There’s a pervasive lack of psychological and emotional awareness in our political discourse and social beliefs today. This lack of understanding stands in the way of solving the crises that currently imperil our democracy and undermine humanity’s efforts to stem global deterioration.
The stakes are monumental and are worsening with each day, as evidenced by personal and political alienation, global warming, economic inequality and corruption on corporate and governmental levels. What is becoming painfully obvious is a missing conversation that we have to address.
While most of us can intellectually see and feel anxious about these outcomes, many are not yet motivated to make meaningful changes, and many feel shackled by not knowing what to do. Our government is not inspired or currently equipped to respond quickly.
At the same time, we are also mired and paralyzed in reactive, divisive attitudes and actions dedicated to maintaining a dangerous status quo (or an ineffectual resistance against it). We fail to value the power of seeing and responding to our own unconscious drives and reactions that can all too often mushroom into highly toxic outcomes.
I believe strongly that gaining a basic understanding of how psychology plays out in politics and economics (which I call Psycho-Politics) is the ground stage for making a greater positive shift. However, it is important to have patience and realize that reforming long-held patterns requires a gradual process.
We must remember that the foundation of every major transformational movement in our culture was built very slowly at first, brick by brick. Throughout human history and up to the present day, those in political power and leadership have largely lacked a highly attuned psychological understanding necessary to guide us toward peace, unity and equitable justice.
Instead, we have pursued the divisiveness of placing excessive importance on our own self-interests. This is true on an individual level by prioritizing taking care of ourselves and our loved ones with only a minor interest in using our resources to do the same for our country and our planet.
This is also on display in the behaviors of leaders and policymakers, on international and national levels, each of whom almost invariably exaggerate their own value and integrity while minimizing others. Partially responsible for these self-centered attitudes is the almost automatic human tendency to avoid awareness of our mortality. And, collectively, it is easy to see this same mechanism in action as we approach the issues of potential death of democracy in our country or the world itself.
This denial allows us to maintain complacency when it comes to challenging our values and beliefs about who we do and don’t protect. Today more than ever, we need clear steps to foster safety, peace and cooperation simultaneously at home and abroad.
Psycho-politics can help us psychologically understand the cause of present danger and make practical changes toward healing our society from the inside out.
Let’s break down psycho-politics into three simple principles:
1. Opening up to emotional and psychological awareness
The first principle focuses on becoming aware of our overwhelming tendency to make distrust, fear, anger and other challenging feelings the responsibility of others. When we favor ourselves and those we love much more than our country and planet, we unwittingly contribute one-by-one to leadership that reflects this same self-centeredness.
We can no longer responsibly separate ourselves from what is happening in our country and world if we look at our own tendencies. When we have an emotion that is disturbing us, our first inclination is to blame others (“I’m afraid/angry/ distrustful because of you!”).
We need to tune more effectively into our own disturbing emotions and feelings and how we project them on other parties, races, religions and countries. We are repeatedly creating wars outside of ourselves by not facing and resolving the war within ourselves.
We need to develop the capacity to be wise and caring responders to these challenging emotions. In doing so, we can pause and contemplate what the qualities, actions, and thoughts are that promote greater wisdom and healing. We don’t have to change our feelings but find a way to not let them rule our responses.
Once we begin to see this, we can develop our capacity to care for the greater world. This is a quantum leap, but it is not impossible. Witnessing the evolving collapse of systems all around us should inspire ongoing awakening to a more insightful, generous and inclusive sense of self.
Monitoring the human condition over almost half a century as a therapist, I have extensively explored the proven tools and methods available to help us to be aware and respond to our unique set of emotional challenges. It has been a frequent topic of my writings, online videos and public talks.
2. Examining our relationship with wealth and how it can be a tool to help others
The second principle explores our personal core identity from a place of depth, examining how our lives are primarily focused on protecting self and family with minimal caring toward the disempowered, including the growing homeless population and the poverty-stricken.
We project this most notably in our common and fundamental attitudes about how we use (and feel entitled to) money, success and power. Questioning this relationship applies not only to the top 1% of wealth but to each of us regardless of our level of material well-being. Unfortunately, money as a tool for security, safety and common-sense protection has been perverted into insidious self-centeredness and greed (protection of self no matter the costs and apathy toward the rest of the globe).
Taking action to heal our relationship to our material wealth has to be a major priority if we are to give ourselves the best chance to survive and heal as a country and planet. The big question we need to ask ourselves is:
“How we can revamp our relationship to money and success as we consider how to care more for others?”
Taking action to heal our relationship with money has to be a major priority if we are to give ourselves the best chance to survive as a country and a planet.
3. Developing a form of inquiry that leads to wisdom
The third principle is to recognize the need for us to support ourselves to be in an ongoing state of inquiry or questioning in our lives. We need to embrace healthy self-doubt rooted in a passionate curiosity to discover what limits our capacity to be generous toward ourselves and the world and move in a healing direction.
The core question for all of us needs to be: “What is the balance for me between taking care of those I love and also the country and planet on which I live now?”
This inquiry and resulting contemplation form the foundation for us to make positive changes for ourselves, the people we care about and beyond. As has happened in my life, this has led to new epiphanies and actions that lead me to return again to ask: “What are the next steps?”
When we realize the severity of what we are dealing with, this constructive and creative internal questioning never ends. This is only possible by first doing our inner work as mentioned in the first principle—becoming more aware of our suppressed emotions like fear, distrust or anger and learning how to accept and transform these feelings into greater courage, trust and inclusiveness.
We must learn how to not be ruled by our emotions, which allows us to move in beneficial directions instead of being a slave to reactive thoughts and knee-jerk actions. This supports us to be the more conscious and effective agents of the profound change that is so urgently needed. This is a lot easier to understand than it is to apply in our lives.
The benefits of psycho-politics in our lives and the world
The three principles are all ways to support us to begin leaving behind our egoic tendencies to get lost in relationship to our emotions, money and fixed ideas about who we are. None of us can afford to be complacent or confident that we have arrived at a place where we don’t need to be open to exploring continuous new ground in these ways.
Reaping the rewards of this work requires us to be expanding our honesty, humility and generosity. Once we learn to take better care of the more difficult and challenging parts of life, we begin to see a better quality of life and a shift in the central dynamics of our outer world.
We will see a change in how we interact with family, coworkers, the cashier at the supermarket, as well as with complete strangers.
We can value with fresh perspective our next step, our next thought. We take a greater interest in the world by being more inclusive in our actions, contemplating and acting on financial outreach, and supporting clean energy.
We see more clearly that all of our participation matters. We can become more powerful advocates and can more easily find common ground with previous and future adversaries.
We can more readily adopt strategies on how we are going to live our lives that are going to increase the likelihood for life on the planet to survive. Every little step matters, and I believe applying these principles can create evolutionary, life-changing growth.
What if our politicians and leaders could all imagine that there was only one year left to save the planet? Think how quickly things would change if they collaborated, compromised and communicated with this urgency and shared mission for the highest good. Think about how different our world would be if a growing percentage of us imagined every action we took was multiplied by 8 billion.
The biggest shift happens when we see that almost all of us are responsible for this tendency to be excessively self-centered. When we stop blaming our politicians and see how much this is a reflection of ourselves, the hope we have for our country and planet can make a quantum leap.
A large number of small changes can create a U-turn for humanity. Our focus can be on the vitality of our interconnectedness on a grounded level that includes our energy, time, money, and motivation.
This, in turn, opens the door for a movement toward survival of the planet and away from a fixation on what will almost exclusively serve ourselves and those closest to us. It doesn’t have to be radical, just significant. So, this is a plea for all of us to develop an endless inquiry into what this means in genuine terms for our individual and collective near future.