We must become a truly empathetic society

This blog will be less structured than I usually try to make things, I’m trying to show you connections I see that are apparent to my brain and how I think with ADHD. More a ramblings and thoughts of the past 24 hours stolen unashamedly from David Slack who I would recommend subscribing to, free samples of his work are available to see if it is your thing.

The Press Leaders Debate

Fundamental issues with Leaders Debates

I’m writing this blog after The Press Leaders debate in Christchurch between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins. A debate that included only the two front runners in our democracy, the binary choice we’re constantly told we have to make between our two major parties. We’ve had our Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system of government for a long time now (since 1996) but our media is still trapped in a First Past the Post competition.

There’s a lot of issues with this, for one, since it’s inception – no party in government has ever been able to govern alone. That means that yes, other voices will influence those two present on stage. If debates are all they are hyped up to be as one of the key features of our western democracy, why are we still ignoring our MMP system of government?

Realistic contenders for coalition partners with these parties should be invited. And definitely all those parties who have been in government/or are in government should be present at the Leader’s debates. We have nearly a two party system reliant on a few % points to keep the other two viable parties in our government. MMP won’t have failed, the media and us in our complicity will have failed MMP.

The Actual Debate

Firstly the debate can be viewed here.

I’ll admit I don’t watch debates. I am someone who shys at times from conflict. Watching things I know will give me obvious discomfort, not to mention the reading of body language I constantly am attuned to, makes these debates incredibly hard to watch.

There were no winners in this debate, Ardern may have made better points, carried herself with conviction, and spoke eloquently about issues, but the very nature of the debate made it a loser for all involved. The press, the candidates, and most of all, we as voters and viewers.

You might have gleaned a small amount of new information, we know what Ardern and Collins drive for cars, but this debate would have had a minimal effect on the outcome of the election. It will have hardened the ideological division and thought patterns that you ascribe to National and Labour voters, it would have lowered empathy, and it would have given rise to a far more toxic trait that is eroding our social fabric.

It’s time to discuss contemptuousness

There’s a way of treating people currently in society, that is prevalent on an international level. Something born out of an old way of thinking, and that pervades and persists across the political divide, in workplaces, cultures, families, and even individuals. It’s responsible for all of us not being able to see how close we are to each other, and it’s something that I am guilty of at times, and I am guessing if you’re brave enough to take an honest moral inventory of yourself, you could think of examples where you’ve acted in this way.

In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the researchers sought to understand a new trait of personality – contemptuousness. There are some for who this is the dominant trait The study can be found (freely accessible) here – Dispositional Contempt: A First Look at the Contemptuous Person.

Here’s a relevant pullquote from the findings of their paper:

Dispositional contempt was distinguished from tendencies toward related emotions and was most associated with dispositional envy, anger, and hubristic pride. Somewhat paradoxically, dispositional contempt was related to being cold and “superior,” with associations found with narcissism, other-oriented perfectionism, and various antisocial tendencies (e.g., Disagreeableness, Machiavellianism, racism), but was also related to being self-deprecating and emotionally fragile, with associations found with low self-esteem, insecure attachment, and feeling that others impose perfectionistic standards on oneself.

Dispositional Contempt: A First Look at the Contemptuous Person

I think if we use two current examples from leadership in the world today, we can find almost text book examples.

Trump looking smug and disconnected
The Poster Child for Contemptuousness

Donald J Trump is a deeply sick man. Not just due to his recent contracting of COVID-19. But because he represents contemptuousness left unchecked, and as a result everyone on Earth is suffering because of it. Those in the US are more at very real threat to their immediate safety, but his rolling back of climate protections and ramping up of fossil fuel infrastructure is setting us on a course for global annihilation due to climate change.

Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) is an excellent author who wrote this amazing piece on the certain strain of toxicity that is currently plaguing American society. Men especially, I’d advise you to read and engage with what he is saying, especially if you think you’re a “man’s man”. There seems to be surface level indications as he states with polling numbers that we are coming to completely abhor this disposition in people, which brings me to my second example.

We need to talk about Judith Collins

Judith Collins is a highly problematic politician, leader, and communicator. Judith Collins is also a very contemptuous person. Stealing a little from Giridharadas’ article – “she’s a weak person who has always longed to be a strong one, and a weak person’s idea of a strong one.” (Paraphrased and Gender changed).

The one trait that media reminds us of with Collins is her “toughness”. The words “tough” and “aggressive” are commonly associated with her, in the press, and even in the public. This persona is a mirage, instead Collins is contemptuous.

There’s a specific emotion and facial expression that I implicitly associate with the trait of contemptuous people – sneering. Nothing good has ever come out of sneering at someone, it’s a human expression that denies empathy – and shows a complete disregard for peoples humanity.

It was noted by Russell Brown on Twitter that Judith Collins reminded him so much of Robert Muldoon, a past leader with a very aggressive contemptuous nature, and style of leadership that was authoritarian. Muldoon as Prime Minister even broke New Zealand law to cancel our superannuation scheme. (Details here).

Judith reminds me a lot of Muldoon, and that’s an awful thing, he was a terrible prime minister. His greatest achievement in my mind was getting drunk to call a snap election. Then @resurrecti0nman linked this photo:

There was a moment during the debate where one of the Stuff photographers (Joe Johnson) captured this image (a somewhat fitting photo given her disdain for photography):

A snarling picture of Judith
Judith acting with contempt

Judith Collins is a bully, a serial liar or prone to misrepresenting of the truth, and has no self-awareness or unemotional response to valid criticism. She perceives attacks on her as holding her to a perfect standard that others are not held to, when her flaws are sometimes so large and potentially damaging to society such as her cronyism with her Orivida. This attitude might have come from an environment where she saw constant valid criticism of a Prime Minister in John Key get left alone. When she was held to account for her actions in Dirty Politics, he avoided this using his “many hats” and “I don’t recall” persona to deflect along with a complicit press.

She is in a word – contemptuous. Will accuse others of constantly being weak – despite these people showing bravery in their capacity to show vulnerability, and at the same time completely unable to see or admit that she has vulnerability. This causes a massive disconnect, and the inconsistency here is why she’s a highly unlikeable candidate.

Signs of Hope in Aotearoa

When Judith Collins was elected I was nervous. Campaigns for people who should never hold the highest office due to their contemptuous nature had gained a lot of traction overseas. Donald Trump came to power by embodying this attitude. A victory for a fascist dictator who has gone on to kill over 210,000 of his own citizens through manslaughter due to his absolute botched response to the COVID-19 virus. He also provides a starting point for 38% of the English language misinformation around COVID-19 – contributing to countless deaths overseas. He’s objectively a bad person.

Collins embodies a lot of his campaigning style – she uses dog whistling language, has cosied up to religion, engaged in racially divisive language against Māori especially in regards to Ihumātao. These aren’t signs of a good leader, they are signs of someone who thinks that their way is right, and that they are morally, intellectually, and generally superior to all others. This attitude is flawed in nearly every way. The good news is – Collins is polling terribly, doing worse than the two rapid fire predecessors in nearly every poll. People of Aotearoa are rejecting the language of divisiveness from their leader.

Reflections on Left Wing Contemptuousness

I’d love to say that this is a partisan issue, but it’s not. We all need to stop treating each other with contempt. Everyday on Twitter I see microaggressive behaviours from across the political spectrum. Based on my personal analytics of my own Twitter feed, people respond far better to positively framed information, than they do on snide attacks on a rival party or position. Jacinda embraces a positive approach (while allowing her ministers to perform the necessary attacks to highlight the negative part of their campaign).

That’s not to say negative criticism has no place, indeed sometimes there can be acceptable or understandable contempt of a person. Tone policing can be highly problematic. When Donald J Trump was confirmed to be infected, my reaction was good, this man has caused an irreparable amount of harm to his country, and international relations. He’s undermined the very fabric of society. I wish him to suffer the consequences of his actions, and I also believe in compassion for all human beings. These are two opposing views I am comfortable to hold in my own head.

For me this is a morally correct position – I am a practicing Stoic and one of the main Stoic philosophers had this quote:

He who spares the wicked injures the good.

Seneca

Sometimes the greater harm is to allow evil men to continue. I know you all want a humiliating defeat of Trump in the election, and you have concerns about whether his death would be a good or bad thing for the US. I wish I had the view that this didn’t end in violence, but I see no paths left – no matter the outcome. 33% of Americans now believe political violence is ok, and we’re talking about a populace with the most guns per capita in the world. All safeguards against this have failed, and with the ramifications of a stacked court, peaceful resolution seems incredibly unlikely to me. Not having a unifying figure that the soldiers of contemptuousness have in Trump will still have a destabilising effect on their ability to organise.

I also think my view has best been framed by one of my favourite feminists – Mona Eltahawy in her Editorial: FEMINIST GIANT Does Not Wish Donald Trump Well.

The opposite of contempt – empathy

The way to counter what we are seeing is to walk a mile in that persons shoes. This is something I am still really bad at, I may seem like an empathetic person from the outside but I still react in a defensive and non-constructive manner when presented with criticism – this is partially due to Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria a byproduct of ADHD. I want to be better than I am at responding to feedback in this way – and I have just been provided a great way of doing that from someone who recently offered some criticism. An excellent article that I think we all need to read about how to do empathy correctly. Own, Apologize, Repair: Coming Back to Integrity.

It’s often hard for me to frame things without centering myself, and I do this constantly as a way to relate to people (often giving them the impression I only care about myself, or that I have failed to understand their position) – when I relate my personal experiences it’s to try and show I am listening, and that I somewhat understand.

End thoughts

A few last things to mention. Judith Collins has shown empathy before, she’s defended Golriz Ghahraman on Twitter on a few occasions, and I believe she is capable of change. I also believe that she’s been given the worst job possible, and is way in over her head. I am not sure that her positions these times are authentic, because of the current displays of patterns of behaviour.

I often think of the environment in the National party, and given National’s propensity to attack anyone they have contempt for, constantly punching down on members of society in vulnerable positions. This has included airing negative views about people publicly in their own party, they create a perfect environment for incapable leadership, and promote a damaging mental health environment. They are all byproducts of toxicity, and a toxic institution must be rebuilt from the ground up, with a set of core values.

Empathy must be at societies core, because contempt never made anyone happier, and the results of a truly contemptuous leadership can have dire consequences for everyone.

Published by roryreckons

I am an ADHD/Autism/OCD advocate and independent ADHD/Autism researcher. I am training in 2021 to become an ICF Accredited ADHD coach. I write mainly about ADHD/Autism/OCD/Mental health issues, but will also discuss morality, abolition, and current affairs occasionally.

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