We must listen to each other to mend the divide | Guest Column

by Dr. Julie Gottman

Orcas Island

I started the day listening to Hillary, listening to Obama, and crying in the shower. Last night’s election results were crushing. Did they represent the supremacy of hate? Perhaps. The brilliant political activist and commentator, Van Jones called Trump’s success a “Whitelash.” Well said.

Early today I spoke with a client. This is Orcas Island, so like myself, he leans left. We wrestled with bewilderment. He mentioned that last night, he had responded to his wife’s despair with a surge of protectiveness. He had tried to calm and quiet her. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the response she was looking for. Tension had risen. He stared at his own feelings of powerlessness. And inwardly, so did I. What now?

We are a divided nation. We cast daggers at each other. We malign those different from us. We see Other as Enemy. We falsely believe we are superior to those who have less, think less, possess less than ourselves. That’s what this election has revealed. We are guilty, too, of vilifying Other, in this case the Other who cast a different vote from ours. We, too, are caught up in this cycle of hate. It has to stop.

My husband and I have read Anatol Rapoport’s work on how nations make peace. Rapoport was very wise. He said, ‘Nations must first hear, understand, summarize and validate each other’s points of view before persuasion can take place. John and I have studied how couples create successful relationships for 45 years. The research videotapes of healthy couples all demonstrated the same principle. Only by first listening and understanding did healthy couples later manage to reach compromise. We folded Rapoport’s insight into a blueprint for couples’ conflict resolution and clinically tested it. So far it works.

We face a bigger challenge now. Some of our neighbors are Other for us, and we are Other for them. How do we live together now, after all this?

We have to listen without jumping down each others’ throats. Really listen. What have they experienced? What have they suffered? Why are they so angry? And even more important, what is their greatest fear? For it’s fear that has driven this election. Fear of job loss and poverty, fear of being out-paced, out-educated, out-smarted, out-tech-ed, out-majority-ed, out-numbered, out-classed, out-holy-ed, out-gendered, out-colored, out-powered. So many fears. Fear leads us to pull inwards. To duck our heads in ignorance and cover it all up with anger.

Perhaps I’m being pollyanish. But I do believe the only way forward is to listen, and “listen good.” Listen to Other, and not just the ones we resemble. Listen until it breaks our hearts. Listen to the pain, the fear, the drowning. Ask questions. Pay attention. And only when we’ve deeply understood the Other, whoever he or she is, bring up our own ideas to consider.

We also need to reach out to those at risk – Immigrants, Muslims, Jews, Mormons, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, members of the LGBTQ community, women, the disabled, any whose rights and very lives are in jeopardy, our proud rainbow of people. And look forward. 2018 is only two years away. Let’s go to work.

Julie Gottman is a clinical psychologist and co-founder and President of The Gottman Institute, and Clinical Supervisor for the Couples Together Against Violence study.