Empathy and the Platinum Rule: what conflict and personal peace look like during election season

Dr. Dee Filecia is a peace and justice studies, political science and international professor at LMU with a passion for social justice.

Kacie Thielmann (K.T.): With the stress the presidential election holds for many in the LMU community, what are some qualities that are helpful in maintaining personal peace?

Dee Filecia (D.F.): It is helpful to remember that we are not powerless. Whether it be to the racial justice movement, the election, the economy, zoom classes – we have agency. How we use that is helpful. It is helpful to know there are things we can do, whether it be acting as a poll-worker, volunteering for Black Lives Matter, supporting LMU organizations, calling congress members. Most of the time we have a choice; there are very few instances we don’t. I think that can be liberating and helpful in times like this.

It is also important to have empathy. Understand that those who may disagree with us or even to some extent those who perpetuate harm are human beings too — and that’s not to forgive or dismiss or not hold accountable. But for you, a person who may feel obsessively angry, I think right now a certain amount of anger is expected and important, but if it is getting in the way of your life, empathy is a great way to move through the world, and in times like these it’s all the more important. Otherwise, one might end up just going through their day angry, as understandable as that is right now.

K.T.: What are signs to watch out for in conflict becoming destructive?

D.F.: Defensiveness or being personally critical is something that should be avoided. Focusing on the person and not the problem should have nothing to do with an argument. It also ties back to trying to understand why the person does the things they do. The Platinum Rule is important – instead of thinking about how you want to be spoken to or treated, think about how that person would want to be treated. We all come with different experiences, different traumas, different values, different senses of urgency to these conversations and understanding and accepting that can avoid destructive conflict. The things you look out for in destructive conflict are also very intuitive: raised voices, body language, lack of humor in the conversation, lack of a common goal. If you are in conflict with someone and you start just fighting to fight and get off-topic, it is just going to spiral into a destructive conflict.

K.T.: Do you think conflict can be constructive, and if so, how?

D.F.: I think interpersonal conflict can be good. Conflict allows issues to surface to work them out. It is healthy in any relationship or group to be questioning, to bring up issues, to have a disagreement. Generally, as a society, we try to avoid those things and not acknowledge how we are feeling, but I do think that conflict actually brings people closer together. One, because your feelings can be brought to the table; two, you get to engage with these feelings and it is no longer a secret; three, you can come to a conflict transformation. There can be an understanding and the conflict can take other shapes. You will never know what someone else is experiencing unless they tell you, and conflict tends to bring these things up. You can learn a lot through conflict, and even at the very base of things, learning you do not see life the same way as another person. Conflict can teach us a lot; conflict can bring us closer together. I do think there are many benefits.

K.T.: Do you feel personally invested in this election, and if so, how do you plan to prepare yourself for the results?

D.F.: The results of this election will say a lot about who we are as a country and how we are going to engage with each other. My life is directly affected. Justices that are hostile to LGBTQ rights are being put forward. I don’t want to see people around me or anywhere in this country not have healthcare and have to make the impossible decision to go to the hospital or to eat. Our democracy doesn’t look like one, and that scares me.

I try to put all of my fear and anger and advocacy into my teaching. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do, but that is the thing I’m good at. I think everyone should do the thing they are good at to help. For me, the way I am preparing is knowing that I will continue to do this. I will continue to fight and have difficult conversations with people close to me. I will continue to listen to the other side because behind a wild conspiracy theory are humans just like me who are scared, who are maybe one paycheck away from financial ruin. Many of us are having similar experiences, it’s just our solutions are different and that’s it. I want to understand where folks are coming from and so I will continue to do what I have been.

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