Dread. That’s what I feel, every time I think about a US presidential election.
I wish I felt a surge of awe and gratitude. It is, after all, a privilege to live in a democracy, to have a vote. Women have had the right to suffrage for only a century, and in many places throughout the world, people still don’t have a say over their leaders and laws.
I know I’m not the only one approaching the height of campaign season with fear and trembling. It’s the one thing people all over the political spectrum seem to have in common these days: a sense that this is a particularly fraught election.
The stakes are high. The tensions are higher. It feels a bit like a battle royale between worldviews that grow ever more divergent as political, cultural, and literal wars rage on.
I don’t want to succumb to the dread. Nor do I wish to jump into the fray. I have my political convictions, to be sure, and I will not relinquish my voice or my vote. But I intend to navigate these next few months with equanimity, kindness, and hope.
As a reminder, here are some things that help us survive elections:
• Be kind. Number one is always “be kind,” isn’t it? In politics and in life. Remember that the people who believe differently than you do are not merely one-dimensional caricatures defined by their party affiliation. Following the Golden Rule would be a great way to restore civility to an increasingly uncivil public sphere.
• You’re probably not going to change anyone’s mind by arguing. It’s rarely wise to engage in political arguments on social media or around the dinner table. The temptation to dig in and fight back can be fierce, but do you really need to take on your college roommate’s second cousin on that Facebook thread or your Aunt Muriel over rhubarb pie?
• You might find yourself on a mountain you’re willing to die on. That’s well and good; there are times when silence feels uncomfortably like complicity. But there’s a difference between dying on that mountain and killing on that mountain. (See first bullet, above).
• Unfollow is your friend. So are regular breaks from the news and social media. Just because those cable channels broadcast twenty-four hours a day doesn’t mean you need to tune in.
• Give generously to organizations doing the kind of work that nudges the world toward how you think things should be.
• When you cannot bear to think about the candidates anymore, think about Americans like Dorothea Lange, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Astaire, Amelia Earhart, Billie Holiday, Flannery O’Connor, Johnny Cash, Michelle Kwan, and Bryan Stevenson.
• Also, think about Americans like your third-grade teacher and the last person who brought you homemade soup when you were sick. Think about Americans like the newly minted citizens with tears streaming down their cheeks as they take the Oath of Allegiance.
• Think about the Americans who defend our country. I could go on.
Remember: the sun will rise the day after an election. Life will go on.