I have watched with interest a dynamic playing out in Washington, D.C. in the past couple of weeks.
Immediately after the "Fiscal Cliff" deal, House Speaker John Boehner essentially said "I'm not going to negotiate with the President face-to-face anymore."
Yesterday in his press conference, President Obama essentially said, "I'm not going to negotiate with the Republicans anymore."
Yours truly said, "Hmmm." Such commentary has become increasingly familiar in our society, and I would like to submit that the President and Speaker of the House are simply playing out the emotional processes which are at work in our society--processes which have their roots deep within the emotional processes of our nation.
Thinking back to the Revolutionary War, the 13 colonies essentially broke away because no one wanted to negotiate. Folks in the colonies were adamant that taxation without representation was wrong. Folks across the pond thought the colonies should be good vassals and do what they were told. An impasse ensued. Parties turned their backs on each other, war ensued.
I would argue, at this stage, after spending more than a few years with Bowen Family Systems, that the taxation without representation issue wasn't the issue. It became the binding mechanism which gave an excuse for war with England, but the issue ran much deeper--it was something deep in the emotional process and a failure to deal with the forces of togetherness and separation.
Similarly, in the Civil War, such processes were at work. Sure, slavery was an issue, but it wasn't the issue. State's rights were an issue, but they weren't the issue. Whether or not the U.S. economical and political agendas would be set by industry or agriculture was an issue, but it wasn't the issue. Again, the emotional processes of togetherness and separation were rearing their heads. War ensued.
These forces of togetherness and separation are constantly working within our society. You can tell when they are bringing things to a head when polarization occurs--when people become consumed with either/or thinking. Emotional outbursts become common. Negotiation ceases. Blame gets thrown around. People use the accusatory "you" instead of defining self with "I". Anxiety spikes.
In my class, we asked the instructor, "What is something that can help diffuse this anxiety and let it out of the system?"
His reply, "War usually is a good one." (Not that he was calling war good, mind you. But, in the history of the world, war is a tremendous expulsion of anxiety.)
We replied, "Any other alternatives?"
Well, there are other alternatives. Those of us who take this class know this. Our instructor knows this. But it is the implementation of such alternatives that are quite difficult; for like it or not, most of us are caught up in those emotional processes which are coursing through society. Most of us are caught up in the anxiety of society as well. Most of us find ourselves wound up about hot button issues and clamor to do something about it. Most of us worry about the future and what we see coming. Some have even gone so far to suggest the Union should break up--don't laugh. Conservatives after the last election aren't the only ones saying such things. Don't believe me, take a look at my posting on Another D@mn School Shooting and see what commentator Gary says about such matters. He's an admitted left hand side of the fencer.
So, what are those alternatives?
Leadership--the ability of leaders to stay connected with others while maintaining their principles and values. Having a clear vision of where one wants to go, and articulating that to the best of one's ability--inviting others to join, but allowing people to disagree and walk away from that vision.
Asking different questions--Usually, we get caught up in trying to offer the same answers to the same questions. It takes thought, creativity, and imagination to ask different questions.
Changing self instead of changing others--When you operate within a system, changing your own stance affects everything around you--if you maintain connectedness. Simply acting or thinking differently will impact others. The unfortunate corollary is that the system will try to bring you back to the way you were acting previously. The ability to maintain one's stance while staying connected in the face of resistance is important.
Realizing you are responsible for your self and not for others--this can be difficult for those of us in "helper" professions. We want to help people, ease pain, be compassionate. Sometimes, the most compassionate thing is to allow people to work through their own emotional pain and suffering instead of trying to fix things.
These are just a few items that Bowen Systems Theory tells us about. I find them very compatible with Christianity and much needed in the cultural milieu that surrounds us.
I have often said that Christianity is not about how you treat the people who agree and are like you, but how we treat those who are different from us in their beliefs and actions. Fundamentally, God could have cut us off and stopped negotiating with us and we with Him. We didn't follow His law and were deserving of punishment and death (the ultimate cut-off in negotiation)--and in fact, there are several instances where God threatened this very thing. We don't like following God's law and way of doing things because 1) it's hard and 2) it's a lot more fun and easier doing all those things which are self-centered. For centuries, God operated by trying to punish us and make us follow the law, but God recognized the futility of doing this, so He changed His stance. He sent a Savior who took our sin upon Him. Instead of punishment, through Christ, we were given freedom. And now, we have the choice to abuse it or use it to fulfill God's purposes. It was a fundamentally different way of doing things. It raised different questions and prompted a different way of interacting with the world.
This is a message I believe the world, especially the U.S. needs to hear. Unfortunately, we in the church are not immune from those emotional processes affecting our nation. We too are experiencing polarization around issues. We too are affected by all the political debate.
Is it possible to break through such things? Is it possible to break through the "I will not negotiate!" attitude and maintain relationships even through disagreement?
Yours truly wouldn't still be a part of his particular denomination if he didn't believe it was possible. It can be done. It's difficult, but I think it's worth it.