I've noticed since the conventions that we have slipped completely into emotional politics. There is anger, anxiety, pride, cynicism, shock, fear, and panic attached to our blogs, our words, the candidate's ads, the candidate's rhetoric, and seemingly everyone in America right now. At least with apathy, the mood was steady but with the population engaged in the election as never before, emotion seems to have moved to the fore and reason to the back of the line.
I include myself in this fray of fear, panic and anxiety in the aftermath of the conventions and only noticed it recently when I heard how upset I was when talking about some of the candidates. It occurred to me then that however upset I was, there was someone else feeling exactly the opposite; and vice versa, when I was happy, they were sad, angry, upset, or anxious.
Humans are emotional creatures, our emotions have been honed to perfection through evolution, with reason much more recent on the scene. Despite our unique capacity to apply complex reasoning, emotion tends to overtake it with relative ease. So how do we move beyond the emotional politics we are now in and back to a reason based election?
1. Recognize that we all are part of this human experience. Realize that the intensity of emotion you have in favor of your candidate and opposed to the other is equally shared (in reverse) by someone else in America.
2. Recognize that you can have a very biased attention if you aren't working to keep an open mind. Science has shown that if you think 'red' you will see red more often. If you focus on the negative of the other candidate, you will miss anything positive they might say. To see how easily you can be fooled by your own attention, try the experiment here and see for yourself. If you have already done this experiment (counting the number of times a basketball is passed between people in white shirts), you know what I'm talking about.
3. Recognize that compassion - kindness - is a key to building a kinder and more reasonable world. Try and detect your feelings before you act; if the words you are about to speak or the action you are about to do will hurt (or potentially hurt) another, just 'act like a log' and do nothing. Until you can speak from a voice of reason without negative emotions it's best to not say or do anything at all.
Running a country requires reason and we will all be better at electing such persons if we apply reason in our voting process. The political ads, pundits, and networks are not necessarily hubs of reason; irrationality is often around us - 911, Katrina, the stock market drops - and the news is there to display it.
We may not be able to change the process overnight, but we can change how we approach it with a little attention. If we attend to our own emotions and keep them in check, it will move us a bit closer to reason in this election. Decision-making based on reason requires facts about issues, how the candidates view them, and how they will execute them if elected. Getting swept up in the emotion just blurs our own lenses needed for investigation.
Follow Susan Smalley, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/suesmalley