Communication Self Improvement — 07 November 2016
Why Does Political Variance Evoke Negative Emotions?

One of the most bonding elements between people is their like-mindedness. It affirms their own position and draws them closer to each other. A variance of opinions tends to distance people from each other leading to their withdrawal by claiming to not being “understood” or supported.

Our political system, established by our forefathers, was skillfully designed to be fair and inclusive. It afforded all adult citizens the right to vote and created electing a president as an egalitarian process determined by the majority of the citizenry. Yet, this fair and inclusive way has evoked strong and even combative attitudes between the parties, leaders, individuals and even among beloved family members who disagree. How can we comprehend feuding in an inclusive and fair system?

Alexander Hamilton, chief of staff of General George Washington and a great advocate of the U.S. Constitution wrote, “A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large, in voting at elections, is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law.”

In “Why Seemingly Trivial Events Sometimes Evoke Strong Emotional Reactions: The Role of Social Exchange Rule Violations” researchers Mark Leary and Associates found that “People sometimes display very strong emotional reactions to events that, from an outsider’s perspective, far exceed the response necessary to deal with the situation, if indeed any response is needed at all. In many instances, seemingly trivial events provoke strong, sometimes combative reactions that appear to be disproportionate to the seriousness of the precipitating event.”

In “Reactions to others’ selfish actions in the absence of tangible consequences”, researchers A. B. Allen and M. R. Leary found that “Participants who received a selfish explanation responded strongly to the other person whether or not the person’s decision had tangible consequences for them.”

Perhaps the agitation one may feel about another’s choice of a candidate that is different than his/her own may be due to the discomfort about their discrepant views. Unlike mindedness estranges people from one another, while like-mindedness breeds comfort, mutuality and closeness. It reinforces their own logic and loyalty to their candidate and offers a sense of comradery with those who share the same views.

Psychologically, all beings learned from early childhood that pleasing their parents rendered them greater benefits than being oppositional. The need to belong, be affirmed, liked and well-regarded propels most individuals to find ways to agree with one another. Yet, not all opinions and preferences can be matched even between those who wish for harmonious connection with others.

To become more tolerant and respectful of diverging views:

  • Accept that the variance in individuals’ views, needs and wants may be innate and thus unchangeable.
  • Will yourself to stay respectful of others even when their preferences greatly differ from yours.
  • There is no a “right” or “wrong” way to think and feel – but there is always a kind way to treat others.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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