding in alignment with healthy core values.
The behaviors present in so much of the discourse around the election look a lot like addiction to me—blame shifting, projecting anger and fear, and pacifying immediate urges with destructive behavior that numbs the emotions. All are tried and true addict maneuvers.
So what is the solution? If our national culture looks like a bunch of addicts, then maybe we should look at how addicts become individuals in recovery. It usually takes a significant crisis to make the addictive behavior no longer sustainable.1 Then if the addict seeks help, he or she might find a community of people who will share their experience and model an imperfect life of imperfect but sustainable peace. Active addicts see in the recovering addict something they want, and they are willing to walk the same path to get it.
So, what will people see when they look at Kimray? Will they see a community that values and honors diversity of experience, thought, and viewpoint while holding one another accountable for our actions? Will they see a community characterized by civil discourse made possible by the practice of awareness, openness, interest, and receptiveness? Will they see people who love each other enough to forgive and to say the hardest things?
I think they will.