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Commentary

Calling all uniters

The air crackled with hope and reconciliation when &

the odd couple&

of George H.W. Bush and archrival Bill Clinton teamed up a little less than a year ago. After the two accepted George W. Bush&

s request that they spearhead efforts to raise private American dollars for Southeast Asian tsunami relief, the resulting friendship was a respite from the Michelle Malkin-Michael Moore school of confusing demonization with discourse.

St. Louis-based psychologist Kathryn D. Cramer uses the image as a political illustration of &

asset-based thinking,&

which is an incubator of the power of possibility, nurturing the potentials hidden within people who might normally be viewed as threats or rivals.

Its counterpart, &

deficit-based thinking,&

which prevails in most of our lives, especially within American politics and media, is fueled by fear about what is lacking in ourselves, or especially, in others.

Asset-based thinking is not necessarily positive thinking or optimism. A tyrant could be wildly positive and optimistic about his plans to oppress a population.

And deficit-based thinking is not necessarily pessimism, although it does feed upon an urgent negativity.

Cramer explains that deficit-based thinking dominates because it is so reliable a tool for ordinary politicians. &

It&

s a Darwinian, &

145;he who loses must be annihilated&

survival mode way of seeing the world,&

she says. &

Asset-based thinking involves a higher-order skill set and mindset.

&

It&

s not spin. It&

s an important focus and bias on looking at the upside, at looking at people&

s strengths and into moving the agenda forward.&

It is also what we crave in our bones.

&

Asset-based thinking is about what will thrill us, like going to the moon, or seeing the Berlin Wall coming down, or finding a cure for hunger and AIDS,&

says Kramer, whose book, &

Change the Way You See Everything Through Asset-Based Thinking,&

will be released this spring. &

It captures one&

s imagination, and excites and motivates us. Most people would much rather go for a goal that offers a huge human gain than warding off dangers.&

The same applies to those of us in both the traditional and new media. We know the easiest way to attract eyeballs is by stoking and provoking. We also know that the great mass of humanity despises such cynicism and longs to be moved to a higher place.

When the younger Bush has brought a deficit-based approach to his governance &

which is much of the time &

he has struggled. He gives tantalizing signs of the manner of asset-minded leader he can be through an occasional action, such as setting aside rivalry to bring Clinton&

s political gifts to the tsunami-relief efforts.

Yet let&

s be honest. For Bush and most leaders, it&

s easier to frighten people into getting in line behind us than to inspire them to a better place.

Is it naive to believe politicians and partisans can always be chummy? What about the genuine and gaping differences of opinion?

Another psychologist, Erik Fisher, notes that politics can again benefit from psychological principles that make for healthy interactions in daily life.

Fisher, author of &

The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict,&

says a person makes a far stronger impression through a little vulnerability and authenticity. &

You can say, I know where you&

re coming from, I&

ve been there,&

he says. &

Every emotion in its own right is strong.&

Remember the old line about how a Republican is a Democrat who&

s been mugged? If nothing else, it creates a personal framework in which a Republican who has a deep personal experience with crime can make a far stronger case for his view than by spewing statistics. It also helps when one goes into it not pretending to have all the answers &

which would seem a prerequisite for democracy. &

Helplessness lets me ask for help,&

Fisher says. &

Everyone is a student and teacher. Don&

t run from it. It&

s so simple at the theoretical level. But we don&

t want to see ourselves as we are.&

Soon enough, smart politicians and smart media may realize that these more unifying approaches would get more attention than the usual rhetoric, Kathryn Cramer says. &

I think we&

re ready for it.&

The technology is also right, she says. The very technology that increases groupthink hyper-partisanship can also increase empathy. &

We have opportunities that previous generations didn&

t have, because they weren&

t as connected. There is the chance to get to know &

145;the other.&

The other was once foreign. That would put you more on guard.&

Most politicians will still choose the easy road of scare-tactic thinking, because it is a lower-order, easier path. But opportunities abound in our day for unifying politicians who are willing to stir people to a better place.