Healing America: What Can Be Done?

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. and Don Saposnek, PhD

Now that the election is over, many people are asking for our opinion of what should be done to avoid future “high-conflict” elections, since we wrote about this problem in our book, Splitting America. Now is the time to prevent such hostility from occurring in the future, and to avoid the billions of dollars in cost for mostly negative advertising and the unnecessary great division of our country. Here are a few thoughts, which we explain in greater detail in the last chapter of our book.

1.  For politicians: They need to learn how to discuss issues and respond to personal attacks without firing personal attacks back. It can be done. We have seen it work in high conflict family court cases and in workplace and business disputes. You can be assertive about your ideas and about the problems in the proposals of others, without having to make it personal. Politicians repeatedly believe they have only two choices: be passive, or be nasty. However, a third choice gets lots of respect: being assertive about your proposal and explanation of what works and what doesn’t – without being personal. A good example would be Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic Convention; he personally attacked no one but, instead, explained the issues more clearly than any other politician this year – and he received the most respect for doing so.

2. For us as individuals: We need to practice Empathy, Attention and Respect (E.A.R.) with those who disagree with us. We need to practice writing emails, Facebook postings and letters that are Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm (BIFF). In other words, we need to practice more self-restraint than blaming comments. We need to take responsibility for problem-solving and recognize the benefits of multiple points of view and multiple proposals for solving problems. As we explain in our book, we don’t need polarization, we need “polarity management,” which is a process of balancing and integrating opposing points of view, rather than trying to eliminate the “other.”  We need to focus on building long-term relationships, rather than just strive for short-term problem solving.

3. For society: We need to: 1) reinstate reasonable restraints on election behavior – including reversing the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision, limiting contributions to negative ads, and disclosing who is funding them; and 2) elect people who can collaborate and mediate to solve problems. Maybe it’s time for more collaborative professionals and mediators to run for office.  Any volunteers out there?

For the next blog, it is time to move on to other conflict resolution topics!

Best wishes, Bill and Don

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.

About Don Saposnek Donald T. Saposnek, Ph.D. is a clinical-child psychologist, child custody mediator and family therapist in private practice for over 40 years, and is a national and international trainer of mediation and child development.  For the past 35 years, he has been teaching on the psychology faculty at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and is Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution.  He is the author of the classic book, Mediating Child Custody Disputes and has published extensively in the professional literature on child custody and child psychology.  He serves on the editorial boards of the Family Court Review and Conflict Resolution Quarterly journals and is the editor of the international Academy of Professional Family Mediators’ The Professional Family Mediator.  As director of Family Mediation Service of Santa Cruz, he managed the family court services for 17 years and has mediated nearly 5,000 child custody disputes in both the public and private sectors since 1977.  For more information about Don Saposnek, please visit: www.mediate.com/dsaposnek

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