We are in the midst of a dramatic, exhausting election cycle. It is a challenge to stay centered in the midst of so much division and fear. A challenge, yes, but not impossible. I share a few ideas on how to stay grounded and act with integrity, especially for those who are in the midst of the action, regardless of your political persuasions and loyalties
1. Don’t Hunt Every Rabbit
We are hyperconnected with the advent of 24 hour news cycles and social media and cell phones. This connectedness can be a blessing. Like me, perhaps you’ve reengaged with long lost friends, not to mention awful/amazing Dad jokes. Nonetheless, there is a downside. Between now and Election Day you may get 20 daily appeals to donate to a favorite cause or politician. Politicians will constantly toss up topics and themes to see what lands with key constituents. Pollsters and broadcasters will create an urgent sense of a horserace. Talking heads will clamor for your attention. Your brain is overwhelmed: What will it cost me to engage? What will it mean for me to not engage?
Remember, the hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither one. Figure out a strategy to engage with the news. Don’t get caught in the frenzy, on social media, via email, or on television. Strategize to make the most of your time. Take a media Sabbath as you need. You are not here to jump down every rabbit hole.
2. Keep with Your Practices
If you are trying to not hunt down every rabbit, it is important that you keep up your spiritual practices. If you read contemplative light, you are likely engaged in a key spiritual discipline. Walking. Praying. Running. Yoga. Meditation. Lectio Divina. It doesn’t much matter, just keep it up. Fear is all around us. And on all sides, folks will attempt to exploit your fear. Regardless which tradition it emerges out of, your practice is designed to center love and compassion and downgrade fear. So keep doing whatever you are doing. And if you want to impact the election, and you find yourself too busy to practice, practice twice as much! In the Christian tradition, St. Paul writes: for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power, love and self-discipline. How do we access this spirit of love in the face of enormous uncertainty? Our practices.
3. Know Your Story
You became engaged in political life—as a citizen, a voter, an activist—for some deeply important reason. The more that you know what motivates you to act, the more you will act from an authentic place. The more you know your story and what animates it, the more you’ll find compassion-satisfaction and life-giving activity. Have you been to a church soup kitchen and the volunteer dishing soup is curmudgeonly with their neighbors in need. They’ve forgotten why they are doing what they are doing. Your genesis story is the oxygen that the blood needs to give you life, politically and socially. Your genesis story on why you’ve become engaged in politics is your beating heart. Know your story. Know its lessons. And keep it in the front of your mind. Let that story of pain and resilience and triumph and solidarity drive your engagement.
4. Keep Your Eye on the Vision
Build a vision/icon board, with your “cloud of witnesses” in order to stay focused on what matters to you. The icons will call forth your deepest aspirations and values. They will focus your attention. It isn’t that these icons were perfect. They memorably responded to their times with creativity, imagination, and passion. That is what you are called to do as well. My vision board includes Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Bonhoeffer, Howard Thurman, Carl Sandburg, MLK. Who is on yours? Build it!
5. Stay Connected to the “Other”
“In a democracy, there are no enemies.”
In this divisive season, you may be tempted to use language that dehumanizes those with whom you have significant disagreement. This is a trap. Resist the easy temptation. Instead, stay close to at least one person with differing opinions. Proximity will enable you to see the humanity of those with whom you disagree, understand their fears, and hear their concerns. And in the process, you may find some common ground. This will help you to stay compassionate. You can retain your strong sense of right and wrong and simultaneously come to appreciate more their worldview.
Look, I am a hospital chaplain. When I knock on a door of a patient room, I have no idea what I might find. Fear, anger, fatigue, regret, an amazing love story. How do I step into that room? I stay humble, curious, and courageous. I bring to mind times when I have been nauseous and frightened, to realize again that we are each a fallible, decaying, beautiful human. I know I will look like that one day. So I get as close as reasonable. I keep my heart open, my mouth shut and my ears attentive. “What do you want me to learn about you today? What do you want me to see?” Humanizing the “other” takes humility, curiosity, and plenty of courage.
One final thing. James Baldwin, in Notes of a Native Son, tells a story about going to a Trenton diner and being told, “we don’t serve negroes here.” He snapped. He went a few blocks to a restaurant where he knew he’d hear the same thing. When he heard those words again, he threw a glass of water at a white waitress. (He missed and ran). He knew he could be killed, in that moment, and he also knew he was capable of killing another. He realized if he was to be killed it wouldn’t be at the hands of the white mob. What would kill him was the hatred in his heart, the bitterness there. Hatred was too great a cost for him to carry.
Protect your heart. In this season and always. Stay connected to your best self, your sacred source, and to all humanity.
You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God. You agree? Good. Then go with my blessing. But I warn you, do not expect to make many friends…
–Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable