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Having lived for many years in a family with a member who has BPD, as I watched our Congress this past year, I kept thinking that teaching Congress members DBT Skills would result in enormous benefits to our country. After the attack on the Capitol a few weeks ago, frightening and sad as it was, I am convinced of this. Think about it:

Begin by setting goals for the Congressional Session:
How can we have a country worth living in? (Hint: not by getting rid of all members of the other party, although if that’s what you believe, we can talk about it.)

Do we still believe that ‘all men are created equal’? Do we mean all ‘people’ are created equal? Who are ‘all people’? What is involved in ‘the pursuit of happiness’? Do we recognize where these words come from?

How can we address lawmaking-interfering behaviors? By initiating new rules in the Senate and the House? What would those rules be? How would we enforce those rules? What would it take to get buy-in for the new rules?

Start with the most benign interpretation:
How would things change if Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell assumed that ‘everyone is doing the best that he can’ and ‘everyone could do better’? (Some members of Congress might need more skills coaching than others.)

It would be particularly helpful for members of Congress to understand the concept of dialectics, and the underlying assumption that reality is not static. As we saw this last Wednesday, life can change on a dime, and ignoring that reality allows us to dig in to positions that may not serve us, and certainly don’t serve our country.

Each session of Congress would begin with a short mindfulness practice. This would be essential because, as Dr. Linehan says in her DBT Skills Training Manual, on page 4, “(l)earning behavioral skills is particularly hard when a person’s immediate environment or larger culture do not support such learning.” Enough said.

Ideally, of course, potential members of Congress would be taught DBT Skills before elections. Then we could assess their adherence to the DBT Protocol of Lawmaking, and only allow them to serve if they demonstrated an ability to adhere to the protocol. Alternatively, we could teach DBT Skills over the course of the first year in Congress, which would give our representatives a chance to really see the benefit of learning some new skills, in real time.

I haven’t decided which skills to start with; it seems to me they are all needed. Radical acceptance is certainly a candidate for first. All this past year it looked to me as if Congress was focused on other things than the fact that US Citizens were suffering from Covid-19, either medically or due to income and other losses. The rest of us had limited options. Members of Congress had more options to reduce suffering in our country, but they appeared unwilling to accept the reality of this pandemic as the context in which action could be taken.

Lessen judgment: Discernment is a good thing; characterizing other people as evil is not helpful, even if it is ego-boosting, and what all of your friends are doing.

Interpersonal Effectiveness would be, ideally, a series of skills that all members of Congress have before they even enter the Chamber. Obtaining objectives while maintaining relationships and self-respect sounds like a prescription for what would benefit our Congress enormously this year, and going forward.