Wednesday, November 23, 2016
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This quotation by George Santayana has taken many forms throughout the years and been attributed to many. It feels particularly apropos right now. No, this is not going to be a political commentary. That's not what this blog is about. This blog is about my personal observations and their relation to the Trenches. I have to tell you that since the election, I've had a difficult time focusing on this blog, not because I didn't have anything to say, but rather because I could not order my thoughts in order to fit them into this blog.
The reason the opening quotation to this post is so apt is because the words are so subjective. What is the past to which we refer? Is it the past of slavery, segregation, Japanese internment camps, and concentration camps? Is it the past where the only people with votes were white landowning males? Is it the the past of abolition and of women's rights? Is it the past of integration and civil rights? Is it the past of non-partisan politics? Is it the past of the forces which led to the Great Depression? Is it the past of the creation of Social Security and Medicare/ Medicaid? Is it the past of the nuclear family; or the demise of it? Is it the rise of corporate farming and genetically engineered food; or the lack of sufficient food for all? Is it the past of global inclusion or the past of isolationism? Is it the conditions that led to climate change? Is it the denial of global climate change? Go out on the street corner and ask any ten people to define the "past" in the Santayana quotation, and I'll bet you'll get at least 5 different answers.
Here in the Trenches, everyone has their own version of the past. Was the past when he cheated? Or was the past when she criticized everything he did for years? Was the past when she ran up the credit cards? Or was it when he stopped putting enough money in the bank to pay for household expenses? Was the past when they agreed one of them would stay home to raise the kids? Or was the past when the stay at home parent refused to go back to work? In the end of any marriage, the spouses almost never agree on the defining moment for the beginning of that end.
This presidential election has caused a lot of people to question everything they thought they knew about America. Those people are confused that the country in which they thought they were living isn't the country that the election results indicated. The same kinds of feelings come with the end of a marriage. Sure, there are some divorces in which both parties agree that they need to part and why. With most, however, the behavior of one spouse leading up to their separation leaves the other wondering how they could have known their spouse so little. I can't tell you how many times a client tells me that their marriage was great and the divorce came out of the blue. I wish I had a nickel for every time a client told me that they didn't understand how their spouse could do "x", because it wasn't like them.
That other people in my society have different views than I about from which past we need to learn, which in turn leads to actions that are not in keeping with my belief about the tolerance and inclusion of the American people, is causing me a lot of stress. The same is true of our clients who discover that the marriage that they thought they had and the spouse they thought they married are not in keeping with objective facts. What I am describing is cognitive dissonance. Humans don't like cognitive dissonance; it's stressful. Our entire country in general and my clients in particular suffer from this stress.
What to do to reduce that stress? You can do any one of four things. You could change your cognition. In my case, it would be to see America as it is and not how I thought it to be. You could justify the cognition by changing the conflict. In my case, again, it would be that people like me live in the America I see, and those who don't agree with me are simply not as educated. You could justify the belief by adding new pieces to it. Again, in my case, it would be to acknowledge that America isn't as I thought it to be, but come up with ways I could make it the way I thought it was. Finally, you could ignore any information that conflicts with your belief. I find that last one is really unhelpful, yet it seems to be the one many Americans and my clients choose. Kind of like an ostrich sticking their head in the sand; the problem is still there when you emerge. Which stress reduction method would you choose? Here in the Trenches.