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Filtering Political Discussions through Civility, Compassion, and Common Good

It doesn’t take a psychologist (or a political scientist for that matter) to know that political discourse and behavior has become very ugly in recent months...

It doesn’t take a psychologist (or a political scientist for that matter) to know that political discourse and behavior has become very ugly in recent months (maybe years), with terrible rancor, aggression, and debasing insults thrown about on a daily basis. The news is depressing and discombobulating for many. Recent research from the American Psychological Association has indicated that the public is stressed out by our political climate like never before and they are feeling very discouraged. I’ve even noticed that so many social events and water cooler conversations at work end up centered on animated discussions about our current political climate.

It may be useful to filter our thinking and behavior about political discourse through the other 3 C’s (read about Santa Clara’s 3 C’s). Perhaps we should expect, and dare I say even demand, that our elected officials follow the 3 C’s as well. They are easy to remember, but often very hard for some people to follow. They include:


People have become so disrespectful, nasty, hostile, and demeaning of others. This is true not only of bloggers, cable and talk radio news hosts and guests, and random citizens, but also professional journalists and politicians themselves. Incivility has become the new normal. It shouldn’t be. We should expect that people treat others with dignity and respect even when we might disagree with their points of view. A good deal of research has been conducted that highlights the toxicity of incivility resulting in both physical and mental health problems as well as dysfunctional organizations and institutions. Treating all persons with dignity and respect, regardless of who they are and what their perspective might be on politics or anything else, is critical to a well-functioning society and community.


There is great wisdom in the Golden Rule (i.e., treat others as you wish to be treated), and compassion for others seems to be sorely lacking of late. Our political discourse and ideas about how our society should operate must always consider compassion for others and most especially for those who suffer greatly. While reasonable people can certainly disagree about strategies related to refugees, the poor, the disabled, the undocumented, and so forth, treating everyone with compassion should be expected from our politicians and from the public in general.

Common Good

Sadly, most people (including our elected officials) seem to be more and more focused on what is in their own best interests, which includes their personal financial well-being and ambitions; gaining advantage, power and control; and so forth. They also appear to be beholden to special interests and swayed by lobbyists and others with money for their campaigns and special pet projects. Tragically, we don’t hear too much about the common good of late. And yet, shouldn’t all politicians and the public as well, filter their political thinking and behavior through the lens of the common good? President Kennedy’s compelling demand, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” seems to ring hollow today. It shouldn’t. In discussing politics and engaging in the political process the common good should be paramount for everyone (politicians and the public alike).

The psychological and behavioral climate in our culture has implications for our mental, physical, and relationship health and well-being. The toxicity of our current political times has consequences that are far-reaching, and decades of research have highlighted that there are problematic consequences for those living in such a socially and politically toxic environment.

So, as we grapple with a challenging and often disheartening political climate, let us filter our thoughts and behavior through the lens of the 3 Cs: Civility, Compassion, and the Common Good. Let’s demand that our elected officials, who like to refer to themselves as “honorable” and “public servants,” live up to these monikers and actually follow the 3 C’s as well. Without a commitment to civility, compassion, and the common good, it is hard to image a hopeful future for any of us.

Check out a recent interview I did with Grace Cathedral on, “Living Ethically in an Unethical World.”

So, what do you think?


*A version of this article was originally published by Psychology Today on March 22, 2016.

Education, Ethics, Community
Illuminate, activism, compassion, health, psychology, Santa Clara

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