A friend of mine was in school studying to be a psychologist and asked me if I would volunteer to be a guinea pig for one of his "laboratory experiments." A cold sweat came over me as I thought about laboratory animals: their skulls cut half open to test their brain waves for- I can't even imagine what. I agreed to help him out, knowing that worst-case scenario; I still would have half of my brain (more than I probably use anyway).
The experiment was a word association test in which he would say a word or phrase, and I would tell him the first word or thought that came into my head. For example, when he said the word "patience" I told him "virtue." It is amazing how words or phrases trigger other words and feelings within you.
For example, when you think of the name Norman Rockwell, what do you think? How about Uncle Sam? Merely hearing the names of these American icons elicits specific images and feelings: Norman Rockwell created images that helped define
America's identity through much of the 20th Century. Uncle Sam has become a symbol, recognized throughout the world, of American resolve, strength and determination.
When you hear the name Bill Clinton what do you think of? How about George W. Bush? If you are like 80 percent of Americans, you probably see one of them as a visionary; a leader you want running our country, while you feel the other is a lying, self-gratifying, borderline criminal. Each description fits either Clinton or Bush, depending on your political affiliation.
If you ask a Democrat to put a face to today's typical Republican Party member, many would say he is a Bible carrying, judgmental war monger who stands against anything that the Democratic Party believes makes
America great. What face would a Republican put on today's typical Democratic Party member? Probably a militant lesbian union member wearing fatigues and boots, protesting against anything that Republicans believe has made
America great. Ironically, these images probably represent an extreme 1% of the Democratic and Republican Parties; however, given these images, it is no wonder each side of the political spectrum is afraid of the other being in power.
I believe that the majority of Democrats and Republicans have far more centrist leanings than the other side thinks. Political party leadership is more concerned with maintaining power by keeping its constituents afraid of and angry of the other side's intentions, than it is with doing what is right for the country. Each party should spend more time working to find common ground, rather than instilling fear of the other side's agenda. When was the last time you heard a Democrat say something respectful about a Republican position (and vice-versa)?
Because of the fear our leaders have instilled in us, when there is compromise in policy (and there always is compromise) it makes us think that we gave in to the other side's evil motives. Instead of making everyone comfortable with the compromise, we end up angry. If we aren't careful, our hatred of the other side may. If we aren't careful, our hatred of the other side may grow larger than the hatred that divided the country during the Civil War.
If we could just find leaders of each party who preached tolerance and understanding of the other side instead of vilifying it, I think there would be far less hatred of each party. This could bring civility back to politics, which is badly needed.