Acting with differentiation can provoke an interpersonal revolution that could lead to a social revolution. Yes, it is hard.
Question from a friend:
It doesn’t work and when I asked you how many people you’d won over, I got crickets. However, if I asked you how many people you’ve alienated and/or relationships you’d damaged, I’ll bet that number is significant. What you’re going to wind up with is a small mutual admiration society. This sort of relationship practice has been around for a long time – nothing new and certainly not revolutionary. You are becoming the fish who doesn’t know what water is. Frankly, it’s sad to watch and I don’t know that I can do it for much longer.
I am going to avoid the hostility because I can see you are struggling and I don’t do symmetrical escalation on Facebook anymore. I will try to take a differentiated approach. This (below) is something I developed a few years ago as part of my Changing Hearts and Minds Program. I appreciate that nobody wants anyone to think they are an asshole, but at the same time, I would hope that as friends and teachers we would want to have some impact on dysfunctional behavior. I started developing these ideas right after 911 when it was clear to me that the clash of civilizations was going to mean that we in the west were going to need to have some effect on dysfunctional radical fundamentalism in the Muslim world. I believed my profession was not providing answers. Empathy for destructive entitlement does not work. It exacerbates the problem.
“Durable culture change can occur quickly if courageous individuals change their behavior and have the power to influence others to do the same (Feldman, M.L. and Spratt, M.F. 1999). In the mental health field my experience has been that we can get caught up in the political correctness of the dominant culture and believe that prolonged niceness can engender culture change over time. I believe this is fallacious thinking. Cultures change through abrupt shifts in leadership emphasis that alter individual attitudes and behaviors and sociotechnical systems (Freedman 2001).”
Then this new paradigm couples therapy approach:
“I would also argue that family therapy has all too often embraced the collaboration model (below), which has impacted the outcomes in the field (Consumer Reports, 1995). This area has not been studied sufficiently because it is an alternative to the dominant discourse. Couples therapy, in particular, which is represented best in this realm by Gottman (1994), might be seen as the best therapeutic opportunity to create synergy, but has been particularly prone to adopting the multicultural paradigm that can be characterized as follows:
Multi-Lateral Empathy – Tiptoeing Around Differences – Reframing – Decrease in Tension – Acceptance of Difference
The synergistic paradigm in couples therapy, which I would attribute originally to Bowen (1978) and, Schnarch (1991) posits something more like the following:
Containment – Access – Truth – Reconciliation – Change
Further response to my friend:
When I invited you on my show as part of a series with Conservatives who work in “liberal” professions it was because I wanted to encourage you to be a change agent as above. If conservatives begin to speak out in public schools, or other union environments, or as government employees, there could be a powerful effect. Those that speak out will be taking enormous career and interpersonal risks. I have empathy for your plight. As we have since spoken, and you have shared with me your decision to withdraw from Facebook and conflict I have come to understand that the timing is not right for you as a dad with young children and living in a small community etc. I totally appreciate and accept your decision. But don’t forget, I am about 15 years down the road. My kids are almost 30 and I have made a different decision at this stage of my life. I desire a more revolutionary approach as above. So, I respect your decisions and your interpersonal approach, and I hope you will also respect mine.
What I hope I am modeling in this dialogue is the difference between empathy and differentiation.
Empathy: Appreciating the unique perspective and emotional experience of the other.
Differentiation is the capacity to express difference without anxious reactivity, or the capacity to be separate and connected simultaneously.
The differentiation literature is vast, and it overlaps psychology, family therapy, and organizational development.
Finally, as my friend intimated above, taking an assertive approach in relationships can lead to some people thinking one is an asshole, especially folks that lack the capacity for differentiation. But, my contention is that by not acting with differentiation, conservatives, especially, have allowed bad ideas and dysfunctional behaviors to flourish. We have been enablers. By prioritizing relationships over values, we have given power to nonsensical conventional wisdom, and the societal results have been devastating.
The Revolution for Truth and Common Sense is an attempt to reverse that trend. Come on along.