In the past few months I have been drawing comparisons between parenting and governing a country. Parents and Presidents are our leadership. Children are like our citizens. Families and a country are supported by rules that are similar to laws. They give us structure to provide safety while helping us to control our impulsive tendencies. A family and country are also supported by a system of compassion towards its residents.
It is the ability to give positive emotional support, to notice the good in our souls and to be empathic that makes up this sense of compassion. This allows the children and citizens to accept limits that rules and laws exert. In my work with children I used these concepts in a model I called “ The Family as a Country”.
Interventions were made at all levels from governance, to citizen needs and to the support systems of law and order and of compassion. A family /country will not be able to function well when the support systems are not in balance. A heavy handed negativistic disciplinary system invites rebellion while an over indulgent system of giving into every desire can create spoiled or selfish behavior. A neglectful system of compassion can cause emotionally cold and distant behavior with people incapable of finding the good in others and the world around them.
It is this system of compassion that I would like to address today. Parents could be given rules, children can be helped to develop educational and social skills, yet without a kind system of compassion most family/countries collapsed.
Everyone has experienced the emotional turbulences that comes with childhood. Some of us learned a good sense of compassion from parents while others learned to become mean spirited. While applying a family systems approach to childhood intervention, I was often struck by the coldness or harshness of many parents. Collecting a family history would reveal a pattern of generational dysfunction with respect to compassion repeating itself over and over.
Conflicted parents also seemed to have adopted a sense of amnesia which they relied upon to justify their behavior. Yes, some could recall negative aspects about their parents but they remained emotionally detached from those experiences. They tried hard to suppress the emotional memory of those times. This emotional amnesia would result in blindly leading them to repeat the mistakes of their parents with respect to their children. The ability to provide compassionate support would be lacking. They relied too much upon extreme disciple to keep control not only of their family but of their own traumatic painful childhood emotional experiences. Parallels can be drawn with our government leadership. Mean spirited self centered leaders rely on heavy handed discipline. They are unable to be compassionate and empathetic to the many needs of the citizens.
To understand this issue I draw attention to my previous blogs with respect to exposed nerves. We all have sensitivities triggered by events around us. We are on guard against being reminded of our emotional conflicts with respect to failure/success and rejection/acceptance. The exposed nerve is a feeling that typifies this conflict. It can be a sudden bodily pain or reaction such as a heart racing, dizziness and cold sweats. Those of us in touch with our feelings can quickly acknowledge that our guard has gone up and respond with positive helpful self generated emotional support. Those with a conflicted self esteem and security issues will try even harder to wall off awareness of the exposed nerve by further constricting their emotionality. Not dealing well with exposed nerves leads to a lack of compassion and understanding. They deny the conflict while projecting their weaknesses onto others. There is nothing wrong with me it's all of them that are wrong!
Another way to comprehend this is to understand the concept of a stain. Consider the following analogy. You go to the store and excitedly purchase a new shirt to be worn for an impressive occasion. Sometime during the event you look down and notice that you have a very obvious stain on the front of the shirt. Something spilled. Depending on the quality of the material or the type of stain, a shirt can be cleaned and the stain removed. Some shirts and substances however will leave a forever stain. No matter how hard you try it will never go away. The shirt was expensive, it was your favorite, so comfortable. Do you throw the shirt away or do you find a away to live with it such wearing it under s sweater?
All of us are born with physical attributes and some primitive survival aspects such as a baby crying to signal danger. These are normal inborn actions when faced with danger. Emotional stains however can be also impressed upon us when we are young. Negative emotional events can become a long lasting stain on our personality. Even with great insight these sensitivity stains will always remain. The exposed nerve reaction is a reflection of that stain. Those of us coping well make the best of it and learn from that experience. Those of us not doing so well work diligently to hide that stain even denying it when it is visible to every observer. At times, anger and violence are extreme examples of methods used to hide deeper stains.
Helping a parent to understand this concept of stains and exposed nerves was by far the hardest part of the family therapy. Until the emotional amnesia was lifted the ability to learn to be compassionate could not occur. I often related to them my own history of growing up with “difficult” parents. I had written about this in my blog on “Forgiveness”. With care I encouraged them to talk and feel their own suppressed pains. Using the stain model they could now address these issues without feeling guilty for their own imperfections. This opened up for them experiences to learn from to better guide them as parents as well with others in their social and employment world.
New parenting strategies could be accepted without feeling that they were a failure. A comment from a spouse or coworker need not be taken as severe criticism. Mistakes could now be seen as events to learn from on the Experience Road of Life. In a similar manner a compassionate leader of our country could feel confident to make adjustments, change course and unite not divide the citizens.
As a country that has the power of voting in new leadership, we must consider how compassionate and empathetic our candidates are. All of us have flaws from growing up. We all will have stains and exposed nerves. A compassionate leader like a compassionate parent accepts and uses them to be more understanding and considerate of others be they citizens or their own children. There is no shame or need to feel guilt for our human imperfections but a compassionate leader will have the courage to seek advice and continue personal growth.
All of us can become more sensitive to our exposed nerves and gain greater wisdom. When you next become angry or anxious take some time to find a safety zone. Settle into a comfortable state and focus on the feeling. Focus on the messages your exposed nerves are telling you. Take the Experience Road of Life and find lessons. Write them down and make an effort to stay aware of the time, place and situation in which your nerve was activated. Reassure yourself that your self worth does not depend on being perfect. Remember that each experience good or bad has a lesson for us.
When you vote please consider compassion for others as an important aspect of your candidate’s personality before casting your ballot. This quality is essential.