How do we “ward off the buffoonery and blathering, the racism and sexism and homophobia, the distortions and demonizing, the rhetorical cruelty, the cover-ups, the abysmal ignorance and flat-out lies that suck the marrow from our souls as the 2016 presidential marathon gains momentum”? -Parker Palmer, Breathing New Life into “We The People”
Seriously, how do we??
I want to be an informed voter, to be aware of what’s happening in our country and to understand what the Presidential candidates hope to accomplish. But I just don’t know who or what to believe.
How can so many candidates believe they have the Absolute Truth and the One and Only Answer to all of our country’s problem? How can each of them be right and all the others be wrong? Why do hostility, distrust and self-righteousness have to be the status quo for election years?
As the media and candidates spin their stories, I sit and spin (remember those?) and I’m dizzy. It makes one want to “hole up for the duration”; to turn off the news and hide every Facebook post that is political. There are some candidates or issues that bring a visceral response—my stomach hurts, my heart beats faster, I get tempted to respond or post my own political comments (likely, equally as uninformed as the post that pissed me off).
So why do I put myself through it? Why did I stay up late to see that, ultimately, a coin toss could determine who would be the Democratic “winner” of the Iowa caucuses? Why do I engage in political conversations that cause discomfort?
I have never been very political. I would prefer to steer away from political conversations, even with issues I agree. Too often I find myself being the devil’s advocate because, well, that side needs defending too, right? Or I get so wound up (the sit and spin effect) because I know it’s not really a listening-kind-of conversation, but a trying-to-convince-me-of-something conversation. Political conversations seem so hopeless and people become so divided.
I don’t like disagreement. I don’t like conflict. I want everyone to get along. But I know that I contribute to this conflict as much as I want to avoid it. I have my opinions that I think are right just as much as the person who believes strongly in something different. But having a daughter with a Political Science major and a husband who loves 24/7 news does not allow me to escape the political scene.
Escape is not really a good option anyway: I want to be politically and socially aware, to be able to have an intelligent conversation and an opinion about the issues and candidates that impact our future.
“Though much of our political discourse is toxic, “politics” itself is not a dirty word. It’s the ancient and honorable effort to come together across our differences and create a community in which the weak as well as the strong flourish, love and power collaborate, and justice and mercy have their day.” -Parker Palmer, Breathing New Life into “We The People”
Election years do feel toxic. It feels like there isn’t a lot of community that is created (except with people who are already like-minded). Community implies cooperation with those not necessarily like us, to “come together across our differences”. But it feels like there isn’t a lot of listening. There is more holding to an opinion, standing our ground on what we think “makes America great” (even though we don’t know what that means and the candidates don’t tell us what they will do to get us there either).
We need “a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.” –Senator Bernie Sanders
The word that has resonated with me during these past few months is “revolution”. It has come from the mouth of Pope Francis and from Senator Bernie Sanders. In both situations it is a call for desperate measures, a radical change in the way things are being done and the way we treat each other.
Please do not mistake me for putting Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders, or any political candidate, in the same category. Anyone who knows me knows Pope Francis wins any contest hands down (I have Pope emojis, case closed), but it’s the word “revolution” that has me thinking. Perhaps we all have a sense when things aren’t working, when we need to try something different.
So what can we do to bring about a revolution of tenderness during this election year when it is all too easy to see what divides us, to dwell on the differences?
Parker Palmer, in his article Breathing New Life into “We the People”, makes some excellent suggestions for managing the political angst of an election year.
- Value our differences: “Only through the creative conflict of ideas has the human race ever accomplished great things.”
- Listen for the long haul: “Holding your differences with others in a way that can sustain dialogue over time, giving everyone a chance to speak, listen, and learn.”
- Listen for understanding: “The more you know about other people’s stories, the harder it is to dislike, distrust, or demonize them.”
- Honor diversity: “Not only visible diversity but the invisible forms of “otherness” (from political persuasions to sexual orientations) that exist among people who look alike.”
- Act with hospitality: “We have the power to resist the culture of hostility that’s gutting American politics — to act daily in ways that foster a culture of hospitality…”
*all quotes above from Palmer article
Palmer is a Quaker, but this all sounds very Benedictine. St. Benedict, in his Rule, states “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.” (RSB: 53) Treating others as Christ takes intention.
So my goal for this election season is to be a little more Benedictine: to try a little tenderness; to be more hospitable, to be a little more tolerant of opinions different than my own. To have more conversations where I simply listen; to be less judgmental; to try to understand why others believe or vote the way they do. I am not an expert (on hardly anything, let alone politics) and I have a lot to learn. I have a lot to learn about treating others as Christ.
Having an attitude of tenderness and hospitality may be the only thing that can bring a revolution within, in this country or this world. As Palmer states, “Just as democracy can die a death of a thousand cuts, it can be given new life by a thousand acts of civility.” I will do my part.
If you are interested in topics of tolerance, hospitality, listening and self-righteousness according to the Rule of St. Benedict, I encourage you to listen to the podcasts listed below. Kris McGregor of Discerning Hearts interviews Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB, PhD, Prior of Christ the King Monastery in Schuyler, Nebraska on Benedictine spirituality. I highly recommend!
Card name: Diversity, It Takes All Kinds
More from Parker Palmer: Chutzpah and Humility: Five Habits of the Heart for Democracy in America
….and a little more from Parker Palmer! I was tickled to hear from him on Facebook in response to this blog post.