Everything you have ever done, or will do, is done by your chooser to make life wonderful for you. — Marshall Rosenberg
All of us are haunted by decisions we have made. We try to justify them, or more likely, not think about them, but they continue to follow us for years. We may think they are gone, and then they pop up when our mind is quiet, sometimes the middle of the night. According to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, that voice we hear, the one that keeps hounding us, is our “Educator”. This is the part of our psyche who’s job it is to help us learn from our mistakes. As we have evolved we developed this part of our brain to try to keep us alive. If our ancestors reached into a fire for something, and burnt their hand, the Educator had the job of making sure we understood putting our hand in a fire wasn’t a good thing.
But our Educators have become intertwined in every aspect of our lives now. That voice that calls you an idiot? Your Educator. That voice that says you did something wrong? Your Educator. The Educator’s job is to let you know when choices you made didn’t meet your needs. Unfortunately our Educators have been trained from an early age that the best way to educate us is through shame and guilt.
Our Chooser is the voice defending us. Our life is a series of choices; even not making a choice is a choice. There is no other way. According to Dr. Rosenberg our Chooser makes decisions that in the moment are our best attempt to make life wonderful for us. Every decision we make is in that attempt. Sometimes we make decisions without really considering the consequences. Sometimes we can guess the consequences and make the decision anyway. Even if we know the choice may harm someone, sometimes we don’t have the ability to do anything else. And when our Chooser voice hears blame and shame, the natural response is to defend. Nobody wants to feel shame.
I find this very helpful when I think about Trump supporters. I think I’m angrier with them than I am with Trump himself. Every time I see something Trump has done that angers me, which is almost daily, I also get angry thinking of the people that put him in office. How could they have voted for this man? Do they realize what they have done? This is the voice of my Educator. That same voice that yells at me when I do something that doesn’t meet my needs is the voice that is now yelling at Trump supporters. It wants those people to know they have done something that is making life so much more difficult for me. And it wants to blame them and have them feel shame.
But just like the Chooser voice in my head that defends when attacked by the Educator, Trump supporters are doing the same. If you read the comments in social media, they argue there is nothing wrong. “Just give him a chance!” If there is anything wrong, it’s with the people who are resisting. And none of us ever seem to hear each other or connect. And just like this process within us, this wound between the Resistors (Educators) and the Trump supporters (Choosers) in our country isn’t going to heal without a different approach.
John Kinyon and Ike Lasater have developed an internal mediation approach with the Chooser and Educator that I think could be really helpful here. The five steps involve empathizing with the needs of the loudest voice first, which in this case is the voice of those of us angry with the Trump supporters, the Resistors (Educator). Then you empathize with the needs of the second voice, the voice of the Trump Supporters (Chooser). Thirdly you help the second voice, the Supporters, empathize with the first voice, the Resistors.
The fourth step is to help the first voice, the Resistors, empathize with the second voice, the Supporters. And finally, after cycling through this process until there is understanding and connection, you work on solutions to help both voices get their needs met.
The first voice, the Resistors (Educator), comes from friends and comments in social media.
“You voted for an idiot you selfish pig. You voted for him because you are racist and wanted to keep the Mexicans and Muslims out. He is a lying pig, an abomination and an embarrassment but you fools don’t want to believe that the ‘emperor has no clothes’. If you can’t see that Trump is self-destructing, it’s because he targeted the stupid vote, and you’re among the last to wake up. He’s destroying this country. You actually thought he was going to keep his word, which he never does, and you were going to keep your healthcare? You will end up poor, sick and dead because of all the programs he’s cutting, and you deserve it!”
This is the voice of the Educator trying to get the Chooser to understand how the choice he made didn’t come anywhere close to meeting needs. The voice is certainly angry and using blame and shame.
Now let’s hear the second voice, Trump Supporters (Chooser), again I took this from social media.
“The snowflakes are such weak idiots. Go ahead and cry, Trump is winning and that stresses you out. Pathetic! You have nothing left and can no longer handle your embarrassment. Go back in your safe zones and shut up. Trump is a winner and all you weak, pathetic snowflakes are losers. It’s a gorgeous day every day knowing Hillary Rotten Clinton is NOT our president or socialist dipshit Bernie Sanders.”
That is the voice of the Chooser defending the choice that was made. Defense is a natural position when hearing blame and shame.
Now comes the hard part, really hearing and empathizing with each other. When the Trump supporters (Chooser) hear the Resistors (Educator) with empathic ears, this is what they would say they hear. It’s important to have each side tell the other side what they hear. That way you can keep clarifying until each side really does hear the other side.
“You (Resistors) are very angry about the fact that a value you hold strongly, caring for each other, particularly those less fortunate, is not getting met in any way. You see this as one of the things that make this country great, and it is being taken away. You also are very frustrated because you thought most other people in this country believed this way as well, that you could trust others wouldn’t vote for someone who would threaten this value, and yet they did.”
I believe it would take a lot of back and forth to get to the point where Trump Supporters could here this, but this is one of the things that the Resistors (Educator) are trying to say.
For the next step, if you are a Resistor, I suggest you read this first. You might also find it helpful to watch this video of Chris Hayes and Bernie Sanders talking with people in West Virginia that voted for Trump.
When the Resistors (Educator) can hear the Trump supporters (Chooser) empathically, this is what they would say they hear.
“You (supporters) are angry and want some respect for the decision you made. You would really like to see some support for that decision or at least not hear any complaints.” Unless you go to #trumpregrets, defense is most of what you hear right now from Trump supporters. I think if you go a little deeper, this is what they are saying as well.
“It’s our duty as a good citizen to work. To take money from the government is embarrassing and we aren’t helping poor people by giving them handouts. The most honorable thing you can do is work hard, become a success and then help others. Give them jobs. That’s what Trump did, he gets that. Obama and the Democrats were just taking from hard working rich and middle class and giving to the poor. Trump will change that. He’s going to make sure that Americans get taken care of first. We need to take care of our own. Government just ruins everything. Trump’s not part of that. He’s going to do what needs done to straighten out this country.”
When you listen to that with empathy you would tell them you hear them saying:
“You have been feeling frustrated for a long time because you also strongly hold the value of helping others and you think the government is actually hurting people by giving them assistance. It’s one thing if they really need it, but if they are able-bodied, giving them assistance makes them more dependent. It hurts them in the long run. You want to see people become successful, and the government doesn’t seem to do that. If anything the government makes it harder for successful people to help those that need it. You voted for Trump because he is an example of someone who became successful and then gave jobs to thousands. You trust that is what he is going to bring to government. You are also frustrated that the government also seems to help people who aren’t American, while you see so many Americans struggling. It’s important to you that everyone follow the rules we have in our country, and Trump is going to make sure that happens.”
When we can spend time listening to each other, we can come to a space where we find we all want the same thing. We want to support each other; we just differ on how to do that. We want to trust each other, trust that the other person will respect us and have our best interest at heart. This isn’t about giving up our values; this is about expanding how we can work with each other. And it’s going to take a lot of work and time to heal this wound, but it’s very possible.
We have to hear each other in a different way, and accept that every choice we make is our best attempt to meet our needs. If we can’t figure out how to do that with this election, we aren’t going to be able to figure out how to do that within ourselves. If we can figure that out, we can move to some real healing in our own lives as well. And we have to hear these voices and deal with this, or this will come back to haunt our country for generations to come. This isn’t a time to be nice, this is a time to be real. This is a time for empathy.
Top photo: Screen shot of Sen. Bernie Sanders with coal miners in West Virginia
Heather Schlessman, PhD is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has spent her career either working with or teaching about families. She is also a mother who, like so many other parents, spent years muddling her way raising 3 wonderfully different children, one who happens to be experiencing a disability. Fortunately she has a life partner who muddled along with her. Spending most of her time trying to be perfect, as that would be the safest way to live, she became aware of a desire to be able to see people in a more compassionate way. Little did she know that the person she needed the most compassion for was herself. There is a saying that when you are ready to learn a teacher will appear, and so it was for Dr. Schlessman. She was introduced to the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the developer of Nonviolent Communication, and her world completely changed. She learned a way to have an intimate connection with herself and others, a way to truly contribute. Her passion now is to help others find their way to a more compassionate life. You can find more of Dr. Schlessman’s empathic expressions along with her husband’s, Rev. Mark Schlessman on their website.