A year ago, it felt like we were living in the best country in the world. People seemed to be getting along, at least on the surface. The stock market was up. There was excitement about the Olympics. Facebook was full of the required life’s greatest-hits.
What happened? Statistics suggest the same trends are humming along. But in the past fourteen months, humanity seems to have gone off a cliff. Donald Trump’s recent RNC convention speech was a great recap of the U.S. going from seemingly calm to chaos. If Mr. Moviefone were to write a review of Mr. Trump’s rant, it might be: “It’s all fear. Fear. Fear. Me. Me. Me. With all that, a lot of people do fear you. I’m out!” (B.T.W., why doesn’t Mr. Moviefone cover politics? It would save us all time.)
As the presidential race kicks into high gear, we’re finding out things about people that we never knew; political affiliations, religious views or that some colleagues, friends and relatives are just plain loco. You might even be in your own social media battles. “How could you support Hillary, she’s crooked.” “I can’t believe you support that conman, Trump.” Blah, blah, blah. And the dinner conversations of who’s unfriending whom because of their political views. Shots are being fired on all sides.
With some patience and compassion, the presidential race could actually bring out our humanity, sparking good debate about the direction of the country, about our similarities and differences. But no, that would be boring. Extreme opposites get our brains to pay better attention (at least, that’s what science says). And the media needs ratings. This advertising windfall doesn’t happen every year.
3 Areas of Stress
But this time it’s way different. We’re now being asked to see America as a dystopian society where we’re all at risk, fear rules the day and it’s getting worse by the minute. It all feels very MadMax V: This Time It’s Political. The alarming political views don’t jive with the facts and statistics. But that doesn’t matter. As John Oliver pointed out this week, if people compare emotions instead of facts, we’ll remain stuck. Right now, we’re in a cycle that feeds on three areas of stress:
1. No one is good enough
Each candidate has been masterful at creating false praise for themselves while simultaneously damaging their competitors. Sadly, name calling and low blows is the new norm. The recent Brexit showed us that the U.S. is not alone when it comes to politicians using fear tactics and schoolboy name calling in place of professionalism, compassion and real plans.
2. It’s all going to hell
Nothing works and it’s all getting worse. Forget the turnaround in the stock market. Forget the lowest unemployment in years. Or enjoying the Olympics (Zika!). Don’t even think about being open to people that may be different than you. Dig down and protect your own. Because that always works, right?
3. Everyone is out to get you
Global warming. Corrupt politicians. Russia. Terrorism. The I.R.S. Everyone and everything is working against us. You better get yours, cause I’m gonna get mine.
It’s been so stressful, the better tagline for this campaign might be, “Make America Great Again, before the zombie apocalypse.”
If Facebook and Twitter are any indicator, the same manipulation and labeling seem to be trickling down to the average Joe. Creating anxiety and proposing pseudo solutions is a cornerstone for folks that thrive on politics and insecurity. You may know the type that touts their wins, when everything is “great” and “successful.” We all like looking good. The bigger problem is when even that’s not enough, groupthink requires labeling entire segments of other people to be the losers.
It’s no surprise that our national divisions are now making their way into our personal relationships. An old saying goes, “The way you do one thing is the way you do all things.”
Getting stuck in a team or family culture of us against them is all too easy. And it can do lasting damage. Politics are politics at any level. Real discourse requires patience, openness and curiosity.
It’s a long road to November. This country is good and could be better. Yes, we have major issues. Terrorism, cyber theft, national debt – the list goes on. But if we (and especially our so-called leaders) can’t treat each other with decency and respect, what chance do we have to solve bigger issues?
How to “Make America Chill Again”
Rather than “Make America Great Again,” let’s start smaller. In the spirit of creating a more kind, open and connected society, let’s “Make America Chill Again”:
1. Filter your words
What if everything you said went through a three-step filter: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? If that occurred in the current presidential election, candidates would respectfully lose 25% to 75% of their campaign speeches. True. Kind. Necessary. Imagine what political debates would look like if they focused on change vs. making themselves look good and their adversaries look bad.
2. Apologize to someone today
We all carry around unresolved issues. Over time, that resentment does harm to the person carrying the resentment, not the one being resented. If you could pick one issue in your life and forgive the individual that hurt you (without any conditions), how much would that be worth? Imagine a calmer, happier you every day. Make the call. Today. For yourself.
3. Expect and offer transparency
Let others know what is upsetting you. Expecting them to guess while you seethe silently prolongs pain and divides further. It’s okay to have differences. In fact, recognizing differences makes the world interesting. We can love family and friends regardless of their political affiliation. Maybe even if they support the Green Party.
4. Wish your “enemy” well
Rather than making pretend enemies, pick the one Facebook or Twitter friend that has turned you off during this election to the point where you’re about to unfriend their stupid @ss. Now, instead of doing that, take a minute to wish them well. Simply say to yourself, “May you be happy. May you be open to others. May you find joy. And may we be friends.” #letitgo
This political craziness is likely to happen every four years. The past few weeks have show us that anyone can spread fear. No matter our beliefs, we can also spread acceptance, kindness and compassion. All sides need to do better. The inner divide starts in our own heads. Deal with it there and we’ll be more thoughtful in recognizing how we feel, what we think and what comes out of our mouths. We get to pick our battles wisely.
Seriously, it’s time to “Make America Chill Again.” Then we can deal with the big stuff.
This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.