By Jake Wiskerchen
I have seen some stuff in my day.
Among my nearly four decades on earth, thousands of people contacted, 50-plus jobs (no, that is not a typo), and working in this ever-surprising field of mental health, I have seen some stuff. However, nothing – nothing – prepared me for what I witnessed this presidential election.
No, I do not mean the outcome. I mean the whiplash on social media Wednesday morning.
It stunned me not only because of the hyperbolic reactions but also because of the abject lack of balance and reason. I was mystified for about six hours, trying to figure out how in a day’s time my news feed could go from a cascade of “I held my nose when I voted” and “Both candidates are deeply flawed” to “The apocalypse is upon us!” and “Praise all that is holy! We are delivered!”
How on God’s green earth could this reversal occur? And even worse, how are family members fighting each other over something so temporary? In reality, the election cycle starts again in about two years anyway, and beyond that we have checks, balances, separation of powers, and a robust 24-hour media. How could this happen?
And then it hit me: advertising.
Political attack ads have been increasing in frequency, volume, and ferocity since the inception of the PAC (political action committee) and even more so since the Super PAC entered the fray. This particular cycle bombarded our psyches with binary (all-or-nothing) thinking and labeling like no campaign before it. Never before have we seen the message “Unfit for president,” and this year both candidates used that tactic.
What a terrible message to send to the voters. No wonder the audience was pushed into polarity. After all, we were fed a narrative that no other option existed besides both candidates being wretched and terrifying. As such, when the election ended, regardless of who was declared the victor, nearly half of America would be fearful of the president-elect.
To define is to confine. And just like you or me, neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump can be confined to a few behaviors. To do so ignores the possibility that they can be anything else, including experienced, successful, collaborative, philanthropic, and even loved. Generalizing that to the person’s supporters is even worse.
Binary thinking is dangerous because it eliminates the possibility that people can be more than what is shown. When we think in binary, we remove the possibility for people to move out of the very narrow boxes we place around them. Then we refuse to believe people can change, and from there we limit, dehumanize, isolate, and disconnect. That is when wars start: when people no longer view one another as similar.
I invite you to see beyond outward behaviors and into the depth of another human. They are more than what you see, and you are more than what others see. Let’s all give each other a chance before allowing a highly agendized media blitz to rob us of compassion and understanding. Let's return to seeing each other as human beings.