Examining Your Personal Politics
“The process of awakening our political consciousness is the same as the process of awakening any other aspect of ourselves,” says therapist Aimee Falchuk. “It requires inquiry into our political lives—including our narratives and beliefs. It also requires a willingness to expose our negativity.”
Her view of politics, explains Falchuk, is Plato-like: Politics—and the systems and institutions it houses—are an expression of the human soul in its oftentimes messy attempt to meet life, wrestle with ego, and discover what is true. When we put on this lens, she says, we have an opportunity to examine how our political beliefs and behaviors reflect our soul’s journey. This examination, Falchuk believes, is essential to our collective understanding and evolution.
A Q&A with Aimee Falchuk
It has to start with an intention. With any process, I encourage my clients to commit to an ongoing intention to stay curious and to trust that they have a higher self—to trust in their goodness and the goodness of others. This may seem easy, but especially when we are talking about politics, it isn’t easy at all. Ask yourself before you begin:
- 1. Am I willing to be open and curious in this inquiry? Can I hold space for whatever I discover?
- 2. Am I willing to see the goodness of myself and others?
- 3. Am I willing to stay with myself and the process even when I come up against my own negativity—when I begin to see the ways I may fall short in my own citizenry?
From here we can begin to ask ourselves some questions about our politics. I suggest the following:
- 1. Take your political history. Do you know your core political values? (Personal freedom, full self-expression, shared responsibility, justice, equity, and equality are examples of core political values.)
- 2. What are your basic beliefs about the role of government? How did these beliefs form? Who or what influenced them?
- 3. What is your participation, if any, in the political process? Why do you participate? Why don’t you participate?
- 4. How informed do you think you are? Where do you get your information? Do you tend to go to sources that adhere to your own beliefs and viewpoints?
- 5. How often do you engage with opposing views? When you do, how do you engage with them? What happens to you energetically and in your body when you find yourself having a discussion with someone who differs from you politically? Do you stay open? Do you become defiant and closed off? What do your tone of voice and your body posture say?
- 6. Pick a policy issue you feel strongly about. What is the essence of this issue? What draws you to it? Does it relate to anything in your own life? Do you know the viewpoints that differ from yours on this issue?
- 7. If you could pick one aspect of your political life—or lack thereof—that you would want to explore, what would it be? (I.e., to be better informed, to learn about opposing viewpoints, to increase your participation in the process.)
Separateness and alienation from our own pain. From our ego consciousness, we see ourselves as separate from one another, as if what is happening to someone else isn’t happening to us. This can lead to unintended indifference or passivity on an issue that impacts others. I remember cofacilitating a group recently where we asked the participants to name something that they hold back from the world. An African American woman stood up and told the group that she held back her voice. She said she was afraid to speak her truth out loud for fear of being persecuted or annihilated. She said she justified it to herself by telling herself that staying silent was the way to maintain some sense of power and self-agency. She would deny the world her wisdom. As she spoke, I became aware of my privilege and of how that privilege allowed me to be unaware, indifferent, and even insensitive to someone else’s experience. And yet as a woman, I could relate to her. As a woman, I knew the experience of thinking I had to be quiet. It was a pain I hadn’t really let myself feel until that moment. The denial of my own pain had resulted in my being indifferent to another’s. As a result of our own alienation from our feelings, and our notion of separateness, we divide ourselves up in a way that disconnects us from the truth of our common humanness.
Materialism, which is when we deem the material world, including and especially our physical identity, to be all there is. Materialism channels all our energy toward securing, surviving, and keeping up. This can come in the form of securing money, fame, power, material goods, etc. Materialism prioritizes development over conservation. Look no further than what we are doing to the planet: short-term self-interest—born out of the ego’s fear of loss—over long-term sustainability for everyone. This may sound a bit dramatic, but the way out of an overreliance on materialism is to get to know our relationship with death, be it physical death, loss, disappointment, or humiliation. When we fear death to the point that we deny it, we channel all our energy toward staving it off or negating it. Think of all the ways we try to stay young, the ways we stave off and negate aging. Understanding the meaning of materialism in our lives can have a tremendous impact on what we prioritize as citizens of the world.
Seduction and manipulation. In my previous career, I was a lobbyist. I was in my late twenties and somewhat uncertain about how it all worked. Someone had given me the “tip” to wear an engagement ring when meeting with male legislators. I wasn’t engaged at the time. I was told that if I wore it, I would be more likely to convince the person to do something I wanted because it would be in his animalistic nature to want to win me over. This is seduction and manipulation: a strategy that gets people to do what you want them to do. It diminishes our self-agency and keeps us from taking full responsibility. Our task is to understand how we seduce and manipulate others and how others seduce and manipulate us. Doing so may move us toward searching for more truth about an issue or a candidate or political party.
Intolerance of complexity. Many of us don’t know how to stay in the face of complexity. In our partisan culture, everything is this or that. If you are pro-choice, you are anti-life. If you are anti-choice, you are a misogynist. There is no allowance for nuance or complexity. It’s a heavier lift to sit in complexity: We can’t be as lazy. Complexity asks us to learn to tolerate feelings of powerlessness. It challenges our self-will, which says my way or no way. It forces us into mental and emotional flexibility. I once worked with a group of Israelis and Palestinians, and we all went together to a retreat center in the English countryside. Our greatest task as individuals and as a group was the ability and willingness to tolerate complexity. In one group session, an Israeli father whose son had been killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber was invited to stand and express his anger toward the bomber. He told the group he was afraid of his anger, that if he expressed it, it would destroy him. Two young Palestinian women stood up and offered to express his anger at the suicide bomber by proxy. They stood and screamed in Arabic: “What have you done? How does this help any of us?” The man stood and held the women in gratitude. It was one of the most profound experiences. And while nothing on the macro political scale was solved, something shifted in the room. The willingness to tolerate complexity—to step outside of the fixed narrative of good versus bad—allowed for a deepening of connection and mutuality.
Hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and cynicism. Hypocrisy is knowing the truth but not obeying it. Self-righteousness is characterized by a feeling that we are morally superior to another. Cynicism is an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest. We see this every day in political life. The finger-pointing, the blaming, the shaming, the demonization, the lack of humility. Where we do this in our own lives, we have to take responsibility for it.
Obfuscation, half-truths, and lies. These are acts intended to confuse for the purposes of avoiding the consequences of the truth. This behavior can also take the form of gaslighting. It is a way of creating a fog so that one or many do not have to take responsibility for the truth. It’s an expression of the lower self: “I will not be with the truth. I will not take responsibility for what I know to be true. I will confuse you so that you cannot be with the truth either.” We need to ask ourselves: Why am I so afraid of the truth? What is the impact of keeping the truth in the shadow? What would I have to feel if I stood with the truth?
Idealized self-image. Our idealized self may prevent us from doing the work we need to do to address social ills, such as inequality, racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism (among others). Our idealized self sees itself as being above needing to do the internal work to address these social ills. It protects us from unconscious or semiconscious judgments or beliefs we may have of others. This is not to say we are all racists or misogynists. But it is possible that we hold judgments and beliefs that we don’t have access to because of the strength of our idealized self that thinks or demands otherwise. Doing the work on our idealized self—giving ourselves permission to uncover beliefs we may hold, understanding where they come from and the impact they have, and feeling our feelings—is all part of the necessary work of our collective healing.
We have to do the work to elevate our consciousness around all of this. I believe it’s the only way for real change to take place. In our debates about gun violence, you will often hear: “What will it take for things to change? When will it be enough?” I believe that the only answer to these questions is when we are no longer able to tolerate the shadow within ourselves. When the charge and pseudopleasure of our lower selves—most easily felt when we are being self-righteous or demonizing an opposing viewpoint—no longer feels satisfying. When we are really willing to stay and feel the pain.
Try to feel into the power and pleasure in a moment when you are engaging in the demonization or finger-pointing. Identify it. In that moment, you have the opportunity to try to understand: What is underneath it?
Picture yourself pointing your finger at someone, telling them how heartless they are, how they are ignorant or self-serving. What does it feel like? Do you feel a charge? Do you feel any pleasure in it? Can you see where the pleasure comes from? Is it a feeling of superiority? Are you getting pleasure out of demonizing or humiliating the other person? Do you feel power where you’d otherwise feel powerless? It can be hard to own this stuff in ourselves, but it is so essential to our ability to move through it and into our higher selves, where with passion (including our outrage at injustices) and integrity we can effectively stand for what we want to see happen in the world.
I worked in politics for fifteen years, and it was an amazing experience. The gamesmanship of politics and the passionate fight for a cause, the coming together of people to repair the world, can generate such a feeling of aliveness because it is the expression of our higher self. The willingness to compromise and to stay in connection in the face of conflict is not an easy ask. And yet it happens, and when it does, it reflects our maturity.
I think we are being called to embrace and engage in radical self-honesty. This includes exploring our privilege, our victimization, our dependency, our exaggerated and compensated independence, and our beliefs about race, ethnicity, and religion; about men and women; about sexual orientation; about God. Radical honesty requires that we learn to stay with what we discover and to trust our goodness in the face of shedding light on our shadow.
Aimee Falchuk, MPH, MEd, CCEP, is the founder of the Falchuk Group and works with individuals and groups. Falchuk will be facilitating Awakening Political Consciousness Workshops in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., in 2020.