Bernie, Hillary, Logic, and Emotion

 by Bernie (not that one) Mayer[1]:


Hillary may be logical, but where is the passion? 

Bernie takes it to the establishment, and we may really like the way he “tells it like it is”, but his plans and promises are unrealistic. 

That just about sums up the majority of critiques of both candidates and their campaigns. Well maybe not quite, but this is at the heart of a lot of what has been written about the Democratic side of this primary season.

Hillary, we are told, offers a dispassionate, detailed, analytical and incremental approach to change, but not an inspiring one.  Many go further to accuse her of being too “calculating” and offer as evidence the many positions she has taken over time that seem to have changed as the political climate has changed:  the Iraq War, gay marriage, or the Trans Pacific Partnership, to name a few.   

This raises two questions—what is wrong about being analytical, dispassionate and flexible?  And isn’t “calculating” a pretty gendered way of labeling a necessary element of the political process?  After all, thinking things through in terms of the political consequences and acting accordingly is something politicians must do.  Lincoln had to calculate when he could sign the Emancipation Proclamation and how far it should go. And FDR had to make a political decision about how overtly he could side with the British and commit to defeating the Nazis - before Pearl Harbor gave him his smoking gun?   

I don’t think the meaningful question is whether Hillary is too “calculating.”  That really is a gendered stereotype.  The real concern is whether she has a firm commitment to a set of values and principles that are the guiding forces behind her political calculations.  We want to know that our leaders decision making, their “calculating” if you like, is firmly grounded in a set of values and guided by a clear moral compass. 

But we also want them to be effective.  And we don’t assess this through what they say alone—we are also affected by how congruent what they say is with the emotional energy behind it. Here is where Hillary has a real weakness as a candidate.  She does a good job of conveying her thinking, her plans, her proposals, and her willingness to work very hard, but her emotional energy does not come through.  Put simply, she does not convey passion. 

But this is also part of her strength.  The paradox here is that her lack of passion is the reason many of her supporters trust her commitment.  In an April 2 article in the Washington Post, Stephanie McCummen quotes a Hillary supporter at a rally as saying:  “They always say she’s not emotional enough.   I like Bernie — my heart is where his heart is, but my head is where Hillary’s is.   She’s more logical.  She has more structure and organization to her ideas.”

Bernie’s supporters feel like someone is finally talking to their experience, putting forward ideas that answer our most significant problems, and sticking it to the powers that be who have created the mess that we are in.  He is not “too clever” to say what he really thinks, and he does so with passion.  He does not compromise for the sake of political expedience, but says what he believes. He has taken this same approach throughout his entire career.  In her statement explaining why she decided to support Bernie Sanders, even though she has long argued that only grass roots organizing, and not electoral politics, will bring about real change, folk music legend Joan Baez said:  “Why am I not spending my time trying to woo Bernie into grass roots organizing? For the moment I'm going with my heart, which I mentioned, he has won. I am not sold on "the system" and never will be. I’m sold on the guy from Brooklyn.” 

Bernie touches people in their hearts. He excites people.  He stirs their emotions.  But he is also criticized for relying too much on emotions, for not being realistic, for counting on a vaguely defined “political revolution” to bring his proposals to fruition, and for not laying out how this is actually going to happen.  Bernie’s call to action may be stirring, the argument goes, but it is anything but logical, rational, or achievable.

So - we seem to have a struggle between logic and emotion, principle and compromise, realism and optimism.  Bernie stands on principle, is optimistic about the possibility of fundamental change, and stirs his followers’ passions. Hillary is logical, understands the necessity of compromise, and above all is a realist. 

Conflict practitioners know these dilemmas very well.   We deal with the tension between these approaches to conflict every day of our working lives.  These are in fact three of the paradoxes that I discuss in my most recent book The Conflict Paradox: Seven Dilemmas at the Core of Disputes.  I argue that our essential challenge in conflict is to move past the polarized way in which we understand our choices.  And that is exactly what an effective political leader must do.   

Without compromise, we can’t further our principles - and principles form the map that guides us as we consider compromise.  Optimism that is not realistic is false and brittle, but realism without optimism is sterile and empty —why would anyone worthy of our trust want to be in the political arena if they did not think they can do something worthwhile?  And separating logic and emotions only makes sense metaphorically—in our lives and our experiences they are intricately intertwined.  As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has said:  “Emotions are enmeshed in the neural networks of reason.” 

Successful political leaders, and successful candidates, have to find a way of showing the reason underlying their emotional appeal, and the emotional energy driving their logic.  They have to demonstrate their capacity to compromise in a principled way and to evince optimism that is infused with realism.  Look at the most powerful speeches of Obama, of Lincoln, of Franklin Roosevelt, or of any of our most effective leaders.  Beneath the stirring call for change they each promote is a reasoned path to attain it.  Dr. King had a dream—and a plan for making it a reality.

So here is a prediction. The candidate who does the best job of bringing into their message both sides of each of these polarities will be the winning candidate.  This means that the winner will be the candidate who is able to connect to whichever side of these polarities they are least comfortable or natural with. This means that either Hillary will have to do a better job of engaging our emotions as well as our reason, or that Bernie will have to do a better job of showing the logic and rationality behind his strongly held and emotionally appealing positions. Only then will a truly powerful candidate and effective leader emerge.

[1] Bernie Mayer is a Professor of Conflict Resolution at The Werner Institute, Creighton University.  His most recent book is The Conflict Paradox: Seven Dilemmas at the Core of Disputes (Jossey-Bass/Wiley and the ABA).


This is the first post in the Staying w/Conflict - Election Edition 2016 series. Please check out the entire series by visiting the series homepage:

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You hit a lot of great points here Bernie (no not that one) Mayer. I got to feeling you'd be mentioning the Conflict Paradox just before you got there. I recently finished your work, and I could hear many of its ideas ringing through in this piece. Of course, perhaps as a conflict practitioner and graduate of the Werner Institute's graduate program, I've come to understanding the paradoxes you so elegantly defined in your latest book. Either way, what I like the most about this post is the paradigm of viewing this year's election through a conflict practitioner's lens. Let me do that tonight, and after NYC primaries are counted up and all, and maybe I'll make it back here with a more substantive statement. For now, just wanted to say thanks for posting this, I enjoyed the read and my newly framed way of thinking about things beyond the media's best effort to polarize just about everything about this election!  

As a conflict resolution specialist, I incorporate the DISC behavioral methodology also known as the Personal Profile System(PPS) into my practice.  Without being overly analytical, I try to determine the behavioral and personality traits of the disputants based on the Platinum Rule of "do unto others as they would want you to do unto them," a slight variation on the Golden Rule.  I know myself and my personality traits as a results oriented individual with a high need for social interaction and acceptance or a High DI.  My self-perception is based on taking the PPS regularly without any deviation since I first discovered the methodology more than thirty years ago.  In addition to knowing myself well, the PPS helps me to determine the personality characteristics of others and how best to interact with them.  This is not a 100% foolproof approach;however, I have become more effective as a mediator and communicator by observing the general traits of people.  It further helps me to speak to them on their terms and how they wish to be spoken to, as well as listened to in order to satisfy The Platinum Rule on their terms, not mine.

For example, I would lower my ego and direct comments before requesting an answer or conclusion when speaking with a person that is more detail oriented and desirous of time to weigh his options.  A socially directed person requires engagement and discussion and a friendly non-threatening duplex communication approach in order to feel comfortable with the mediation process

What has the PPS got to do with Professor Bernie's post?  Before I proceed, let me say that I am also "a guy from Brooklyn," East Flatbush to be exact.  I knew the neighborhood well where Bernie Sanders campaigned in front of his old apartment building as he mentioned his apartment floor number and letter.  Mine was 5C on Glenwood Road and New York Avenue.  The PPS has everything to do with this Presidential campaign.  Even an audience has a personality or Personal Profile.  The key is to identify it as quickly as possible before the candidates step onto the platform, to observe and adjust their remarks throughout while the oratory is underway, and certainly during the question and answer portion of the rally.  Here is where a logical and seemingly dispassionate candidate can modify her behavior in observance of the Platinum Rule to anticipate and address the needs of her audience.  Likewise for the candidate that is long on emotions and short on specific details.  Behavioral adjustments with respect for The Platinum Rule hold sway with groups, as well as during one on one encounters.  This is not easy to do all of the time and under every series of circumstances.  

So here is my prediction.   The candidate who does the best job of observing and practicing The Platinum Rule will emerge as the winner.  I modify Bernie's prediction by agreeing with him based on subtle behavioral changes that make us all more effective in communicating with each other either as a group or as individuals.  Either candidate can adjust their behavior to satisfy the electorate's needs based on how they wish to hear their needs addressed and ultimately satisfied.  Do the voters want logic or emotions,both, or the right blend of the two from their candidates?  Once again, "do unto others as they would want you to do unto them" is the key to winning the election for the Democrats, as well as the Republicans.  It is also the key to addressing the positions of disputants during ADR sessions.  Facilitate and certainly go beyond neutrality by practicing this important principle.  People will respond based on their needs as you guide them toward a mutually rewarding outcome.


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