The passing of Labor Day signals the start of what is often called the “silly season” – the two month run-up until Election Day. But this year, things have gotten more than “silly.” We’re dealing with a torrent of vitriol of character assassination, fear-mongering, and a loss of any clear sense of truth. This, it seems, is where our culture has evolved both in our political discourse and in the treatment and valuation of our leaders.
I was thinking recently about a graduate school experience where I participated in a weekend of what is called “T- group” therapy. Such psychotherapy is facilitated by a distinctly hands-off leader who began the session with a brief and concise charge to the 10 participants: “This is your group. You will spend more than 20 hours together. You will need to choose how to make the most of your time together.” From there, he remained in the room but left us to our own machinations. What ensued was a marathon of highly-emotional discourse in which no one was immune from anger, conflict, sadness, and moments of what felt like hopeful and healing insights. The lack of an active leader felt at times like abandonment while at other times empowering.
Toward the end, the silent leader stated, “You have only a couple of hours remaining. You need to consider how you want your time together to conclude.” Despite some painful wounds that were opened, the group became determined to close the experience with a process of profound caring, healing, and even gratitude.
Sometimes the therapy experience really can mirror life. Our November 8th national election will inevitably be bitter. And like my T-group, we will need to find a way to conclude. Consider it our own unique American mental health conundrum: How will we collectively heal from this two-year toxic assault on our sensibilities?
Can we take this on by ourselves? Or, will we feel like we have to depend on new leaders to make that happen?