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  • Matt

Breaking the political cycle

Now that Trump is gone, righteous anger about the Capitol attack has shifted to inaugural hope. But this reprieve is still just part of a destructive political cycle. Lasting change requires learning to change hearts and minds.

The cycle

Trump and the Capitol attackers committed an aggression. This fueled shaming, condemnation and calls for accountability. Once Biden and Harris took over, the focus turned to brighter things like an inspiring young poet and Bernie’s mittens.

Meanwhile, 70+ percent of Republicans still don’t trust the election results. Their resentments are fueled by last week’s condemnations and a new president they don’t trust. While Biden undoes Trump’s policies, Trumpists are doubling down and will work to regain power.

The likely result is continued ping-ponging between ideologies. This creates costly inertia, allowing issues like racial inequity and the ecological crisis to become more entrenched. We’ll keep spinning our wheels unless one side learns to break the cycle by changing enough hearts and minds to sustain power.

How we “win” makes us lose

Condemning opponents is an awful way to change hearts and minds. Consider your own inner critic, which tries to use shaming tactics to control your actions. The results are things like self-loathing, neurotic suppression and acting out. They don’t address the root cause of the unwanted behaviors, which gradually get worse. The same happens in politics.

So why do we keep doing it?

Condemning others feels good. Shaming others is rooted in our own fear, which we often experience as anger and anxiety. Condemning the other side gives us a feeling of control, self-protection and temporary relief.

We need to release anxiety when we are triggered. But we shouldn’t confuse this with skillful, strategic action that creates lasting change.

What if we took responsibility instead?

When we condemn others, we give them power: “you should stop that and give me what I want!” This puts us on the sideline. When we take responsibility, the change happens through us.

How can we take responsibility for stopping the futile political cycle we’re in?

Nurture our best self.

An open heart helps us unhook from habitual thoughts and see life with more clarity, curiosity, compassion and courage. This is the lens we need to change hearts and minds.

Recognize ourselves in the other side.

They have families, jobs, hopes, and disappointments. They’ve been heartbroken, felt crushing self-doubt, and have generously brought joy to others. Remembering our shared humanity can help us get beyond the glass ceiling of villainization.

Find a way to connect.

It’s easy to cast stones from the safety of our political enclave. Are we willing to do truly transformative work and build a relationship with someone politically different than us? Check out the project Braver Angels if you don’t know how to connect across political differences.

Be enjoyable to be around.

As we build these relationships, let go of the need to be right. Instead, identify things to appreciate. Be curious about how they arrived at their beliefs. Show that you are willing to offer help, be vulnerable and have fun. Share what is wonderful about your approach to life. This is how to earn the consideration of others.

Innovate lovingly radical acts of citizenship.

How we communicate with opposing politicians is a great opportunity. A friend wrote this in a wonderful advocacy letter after the Capitol attack:

You have many constituents who voted for this president. Your role now is to assist them through the realization that supporting this president and supporting conservative values are two different things. Yesterday you assisted your fellow legislators through a traumatic event. I am grateful that you used your skills to help support them and hope you are taking care of yourself.

Build power that heals.

As we organize, mobilize and advocate, remember that we are all interdependent. When others lose, we lose. Newly-empowered progressives must seek accountability in a way that begins to restore what is broken. The Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in Canada and South Africa can help us imagine how to achieve this collective act of restoration.

Creating a new commitment

Author Jim Dethmer says that “you know your commitments by your results.” For example, we are committed to weighing exactly our current weight. The evidence is the dedication shown by all the choices we make related to eating and exercise.

In the same way, our country has been committed to political division and stagnation on our biggest social and ecological problems. Blame and condemnation are evidence of this commitment, and they’re getting us nowhere.

What ideas do you have for how to break the cycle?



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