Many of us are probably still nursing a citizenship hangover after Tuesday’s elections. Regardless of where we fall ideologically, it’ll take a while to recover from the most expensive campaign season in our nation’s history. That recovery will occur faster if we recognize our biological predisposition toward healing.
Our bodies are proof that we were meant to find balance as we are literally designed to flourish in dichotomies. Many of our muscles work in pairs but often in opposite directions. The left side of the human brain controls the right side of the body while the right side controls the left. Even our perception of the world around us reflects this: the images of the objects we look at appear upside down on our retinas. Our brains automatically correct for this, allowing us to perceive the object right side up.
Most political campaigns appear designed to condemn our differences rather than take advantage of them. There’s an unhealthy focus on all that is wrong around us, and those who don’t think as we do are labeled not only as misguided but dangerous. It makes it impossible for anyone to reach across the aisle without being accused of betraying the party line.
Poll after poll suggests Americans are unhappy with this current political climate. If we harbor hope that we can truly turn things around, we can’t continue to demonize those with whom we disagree. If we take our ball and go home, we fail to acknowledge our biological imperative to live with others. That’s why hugging releases oxytocin, helping heal physical wounds and engendering trust. There’s a reason it’s a near physical impossibility to tickle yourself or that it takes 26 fewer muscles to smile than frown.
Yes, we could remain embittered and find others to feed off that negativity, but what would that accomplish? If we yelled for eight years, seven months and six days, we’d produce enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee. Banging one’s head against a wall uses 150 calories an hour, but maintaining all that negative energy takes a toll. Is it any wonder our stomach has to manufacture a new lining every three days simply to avoid digesting itself?
Our approach to the world around us matters. Our heartbeat changes and mimics the music we listen to. I’m not claiming it’s a waste of time to feel disappointed at Tuesday’s results: after all, crying has been shown to alleviate stress and allow us to lessen those feelings of anger or sadness. However, choosing to stay in that misery robs us of the ability to adapt and grow stronger.
We need to remind ourselves of our amazing ability to evolve, to renew ourselves even amid the worst of conditions. The human skeleton renews itself once every three months. When we were born, we had 300 bones; we’re down to 206 in adulthood, the result of an adaptation where many bones fuse together as our needs change. Scientists estimate the average age of the cells in our bodies is only seven to 10 years old, the result of constant regeneration.
Certainly our country is capable of similar regeneration. In spite of the TV ads that have plagued us for months, my hope is that those newly elected will understand that the body of American politics is in critical condition. We all need to seek out the healing that will bring us together.
Until then, I’ll come to the Thanksgiving table armed with one last biological fact I learned while writing this article: the human body adds seven miles of new blood cells for every pound of fat gained. If someone comments on my third slice of pumpkin pie, I’ll reply that I’m not overindulging. Like my country after an election, I’m simply under construction.