Living with the Other Half of America #3: choices — The Option Method
Looking forward to heated political debates at get-togethers during this holiday season? Are your chances for a peaceful Christmas, Chanukah or New Year’s Eve looking bleak? There are tools you can utilize to increase connection with those who hold opposing views so that you can enjoy your family and friends and preserve or create peace between you.
When we get caught up in the heat of the moment while discussing politics or social philosophy with family or friends, we forget that we have choices about how we respond to what someone else is saying. Often, the problem is that we don’t realize that we hold beliefs that remain hidden beneath the surface of the conversation we’re engaged in. These beliefs are memes — thought-forms — that shape our worldview. It’s very hard to hold a conversation with someone whose view on an issue is shaped by beliefs that you aren’t aware of.
For example, suppose Aunt Nellie argues that Muslims are dangerous and should be deported. Clearly, Aunt Nellie believes that Muslims are dangerous. That’s what’s bothering her. It’s right on the surface. But what underlies this believe? When we start to consider this, we begin to move the conversation to a deeper level.
The Option Method provides a simple procedure for getting deeper into our beliefs and opening possibilities for more choices. Generally, we want to ask four questions as part of our conversation.
The first question is: “What is it about this situation that bothers me/you?” You ask this of yourself, about your own reactivity, or you can ask another person. It won’t work though if you don’t do it sincerely. You have to be curious about what motives your or another’s reactivity.
If you ask this sincerely, with a tone of voice that conveys your curiosity rather than your scorn, you give yourself or Aunt Nellie an opportunity to explain herself. You, or Aunt Nellie, just might have to pause to find the answer to your question because normally, we argue the point rather than reflect on why we believe it.
The second question is: “Is this true?”
There are two possible answers to this question. If the answer is “no,” then you can explore further why they believe what they believe. If they have no beliefs that they actually believe are true, then they will probably realize that their position is based solely on social conditioning and, if they are willing to be honest with themselves, can be abandoned.
If the answer to the second question is “yes,” then you can proceed to the third question.
The third question is: “How do you know it’s true?”
Surprisingly, most people have to stop and think before they can answer this question because they haven’t considered the validity of their belief. The answer to this question consists of data or evidence. You can test the validity of the evidence by asking “Is it true?” and “How do you know?” In this computer age, you might check the validity of the data or evidence immediately. As before, if you find that the basis of the belief isn’t true, a rational person will realize that their position is without merit. They will either accept this, or find that they are in a very uncomfortable position. If the latter, you can ask:
The fourth question: “Who are you be if you don’t believe what you have said you believe?” Sometimes we ask this question hypothetically just to see if one can envision an alternative worldview. It’s a wonderful question because it opens one to the possibility of seeing things differently. If you asking this of another, it just might get them to consider how you see things.
This fourth question moves people to seeing things differently, to consider the possibility of choosing to feel differently about situations or events. It opens people to choices they had not previously considered. We always have choices, though sometimes we don’t like some of them and often we just don’t see alternatives. When we examine our beliefs, especially those core beliefs that underlie and motivate our attitudes, we either find that our attitudes are unfounded or that we have new choices for reacting to situations.
I want to add one additional point. Often, we are unhappy because we believe that we should be unhappy. With reference to the current election cycle, we could be angry or sad because our favorite candidate didn’t win. Why are we feeling unhappy? Because we believe that that is how we are supposed to feel. But consider what happens if we ask ourselves, “What is it about this that makes me unhappy?” The answer is that it’s my attachment to a particular outcome and my belief that I should be unhappy because my desire wasn’t fulfilled. When we ask the fourth question, “Who would you be…?” it creates the space in which to envision not being unhappy. One can get to a place of neutrality from which one can move forward: “It’s not what I wanted but I can continue to work for the things I value.”
Considering this point in reference to a conversation with Aunt Nellie, we can reflect on our feelings and find neutrality. We can also ask Aunt Nellie what it is about the situation that bothers her so much, and then work our way to asking who she would be if she didn’t believe that Muslims are dangerous. She just might realize that she can chose not to believe that and be less anxious about living in America. It could happen like that.
This approach to examining underlying beliefs and recognizing new choices is called The Option Method. I use it often when clients hold memes that limit their choices and cause suffering. I like to compare memes to computer program subroutines. They’re like little programs running in the background of our minds. They can be useful in helping us navigate the world. However, they can also limit our possibilities and cause us a great deal of pain. It feels good to reach inside, pull them out, examine them and decide if they are useful or deleterious.
This post is the fourth in my series on Living with the Other Half of America — the half that doesn’t agree with you. Please read the other posts in the series, and recent posts on Spiritual Bypassing, Mourning and Celebrating a Loss, Beyond "The Secret" and Karmic Shadows, which is the subject of my webinar on December 13, 2016.
Here is a list of topics on the theme of Living with the Other Half of America — the half that doesn’t agree with you:
#0: Transcendence — the Transcendental Meditation™ program
#1: Empathy — Nonviolent Communication
#2: Clearing Conflict — Ho’oponopono
#3: Choices — The Option Method
#4: Nurturing Parts Within — Focusing