The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

I’m not a political expert

Authored by John Bell, M. Div.

I’m not a political expert.  But I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to make sense of the senate confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a hearing focused on accusations of sexual misconduct and excessive drinking.  Opinions vary dramatically on the “reasons” for the partisan fight and who is to blame.  I’ve learned over the years that “blame” misses the mark when it comes to understanding what’s actually going on.  It’s about process.

I could be wrong about this, but it seems as if both parties are operating under the assumption that when they are in power it is only temporary, and they must push, push, push their agenda as much as possible.  The result is that they to go, go, go while they can because the two-party system is like a pendulum that swings back and forth.  They have to get to gettin’ while the gettin’s good.  This might explain why senate republicans pushed through a nomination that had little public support and it passed by one of the smallest majorities ever.  And if I’m right, then the midterm and the presidential election will result in democrats regaining control of the legislative process and perhaps the executive branch.

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona made several interesting statements during the last week of the process.  One that stood out was his comment that there is no currency in politics for bipartisanism.  There is a cost.  Dr. Murray Bowen wrote a decade ago that society was trending towards regression.  Polarization was one of the indicators.  As polarization increases, cooperation and collaboration decrease.  What would it take for legislators to value and work towards bipartisan compromise?

This swing back and forth seems to be motivated by ideological fears that are fueled by anxiety.  Fear is powerful.  The perception that ideological correctness will solve our fears is not based on facts (an idea I highlighted in last week’s blog).  Calmness is equated with control.  It’s the false belief that, “If our side is in control, then we can rest easy.”  The other side holds the same belief.  The focus is no longer on solving problems but to be in control.  It’s personal.  So long as the focus is on winning, the back and forth effort distracts us from addressing systemic problems.  In other words, the push for electing politicians who represent a specific ideology is exasperating the problem.

Families get into similar jams.  As tension mounts in the family, individuals slide into factions.  People say things like, “You are wrong.”  “I’m right.”  “I’m not speaking to so and so.”  “They are so wrong that I I can’t be in the same room with them.”  When families are reactive and anxious there is no currency for working together to address challenging problems in the family.  It becomes personal.  What makes the difference are family leaders who understand conflict from a systems perspective and who can shift their functioning into a more thoughtful response to the problem.  Dr. Bowen described this as a shift in the emotional process that results from one person’s effort towards differentiation of self.

These larger societal problems and processes are reflective of the current state of the family.  It’s difficult to conceive of a society that does better without seeing an improvement in families.  Political institutions tend to mirror the state of the family.  Families who are working to do better do contribute to the health and well-being of their neighborhoods, institutions, communities and society.  I believe that’s a fact, but I’m not a political expert.

 Reprinted from Thinking Congregations with permission of author


John Bell

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