Unresolved Feelings Don’t Go Away
April 30, 2017
Article by Dr. Michael B. Grossman, DM, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, CNML
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (2013) said that: Unresolved feelings don’t go away, they just get buried and reemerge in other ways.
On August 8, 1974, rather than face ugly impeachment hearings, Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States. Woodward and Bernstein, two Washington Post reporters, were responsible for publishing the information that led to Nixon’s demise. The majority of their information came from leaks in the White House; from a credible, but anonymous source affectionately known as Deep Throat (no sexual pun intended). Back then reporting was an honorable profession and information was not published unless it was confirmed by 3 credible sources. Today the battle still rages on regarding what happened to Richard Nixon. Watch an old Archie Bunker show and listen to him complain about the raw deal an honorable man like Richard Nixon got.
Those angry feelings have still not gone away. So, let’s talk a little bit about the theories of change.
Change is About the Endings
Kurt Lewin (1997) is arguably the most important theorist on change. Lewin suggested there are 3 stages to change: Unfreezing, Movement, and Re-freezing. In the unfreezing stage a change agent comes along pushing the theme that the current reality is no longer acceptable. If the change agent is successful, he or she can get people motivated to change. In finances this generally happens in an 8-year cycle based on consumer confidence in the economy. After the market crash in 2008, people were worried about losing their jobs and became weary of spending their money. But slowly, over the last 9 years, the economy has improved, jobs have been more stable, and people are buying cars, and houses, and taking vacations again. That is unless you listen to Trump and ignore the facts of all the construction going on in places like Washington, Philadelphia and most states around the country. All this activity is what Lewin would describe as the Movement stage.
Eventually, though, people grow weary of change. There are a variety of reasons for this, the most simple one being fatigue. You just can’t continue at the frantic pace forever. Some of you may be thinking back to 2008 and, if you are lucky enough to have money invested, you’re thinking it may be time to put that money someplace safer than the stock market. The stock market is doing really well right now, but we know that run can’t possibly continue for ever, no matter what Trump says. So, slowly, people will start to become more frugal and they’ll tell their friends about their financial concerns, and their friends will start to worry too and the coal miners will find out their jobs aren’t coming back. Clothing workers will find their factories are not reopening because the issue isn’t tax relief for businesses. The real issue is that in China workers make $2 a day! Eventually the system and the people re-freeze and change grinds to a halt.
William Bridges (2004) built on Lewin’s theory suggesting that the ENDING is more important than the beginning. Or, WIIFM (What’s in it for me?). What Trump brilliantly did was promise people there was a lot in it for them if they supported him. Cleverly he didn’t give details, but like any con-man he said, “Trust me, we’ll get it done.” And people believed him. People don’t want to hear about reality.
Thomas Huxley said: The most important lesson in life is to do what you need to do, when you need to do it, whether you want to or not. It’s the most important lesson in life and no matter how early a man or woman’s learning begins, it’s the last lesson learned well.
I need to lose weight, eat more healthy, and exercise more. But life’s too short and that chocolate cake looked really good at dessert last night. What Bridges contributed to the body of knowledge on change is that it’s not a series of discrete events, but a continuous flowing process. When was the beginning of the shift in thinking by the American people? Was there a discrete event, or was it a gradual process? Bridges would suggest for Conservatives it was the passage of a series of bills that Ended things they believed were important. Listen to the things they complain about innocent babies being aborted, destroying the sanctity of marriage, taxes are too high, we need a strong army, America first, buy American, and Built in America.
Bridges (2004) suggested there were three overlapping stages to change: The ending, neutral zone, and beginnings.
Beginnings take place before the actually ending occurs. Think of the patient with a chronic illness. They don’t suddenly die. The process of ending can take years or decades to unfold. Much of this is also based on the stages of group development.
Anytime a new idea is presented the group needs to wrap itself around the reality of it all. The second stage in that process is called the storming stage (Thompson, Aranda, and Robbins, 2000). Most people think of the storming stage as a problem, yet in reality it’s an important step to making a successful transition at anything in life, especially organizational or national change.
If we shut down the debate, we never get to the good outcomes that come from debating an issue. It’s not a problem to have a healthy dialogue and come to a synergistic solution that is better than your or my original idea.
In Bridges theory, the endings are more important than the beginnings. Bridges theory is built on the grieving process. Think about what happens when people lose a loved one. Suddenly the person who died was the greatest man to ever walk on earth and the grieving person can’t imagine life without them. How long does it take to get over the Ending Stage of losing a loved one? Everyone is different. How long does it take to get over ending your relationship with a lousy boss? It depends, everyone is different. Think of the famous Ronald Reagan line: Are you better off today than 8 years ago? Personally I don’t think that’s the point. The point is (was) what are you going to do about it? But words only account for 7% of communication, a topic we’ll discuss a little later.
If the candidate looks good, sounds tough, and has the “it” factor, people will vote for them. Remember none of this is about facts, or words, or history of what really happened or what’s likely to happen moving forward. It’s about emotions and in the battle between emotion and intellect, emotion always wins. It’s why you hear people say, I know I shouldn’t read all that crap on Facebook, but I can’t look away
Most people think change is about the dream, the vision for the future. They think about Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech. But if you study King you find that he followed several sound principles of change theory: Peaceful, non-violent demonstrations and pushing the discomfort of the current situation even more than the vision for the future. Peter Senge (2006), one the great modern day Systems Theorists, said that we’re in a constant battle between the Current Reality and the Vision. The closer you get to the vision, the greater the tension to go back to the current reality. It’s like there’s a giant rubber band around you, pulling you in both directions.
Senge said this is not good or bad, it just is the reality of life and the dynamic tension between the current reality and the vision is what leads to change. If you study the real facts of history you know that everyone didn’t want to go to war with England. In fact even after the famous Tea Party battle in Boston Harbor, states like South Carolina said it was a northern problem that had nothing to do with them. The vision of 13 united colonies came far later after the British slowly attacked on state after the other and the current reality became intolerable. Indeed human behavior around change has not changed in at least 5,000 years of recorded history.
If you prefer the Bible for your facts consider that the Jews were freed by Pharaoh and while Moses was on Mt. Sinai getting the 10 Commandments from God, his people were down below building statues of Egyptian Idols to worship. Why? Because it was all they knew and the current reality was the path of least resistance despite 700 years of being slaves in Egypt.
As psychologists will tell you, the word family comes from the word familiar and indeed people will often revert to what they’re familiar and comfortable with, regardless of how dysfunctional it may be. Look at a political rally objectively some time. The politician sits up front and rallies energy around his or her themes and people just eat it up. Why?
Because only 7% of communication is the words.
Only 7% of Communication is the Words
Mehrabian (1981) did landmark research saying that only 7% of communication in volatile situations is about the words. The other 93% is about body language (53%) and tone (37%). Political advisors know this and it’s why they encourage politicians to wear a nice blue suit, a red tie, stand tall, and sound tough. In some sense this may be a big factor in why Hillary lost. How many times have you watched a politician give a speech and heard people say how fabulous it was and you ask, “Did you hear what he said?”
And they reply, “Yes, that he’s going to make America great again.” But how? What are the specifics? What’s he actually going to do?
There’s a play on Broadway right now in which two actors reverse their roles in pre-election debates. Hillary is played by a man and Trump is played by a woman. The point is Hillary’s speeches made a lot of sense but only 7% of the words matter.
Malcolm Gladwell (2000) wrote an incredible article about this dynamic. He quoted an experiment in which students were shown a 10 second video of a professor, with no sound, and asked to rate them on a 15 item personality tool. The scores were the same for students who had the professor for an entire semester as those who had never interacted with the professor. Similar results were found in job interviews.
It’s the power of first impressions. A person walks into an interview and in the first 10 seconds (most of the time) the interviewer has made up their mind and the remaining time is spent confirming their first impression. Political advisors call this the “it” factor. I don’t know what “it” is about him, but I really like him. Or I don’t know what “it” is about her, but I just don’t trust her. Frank Sinatra had “it,” Frank, Jr. did not. Ronald Reagan certainly had “it,” as did Sarah Palin for many people. Regardless of your opinion of the man Bill O’Reily has “it” appeal and Bernie Sanders has more “it” appeal than Hillary. Bill Clinton had major “it” appeal. Talk to anyone who has met him in person or seen him light up a room. So, what does Mehrabian’s research tell us?
Words are important, but image is far more important to success.
So How Do You Push a New Idea?
How many of you went out on day one and bought the new iPhone? How many of you bought a hybrid vehicle early on? How many of you came our of the closet early on? How many of you signed up early for this conference? Rogers (2004) suggested that 17% of the population are Innovators (3.5%) and Early Adopters (13.5%) who embrace change, are often highly opinionated, and can influence others to change. You could say Bernie Sanders was like that, an innovator and champion for change. But, you could also argue that Barry Goldwater was the early champion of Conservatism.
So, why was Goldwater unsuccessful in his run for President? Because, less than 50% of the population was willing to embrace his theories at that point in time. It took another 16 years for Ronald Reagan to win the Presidency on a very similar platform? What was the difference?
Times changed. Over the next 20 years we had liberal and moderate conservative Presidents and the pendulum was ripe to swing in the opposite direction if the right candidate came along. As Senge said, the closer you get to the vision, the greater the tension to go back to current reality. Let’s pretend you’ve been on a diet, you’ve lost 20 pounds and you’ve got a whole new wardrobe. How much is one little itty bitty piece of chocolate cake going to hurt you? It’s the path of least resistance to have that piece of cake vs sticking to your diet. Just like a theme of Make America Great Again, sounded good to 48% of the population who each had their own vision of what that meant. But, most of them didn’t think about the reality of how we were going to get there. Ronald Reagan dealt with facts with his classic retort to his opponents of: “There you go again.”
Resistance to change is predictable. Think of the cold call salesman who’s trying to sell you something. Most people’s immediate reaction is, but I don’t need it. I’m fine with what I have. A simple principle of change from Rogers is that 50% of people oppose change. Indeed, 34% of the population are the Late Majority, who take a while to change, and another 16% are Laggards, who stick to their interpretation of tried and true methods. They may never accept the change. They are the folks walking around with a flip phone or talking about bringing back the coal industry!
So, what’s my point? The point is that in late April, seven states celebrated Confederate Memorial Day or Confederate Heroes Day in Texas. It’s a public holiday recognized in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Texas to pay honor to the 258,000 Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. It is observed in late April in most southern states, to recall the surrender of the last major Confederate field army in 1865 (152 years ago). Some of you may be saying, it’s to honor the dead. If you heard some of the interviews with participants, you may feel differently.
Yes, feelings don’t die, they just go underground and emerge in other ways.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t honor the innocent young men and women who died in the Civil War, but there’s more to this story than that. It’s not about just honoring the lost souls. It’s also about the fact that some people (mumbled under breath… Jeff Sessions,) are still fighting what they thought was unjust about that war, that the abolishment of slavery was bad for the economy, and that slaves were not people, they were chattel (property), and as Ben Carson would lead us to believe, they were voluntary immigrants, who enjoyed their work and had good lives. Unfortunately for Ben, most of us have read history books, and watch movies, and heard testimony from slaves, and over time we have collected more information and know that slavery was just what it was called at the time:
Slavery: a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls their life, liberty, and fortune. It is the subjection of a person to another person especially in terms of being forced to work, generally work done in harsh conditions for low pay.
But the Civil war was also not just about slavery. It was about the belief that the Federal Government has no right to tell us what to do in our individual states. Remember that this country was founded as 13 individual and soveirgn colonies, basically like 13 separate countries. The dynamic tension for over 200 years has been between Washington and the states. Did you know that after the Revolutionary War it was still another 10 years before the Constitution was ratified? Why? Because some states believed we only united to fight off the British, but once they were gone, there was a question as to whether we still wanted to work together. Which raises an interesting point about change and alt-facts. There are many interpretations of what actually happened historically. Just think about a large gathering for a family holiday and the various versions of the family history. History changes over time as more facts are uncovered.
Seek First to Understand
The most common complaint in America today is nobody listens. People complain about their boss, their organization, the government, and even their spouse. Kids complain that their coaches don’t listen, their teachers don’t listen, and neither do their parents. Covey suggested that highly effective people seek first to understand, before trying to be understood. In other words, they listen. Can you imagine a doctor who prescribed before listening, truly listening to the patient’s complaint? Indeed that’s the number one complaint about physicians: They don’t listen!
So what can we do to listen better? Well we can begin by accepting the fact that telling people they are stupid, or deplorable is not going to change their thinking about what’s going on in this nation. What is going to help is if you listen and help them to come to the conclusion themselves. It’s beyond the scope of this article to go through the basics of therapeutic listening, but I encourage you to read more about that if you aren’t familiar with the material. If you are familiar with the process, ask yourself why you’re not doing it.
History Changes Over Time
One of the things that Trump is struggling with is that history changes the more information you gather. Bob Woodward, that Washington Post reporter, said that over time, you gather more information that puts things in perspective. Woodward said he hated Gerald Ford for 30 years for pardoning Richard Nixon. Before Ford died, Woodward reluctantly interviewed him and told him how much resentment he had about Ford pardoning Nixon.
Ford said, “You know why I did that?” Woodward said, “No, I don’t, tell me.”
Ford said that He felt the nation had enough of Watergate, corruption, investigations, and didn’t need more impeachment hearings. He also felt Nixon had been destroyed and there was nothing to gain by pouring more gasoline on the fire.
I immediately thought of the nurse who makes a medication error and is remorseful and beating herself up. There’s no need to pile on more by starting an investigation to take away her license. She’s going to be careful moving forward. I heard a speaker recently talk about how there’s an algorithm to apply to a criminal to figure out who’s likely to commit another crime. The result might show, for instance, that a person who kills a man for raping his child is not going to turn into a serial killer and doesn’t need to be imprisoned. There’s also some recent literature on secondary victims, about the nurse who makes a sentinel error and is now a victim herself. In Philadelphia we’re having a run off election for District Attorney after ours was forced to resign based on corruption that slowly came out in public. The candidates were asked recently in a debate what they thought of the death penalty. Three of them said all the research showed it’s not a deterrent to crime. Think about it: Most murders are passion crimes. Do you think in their rage, the murderer is going to thinking about the possible consequence of the death penalty? But the interesting thing is the 4th candidate said that she believed the death penalty IS a deterrant to crime. Why? Just because.
Because we’re in a era of fake news, anti-research, and voting for candidates who satisfy our own emotional needs to be right. But, I digress (maybe)!
What About the Millenials?
I really feel for them. I vividly remember the 60’s. I remember John Lennon pleading: All we are saying is give peace a chance. Was it that simple? Of course not, but we felt like nobody was listening and young boys were being sent to Vietnam to die, for what? We need to listen to the millenials. It’s their world that is being destroyed and we need to find a way to mobilize them, to help them feel they are being listened to, and that their energy, and voice, and votes matter. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Why Posting on Facebook Works
Covey suggested highly effective people work in their circle of influence. The theory is that when you work within the circle of people you can influence, you have a better chance of effecting change. Does that mean you should never talk to anyone outside your circle of influence? No, it means you should ask yourself if your interaction is going to have a positive impact or just make you feel even more frustrated and discouraged. It’s about using your limited time in a meaningful way.
Author C.S. Lewis said, “We read to remind us we’re not alone.” That’s the role that Facebook and other social media places in keeping the momentum going. Many days I watch Trump and his crew and am incensed, dejected, and frustrated. But, then I open up Facebook and see a like minded soul posting something positive I hadn’t seen. I hear my friend say he’s taking a moratorium from discussing politics on Facebook and instead posts about kindness and little things we can do to help each other. I see Holocaust survivors post the truth about what they went through. I read about peoples’ struggles being LGBTQ and, for a moment, I’m rejuvenated, inspired, and ready to continue the battle for not only sexual freedom, but what I believe the Founding Fathers dreamed the United States could be: a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Many of you will come together in August for Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit and you will do that, in large part, to be around like- minded people; to recharge your battery so to speak; and to continue the fight to save this nation and to keep America Great.
So, What Can We Do?
- We can learn from what has worked in the past.
- Get out the vote!
- Get Millenials to vote.
- Listen to the people who think it’s not worth voting because all politicians are crooks and have a conversation with them to show them how a non-vote gives us a Trump administration.
- We need to keep ourselves motivated.
- What hasn’t worked in the past?
- Trying to change the opposition. It doesn’t work and it’s just frustrating to keep trying
- Avoid splintering into several parties or candidates. We need to stay united behind one candidate
- Fund programs and candidates you believe in
- Call your representatives in Washington early and often
- Get out the vote-get people registered
- Get people to the polls
- Listen to what people are saying, especially the young people
- Work in your circle of influence
- Become active, get involved and bring along 3 friends
- Never forget the past-don’t be distracted by the noise. As my mother said, “The more you let your brother tease you, the more he’s going to keep doing it. Just ignore him and he’ll go away!”
I leave you with the famous quote from Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, Revised 25th Anniversary Edition. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Covey, S. R. (2013). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Gladwell, M. (May 29, 2000). The New-Boy Network What do job interviews really tell us? The New Yorker, 68-86
Lewin, K. (1997). Resolving Social Conflicts: And, Field Theory in Social Science.
Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition. New York: Free Press.
Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline the art & practice of the learning organization revised edition. New York: Random House.
Thompson, L., Aranda, E., & Robbins, S. (2000). Tools for teams — building effective teams in the workplace with learning team CD-ROM. Needham Heights, MA: Pearson/Longman.