It is easier for our leaders to engage in war than to work for peace – Marin Independent Journal
Sometimes I hate being human. Why do we have to put up with these internal political struggles? Why do I feel like I’m being attacked by “these others?” Why am I afraid these others will destroy the sanctity of our Constitution?
Politicians and businesses have harnessed fear and anger to influence people’s minds. People are seen as objects to generate votes, dollars and followers. Cynical leaders promise a return to an imagined past: a simpler world. It is a horrible abuse of power and leadership. Members of the media revel in it.
Being human, I know exactly where they came from. They are also my fears, and their reactive “fight-flight” partner. I don’t like uncertainty or people whose appearance and values I don’t understand or share. I am afraid of change and of losing my carefully cultivated social position.
We cannot fight against the power of politicians or members of the media. Our fear pushes us towards the safety of people who look like us and speak like us, people who seem to understand, who will care about us and include us in their group.
Thus, we join our favorite tribe, no matter what. If our need for inclusion is strong enough – and it reflects the strength of our fears – we accept the alternate realities of our tribe. While the right shouts: “Stop the left socialist takeover”, the left shouts: “Democracy is under attack. “
These “truths” sometimes seem ridiculous to outsiders. How do you rate the following beliefs as true or false?
• Joe Biden brought the nation to its knees on the brink of extinction.
• Hillary Clinton eats babies.
• Democrats are Satanists.
• Vaccines insert mind control microchips.
• The election was stolen.
• The coronavirus is a fraud.
Often our world is too abstract and distant to be easily understood. When it’s too much, some redirect their anxiety, frustration and anger to visible and less powerful minorities, blaming and then mistreating those who seem to have received a special boost up the social ladder on which they have lost their foothold. Others react by giving society a middle finger. They want to fight it, turn it around, get rid of it, destroy it.
Understanding this doesn’t necessarily bring empathy or compassion. I have heard otherwise enlightened friends across the way say, “These are stupid people.
But no one is stupid. Everyone has their reason for what they do. The accusations and anger simply reflect and reinforce tribalism. And tribalism blocks progress in solving our real and urgent problems, such as climate change, inequality and inequality.
How lucky are we? I would like a more caring society where leaders reduce fear, not stir it up; where rulers build a quiet port, do not stir up rough seas. The United States is not a war zone. We are supposed to be at peace. But all primates are attracted to conflict, so politicians provide it to them. That’s why I wrote that sometimes I hate being human. We can be our own worst enemy.
However, I am so proud that 85% of the population of Marin have completed the coronavirus vaccination round, compared to 48% nationally. I like to think that we can also lead politically, starting by respecting the beliefs of others.
I’m not suggesting that we should pretend to be okay with “alternate realities” – you are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts – but rather that we shouldn’t respond with disrespect, anger and escalation. When leaders stir up fear, we need to call them out, not by attacking people, behaviors, or tribes, but by redirecting their fear campaign to common concrete issues.
What scares me about these leadership-encouraged infighting is that individually and as a nation, we seem to have lost sight of the big picture. We are one nation. We are constantly perfecting our union. Democracy is terribly hard work. We are all stressed by the pandemic. We have real problems to solve. I am only human. I can forgive myself and forgive others. Love matters.
Barry Phegan, of Greenbrae, is the author of “Conflict, Meetings, and Difficult People”.