The political climate is ripping our country apart. As the November 2016 presidential elections drew near there was a bumper sticker traveling around the DC area that read:

Giant Mentor 2016

Suggesting that a humanity-ending catastrophe would be preferred over the existing political choices. As our youth would say, “That’s dark man!”

Why is it that there is so much contempt in our nation today when everything about humanity indicates that we are hard-wired to connect? My 18-year old senior in high school is going stir crazy because he’s confined to the house and not able to socialize with his friends due to the corona virus?

We are in the throes of another presidential election and the contempt-o-meter is on the rise, again. In a poll taken after the 2016 election, one in six Americans no longer speaks with a family member or a close friend because of their political differences.

In 1960, only 5% of Americans would mind if their child married someone from the opposing political party. In 2010, that number was 40%. While we are experiencing a coronavirus pandemic, an even greater pandemic of contempt is swallowing up our nation, our communities, and our families.

After years of research, Dr. John Gottman, can accurately predict (91%) whether a couple will stay happily married after listening to them converse with each other for as little as five minutes. One of the key factors in determining the success of a marriage, or any relationship, is the level of contempt manifested in their behavior. Arguing and conflict are not factors of divorce, but rather points of success. Interestingly, people who stay married live four years longer than people who don’t.

Contempt is scorn, disdain, disrespect, derision, disapproval, and/or objectifying a person (rolling eyes and air leaks are contemptuous).

Thomas Jefferson admonished that a difference in politics should not disturb a friendship or be involved in social interactions. What makes his counsel meaningful is that he walked the talk. He and John Adams rarely agreed on much except the Independence of America and the freedom of Americans. They conflicted (argued over what is right) over almost everything on the political spectrum, but at no time did they bring contempt or contention (who is right) into the story. Anger is not the same as contempt.

Both hate speech and political correctness are forms of contempt. It’s interesting how so many people want to address hate speech but see nothing wrong with political correctness. To fully understand this paradox, one must understand addiction. Taking offense is an addiction. It has become a badge on honor to get offended and hold a grudge.

Addiction is a way to meet ones needs and wants in a misapplied or dysfunctional way. It is any activity that you cannot control and that gets worse over time. It is the use of a substance or behavior for the purpose of removing pain or gaining pleasure. Addiction is a disease of choice.

Contempt is an addiction. We crave the opportunity to slam or scorn somebody. Peruse your FaceBook posts and notice how much contempt there is for President Trump, Hillary Clinton, the right, the left, Rush Limbaugh, Nancy Pelosi, Christians, Muslims, the police, the military, Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Asians, red-heads, etc.

American’s are addicted to political and personal contempt. Millions actively indulge their additive habit on social media yet long for national debates that are substantive and meaningful. We deride the character or lack thereof in the opposing candidate while turning a blind eye to our own candidate’s weaknesses.

Just as meth addicts are responsible for their consequences, we are responsible for our existing political and social climate of contempt.

The Solution

Researchers have determined that having a close friend that you regularly see and socialize with gives an equivalent earnings boost of $100,000 per year. Seeing and visiting with neighbors = $60,000 year. On the other hand, breaking a critical social tie is like experiencing a large income decline.

Psychologists from Brigham Young University found that a lack of strong relationships increases the risk of premature death by 50%. Harvard University found that a lack of constant communication is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The solution lies in our ability to be unified toward a common cause without contempt. However, being unified does not mean agreement. Conflict is having the same goal but seeing a different pathway (what is right and not who is right). We can be unified in our goal and then work together to achieve that goal.

Each of us can make the choice to discontinue our practice of contempt. Eliminate the harsh and angry comments you make about your enemies in social media. Notice the energy manifested when you read the hatred and animosity about your candidate of choice, and imagine what it must be like for those who favor that candidate if you deride them.

How does it feel when you are categorized as stupid, ignorant, racist, a Nazi, a Communist, or any number of slanderous labels because of your political, religious, or social position? That is where our country is today. Unless someone agrees with you, that person is somehow less than and the contemptuous attitude towards them renders them an object.

May I Suggest An Experiment?

Go for one day without commenting on social media or verbally criticizing anybody. Hold your tongue and simply notice contemptuous comments or body language and simply give it a name. If you are reading social media and one of your friends posts a disparaging comment about your shared political opponent, notice the energy of the comment, give it a name, and move on.

We can be unified in fighting against contempt. It can happen one day at a time.