The months and weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 elections have embroiled us — individually and collectively as a nation — in heated, often life-draining debates. And while the election is over, the discord will surely ensue: Congress remains divided with Republicans maintaining a majority in the Senate and Democrats taking the House.
Across the country, stress levels as a result of politics are at an all time high. A majority of Americans (59 percent, age 18 and older) blame the state of American politics as the source of their stress, according to a survey published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). And 55 percent of Generation Z attribute their increased levels of stress to the same culprit, a newly released report from the APA found.
While the elections may have left you feeling tired, angry, or even numb, we must press on and fight for the change we want to see. But first, we must reflect and recharge. Thrive Global checked in with Keith J. Bybee, Ph.D., a professor of law and political science at Syracuse University and the author of How Civility Works, to gather some tips on how we can hit refresh on our lives after a tumultuous and tense year.
Protect yourself from political meanness
Political discourse steeped in racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia has been impossible to escape — and consistently being exposed to messages of hate can be painful and damaging. But, Bybee urges us to remind ourselves that this ugly rhetoric is a strategy to rile and rally people against one another for political gain. Keeping that in mind, he says, may take away a bit of the sting.
Look for the positive takeaways
History bears out that change will eventually come — however slowly and grudgingly. Bybee points out that last night’s series of political firsts is the enduring fruit of social movements that began as far back as the 19th century with the suffragists and abolitionists. It’s worth savoring the evening’s successes: Women spearheaded the charge to flip the House with two Muslim winners (Democrats Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan), a lesbian Native American (Democrat Sharice Davids of Kansas), and the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress (29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York’s 14th district). Since we all benefit from the improved status of our most marginalized and vulnerable, their successes are everyone’s successes.
Don’t avoid all conflict
While many of us will need a break from political debates — and should take the time we need to regroup and rejuvenate — Bybee encourages us to keep the discussion going with people whose views differ from our own. Studies show that we tend to steer clear of political discussions when confronted with people whose views depart from ours, but Bybee suggests we do the opposite. He cites the most sacred document in our country, the U.S. Constitution, as a exemplary example of greatness born of contentious debate. “Conflict in community is the gas in the tank that makes the deliberative process go,” he said in a past interview with Thrive Global. “It’s through conflict that we arrive at a shared understanding of what the public interest is. It shouldn’t be avoided, it should be embraced and relied upon.” A 2015 study published in Science, in fact, suggests that by entering a discourse with someone who’s ideologically opposed to your beliefs can potentially change their mind, so keep having those heated discussions, but do so with respect.
Proceed with dignity
A common cultural misperception is that we have to like each other in order to be civil with one another, says Bybee. It’s tricky, but even when we dislike an adversary — and/or the beliefs they espouse — we should always model respect. Michelle Obama captured this point well when she memorably said at a speech in July 2016: “When they go low, we go high.” On Nov. 5, the former first lady powerfully expanded on her point in an interview with Blavity, a website focused on Black Millennials, telling readers: “I absolutely still believe that we’ve got to go high ― always and without exception. It’s the only way we can keep our dignity. Because if we lose our dignity, what do we have left?”
Cranking up your civility has proven benefits too: A study of civility in the workplace showed that those who were perceived as civil earned higher regard from colleagues and performed better at work. Courtesy goes a long way.
The United States holds more elections than any other country on Earth, Bybee says, so no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, accept your temporary defeats and get involved in local or national affairs. Studies indicate that volunteering — participating in a cause greater than yourself — is a surefire way to boost your well-being.
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