The U.S. is in the midst of the Presidential election, which means that we have been subject to increasing levels of vitriolic communication as the political battle lines have been drawn. It’s republicans versus democrats, rich versus poor, and at the core, it is largely about us versus them. The political poles in the U.S. have done an amazingly effective job of “Othering” one another, making deeper connection or collaboration nearly impossible. Schneider (2008) points out that this current paradigm is one where “either you’re with us or you’re against us. Life is black and white, good or bad,” and while everyone is pointing fingers and casting blame at others, the Titanic is sinking.
Part of the culture that is reflected in the current political climate is what Schneider (2008) calls “the quick fix model for living,” which “accentuates speed, instant results, and appearance and packaging, culminating in the illusion of power and control.” There appears to be an underlying belief in the U.S. that one of these candidates can “fix” what is wrong with the country, as if societal and cultural change is a drive-thru menu where the right combination of items can result in total satisfaction. A quick fix mentality is very much a part of American culture—weight loss companies make millions of dollars promising instant results, Cliffs Notes books dilute classical literature into bite-size chunks that can be nibbled casually, music is available for instant download, and new release movies can be purchased from the local “bootlegger” on the same day they are released. This “amoral free-market consumerism” (Schneider, 2008) offers “instant answers and pat resolutions” to the problems we are facing while the real problems remain unaddressed. As anyone who has ever succumbed to the temptation of a fad diet can attest, until the underlying issues causing weight gain are addressed, nothing will really change. The same can be said for the present political climate.
If there is one thing we can all agree upon, it’s that the current model of politics in the U.S. is not working; it’s a broken system that leads to further crisis in our country. Schneider (2008) proposes a new type of democracy, one that he calls “Awe-Based Democracy.” An “Awe-Based” approach to living is one that “welds the zeal and exaltation for religion with the scrupulosity and skepticism of science.” Awe-Based Democracy integrates principles from Existentialism and creates an entirely new way of approaching political issues. Foundationally, the solution to surrendering the “Quick-Fix” paradigm is to engage in a new way of being present with life; engaging the mystery of living and taking that mystery seriously, making peace with the uncertainty of living, and finally, taking responsibility for our own meaning and direction.
Politically, the Awe-Based Democracy model would build upon the foundation described above with an experiential component, which would be facilitated by depth-experiential therapists. Schneider (2008) describes the following awe-based features in political discussions: (1) an authentic appreciation of the many sides of any given dilemma; (2) a whole-bodied attunement and encounter with the many sides; and (3) a whole-bodied response and discernment of that many sidedness which leads to substantive action. These encounters would take place with small groups of two to five legislators, where the discussions would be far more personal and intimate instead of the usual rhetorical discussions. The outcomes of those discussions would be passed on to the legislature for integration and complementation (Schneider, 2008).
What would the discussions look like between the current political contenders if they were approached from an Awe-Based foundation? One commentator described the last presidential debate like “two Alpha dogs circling” one another, but I wonder what it would be like if they were to approach one another with the intention of genuine encounter. I wonder what it would be like if the candidates, legislature, Congress, and representatives actually sat with one another and allowed themselves to experience the others without “Othering” them. I wonder what it would be like for the lawmakers to sit with the struggles of the people they are making laws to govern. I imagine that when the weapons are set aside, and the dividing lines erased, there is a whole lot more in common than there are differences. I imagine that sort of discussion would result, eventually, in both political parties emerging with solutions that will work for everyone. Instead of one party prevailing over the other, perhaps an Awe-Based democracy would end in a compassionate agreement with compromise and mutual respect.
As Schneider (2008) points out, the possibilities of this awe-based democracy model are endless, but the one point that cannot be denied is that the “democratic principles of openness, deliberation, and voting one’s conscience will all have been given their due” and isn’t that the function of a truly democratic society? When neither political party dominates, and when “Othering” ceases and encounter begins, the people ultimately win.
Schneider, K. (2008) Rediscovering awe: A new front in humanistic psychology, psychotherapy, and society. Canadian Journal of Counseling (41)2, 67-73.
Schneider, K. (2012). Depth and the marketplace: psychology’s Faustian plight. In L. Barnett & G. Madison, (Eds). Existential therapy, legacy, vibrancy and dialogue. New York, NY: Routledge.
— Lisa Vallejos