CommunityMy FDL

Let’s try a Dialectical Approach with Obama

Right now on on this web site there are at least two Obama diaries at odds with each other. One skewers Obama, and the other piles on the admiration. The same occurs in discussions about Ron Paul. The comments on each are a fury of emotions. Twenty years of counseling have put me in the middle of this very dynamic on many occasions, so I know the dynamic and it’s consequences very well. But…there is a recovery path to take. What has happened here, happens in many homes.

As the wife of an alcoholic, a trauma survivor myself married to another trauma survivor, let me tell you that there are a host of skills we could be using that would decrease the damage to one and another and elevate the truth. It would require understanding some new terms, practicing some new skills and trying a new paradigm. This journey is the same one taken by families dealing with autism, alcoholism, Parkinson’s, Brain tumors and mental illness. This is a journey we are meant to take. What if the paradox of Obama is not meant to destroy us? What if these very real differences in perception are meant to cause a change in us?

There is very real fear in each side of the Obama argument. The dialectic is a form of argumentation producing a type of logic that is spiral rather than inductive or deductive in nature. The dialectic is currently being used in a therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). This type of argumentation helps to confront the double binds of black and white thinking…the kind of thinking fueled by emotion and often found in the destructive threads of these diaries. An important part of this journey would be to understand the emotion behind each side of the argument. Those supporting Obama very strongly are “afraid” that he will not be re-elected and even worse that a republican will be in charge. These folks likely remember the Bush years with terror, and there is truth to that fear. The anti Obama folks have fear too. Both sides fear invalidation and not being heard. Meanwhile the anti Obama folks fear that no one is seeing an erosion of rights, and a support of the corporate corruption being seen as perpetuated or helped by Obama’s policies and behaviors. Both sides fear losing the “American Dream”. When there is strong emotion, there is black and white thinking. There will be more judgments and more theory.

When we work the dialectic we acknowledge truth on both ends of the polar. We make a commitment to the notion that nothing in the universe is truly “black or white”. We accept the journey to synthesis the truth at each end of the polar argument. We learn to find a kernel of truth in each end of every polarity. Just as there is non truth in each end of every polarity. Both sides carry truth, both sides carry non truth.

Obama is not bad or good. He is both. The key to synthesis is to be able to confront, and lay out the truths on each side of each polarity. There are many polarities to be explored here. Corrupt and not corrupt. Progressive, not progressive. Accountable, not accountable. Synthesis requires developing the skills to argue more than one side of the argument. This produces a paradigm shift. It produces the ability to acknowledge an opposing view with respect. It produces dedication and commitment to synthesis over taking a polar stand. Synthesis is about doing what works, in this moment, given the truth and non truths of each polarity.

If we continue to seek “right” over synthesis of truth, we will destroy opposing factions. We will have to destroy or refuse to recognize certain elements of the truth. The key word for using the dialectic is “and”. This argument AND that. “And” replaces “OR”.

My husband is an alcoholic. His childhood had some trauma much like mine. His behaviors while drinking hurt me. And yet, I understood him. Peace came to me, by managing the polarities. The truths. I had to be able to acknowledge the real value of him in my life, and the real cost. I had to be able to balance the real harm of staying with him and the real harm of leaving him. In my case, confronting the truth of each end of the polarity resulted in more effective and honest interaction with his disease. It helped me put an end to denial, resentments and rage. It helped me learn to do what works, facing my fears, my denial instead of trying to change his.

The issue of Obama is much the same way for me. We could likely argue ways that he is the best president and ways that he is the worst. There is truth in each end of that discussion. He is a mixture of both. He has done “good” things. He has done “bad” things. He has done “positive” things and “harmful” things. And the same argument could likely be made about every other president in history. The idea is to avoid an argument about who is “right” or “wrong” and understand that both positions have truth. In this discussion about Obama there is synthesis. We have to accept certain truths. He exists. He is currently in office. We begin with a list of truths…facts. We extend the facts as far into each polar as we can. We look for effectiveness over right or wrong or any polar position. We look for an idea about what will work. He is progressive in this way and not in this way. The synthesis may be different for each person. We don’t all have to agree to interact with these polarities in the same way. We can choose what works for us.

When dealing with alcoholic families or families where there is a severe disability like autism. Oftentimes, the first discussion is about staying or leaving the person perceived to be causing the pain. It is as if these two positions are the only two that exist. We either put him in a home or keep him. We kick him out or keep him. We put him in treatment or keep him. We change him or keep him. In many cases “keep him” requires change him. But in reality what works is to stop needing to change the other person, and to change ourselves to meet the truth of the situation. So with autism it might mean facing a truth about the amount of change that is possible and confronting that truth with more tolerance and effectiveness. With alcoholism it might mean facing a truth about trying to change an alcoholic.

It first means that we must accept what is. What is really true. When we are busy defending a position over seeking truth, we will often times only allow “truth” or the polar truths that support our end of the polar. Leaving or staying is a polarity. So the truth about staying, the truth about leaving will bring an different perspective than…we should stay with Obama or leave Obama. We should stay with Obama AND leave Obama. The synthesis is how we choose to interact with the polarities in an Obama administration. It focuses on what we WILL do in response to the kernels of truth in each polarity. Not on arguing one side over another.

In my work as a counselor, many families have learned to stop focusing on the question of leave or stay, and have found a synthesis for what is. In that synthesis they have found peace for themselves and the family. In my case, my husband drank through almost two years as the family “stayed” facing the truth of his disease. We stopped denying and started dealing with the reality of the disease by seeking effectiveness over leaving or staying. This required learning to do things that were often uncomfortable. Not leaving the kids with him instead of trying to get him to promise to stay sober. Refusing to let him drive the vehicle that was in my name. (no matter how angry he got.) Learning to leave the house to prevent an argument and to do it with my children in mind instead of my emotions driving. So, with happiness, a trip to the store with the kids. (for them) He eventually quit drinking. My work synthesizing the reality of his disease was a lesson for me in truth and consequences. That journey was a blessing while the journey of trying to change him or leave him only produced emotions, chaos and sorrow.

The journey led by truth and synthesis did require my learning new skills but at every level it was obvious that the change required in me was for the best in the long run, not only for me, but for my children to witness. This is what happens when we focus on synthesis over imaginary static positions at the polar end of a discussion.

Many families are facing these types of scenarios. This is part of the design of the human experience. We can let it destroy us, destruct us, cause us to behave in ways we know don’t really work, cause us to act out of emotion, forsaking our rationality AND we can seek resolution, seek truth over righteousness, effectiveness over argumentation, empowerment over destruction.

There is synthesis in those difficult threads. The word “destructive” was used at the top of the page, but as this diary ends, we could instead discuss how these diaries can be “instructive” as well as destructive. Not “or” but “and”.

(Cross posted on DKOS)

Previous post

Broken: US Infrastructure Needs Still Great

Next post

And Then Comes New Hampshire



I am a licensed mental health counselor specializing in the treatment of trauma. My twenty years of experience in treating survivors of domestic violence, childhood abuse, sexual assault and war have increased my desire to participate in studying the invariant relationships related to violence. My current pet theory has to do with denial and truth. The invalidation of those who suffer from trauma, has created symptoms that plague our society. The most serious symptom being the perpetuation of violence in our denial of it's consequences.

The truth shall set you free. But it takes skills (emotional intelligence) to handle the truth...because most of society...
"can't handle the truth."