Commentary: Too many of us are political junkies | Remark

More and more of us are becoming political junkies looking for our next dopamine hit.

Dopamine, that reward of pleasure in our brains, is offered as encouragement to most people when we do good things and that’s why our addictions are so hard to give up. For me, it’s the chips and cookies I buy when I’m stressed. For others, it’s about winning political power, opioids, alcohol, tobacco, video games, pornography, winning an argument, “being right” and more.

Every time we watch media that confirms our beliefs, we get a little dopamine. This is why it feels like torture when we expose ourselves to news that is not in line with our beliefs. There is no pleasure hit with dopamine to help expand our views. That’s why facts don’t matter to people who have different beliefs. Most people don’t have enough reason to develop the stamina to withstand the feeling of torture. No, it’s not really torture. It’s healthy civic behavior with no obvious reward.

As a nation, we’re looking for our next dose of dopamine. This led us to the gates of at least two different realities. One leads to corruption and greed everywhere. And the other…wait. The other reality also offers corruption and greed. Where we differ is on the cause of corruption and greed. There are many complaints to be made; the opposing party, “those people”, giant corporations and Wall Street among too many to name. And guess what? When we assign blame “out there,” we get a dopamine hit. Because it’s not me. Righteous or self-righteous feelings arise.

As a nation, we have bypassed our collective chemistry. And like any addictive behavior, ruin will follow unless we stop looking for our next fix and start addressing the pain, the trauma, the reality that we are all responsible for. America will not be healthy until we reset our national chemistry, including normal amounts of dopamine for healthy behavior.

Why have we succumbed to a culture fueled by addiction where we would sacrifice our country?

Social media algorithms made our fixes easier to get. Count the reactions on our own publications. More than 50? Dopamine hit. Like or “angry face” someone else’s post? Dopamine. Share a post to find yours? Dopamine and more dopamine. Video games probably deliver dopamine even faster. (I’m not a gamer, but I’ve read a few articles about it.)

At an ever-increasing rate, Americans are going for the dopamine dose, before anything else. It could be the news, our mobile devices and social media, it could be the next election or campaign. This could be the next battle in the Senate. Dopamine rules us like political junkies.

How could we begin to break our addiction to political drugged dopamine? We could start with a personal inventory of behaviors that lead to a healthy or unhealthy nation.

Unhealthy civic behavior:

• Watch or listen to conflict entrepreneurs who hook us to get rich.

• “Stir the pot” like an entrepreneur in conflict just to get a reaction.

• Yelling at someone because you are frustrated. This includes rantings on social networks.

• Retweet outrageous misconduct.

• Share misinformation.

Healthy civic behavior:

• Adopt a “do no harm” attitude.

• Engage only when you can contribute in a healthy way.

• When triggered, pause and walk away. Manage yourself.

• Amplify positive on social media 10 times more than negative or angry content. Or decide not to broadcast or engage in grievances on social media.

• If you report an injustice, demand accountability and avoid blaming others.

• Run away from conflict contractors and don’t honor them with your time.

• Attend local meetings with elected officials and respect the dignity of others, whether or not you agree with their views.

• Be prepared to change your mind when new information warrants it.

When I’m challenged by friends watching conflicted entrepreneurs and getting into the blame game, I ask them what they want to happen and how it might impact their lives. I remember most people want to live safe and meaningful lives in community with others. We want to leave the world a better place than we found it and have some material comfort.

This is how I get my dopamine hits; by connecting around our common humanity. Not an absence of tension, but seeing other people’s fears and hopes as linked to mine. I see our common journey towards a just society.

Healthy dopamine comes from deep connection, exercising our (civic) muscles, and knowing that we are having a positive impact on those around us.

Let’s be healthy together. One day at a time.

Debilyn Molineaux is co-editor of The Fulcrum and President/CEO of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.

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