The Transpartisan Review Blog #28


Language, Trances and Myths

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

When people are upset, you ‘can’t reason with them’. A marriage counselor taught that when upset, people often change how they ‘code their messages’. When this happens, they go into trances dominated by stress.

When people recode, their messages become symbolic statements about the self. This explains a lot about polarized political debates, with partisans motivated by fear of opponents. Progressives, terrified of climate change and of ‘deniers’ hold up mirrors to conservatives afraid of ‘socialist’ opponents.

Hypnotic trances are triggered by verbal cues. Donald Trump provokes fear largely by scrambling his actions and his messages.

Trances can take many forms. Milton Erickson demonstrated their power when held up at gunpoint. Without hesitating he looked at his watch and said ‘It is precisely 3:41 and 26 seconds’ and walked away. The gunman didn’t empty his gun into Dr. Erickson’s back because he was in a trance. Erickson broke it by surprising him (a common tool) and putting him in a new, paralyzing trance.

(A similar story had the gunman say ‘Give me your wallet’. When the victim responded: ‘No, you give me your wallet’, and the gunman ran away.)

People in trances are not in control of themselves; they are not fully alive.

Arguments made in fear appear to be about politics but are really symbolic statements about the self. The only appropriate responses are agreement (symbolic acceptance of the self). Disagreement (the universal practice) communicates rejection of the person and intensifies fear. No occasion ever exists to disagree with a statement someone makes about herself.

In fear and in trances, no communication is possible. Agreement reduces fear, and trances dissipate. Myths appear from verbal cues that trigger trances. Embracing all quadrants—freedom and order, both left and right—adversaries co-create four-quadrant solutions. Having shaken their trances, they are now alive and can work together.

Powerful political conversations happen when transpartisan empowerment promotes personal engagement, including people ‘of difference’, coming together and solving problems from racism to community and equality—embracing each other’s values in ways that maximize both freedom and justice. This is the experience that Joan Blades has had with Living Room Conversations in the U.S.; and that Lawry Chickering and Anjula Tyagi have had with Educate Girls Globally in the rural areas of two states in India.

Philosopher Ken Wilber has entered the post-election discussion with a 26,000 word essay, Trump and a Post-Truth World: An Evolutionary Self Correction, which considers some of these themes. Wilber plans to post the article on his site within a week and you can read it there. We will notify you when the article is posted. Or if you want to read it now contact us at and we will give you the code to read the article.

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