We need no reminding of what kind of year this has been, not only for us, but for the whole world.
COVID-19, documented systemic racism, unrest, protests, riots, hurricanes — that would be enough, if that’s all there was.
Add a contentious election in a divided nation to the mix, and our cup overflows.
We are living in an anxious time full of conflict, fear, anger, stress, hopelessness, and a failure of a national, collective, moral imagination to rise up together, above the fray, and, in the words of Dr. King, to make of this old world a new one.
We are stressed.
For example, the election was inducing anxiety in us well before the pandemic, George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s deaths, and the slew of other events that have upended any sense of normalcy or calm.
A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association toward the end of 2019 found that 56% of adults in the United States identified the upcoming presidential election as a significant stressor in their lives. A fall 2020 update puts that number at 68%.
There are, of course, myriad reasons why.
In May, Modern Health conducted research demonstrating that nearly half of those surveyed report feeling more stress as a result of COVID-19 than at any other time of their lives.
Add everything else on top, and voila, emotional, mental, and behavioral stress and anxiety sweep across the nation like a wildfire, leaving no one unscorched.
While volumes could be written on the factors that weigh into this phenomenon, there is one that we do well to remember: our brains are hard-wired to resist uncertainty.
As a rule, and to keep us safe, our brains demand to know everything going on around us, and they expend a great deal of energy working out millions of possible scenarios in the background in an effort to predict unknowable and likely outcomes to the situations in which we find ourselves.
Research published in the June 2015 edition of the Journal of Anxiety Disorders suggests that something called “intolerance of uncertainty” is a primary feature of anxiety.
In short, we just don’t do well not being able to know, predict, prepare, or plan for what is about to happen.
We react to anxiety differently, depending on so many things.
In an election year as polarizing as this one, debates and argumentation are the go-to reactions for some, complete with misleading information, name-calling, negative spin, accusations, blaming, and mud-slinging.
This, I think we can all agree, doesn’t help matters.
But not everyone reacts this way; there are always the outliers.
In Utah, the Democratic and Republican rivals vying for the governor’s mansion in Salt Lake City have socially distanced themselves from the status quo of enmity in politics, and have come together in a beautiful way to combat the sinister effects of divisiveness.
On Tuesday, the Republican lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox, and the Democratic candidate, Chris Peterson, appeared together, six-feet apart, one in a blue tie and a donkey button and one in a red tie and an elephant button, in a series of public service announcements they released via social media promoting civility in politics.
In one ad, before asking voters to vote for each, the candidates declare that there are some things we all can agree on.
“We can debate issues without degrading one another’s character,” said Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah. “We can disagree without hating each other.”
In another spot, Mr. Cox says, “Although we sit on different sides of the aisle, we are both committed to American civility and a peaceful transition of power,” while both agree to accept the results of their — and the presidential — elections.
They conclude the ads by saying in unison that they approve this message.
Civility — comprised of mutual respect for self and other — is about preserving the dignity of all persons amid our differences, and acknowledging that philosophical and political disagreements do not take away from the humanity of those with whose perspective we dissent.
We need to up our civility game. We need to work for dignity amid our differences. We need to quit with the dehumanizing blame game and the intentional serial spread of mis- and dis-information, and start listening and talking with — not at — one another for the purpose of understanding, not proving something.
Our leaders should be leading with civility. At least Utah can say that theirs are.
Regardless, we — the everyday woman and man doing our jobs, raising our children, wearing our masks, and paying our taxes — can, should, and must learn to practice the art of civility.
It takes the same amount of energy to build up as it does to tear down, and the net effect is good for all of us.
We are all anxious. Control what you can. And in the midst of our intolerance for uncertainty, be certain of this: we can do better.
Dr. Jonathan Eric Carroll, KLPC, NCPC, NCCE, is a state-licensed mental health professional, is an ACPE Psychotherapist, and is the Founder of The Clinic @ The Montgomery in downtown Owensboro. Dr. Carroll serves as the Grief Therapist for six funeral homes in the region. He also co-created and cohosts “You’ll Die Trying,” a podcast available everywhere. Visit www.themontgomeryclinic.com.