A strong emotional attraction has many benefits. Austere adherence to everything from dietary rules to moral principles has been shown to deliver positive results. Strong emotions can fire people up and make the ‘e’ in emotion stand for energy in motion. Groups of people, who have centered their passions on a single mission, are nearly unstoppable. Unwavering beliefs can move mountains. There is a reason why the magnetic pull of emotional attraction has created so many impassioned believers over the millennia.
Five Moderating Behaviors
However, for the sake of social harmony, people need to keep their love for one thing from turning into hate for another (see the attraction-repulsion principle).
That is where moderating behaviors come in.
They are not meant to moderate attraction or reduce belief, but rather to lessen the likelihood of repulsive obsession, which is a destructive power that can tear through everything from personal relationships to diplomatic relations. There is a big difference between harboring a mild aversion to something and aggressively waging war against ideas and people we don’t like.
Although it is quite impossible to quell the human predisposition for repulsion altogether, especially as emotions grow stronger, we can reduce the potential harm. Here are five moderating behaviors that have been known to save people from their own worst instincts:
1. Focus on Attraction
Human beings can only hold a limited number of things in their conscious mind at any one time and we should employ that knowledge to our benefit, for example, by focusing more on behaviors and ideologies that attract us, making it so that there is less mental bandwidth left for something else.
Instead of railing against hate, we focus on love; instead of judging the angry, we offer them our peaceful presence; instead of warning against a dystopian future, we provide a hopeful vision.
Sure, it can be good to be aware of the worst that can happen and be knowledgeable of ideas that are antithetical to harmony, but then it is important to focus on solutions, everything from recognizing co-humanity to learning and sharing through dialogue and developing harmony from within.
2. Be Aware of the Attraction-Repulsion Principle
Awareness of the attraction-repulsion principle is often enough to moderate the most extreme manifestations. “Whoops. I was so attracted to this idea that I became repulsed by something that didn’t use to bother me. Good thing I noticed.”
This approach is simple enough, but it does require self-reflection.
3. Develop Humility
Humility is advocated in both religion and science. Everyone who pushes their limits, whether they are mental, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual, will find that the more they know, the more they know they don’t know. This understanding should lead to humility. Even if we believe in something with our entire being, humility reminds us that, due to the enormity of the universe, there are still many things that we do not and will never know.
4. Keep Your Sense of Humor
According to research by Dr. Arthur Deikman, religious cults have no sense of humor. Extremism thrives on seriousness. We have to maintain the ability to laugh, especially at our own expense. Laughing diffuses tension and moderates the repulsive disposition.
5. Slow Down to Understand
In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman demonstrates how we use our fast-thinking capacity to navigate the world most of the time. Thinking fast is based on our genetic tendencies (collective lessons from navigating the wild, for example), preferred ideologies (confirmation bias, where we look for evidence to confirm what we already believe), labeling (the terms we use to describe our surroundings), and personal experiences, to name a few.
In short, thinking fast is like driving a speedy car. Our field of vision narrows the faster we go. While thinking fast can help us in daily life (which is usually somewhat repetitive) it produces severe limits on our capacity when we are faced with unfamiliar circumstances and are trying to find solutions to new problems. Slowing down the thinking process produces better results in those situations.
Harmony in a diverse world relies on a capacity for slowing down, setting aside our preconceived ideas and initial dislikes, and making an effort to understand ‘the other’ with nuance. The more you know about what people believe, why they believe it, what motivates them as human beings, and so on, the less likely you are to respond to them with antipathy.
Aim for Fellowship but Accept Meager Results
Moderating behaviors don’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile. If people of different faiths and ideologies can occupy the same space without resorting to name-calling and violence, then we have taken steps in the right direction. And if all of that leads to friendships and fellowship down the road, even better, but don’t discount tolerance—it is always better than the opposite.
Rev. Gudjon Bergmann
Author and Interfaith Minister
Founder and Lead Educator at Harmony Interfaith Initiative
This article was adapted from Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides
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