I was corresponding with a colleague recently about how a simple act – putting on a mask – has become politicized, even weaponized. She also pointed out to me how this issue illustrates a trend in society that has metastasized in recent years into extreme levels of self-absorption. She said, “I find the general level of self-preoccupation in society today absolutely startling.” She’s correct, of course, and what’s sad about this obsessive fixation with self is that it is completely incompatible with being able to cope with the stressors in your life.
Followers of this blog see again and again how we emphasize a three-step coping model that requires acceptance of your emotions and core tendencies, accountability for who you are, and development of a coping plan that must include two essential elements: humility and empathy. A coping plan that revolves around you, to the exclusion of others, is destined to fail. You will never be sensitive to your true inner self if you cannot be sensitive to the needs of others.
I often wonder how we might view things if – when we correspond or speak with someone, or post something on social media – instead of using words like “Republican” or “Liberal,” we substituted the phrase “Those who agree with me,” or “Those who disagree with me.” For instance, suppose an extreme progressive posted on Facebook, “The country was falling apart over the past four years with the Republicans in office, but now that the liberals have taken over, we’re back on the road to recovery from madness.” Any staunch conservative would consider those “fightin’ words,” literally! But what if the post said, “The country was falling apart over the past four years with those who disagree with me in office, but now that those who agree with me have taken over, we’re back on the road to recovery from madness.” Hmm. Less emotionally inciting, perhaps? Less a condemnation of others? More an admission of your responsibility for the conflict, an admission of your self-preoccupation?
If you resolved to use only the latter phrasing, – “Those who agree/disagree with me” – would you begin to realize that you have been operating totally from a self-absorbed, egocentric point of view that encourages conflict? Would you begin to understand that you have created an artificial, but inevitable, dichotomy between “us” and “them” that is based on the uniqueness and superiority of “me”? Might you begin to appreciate that saying “those who agree/disagree with me” puts “us” and “them” on an equal plane, where the opposing positions just might both be valid? Could you conclude, “I have an opinion, others have an opinion, and the resolution to the conflict just might be somewhere in the middle”?
Food for thought? Maybe. One thing for certain: When you see yourself and your allies as the only enlightened ones in the discussion, you will never successfully cope with your stressors because you are operating in emotional mode, not problem-solving mode. The emotional mode is inciting, inflaming, and provoking; you will eventually hemorrhage into depression and self-sabotaging actions. Why? Because reality dictates that you are not the center of it all, and reality has a way of popping up again, and again, and again.