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Find a middle way on stress
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There are three things which happen with the energy of stress: we either absorb it like a sponge, we keep it out of our zone by aggressive forms of push back, or we do the healthy thing and deal with it honestly and effectively.  In the politics of stress, liberals tend to absorb it, and conservatives push it back.   It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that neither of these approaches is healthy. It is time we demanded something more sophisticated from our political leaders and their surrogates in the media.
The liberal view of the world is one in which we must face the reality that people are victimized by forces which are exploitative. The liberal’s response to systemic conditions which perpetuate victimization is invariably accompanied by guilt about our individual and collective responsibility for not making it a better world.
Conservatives tend to see bad choices and the lack of adherence to right or wrong moral formulas as the root of people’s problems.  They tend to scold others for being untrue or unfaithful to ideals they see themselves as the guardians of.  
These contrasting ideologies have led to a virulent debate about the role of government but beneath the surface they also reveal contrasting approaches to dealing with pervasive stress.
Stress has two aspects: negative stress and creative stress.  Negative stress is any challenging energy stored up as unresolved anxiety, guilt, shame or denial, or which has been directed at others as the energy of finger-pointing, blame and bullying .  The science of negative stress is clear: it damages your health and can ultimately be a killer. Equally, polarized politics reflects a toxic degree of negative stress which is equally damaging to the health of the body politic.  Creative stress is not about jumping in the hot tub or pretending everything is fine when it isn’t, it is about doing the hard work that is necessary to bring about fundamental change and resolve differences.
While negative stress swings between being passive or exploding, creative stress rides tensions and difficulties to express reason and greater truth.
While negative stress wants to enforce its views, because that is the easier thing to do, creative stress opens a space for honest, and sometimes hard, dialogue to meet our challenges.
While negative stress either expresses itself by accepting too much blame and taking too much responsibility for problems, or simply laying the blame elsewhere on the bad guys, creative stress takes responsibility, avoids scapegoating and moves from being centered in the problem to being centered in the solution.
Politics in America in the last year has witnessed scenes where people without healthcare and suffering from chronic disease have been shouted down and screamed at as if they were the embodiment of the problem.  It was sickening and disheartening to see the national debate sink to that level of attacking the victims of a failing system.  On the other hand we now have the President running around taking responsibility for the oil spill clean-up response in a way that is almost ludicrous and clearly not accurate.  More than anything how we deal with stress reveals how we deal with reality and live our values. It is time our politicians and those in the media who stir the cauldron of political debate understood the politics of stress. Between taking it all on our shoulders and blaming it all on others, there is a middle way. Let’s find it, the health of America depends on it.

O’Dea is a member of the extended faculty of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) and author of Creative Stress: A Path for Evolving Souls Living Through Personal and Planetary Upheaval. Visit him online at
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