Gratitude When Values Clash

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Every four years, families sit down together after a presidential election. They set aside their political differences to appreciate each other and feel gratitude for the gifts of family, and the wonders of being alive. Political divisions are as old as democratic societies that make room for diverse and opposing views. At least now we are far more civil than long ago when people dueled, staking their lives over opposing positions.

Nevertheless, this season can be challenging, not just for families, but also for circles of friends, and work colleagues and teams. Civility and politeness in politics and being respectful and considerate to others’ views has been a casualty of our 2016 election cycle. As The Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Bernstein notes on how to avoid a family blowup at Thanksgiving, “the election has left Americans polarized and resentful. Emotions are high. Empathy is low.” The Harvard Gazette just published an article: New national motto: You’re wrong, I’m right.

Of course, we didn’t arrive at this deep level of polarization overnight. But now that it’s out in plain view, we need new ways to navigate our differences. I want to offer a perspective based upon the notion that the human mind is a collection of independent and distinct parts, each with its own agenda, beautifully depicted in the Pixar movie, Inside Out. My strengths-based model of the multiplicity of mind is made up of an inner family: the Mindful Self and nine life forces. It’s explored in the new Harvard Health book, Organize Your Emotions, Optimize Your Life.

The Mindful Self steps back and detaches from our strongest and loudest voices, and draws out other voices to provide more balance in the inner dialogue. Then we can tune into a variety of life forces to diversify perspectives and bring more wisdom and even gratitude, especially when parts of you don’t feel grateful. Here’s what this might look like as we approach work, social, and family events over the holiday season and deal with inner and outer conflicts.

Autonomy (authenticity, values, self-determination): The political values of someone close (family, friend or colleague) conflict with values I hold dear, and maybe even conflict with my self-actualization.

Standard Setter (setting standards and judging): I agree with Autonomy. These opposing values are simply not acceptable and not good for us. I will not lower my standards.

Adventurer (new experience and learning): It might be helpful to have an open mind here. I wonder whether we could set aside self-concerns and judgment and get curious about what is driving these opposite values – life experience, priorities, deep wiring? Maybe there is something new to appreciate, to learn.

Relational (puts others first and wants social harmony): I’m remembering an old adage of parenting – you can be right, or you can have the relationship, but sometimes you can’t have both. How about we empathize with the opposing view, even if we disagree, and choose the relationship? We could shift focus to what we appreciate, and our common values, not only on where we differ.

Creative (out-of-the box thinking): Let’s find some humor. What if we pivot to having fun together like we used to, telling jokes, playing games, even being able to appreciate the satire inherent to the situation?

Meaning Maker (zoom out to meaning and purpose): Let’s look at the higher meaning. A first step in a major disagreement with someone close is to seek to understand, appreciate, and respect the other side, channeling one’s higher self. Perhaps the real learning is to upgrade our acceptance of others and what we can’t change. Expand our limits of compassion. We could then be grateful for the gifts of this experience. We may even be a role model for those whose values clash with ours.

Body Regulator (concerned with health and balance): Let’s chill and enjoy each other. And don’t forget to get in a workout, savor every bite, and hold back on overeating along with strong emotions.

In the best case, family, friends, and colleagues with opposing values and views come together to find common ground, acknowledging the good in both perspectives. We then go on to improve our relationships. That’s the beautiful upside of polarization: we are grateful for opposing views. They can lead us together to a better place.

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