Summer is usually a time for relaxing, taking vacations, and downshifting into a more mellow state of mind. But you’d never know it if you turned on the news or logged on to social media right now. People are shouting at politicians in restaurants, protesting in the streets, barking at each other on cable news talk shows, and trading jabs in endless Facebook debates. We may not be fighting each other with weapons, but in many ways, we are a country at war.
We all know it’s important to stand up for what we believe in. We may even feel justified in hating someone for the beliefs or attitudes they hold that we find harmful to others. It can feel really good, in the moment, but many of us are nevertheless despondent, endlessly agitated, terrified, and battle weary at this point.
So how about this? What if we take a Summer Ceasefire Challenge? For the next week (or more, if you’re up for it) let’s agree to stop talking politics—at least the way we’ve been doing it lately. Let’s drop our weapons. Let’s see what happens when we stop debating and lecturing and rolling our eyes, and instead adapt some new behaviors.
At the end of the challenge period, if you want, you can go back to dueling on Facebook, watching contentious news programs, and giving your uncle the silent treatment. But during the Summer Ceasefire, you have to agree to the following rules: 1.) If you can’t say something good, you won’t say anything. 2.) Instead of moving away from others you disagree with, you’ll try to move closer, or listen more with more empathy to their perspectives. 3.) You’ll model civil behavior in your home and out there in the world, both the real and virtual versions.
Let’s see what you learn and how you feel, and how others respond. Maybe get a partner or group of people to do the Summer Ceasefire with you, so you can encourage each other and keep each other accountable. And before you get started, here are 5 guidelines to help you keep the peace:
1. Meditate: In other words, breathe.
When someone says or writes something we disagree with, or that we find offensive, hateful, or simply untrue, our first instinct is usually to go in, guns blazing, and give them a piece of our mind, or lecture them on their ignorance. But this approach leads nowhere fast. So, challenge yourself – before you say anything, take a moment to get centered and take a few deep breaths. Breathe in love and peace, breathe out the anger and hatred. Do it a few times until you’re ready to respond with openness and compassion. If you still can’t get there (we all have those days!) let yourself off the hook and skip to number five on this list. Meanwhile, if you haven’t tried meditation or mindfulness before, the Summer Ceasefire Challenge may be the time to start. When you practice mindfulness, you decrease your stress and may find yourself being less reactionary, with a little more space between your thoughts and feelings and your actions.
2. Deescalate: Don’t use fighting words.
The quickest way to shut a conversation down, escalate an argument, or turn it ugly, is by using words that put people down or put them in boxes. During the Summer Ceasefire, I challenge you to refrain from throwing expletives at people—even if it’s from the couch at the TV in your den. And I’m not just talking about the four-letter words, I’m also talking about the incendiary labels we hurl at others: racist, baby-killer, redneck, fascist, right-winger, lib, gun-nut, snowflake, sheep, feminazi, Hitler, climate-denier, etc. Let’s also stop telling people they’re “insane,” “ridiculous,” “evil,” “an idiot,” “deluded,” or “disgusting.” Words that belittle others belittle us too. So for a week, let’s keep these words and the negative energy they bring from entering the environment.
3. Elevate: Use civil language that keeps the conversation going.
When someone starts talking about a subject that normally sets your hair on fire, for this one week, drop the whole notion of trying to win them over to your point of view. Instead of presenting a list of facts and research and explanations to shoot down their argument, use statements that can deepen your understanding of their position. So, instead of, “I completely disagree with everything you just said,” try, “Why do you say that?” or “What does that mean to you?” Drop your assumptions, and get genuinely curious: “I never thought of it that way.” “What was your experience?” “Can you tell me more about that?” Along the way, if you hear something you do agree with, say it: “I see what you mean.” “We’re in agreement there.” At the end of the interaction, you may not have changed your mind, let alone the other person’s, but maybe you’re a little wiser about a different perspective. Plus, your blood pressure hasn’t skyrocketed.
4. Educate: Teach yourself about the experiences and histories of others.
One of the hardest things to do these days in our divided nation is to escape our own echo chambers. Even the most well-informed among us has a lot to learn, especially when it comes to how issues we’re passionate about affect or are perceived by people with different experiences. We tend to be more civil and respectful with others when we know their story or can imagine their pain. So, in addition to learning from others in conversation, commit during the Summer Ceasefire Challenge to expose yourself to new information and points of view on topics you feel strongly about. Read a book or a magazine article, or watch a documentary or video that heightens your awareness of the history of other groups and comes at the subject from a point of view opposite your own.
5. Insulate: Take a break.
It can be hard, but sometimes you just have to walk away. If an interaction has turned negative and you feel your blood boiling, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with emotion, or you’re just completely drained by the effort of reacting to everything you see and hear, take a break! If you’re serious about bringing positive change to our world, you need to take time to refresh, reflect, and replenish your stores. So, step away from the keyboard, the TV, the paper, the protests. Resist the temptation to pull up the editorial by your favorite warrior for a cause, and pick a different week to binge-watch “The Handmaid’s Tale” (even though it’s an awesome series). Instead, play with your children, smell the roses, go for a hike, read a trashy novel. Avoid your super negative friend. Come back when you’re ready to show up in your restored, best self.
So: Who’s ready to do the #SummerCeasefireChallenge with me? Try it, and let me know how it’s going, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Post a video telling us what you decided to do differently and how it’s working out. Or, if you’re staying away from social media, email me! My hope is that if enough of us do the Summer Ceasefire Challenge, and stick with it after the week is done, maybe we can start making some real progress toward a better, more peaceful country and world.