Election time is again upon us. Many in our country are sad to find that the process has become distorted . . . characterized by mudslinging, lies, destructive behavior. How did our election process get this way?
We have to understand that the election process did not get this way overnight, but has, almost since its inception in this country, had the seeds of distortion in it. Our ancestors came to America because they felt powerless in England. They tried to create a country in which they would not feel powerless. They even created an elections system in which they would not feel powerless. One in which they, as citizens, could have some power in the selection of their leaders.
But look at what’s happened with elections. Here are some examples earlier in our history. In 1828, supporters of John Quincy Adams insinuated that Andrew Jackson’s mother was a prostitute and his wife an adulteress. In 1884 there were anti-Catholic statements made by a minister . . . and there were chants against Grover Cleveland, who, it was discovered, fathered a child out of wedlock and had the child put in an orphanage. These sound like something we could see or hear in the political arena today.
But the roots of distortions in the election process are the same, whether in 1810, in 1910, or in 2010. As humans we will go to extraordinary lengths to keep our feelings at bay. Our earliest pain, fear, rage, and powerlessness. All to get away from those primal feelings . . . but especially the feelings of powerlessness. The very feelings that brought us to America!
How does this priority of holding feelings at bay play itself out in our country in relation to elections?
If you were once powerless as a young child and it was not a good experience, you will do anything to keep from being powerless again . . . or even feeling powerless again . . . or even having the unconscious memory of your powerlessness be triggered again!
Losing an election would definitely trigger powerlessness, wouldn’t it? Being attacked during an election campaign would certainly trigger powerlessness, wouldn’t it? Having skeletons in your closet that are discovered and revealed would, of course, trigger powerlessness, wouldn’t it? As a matter of fact, even just having skeletons hidden in your closet would trigger powerlessness, wouldn’t it?
So . . .
Would you spread rumors? Lie? Slander an opponent . . . to win an election? To keep from feeling powerless?
Would you become an archaeologist seeking old news about your opponent . . . to win an election? To keep from feeling powerless?
Would you seduce voters with charm, false promises, half truths . . . to win an election? To keep from feeling powerless?
Would you cheat at the polls . . . to win an election? To keep from feeling powerless?
Would you steal funds to support your campaign, or take funds anywhere you can get them, even from dubious sources . . . to win an election? To keep from feeling powerless?
Would you prevent voters from voting . . . to win an election? To keep from feeling powerless?
Would you numb yourself out during the election campaign? To keep from feeling powerless?
Would you refuse to participate in an election in any way? To keep from feeling powerless?
How do we each contribute to these distortions? By defending against our own early feelings of powerlessness instead of exploring them, working with them, building the capacity to feel them, and then not having to defend against them anymore. And how are we each contributing to these distortions in relation to the elections? By using the elections as a defense against our own feelings of powerlessness. Or by using the elections as a trigger to our own early feelings of powerlessness and just going with it instead of healing it.
Think how powerful everyone involved in an election feels . . . as they go campaigning all over the countryside; as they dig up “dirt” on the other side; as they raise funds for negative campaign ads; as they “get off on” getting even uglier than their opponents. Or better still . . . think how much doing all those things keeps someone from feeling powerless!
So . . . how can we truly heal our relationship with our country’s election process . . . and change the process itself from the inside out?
By doing our own inner work related to our early feelings of powerlessness and how we are superimposing our early feelings and our defenses against those feelings onto our elections. We may not heal the entire process this year! But you’d be surprised how much even working with this over the next days leading up to this year’s election can do. And beginning right now can open the way to truly healing our elections in years to come.
Will you join us?
© Judith Barr, 2010