Be the Change: A Call to Americans

part 1 in the "Be the Change" series

Americans, I'm asking you to be break the unhealthy cycle of conflict in our country and start a revolution of one. We can't wait for political leaders or the media to end the crazy, divisive practices that have become commonplace in our culture. With all the partisan rhetoric, reality television shows, and other mechanisms that perpetuate a culture of conflict, we need to each decide to be the change and disengage ourselves from the fighting. Once disengaged, we can start to be the change, one American at a time.

How did we get to this point? I might theorize that it is a divide and conquer ploy, meant to immobilize the people, make us zombies, and make it easy to take our money. It is a way to take our lives from us, because we are so caught up in the drama that we don't have time to truly think for ourselves. This is nothing new. Think about how politics and the media made (and still make) women slaves to fashion. How many women spend huge amounts of time and money on how they look? Some of us have started be the change and break out of those chains, but it is hard and painful, yet so worth it. It's an age-old ploy that has been used in many guises throughout history. It has always been a way to get power over the masses - divide and conquer. But let's not dwell in the past. Let's be the change now.

To be the change, we need to identify current thoughts and behaviors and then decide what we want to change them to.

We have allowed politicians and the media to turn us into drama queens; everything is black and white - either something or someone is right or wrong, good or bad. Political battles, reality shows, talk shows, the news media - all of these take sides and reinforce the idea that there are two sides, a right one and a wrong one. These are the thoughts we must change. Thoughts of right or wrong and good or bad just serve to divide us.

Behavior wise, we have highly dysfunctional reactions to these thoughts of right and wrong. We become judgers and blamers. If someone or something does not match our ideas of what is right, we act as if it is the end of the world. This lack of critical thinking morphs into bullying, fighting, refusing to negotiate, walking away blaming, dismissing and other divisive acts.

If we operate our individual lives using these thoughts and behaviors, we find ourselves very unhappy in our personal and professional relationships. Or we end those relationships. Healthy relationships that endure require understanding thoughts and cooperative behavior. So, if you are not planning to leave this country and hence you will remain an American, I ask you to break this dysfunctional culture of unneeded conflict and be the change.

To be the change will require courage, tenacity, and perseverance. The culture of useless conflict is strong and it is easy to get sucked back in. But please, keep trying. Here are some suggestions as to how you can do this:

1. Hit the pause button.Intelligence must replace emotional responses. Before you speak, write or repost (on Facebook etc.) something, stop and hit the pause button. Ask yourself if you are contributing to conflict or to understanding. Are you blaming, fighting, or bullying? Are you limiting yourself by viewing the situation as black and white, or are you trying to understand?

2. Check in with yourself. Are you feeling angry or depressed about something in your own life? Often times we numb our own pain by lashing out at others. Is your fury with a political figure or other person about a specific action they took or is it a way to help you feel better about your own hurt? If it truly is about a SPECIFIC action of the political figure or person, then refer back to #1.

3. Check in with others. If we want to change our culture of conflict to a culture of cooperation, we need to hear and really listen to and understand each other. We have to stop thinking about how we are right and the other person is wrong and listen for common threads. Ask questions, especially when you feel upset.

4. Employ positive communication skills.

Enter the conversation with the mind-set that you want to understand, share, and see commonality in order to seek solutions or at least to agree to disagree. This sets the tone and intention for the dialogue. It might even be a good idea to express your intention, though that is not always necessary.

Use "I" statements and be specific.

Consider this positive example: “I believe that the proposed _____________ policy would be good for the country because in my opinion it would create jobs by _____________." This approach facilitates opening the door for others ask questions for you to expand upon your ideas and to interject their own, thus creating conversation. However, most of the time we use blaming statements which are not helpful at all. Here is an example of a negative approach: "Those stupid _____________ (insert political party here) are idiots. All they want to do is _____________." This approach puts those who disagree with you on the defense and their natural reaction will be to attack you back. Confrontation is a dead end.

Avoid “piling on” or using drama queen trigger phrases like "you/they always" or "you/they never." Piling on is when we bring up everything and anything we feel the other person/party did wrong or is wrong about. Related to that is when we use phrases that imply the other person/party has a history (always, never) of doing something we don't like. All this does is create a bigger divide, reinforces the right or wrong thought pattern, and continues the conflict. Start a revolution by trying to think outside the political or cultural box that is perpetuating the conflict and find a creative way to move forward.

Let's start talking about specific things we support and not making "bad guys" to blame for everything. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have done things I agree with and things I disagree with. One of them more than the other, but neither of them is a bad guy. Nobody is perfect and we all view the world differently. It is unhealthy and unproductive to stay stuck by labeling someone or some group as the bad one(s).

What I do know for sure is that life is too short and not very meaningful if we waste our precious time fighting and blaming and being divided. It has made all of us weary and frustrated.

It's time for a revolution in this country, a revolution of one. So what do you say...will you be the change? Will you be one person who chooses to hit the pause button, break the cycle, and move America towards a healthier, more productive path? Let's not omit a bigger and happier you!

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