Quick summary: How much time and energy do you spend on things that appear to be urgent and important that are not particularly urgent or important to you, your family, or your community directly? My sister sent me an article about how little of an effect politics and government agendas actually have on the more important variables concerning a population such as longevity and overall quality of life. The author provided some very compelling research that very much substantiated his point… he displayed how dramatic government policy shifts ended up having very little effect on variables we tend to think of as most important. I then was reading a condensed version of ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’ and found that the author said somewhat of the same thing… spend most of your energy on that which you can significantly influence. Other sayings started popping in my head such as “think globally act locally”… I came to the realization that I completely agree… my intention would be to do so… but I too get caught up in over thinking about issues that I really don’t have much control over. The process is detrimental on a range from wasted energy all the way to being destructive and isolating as the energy spent often does not produce while it does create more conflict.
In becoming a therapist I did a good share of my own “work”, which involved some extremely helpful supervision and individual therapy.
The best supervisors where the ones that had the courage to help me to explore how my history, my family, and my identity influenced the therapy I conducted; the most memorable help that a supervisor ever gave me was when he asked what my emotional reaction to a specific therapy case had to do with my own history… transformative.
- On a quick side note I was just asked an interesting question the other day being … “If someone goes through a difficult or challenging experience won’t they be better able to help or empathize with someone currently going through the same thing?” – The answer is very often no… if you have not done your work to come to a place of understanding, meaning, and acceptance around a difficulty you survived you may actually be less able to help a person presently going through a similar difficulty… this is related to over identification, projection, and transference (future blog).
Anyway, while doing my own work I found that the way I interacted with politics was destructive and a waste of energy… the shock value news stories we are constantly exposed to tend to elicit strong opinions and the ego (your view of who you are… beliefs, character traits etc) gets very emotional as it defends a topic that it decided to over-attach to.
The ego is why political conversations can get so heated… you identify with the topic and then you actually unconsciously start defending yourself (as you believe that the topic is a symbol of yourself or your history etc) when on the outside it appears that you are still talking about politics (often you are not… you are defending a part of your identity… that is what I was doing).
The point is this – my political conversations (which I often initiated) made people feel isolated and defensive… the conversations took greatly from my energy and wellbeing… and they had pretty much no measurable positive effect on any outcome…
I spent energy and I did not influence in the way I intended to.
In short, arguing about politics is entirely ineffective and the process is often actually destructive.
Solution – What if I did exactly the opposite?
What if instead of arguing over politics I decided to be open-minded, empathetic, and supportive of a person’s right to a differing political opinion?
What influence would that have on important variables?
This is the great irony… in arguing about politics we are trying to have a positive influence on things that are important to us such as family and community; by avoiding political confrontation we would live within those very variables we were trying to create.
By being empathetic, open-minded, and supportive of differing opinions you are actually doing effective work at influencing your family and friend’s wellbeing… these qualities will have a measurable effect in the moment.
You can argue with your brother about the US policy with Iran till your vocal chords dry up… will you effect anything in a measurable way? (obviously this would not apply to people such as the president of the United States – are you the president?… leave a comment)
Spend your energy on being empathetic, understanding, compassionate, open-minded, and supportive instead and this will have the following influence:
- reduces stress and anxiety
- reduce conflict – encourage harmony, ease, and peace
- increase trust and emotional intimacy
- encourage reciprocation of empathy and the other above variables
- encourage more effective communication
- foster a solution focused mindset
- create greater acceptance and less attachment to the ego
What influence would we have on the community if our families and circles of friends were able to access these benefits… what impact would it have on the entire planet if other families and circles of friends started modeling such behaviors…? How would this effect politics? Want to save the world?… Try acceptance… especialy in your family.
This is my own personal example – What do you spend your energy on that does not have the influence that you intend?
How could you use your energy to influence more effectively?
I may no longer read the news everyday… and yet I still help this democratic nation by picking up trash when I’m out in nature, by supporting families and individuals with therapy, by recycling, by modeling a passionate commitment to my relationship, by smiling and honestly wishing kindness to people…