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06 January, 2017

UNDERSTANDING ECCENTRICS AND TODAY'S POLITICAL HOSTILITY

Even the most pragmatic and boringly practical among us, in moments of nostalgia, must confess to having done crazy things on a whim. Ironically, the realistic kind of people often romanticize about those moments in their lives where they followed their hearts and did things in the name of a craze, love or passion which they wouldn’t dream of doing now.

But an eccentric person, in the true sense of the word, is not one who follows his heart and does unusual stuff once in a while. Definition of the word is someone who deviates from an established or usual pattern or style and from conventional or accepted usage or conduct especially in odd or whimsical ways. Edith Sitwell says that geniuses and aristocrats are called eccentric because "they are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd."

Many of us wish we had courage and originality to be able to live life on our own terms. We may have creativity, but responsibilities and the fear of the consequences of non-conformity make us suppress that fantasy.

Psychological studies point towards certain signs of eccentricity. Some of these could be: a non-conforming attitude, idealistic, intense curiosity, happy obsession with hobbies, knowing very early in his or her childhood they are different from others, highly intelligent, opinionated and outspoken, unusual living or eating habits, not interested in the opinions or company of others, naughty sense of humour and being usually the eldest, or an only child.

Eccentricity is often associated with being unusually gifted. This could mean genius, intellectual giftedness, or creativity. The unusual behaviour could be an outward reflection of extraordinary intelligence, talent or passion. The minds of eccentrics are so original that they cannot conform to societal norms. Eccentricity is also believed to be associated with great wealth. Stories of wealthy business tycoons or celebrities with peculiar idiosyncrasies are legendary.

In this regard, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, with his outrageous pronouncements, penchant for mistruths, disrespect and illusions of grandeur,  fits the "eccentric" bill perfectly.  Americans voted for The Donald because, down deep they saw a little of themselves in him.  In protest to the status quo in Washington, they made a statement by voting for change -- perhaps the most controversial and potentially dangerous change in political history, bringing with it a general increase in public aggression.  In was not as much a vote for Trump as it was a vote against Obama and his time in the Oval Office.

Closer to home, a still wet-behind-the-ears Justin Trudeau swept to an upset victory in last year's Canadian federal election because he represented a new direction and breath of fresh air.  Several months after the fact, Trudeau bashers are proving to be alive and well. The novelty is wearing off and hostile criticism of "the Trudeau government" is mounting, however warranted or unwarranted.

It is now clear to me that in North America we are increasingly stuck in a cycle of political hostility bordering on outright hatred. Political parties encourage citizens to “take a side,” and taking a side too often entails becoming irrationally defensive over that side, while ruthlessly bashing the other.

This aggression has ultimately resulted in a range of violence, from citizens being assaulted at political conventions for supporting a candidate of their choice, to students being ostracized in classrooms if they dare to share a political view that opposes the majority. Day after day, Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds are filled with one-sided political messages which fuel anger and polarization, while leaving no trace of collaborative solutions to pertinent issues.

How will defending a political party, mainly because it’s “your side,” and hating on the other side, make our country a better place to live? Bashing others, whether it be a person or a political party, does not lead to solutions.

This vicious cycle of aggression is serving as a barrier to collaborative solutions and rational compromise.  So what can you do?

The answer: Stop being a hater! Every citizen has the power to break this cycle of aggression, and to fuel a new cycle of collaboration. Here is how to start:

1) Recognize Defensiveness

We are all guilty. If we have chosen a political party, we have unfortunately become accustomed to being defensive of that party, even before we know the facts (not to mention that the “facts” are often difficult to come by). The first step to ending the cycle of aggression is to recognize our own defensiveness. Ask yourself these questions:

• Do I understand the wants and needs of both sides?
• Do I have all of the facts?
• Can I be sure that my “facts” are viable?
• Will being defensive of “my side” make this country a better place to live?

2) Stop Reacting, Start Listening

Once we recognize that we are being defensive, it is essential that we stop defending and start listening to what others have to say. Ask yourself these questions:

• What is the underlying want or need that is being argued for?
• Do I understand the want or need of all parties?
• Is that want or need a human right?
• Will that want or need cause harm?
• What might be a logical and fair compromise?

3) Recognize Flaws of political parties

Every political party is flawed, including our own. Every political party is guilty of repeatedly committing acts of hate and aggression. And every political party is failing at collaborating with one another in order to reach compromises and create positive change. It is essential that we choose to see and acknowledge these flaws, so that positive progression can be achieved.

Ask yourself these questions:
• Is my political party collaborating across the political spectrum to reach rational compromise and create positive change?
• Is my political party causing harm to anyone or anything?
• Is my political party discriminating against anyone or anything?
• Is my political party respecting human rights of all people?

4) Post Mindfully

What are you posting on social media? We are responsible for fueling the cycle of aggression. One-sided political posts often fuel anger and hate without providing opportunities for collaborative solutions. Instead of posting or sharing one-sided comments, problems or solutions, focus on the need and eliminate the bashing on others.

Before posting something to social media, ask yourself these questions:
• Will this post fuel anger, hate or defensiveness?  Will it offend (even some of my friends)?
• Will this post provide or deter an opportunity for collaborative solutions or rational compromise?
• Does this post bash anyone (a political party or a person)?
• Does this post focus on the need, or focus on the hate?

5) Choose Collaboration

The paradigm of “us versus them” serves as the greatest barrier to progress and solutions. Instead of focusing on the best interest of our political party, we need to focus on the best interest of all citizens, and the nation as a whole. We all have the power to choose collaboration by working to understand all sides of the want or need at hand, and by exploring and inviting compromises and solutions.

Political leaders, regardless of party affiliation, are failing to work together to understand all angles of issues in order to produce progressive solutions. Instead of commending the bashing between political leaders or candidates, ask for collaboration. Recognize that every time a political leader bashes another, they are perpetuating the cycle of aggression, and creating a barrier to collaboration.

Personally I am not impressed, yay I'm offended, by exposure to unsolicited opposition or criticism unaccompanied by the suggestion of a reasoned solution and note of conciliation.  Otherwise, please spare me!  I do not need the aggravation...I already have enough uninvited and unwelcomed negativity to last a lifetime.

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