Many residents are feeling discouraged by the negative words we are hearing from those in the public sphere today. During discussions about stress management, some colleagues and clients tell me they have stopped watching the news and using social media. Others explain their desire to be informed, but, due to the tone of the rhetoric, they put time limits on their exposure to negative dialogue.

 

I’m incredibly fortunate to know thoughtful people from both sides of the political aisle who defy stereotypes and modify their opinions in response to best available evidence. These friends also strive to treat others with kindness — a reflection of the Golden Rule, a wisdom teaching found within each of the world’s major religions. If practiced, then the words we choose when speaking to others will mirror the way we wish for others to speak to us. Words matter.

About five years ago, our weight management team began studying nonviolent communication. Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, author of “Nonviolent Communication” and founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication, described his approach as a strategy for recalling our natural capacity for compassion and avoiding the traps of judgment, assumption, blaming and shaming. NVC also recognizes we all share the same basic human needs, and our actions, whether conscious or subconscious, seek to meet one or more of these needs. Rosenberg’s NVC skill set zeroes in on observations, feelings, needs and requests—all elements of honest and civil communication.

It was positive experiences with NVC prompted my notice of the book, “Mastering Civility,” by Christine Porath, associate professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. Exploring the cost of incivility to business productivity and profitability, Porath explained why we might act from our “worst self” at times: “When you’re exposed to hostility or aggression, you behave differently. Incivility sneaks into your subconscious. It’s easy to see how plagues of incivility can take shape and spread.”

Indeed, it has been suggested some characters seem to be competing for the lowest common denominator of unhealthy behavior. I’m hopeful, though, most Americans are firmly rejecting this vortex of negativity and working to elevate rational thought and mutually respectful dialogue as their “best self” response.

As Porath stated: “Whether you’re a CEO, a team leader, or a person from any walk of life trying to make a difference, you’re going to be judged for the little moments, so please make the most of them. In every interaction, you have a choice. Do you want to lift people up or hold them down? Who do you want to be?”

We each, admittedly imperfect individuals, can make a choice, moment by moment, to build a more peaceful, respectful and sensible family, workplace, community and nation. I would submit that our individual and collective health depends upon our decision to do so.