Opinion: We must stop living fearfully in our own sense of reality
No one can figure it out. It is a mind-boggling mystery. Who ARE these people who support Trump? Who ARE these people who like Hillary? Who ARE these people who are planning to vote for a third party candidate?
Well, these people are our neighbors. Our dentists. Our airplane pilots. Our children. Our old friends from high school.
These people are us. We are all members of the community of the United States of America. Yet so many of us feel like we are living in a different reality, a totally different reality, from these (insert derogatory adjectives) people. We just cannot grasp how anyone would think about things SO differently from how we think about things.
I see this problem of mutually incomprehensible realities regularly within my therapy practice. In fact, when I hear one or both partners in a couple say we are living in completely different realities, I know the relationship has either reached or is quickly approaching the point of breakdown.
It is scary when we feel this reality gulf in our relationships. When our partners or our country-mates do not share the basic way we see things, our core sense of existence feels threatened. We dig in our heels. We defend our reality as the only reality. We hit a wall when we still feel unheard and unseen. We feel rage. The gap widens. We feel hopeless. We stop trying.
Moving forward from this point, in a personal relationship or within our collective America, takes great determination, humility and courage. It requires that when we see others making choices based in a perspective that is alien to us, we do the opposite of what we are wired to do.
Instead of letting our brain’s threat-response system distort these people into a group of senseless two-dimensional objects, we accept that their perspective makes sense within the context of their own experience even if we ourselves cannot make sense of it.
We stretch ourselves to imagine being in their minds and bodies. We reach deep to acknowledge that we all share the capacity for selfishness, self-centeredness and bias. We find the humility to see that that person could be me. We come to terms with the idea that if we were in that person’s brain and skin then that WOULD be me. We acknowledge that these people are just that. People.
This is hard stuff. Our fear tells us that it is dangerous to acknowledge that those who pose a threat to our values and priorities are in this shared human reality right along with us. We fear that this acknowledgment will feed their power or take something away from our own positions. That it will weaken us.
But in fact, it makes us stronger. Holding up walls and blocks against other people’s reality takes energy and keeps us stuck in fear. Dissolving those walls allows us to pursue our needs and preferences with greater vitality and clarity.
It helps us to understand other people and allows us to work with them more effectively or to oppose them strategically. And it allows us to move beyond two-dimensions into the web of the human network where that Trump voter is also your child’s dedicated math teacher, that Hillary fan is your father’s most conscientious nurse at his care facility and that third party supporter is the person who called the ambulance when you crashed your car and stayed with you until help came.
No, we can’t and should not stop fighting for what we believe is right and good. No, we should not be expected to like, love or accept into our lives those who devalue or hurt us. No, we can’t all get along.
But unless we are ready to give up on our United States and all the benefits and protections it offers us, it is a grave mistake to think that the best way to protect ourselves and our values is by holding on so fearfully to our own sense of reality that we cannot even comprehend who these people could possibly be.
Danielle B. Grossman, LMFT, works in private practice in Truckee. Find her at truckeecounseling.com for comment.