We're transcending the age of trickle-down economics and "I'm-the-decider" political power and entering an era of democratic expressionism. Power is now flowing from the bottom up, thanks to the internet and the mobilization of collective awareness.
Progressives can hold onto this power and pass it along to the next generation if we refrain from the personality clashes, political infighting, and policy civil wars that have undermined our initiatives in years past. Doing so requires that, individually, we achieve the level of integrity, wisdom, and compassion that we have wanted so desperately to see in our political leaders.
How's that done? We can start by understanding that any dissension, bitterness, or passive-aggressive reactions that arise within our ranks are products of our own negativity. No more blaming is allowed. What does that mean, exactly?
Human nature has a positive side and a negative side. It's that negative side in our own psyche that all of humanity has been reluctant to study and understand. It's hard to see deeply into ourselves because of our psychological defenses, especially denial and blaming.
I've identified four pitfalls that can bedevil progressives as we work together for a brighter future.
The first is to tumble into feelings of being slighted or disrespected in the free-for-all exchange of views that marks the democratic process. Some of us, as we do our part to reclaim America from the Know-Nothings and the Me-Firsters, will feel marginalized or unappreciated by our colleagues in reform. Feelings of anger and urges to recriminate can then overtake us.
Such feelings emerge from our own unresolved issues. We probably felt this way in our family of origin. If these feelings are unresolved, we will transfer them onto others and situations in our daily life. Doing so means we have lost our objectivity. We're taking things personally. We've become entangled in the negative or the dark side.
We can avoid the dark side if we recognize our temptation to recycle old hurts. We also notice how we want to blame others instead of "owning up" to the fact that our negative feelings have their source in ourselves. Or we blame ourselves but for the wrong reasons.
Whether we're engaged politically at a community level or national level, it's true that our efforts could be discounted and our ideas, proposals, and sense of reality pushed aside in the process whereby decisions are made and policies are established for the common good. If we don't get triggered, we'll believe in the value of our contribution and take a lot of satisfaction-even pleasure and joy-in the fact that we're doing our best.
The second pitfall is related to the first. We can get triggered by feelings of disappointment. Our disappointment could be based on our impression that we're not contributing enough to reform or renewal. Or we could feel that others are disappointed in us. This feeling has its source in our own secret readiness to feel that we are a disappointment to ourselves and others. Under this influence, we can more easily become disappointed in our leaders, as well as dispirited in the struggle for progress as we doubt our personal value and the value of our ideals.
The third pitfall involves reacting to the feeling of being dominated or pushed around by friends and associates who might be, in their enthusiasm for change, more articulate or assertive than us. Here we would be reacting to our own unresolved issues with helplessness and feeling controlled. This unpleasant impression of being controlled originates in the anal stage of childhood development, particularly with toilet training.
With this issue, an individual's feeling of being dominated is very painful. Frequent reactions include becoming stubborn and passive-aggressive. An individual can break out of this emotional impasse by recognizing his or her unconscious choice to interpret present-day challenges through the old feeling of being dominated or imposed upon by others.
Finally, some of us become entangled in the negative side of criticism and judgment. We can quickly feel belittled by our impressions of being criticized, even when others have not intended to be critical. With this unresolved issue, we can simultaneously be harshly critical of ourselves or critical and judgmental of others.
Tumbling into these four pitfalls can produce withdrawal, passive-aggressive refusals to cooperate, as well as anger, creativity blocks, disillusionment, and other forms of self-defeating behaviors.Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once said that "the capacity for self-correction" is democracy's greatest virtue. We can expand that to say that "our capacity for emotional self-regulation" is humanity's greatest virtue.