07/02/2012 03:01 pm ET | Updated Sep 01, 2012

Eradicating the Smell of Contempt

While the Attorney General faces contempt of Congress charges for what many agree was mild and routine political obfuscation, politicians are throwing up rivers of bile and taking us for fools who will mistake the stench as honest or genuine political debate.

Adolescents vomit after binge drinking and politicians who drink from the cauldron of contempt are no different. Democracy is a sacred trust secured by reason and hallowed by respect for differences -- those who regularly spew contempt for others and who even profit from doing so desecrate the ideals upon which this nation was founded.

Contempt blows the lid off respectful dialogue so that everything that is disagreed with becomes vile, loathsome, heinous and despicable. Contempt is so inflammatory that its fire ignites a reciprocal fire of mutual contempt.

The challenge for mature people is to transform the acidic fury of contempt so that we do not degenerate democracy or combust in collective hatred. Herman Melville once said, "The world we breathe is love and hatred both but hatred must not win the victory." How do we insure the triumph of love in an atmosphere of poisonous rancor?

The transformation begins by learning to understand how and why we can feel threatened by difference. Insecurity is notoriously the enemy of flexibility and moderation and so it resorts to exaggerations, false claims, name calling, or fear that collaboration will result in painful loss. The psychology resolution tells us that people will act unreasonably and even compromise their own best interests when they don't feel safe.

You can't feel safe if you are not honored and respected. Parties in conflict can be coaxed back into mutual respect and away from mutual contempt even when they have a distance to go in settling their differences. Allowing in the truth that the other person's higher self can be honored even as his or her ideas or opinions can be disagreed with is the game changer in changing negative, caustic and damaging atmospherics.

Johan Galtung, master international negotiator and peacebuilder, reminds us that in general we should not aim for compromise because compromise often leaves no one happy. Instead we should work for solutions that reflect our commitment and creativity to reach higher ground.
Democracy invites us to seek higher ground through mutual respect and collaboration -- we need to learn its skillful way to fostering social harmony. The alternative is to drown in a sea of contempt, which not only spells the demise of civility but of civilization.

If we look for politicians who truly are committed to the practice of seeking higher ground we will find there are plenty of them waiting for our signal. How shall we know them, you ask? Well, for a start, they will never denigrate others, and believe me they will smell different: They will exude the fragrance you can experience around conscious and loving human beings. Time to hose down the walls of Congress and eradicate the smell of contempt!