Dan Colborne, my Facebook friend who describes himself as America’s upstairs neighbor in Canada, is quick to critique any of my Facebook postings that seem too binary. That is, too much about right or wrong, right or left, conservative or liberal, etc. He is forever challenging me to think in nuanced terms about life here in America.
Dan is right.
Well, maybe moderately right. Let's not get too extreme here.
Moderates are people who appreciate nuance or what some call ambivalence, seeing some mixture of good and bad, right and wrong, in just about everything that moves and in much that doesn’t move. Moderates see the both/and while resisting either/or dualisms. Sometimes but never always.
Recently I met with a counseling client whose wife has long been treated for PTSD and also labeled by psychiatric professionals as having “Borderline Personality Disorder.” He was at his wits end and wanted my advice on how to even communicate with her, particularly in relation to a recent problem of her 16 year old son’s somehow losing the sim card from his expensive iphone they had just given him for Christmas. I’m always reluctant to give such 3rd party advice, but this time I took the bait and offered what I cautioned was probably my best guess. I suggested he ask her to rate this problem on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being the smallest problem she’d ever faced and 10 being the largest. Next week in his session he reported my failed advice having made matters somehow worse than ever before. How so? Well, when he asked her to rate this problem of the missing sim card she answered, “A 10.” Then, following up on part two of my suggestion, he asked “how can I help you reduce the problem down to only a 9?” He reported her answer as being, in effect, to get rid of the problem entirely. Leaving him, in his own words, feeling “totally defeated,” as if to join his wife in rendering my well-intentioned advice as an absolute flop. Mea culpa.
All or nothing thinking. Binary extremism. Polarization.
It fairly well defines what we may label as being Borderline Personality Disorder. And, uh, today’s United States of America.
Every pain, every problem, is a 10 unless it is taken away entirely. And socially, then, every person is either a hero to be worshipped or a villain to be demonized. You’re either with us or against us; a Savior or a Satan. A Rescuer or an Abuser. And, yes, it is hard to live with such people without having to cast ourselves into therapy and plead for some not so perfect advice on how to cope or even communicate.
Ah, the American way of life in this Common Era, 2022. "Approve or disapprove," ask the pollsters. Nothing in between. Just pass or fail.
Those of us who drive down the middle lane are quite accustomed to passing the slow pokes on our right and being passed by the speed demons on our left. Only it’s never quite that simple, is it? Next thing we know a slow poke is clogging traffic on our left and a speed demon passes us on the right before cutting in front with only inches to spare. If we polled drivers on our highways, and their passengers…..like we do registered voters in our elections…… we’d find 72% or so disapproving of the direction our country is going right now. Too slow. Too fast. Or some of both, which leaves even moderates complaining about the extremists on either side. In other words, very few people are happy anymore.
What to do? What to do?
Well, I might have advised asking the question of where, in between a 1 and 10, would you place America’s problems of 2022? Better cross that one off. Maybe it’s worth a try to instead ask in what way(s) might these be considered the best of times and in what way(s) might they be the worst of times? And in what way(s) are we somewhere in between the best ever and the worst ever? Not sure how that line of inquiry would fare. Don’t anyone take bets you can’t afford to lose. Okay?
Maybe you all have some better ideas on how to treat America’s Borderline Personality Disorder. And maybe we should all just listen to Dan Colborne and try to learn something from our Canadian friends upstairs. The ones tired of listening to their downstairs neighbors’ fights and wishing we could somehow find some happier medium in between all and nothing.