Reconciliation – The process of making a group of people or groups of people friendly again after they have argued seriously or fought and kept apart from each other, or a situation in which this happens. — Cambridge Dictionary
Fellow citizens, it may finally be time to consider initiating a post-election reconciliation process aimed at healing our collective wounds and resentments. As is the case every couple of years, both political parties played to win. There were harsh words, even vitriol. Truths, half-truths and lies were told. Egos were bruised. There were obvious attempts to deceive and appeal to our least virtuous inclinations.
Yes, there were clear winners and losers, for sure. But it seems like we all lost a little bit of our souls in the process. Could it be that when one tries to win at all costs, there is a kind of psychic damage that affects all of us at the end of the process? Victory does not always feel victorious, probably because to win, too often, we need to diminish our “opponents”.
I believe that many of us feel a sense of unease even when our candidate wins. The way they won does not always feel honorable. Can it ever feel good when in order to win, we have to shame, blame, and degrade the other candidate simply for having a different set of values, ideas and beliefs? How can this ever end well for our country?
The State of Our Civic Souls
I have been reflecting on the state of our civic souls since the election. I have asked myself, “how did we came to a point where being right is more important than being fair, just and respectful?” The Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hahn, reminds us that, “People suffer because they are caught in their views. As soon as we release those views, we are free and we don’t suffer anymore.”
We are all going to have unique ways of perceiving things depending on our life experiences, but the question becomes, how strongly do we identify with and remain attached to our perceptions? Our collective suffering through the election season seems to be directly related to the degree to which our political parties play up our differences and encourage us to become increasingly rigid and righteous in our ways of looking at the world.
Can we ever be free of the suffering if we don’t pause to reconsider the path we are on?
An unfortunate power dynamic exists when one side believes they have the power and the presumed moral high ground. When roughly half of the voting public is “right”, that means that half must be “wrong”. When half are “good”, the other half must be “bad”. When one side is “superior”, the other must be “inferior”. Can we move forward together under this rancorous and imbalanced system where we have to diminish the value of half of the voting population to feel a sense of accomplishment or victory?
Rigid Ideas Can Get Us Into Trouble
I have also been thinking about the word, “rigid”. Cambridge dictionary defines rigid as, “not able to be changed or persuaded.” When we take on a rigid and self-righteous view, we tend to make snap decisions that propel us into a black and white world of decision-making. We don’t tend to take the time to gather facts, argue them out with others who think differently, or spend time considering the inconvenient facts that get in the way of our pre-conceived ideas. We just tend to dig in deeper, reinforcing certain pathways in the brain that can lead us down the primrose path to righteousness.
In my experience, whenever I or anyone else becomes too wedded to one idea or another, or believes that they have the answers, it becomes very easy to get trapped in the quagmire of hypocrisy. Black and white, rigid world views are hard to occupy and even more difficult to remain consistent with – probably because most of us are confounding and flawed and imperfect. Surely we can see that a lot of what happens in our lives and the world could easily land in the muddy, gray space between two opposing sides. I believe that the solutions to many of our problems lie in this gray zone. I call it the muddy middle, and oddly enough, I find that it can be a beautiful thing.
I am not advocating that we give up our own principles or morals. But instead, is there a way to stay grounded in our ideas and principles, but also remain supple enough to listen to another idea that may be equally true at the same time? This more gracious space of tolerance and acceptance has got to be better for our collective hearts and minds than continuing to put all our eggs into the election day basket, where we try to win at all costs. While important, elections alone do not usually solve the breadth and depth of problems that we face close to home or farther afield anyway.
Indeed, We Can All Contribute to a Better Future
The saddest part of all of this to me is that our obsession with elections takes our time, money, mental energy and attention away from the thing we do have a lot more control over – ourselves– and our own role in determining whether this democracy functions or not. There will be more hope when we can all recognize that what we do in our public and private lives each day has a huge impact on whether the work of politicians can make a difference at larger scales. In our own places, we can renew democracy one act and one day at a time, not needing approval from anyone. When one takes up that challenge, our bitterness and judgment of others start to fade away.
Which brings me back to the need for a national election reconciliation process. Reconciliation requires a good deal of each of us. We need to forgive first and to not feel victimized by what has happened. When we stop putting our energy into the idea that democracy is something that only requires voting, and when we stop putting enormous pressure on a relatively small number of elected officials to fix our complex problems for us, then we will be better able to stop resenting, degrading, and “resisting” the “other side”. We will be able to speak from a place of authority and humility once we, ourselves, have been willing to roll up our sleeves in the public square and develop a deeper appreciation for just how challenging it is to govern well together.
We should never turn away from the things that are illegal or immoral or pretend they don’t exist. However, many of our problems do not fall in this category. Most problems require that people simply slog through the messy process called democracy together.
Can we build upon our existing capacities to do good in this world? If you believe we can, let’s forgive our fellow voters. Even if we have deep feelings about an issue, let’s work at leaving a crack in the door so another point of view can peek in. Let’s do our best (recognizing that this is not always easy) to look upon our fellow citizens with an open heart and try to understand what it was about their unique life experience that led them to form the opinions they have. If we can muster the courage to let them in, perhaps we can begin to reconcile our differences and all suffer a bit less in the process.