Courage to Learn and Lead

The scary events in Arizona on January 8, 2011 have caused calls for national soul-searching about the polarizing and often cruel rhetoric that pervades today’s political culture. We may never know whether the prevalence of such rhetoric helped create an enabling environment for Jared Loughner’s resort to assault. However we all know that words have effects for feeling, thinking, and action – and there are important lessons to be realized from this terrible moment. Shutting down the House of Representatives for a week responding to this tragedy is a dramatic gesture. It will be an empty gesture, although, if hard money lenders it isn’t coupled with a proven commitment to learning and altering on the component of our national leadership. What’s it that our political leaders need to comprehend, and how might they go about getting those ideas? First and foremost, our leaders need a much deeper knowledge of how today’s serious public anxieties – about terrorism, the economy, our broken immigration method, the quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, the seeming inability of government to solve complicated issues – and also the deliberate manipulation of those anxieties have affected the social fabric and the nature of democratic deliberation in the United States. Through U.S. in the World’s project on Managing the Fear Factor, we have reviewed and commissioned an extensive body of analysis into the impacts of fear on public thinking. One factor we’ve learned is the fact that acute microdermabrasion machines fearfulness or anxiety causes people to identify more closely with their “own” group and to suspect the motives of “others,” exacerbating stereotyping and scapegoating. This human tendency has been exploited for political gain in recent years — using the result that the category of the “enemy other” (as soon as reserved for military opponents) has expanded to include neighbors with whom we disagree, leaders whose policy solutions we don’t support, or anybody who concerns or challenges our beliefs. Differences are exaggerated and accusations fly — you’re either an un-American socialist who wants to redistribute wealth or a hardhearted plutocrat; a terrorist sympathizer or perhaps a bloodthirsty imperialist; a proponent of unlimited government intrusion into people’s private lives or part of a conspiracy to dismantle the entire federal government. It’s as if the “you’re with us or against us” construct, originally applied to international relations, has turn out to be the organizing principle for any and all policy debates here at house. Acute anxiety and also the sense of becoming out of control also trigger people to favor an us-vs.-them leadership style and zero-sum policy approaches. In today’s political and media culture, leaders whose public personas fit metal detector this bill and who can problem catchy sound bites are rewarded; the spotlight shines brightly on them along with other public figures then feel pressured to take exactly the same camera dolly pose. It’s extremely difficult to have a reasonable public conversation about policy options in this context; there’s little space on the media agenda or inside the political discourse for consideration of complicated solutions to complex issues. And as the public watches its elected leaders trade insults and point fingers at one another instead of addressing pressing concerns, confidence in government continues to erode and also the feeling of being out of control increases. To be able to play a constructive role in healing our traumatized society, our leaders need to learn or re-learn a different model of deliberation and dialogue. It is not enough to express dismay in the viciousness of today’s political rhetoric. Congress ought to draw upon the expertise of psychologists and experts in post-traumatic stress disorder, and on insights from specialists in conflict resolution, dialogue, and crisis communications. You will find thoughtful specialists in all of these fields who would eagerly contribute to this type of reflective and educational process. Compromises and adjustments will have to tankless water heaters be made by each parties – not necessarily in their fundamental policy priorities, but in how they communicate with one another and towards the American public about their differences. Here’s what we would have liked to see occur throughout the week-long suspension of activities in the Home: The leadership of both parties ought to have spent the first couple of days in private meetings using the types of experts we’ve mentioned here. For the remainder of the week, leaders should have reached out systematically to their very own parties and networks to share what they learned and to seek commitments from their colleagues to bringing civil, respectful debate and dialogue – and disagreement – back to Congress, Washington, and most importantly, the United States. Opportunists who continue to exploit public anxieties and exacerbate differences should be named and shamed. Congress’s only opportunity to show its willingness to learn and its capability to lead by learning. But the “teachable moment” will not last indefinitely. Regardless of Jared Loughner’s motivations, the motivation of Congress ought to usually be what is in the greatest interests of this nation.

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