How to Survive the Election

Dread. That’s what I feel, every time I think about the 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 haven’t yet had the right of suffrage for a full 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.

How to survive the electionHere are some things that might help us survive the election:

• 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 1st bullet above).

• Unfollow is your friend. So are regular breaks from 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.

How to survive th election• Remember that this election is not all there is. Consider the lilies of the field. Consider art and poetry and marching bands and the glory of a midsummer thunderstorm.

• When you cannot bear to think about the candidates any more, 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.

• 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 on November 9, 2016.

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27 Comments

  1. Ashley

    This article seems like you’re mostly advocating hiding from the democratic process. I think you’re missing the best strategy: ENGAGE. Don’t just refuse to argue with people and ignore it all. Yes, those can be good brain breaks, but the best way to feel good about democracy is to engage with it. Learn about the candidates for yourself, research the important issues and how they stand, take a look at their records, READ THE NEWS, and learn about the world we live in. Ignoring it because it’s unpleasant isn’t going to do anyone any good. Yes, take breaks if you’re overwhelmed. That’s normal and needed. But then get back in there because this is YOUR country too and your kids’ country too and your vote and your engagement matters. Then instead of dread, you can feel good about being involved and actually accomplishing something. Those heroes you mentioned, MLK, etc. They didn’t just hide from the world. They gave their lives to engaging with the issues and doing everything they could to change the problems they saw.

    • Clare

      Ashley, I so agree with you! You can still make a case for your views kindly and in a dignified way, and in s year such as this it is more important than ever to do so! Sharing opinions only becomes troublesome when people become aggressive and nasty.

    • Ashley

      I don’t think she is saying not to engage or be informed. In fact, she points out from the beginning that it’s a privilege to live in a democracy where women have the right to vote. I don’t think she’s saying that at all. What I got from her article is that yes, the stakes are incredibly high, we need to be as informed as ever and we need to vote, BUT, we also need to remember that passion is no excuse for insensitivity or rudeness. We may be particularly passionate about an issue, party or candidate, and while we have a right to our opinion, it is not our right to force others to believe the same as us or bully them into thinking one way or another. Maybe it’s just me, but that seems to be all I am seeing on my news feeds or in the media. I am finding it hard to be hopeful with this election when it seems that the issues, the candidates and the parties are fraught with negativity, and I think she was more trying to encourage us in the bigger picture of the next 50-100 years. Thanks for your article, Katherine!

      • Tsh Oxenreider

        Yeah, I don’t feel like Katherine is saying this, either. When she first pitched me this idea for her next AoS essay, I thought, “Hmm…. We’ll see if this can be done.” Thoughtful encouragement that neither discourages discourse nor continues to spread the fuel we so rampant on social media?

        I feel like she’s done a lovely job here. In fact, it was a balm for me to read it in these crazy times. It brought tears to my eyes.

        • Katherine Willis Pershey

          Thank you for trusting me to write this, Tsh – I wasn’t entirely sure if it was possible when I pitched it, either, but it seems absolutely critical that we find a way to be passionate and compassionate, engaged but not obsessive.

    • Katherine Willis Pershey

      I certainly didn’t mean to encourage disengagement, but civility and moderation. My tendency in past election cycles is to over-engage – to saturate myself in the news and social media commentary, so much that I’m not only overwhelmed, but also so that I lose sight of the bigger picture.

      And just to clarify, I don’t at all have a problem with people sharing their opinions on social media, etc. I do this on the regular. But when I’ve found myself going back and forth in the comments section with a total stranger, it feels like more heat than light.

      Thank you for reading and responding! 🙂

    • Maryalene

      I agree with both Ashley and Katherine. We should engage. The issues are simply too big for us not to be advocates.

      But there is a difference between having a thoughtful discussion with a neighbor you might influence and trying to rationalize with a Twitter troll. I find that every time I enter a political discussion online, I instantly regret it. Seems like nothing productive comes from it, and it only serves to make me feel anxious and agitated.

      • Guest

        “I find that every time I enter a political discussion online, I instantly regret it.” A to the men.

    • Genevieve

      Ashely totaly agree!
      Jump Into the fray! Be tolerant! Advocate! Be tough skinned! Don’t take opposing opinions personally. Multi-task…you can enjoy the lillies and fight for your beliefs at the same time! Listen! And never stop engaging, you might change a mind!

  2. Melanie

    Thank you for this; it echoes my thoughts exactly. I was just talking with my husband about it yesterday; if we spend our time focusing on being good to others, it’ll all work out in the end. My facebook feed is so full of vitriol right now; I’m making liberal use of the “unfollow” button…I joked to my friends that, come November, it’ll be nothing but cat pictures and cooking videos;).

    • Tina

      The way I’m going, by Election Day, it may be nothing, period! 🙂

  3. Betsy

    Perfect timing on this article. Yesterday I had tea with a friend and listened to her talk about how there are groups in the country that need to go…..her negativity made me extremely uncomfortable. She went on and I remembered what my grandparents went through when they arrived in the United States from Europe. Nasty comments of where they came from, a handicapped daughter that should be kept in the house. From this we learned not to judge any group of people, to treat everyone with respect because there are good people in every group. Unfortunately there are some that think it’s their right to post or say whatever hatred they feel. This is a difficult election but in my heart I know that the good will prevail in the end.

    • Katherine Willis Pershey

      I think the hardest part of trying to remain positive and hopeful in this season is when we’re faced with people who are negative. I hope you can maintain your sense of peace and hope!

  4. Carmella

    Katherine! This is so refreshing, well articulated, and hopeful. Thank you for encouraging us to engage in and support the political causes and positions that we believe in, all while under the umbrella of kindness. Thank you for reminding us to engage in the broader picture of life. And (especially) in the midst of political turbulance, thank you for lifting our eyes to see the beautiful humanity that comprises America.

    • Katherine Willis Pershey

      Thanks for your generous words, Carmella! I’m glad the essay spoke to you.

  5. Kitchenfairy

    Tsh and Katherine, thanks for the thoughtfulness and neutrality of this post. These are quality suggestions for people on both sides of the aisle – actions that improve our lives over the next several months and also the lives of those we come into contact with. I like your reminder about the difference between dying on a mountain and killing on it. It’s perfectly acceptable to engage, but it’s essential to hold on to our humanity while we do it.

  6. Emily

    I won’t be voting in November – I live in a different country (I do vote here, though!)
    May I suggest, too, that looking to other news sources can be a great way to gain new perspective: If you always get your news from the same paper/website/tv station, you get only one (inevitably biased) perspective.
    Try a website from another country, and see what they think of the candidates’ international policy.
    Read a foreign newspaper (most libraries have at least a few) and learn how another part of the world views the decision you get to make.

    I have been reading various websites through this campaign, and it is fascinating to see the issues which are seen as important by different people from different places. It gives a new perspective on the election, for sure! (I did it when my own country voted, too).

  7. Linda Sand

    I also remind myself that the president has limited powers and that we’ve had do-nothing congresses long enough that is it unlikely much of the big picture will change anyway so it’s best to keep working on what WE can do. Donate, help, serve in ways that make your part of our world better. Including helping the good local politicians move up the ladder so maybe we’ll have better national candidates in the future.

  8. Devi

    It’s a huge relief to read something like this, Katherine. I’m not from the US (but lived there for a long time) and live in Australia currently, and I am sick of the US election dominating news cycles and my social media feeds. We’ve got an election coming up in Oz, too (July 2), and while it is contentious, I think there is more going on even in our media about the US elections. There need to be a group of people who think and live and do in a manner that is civil, thoughtful and hopeful, and I hope we can be those people.

  9. Mark Crane

    I appreciate your point Kathrine, I really do. Going forward I am going to try to be less vitriolic on my posts regarding the political atmosphere going on now. However, the violations of human dignity that we are seeing from certain camps is way to dangerous to ignore. In my 66 years, I have never seen anything that compares, (with the exception of the civil rights struggle) even during the Vietnam era. I was not around during the pre WWII era, but every thing I was able to learn from my father and that I read is to similar for comfort. I feel I must continue to denounce the hatred and bigotry that pollutes our process today. The parallels are to frightening to ignore.

  10. Ashley Urke | Domestic Fashionista

    I so needed to read this. Such an encouraging word when I feel so overwhelmed by the news and politics these days. Even in my smallness I can make a difference – not just in my vote – but in my day to day interactions with others. Thank you for sharing this!

  11. Guest

    Great read. My takeaway wasn’t that you are advocating abdication of our responsibility but rather giving ideas for how to stay sane in an insane election. Some of us have strongly negative feelings about both of the mainstream candidates so this was a lovely read/reminder. Thank you for writing it.

  12. Melinda

    Well written and thought provoking. I love your comment about the difference between “heat and light”. I too aim to be a light in the world. My greatest desire going through the next few months is that people can accept other’s concerns and opinions without referring to them as “haters” of some form or “–ists”. Our opinions are formed by our experiences, and we vote based on how we view the world. Since the nation is very divided politically, once again this election cycle, I like to remember that in reality that division is mostly created and fueled by the media and far too much editorializing. This is America and we live at peace with each other in our neighborhoods and cities. America is an amazing concept and an amazing country. American’s are compassionate people and we are resilent–so regardless of which way it goes, yes, the sun will rise November 9th.

  13. Anna

    I found myself nodding along with your article from the first word- dread. That’s how I feel.

    But I like that you were able to have a positive focus. Such a good perspective. 🙂 I want to be informed and aware of what is going on, but so often the news or Facebook feed is an endless loop of extreme opinions and rhetoric. Sometimes I have to take a break from it all. There are other things going on in the world, and there are many good things that can use our time and energy, too.

  14. Betsy

    Great post! So true that the sun will rise on November 9th! I don’t watch much news (I work with crime victims so I get my fill at work) but my 6 year old daughter see the news when she is with her grandmother. She came home one day and informed me that “Trump” is a bully. (Bullying has been a big topic in our house this year as she recently completed kindergarten.) She said she just wants a woman to win. She cannot believe we have never had a woman president and that years ago women were not even allowed to vote. Then she also went on to say how it isn’t fair that they don’t show “woman sports” on TV. (My husband is a big sports fan.) I had never thought about it but she’s right, they don’t air many female games. Who knew, a natural born feminist I guess! Thanks again for this article, regardless of people’s political views, we all need some extra help getting through this election!

  15. Rebecca Hamilton

    Great article 🙂

    Also, a reminder from someone who works in state politics/government: the presidential election is not the only thing on the ballot. Most likely there will be dozens of state and local elections, not to mention Propositions or Initiatives (depending on where you live) on your ballot.

    Despite not having good choices (IMO) for the presidential, there are plenty of good choices out there for state and local politics. These races often determine who is important in politics 10 to 15 years down the road–so they are important!

    • treen

      THIS. State elections matter so much for exactly this reason, but often get ignored because the federal level sucks up all the media time. State and local elections also impact our every day lives more than Congressional actions, because those people/issues are right where we live. (I worked in state govt for 6 years before quitting to stay home with my kids. Interesting times!)

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