In one of his recent blog posts, CNN's Fareed Zakaria explored his belief that U.S. politics will get nastier.
While I agree that politics in the U.S. will get nastier, I respectfully disagree about the reasons Fareed offers. I think the shaky economy and all that goes with it is simply an excuse people -- politicians, their followers, and their opponents alike -- use in a feeble attempt to justify the nasty side of their personalities, the negative ulterior intentions that are part of that side, and the ugliness that they can create by acting out that side in the world around them... whether that world is in an online comment, daily family life, the halls of a school, a place of employment, a house of worship, the office of a healthcare practitioner, the media, or right out in the midst of a political campaign.
Even when more people than not are civil and politically correct, that nasty side still exists, but it is under the surface where everyone can't see it... and under the surface where it can't so obviously feed the same kind of nastiness in others. Now, just as the misuse and abuse of power is coming more and more out into the open, so also the nastiness in people is coming out into the open. And when something comes out into the open, it is bound to be more painful, and it is bound to be more destructive; but because it is in the open, because it is in the light of day, because we can see it, hear it, consciously feel it... we also have more choice than we had when it was under cover. In other words, it is much better out in the open.
Some people use the exposed abuse of power as a false justification to abuse power themselves. And some exploit the nastiness being out in the open to rip off permission to be nasty, as well. But some see clearly what is happening: that what was previously underground is now on the surface... and can be openly responded to.
We all have a nasty side. Some of us act it out. Some of us don't. Some of us know about it and act proud of it. Some of us are ashamed of it and hide it. Some of us don't even know we have that side. And some know about it and while refraining from acting it out, commit themselves to find the root of that nastiness in us and heal it.
Perhaps an example would help. Let's say Joe has a nasty side, knows it, and arrogantly displays it during his campaign, while Jim has a nasty side but isn't quite aware of it, and even a glimpse of it in himself brings him great waves of shame. Joe will go about his nasty campaign and Jim will go about his acting-polite-everyday-life, but... secretly (even a secret to himself) or privately (in the privacy of his own home), Jim will applaud Joe's nastiness and at the same time feed off it. It may be like he's silently cheering a violent tackle in a football game or an over-kill knock-out in a boxing match.
As politics heat up, we have an opportunity here. We can let the nastiness fly, feed its acting out and the destruction it creates, and suffer from the painful experience and results. Or, we can know that the nastiness is part of a vicious cycle that both comes out of suffering and also causes suffering in our individual lives and the life of our world... and we can individually and communally work to heal that nastiness in ourselves and help those around us do the same.
Now that it's out in the open, more than ever we have a choice. I vote for the healing.
© Judith Barr, 2011