I wrote this post back in 2016 after what might’ve been one of the most raucous political elections that I can remember. The next race was no less damaging to many relationships. And now, we face another here in the US. I bring an updated version to you again, not as any kind of political scholar – that I’m not in any way. But because I’ve been asked to do so, and in an effort to remind all of us the importance of compassion and understanding.
I don’t write about religion or politics.
I haven’t studied either one of them. I’m not an expert in anything but my own personal feelings, and they’re based solely on my perspective. I’ve never taken the time needed to educate myself in the vast array of contrasting belief systems or ideologies in either field, sticking instead to psychology.
But I’ve been asked to write about some of the hurt that’s occurring.
Many people are emotionally and spiritually crushed by what has happened in this election – not only by the result, but by how the process occurred. Others are greatly relieved by the same outcome, but may also have deep misgivings about what and how people were treated. Respect for another gender, for another race, or for another viewpoint, whether the display is public or private, has been harshly exposed as a continuing problem.
In fact, there hasn’t been much respect shown at all.
It was, afterwards. When all was said and done, candidates asked for a more hopeful or respectful attitude toward the other.
Interesting. When it wasn’t about winning anymore, no names were called. No insinuations of intentional harm were mentioned. The battle was done, and the “winner” could be gracious, the “loser” will wait for the next battle, and try to win again.
This happens in bad relationships every day. Contempt for each other leads to constant insults, distrust, and resentment. Those relationships don’t have a chance to be fulfilling or productive.
The candidates don’t have a personal relationship with one another. They don’t have to wipe all this up, and try to get along. Things have been said that can’t be taken away, but they can turn the next political page.
Yet all of us who have been watching and having conversations – or really bad arguments – with our loved ones are left to mop up what’s left from the fight.
Maybe you’ve learned that friends have opposing views to yours. Maybe you’ve heard someone you love or admire be dismissive of what you deeply view as immoral or wrong. Maybe your neighbors had political signs in their yards that surprised or disappointed you.
Before I go into some political rant about why a country is great because its culture tolerates differences, I’m going to stop. It’s one thing to appreciate that fact, and be grateful you live in a free country. I hope you do feel grateful for that – if indeed you do. It’s another when you disagree sometimes vehemently with your good friend, your brother, a parent, or even your partner.
It can feel like a tremendous loss.
Seeking like-minded people is common…
Years ago, a good friend of mine Sarah and I laughed at a pattern of behavior that we noticed in the parents of our kids. Sarah was a stay-at-home mom and I of course was a “working for a salary” mom, as I like to say. What we noticed happened at our children’s birthday parties. We’d attended several recently, and saw that all the SAHMs (stay at home moms or “working for no salary” moms) tended to gather in one spot, and the working-for-salaries moms grouped in another. This didn’t appear to be an intentional thing, but a natural, unconscious selection.
So we decided to bridge that gap – and stood side by side in between them. Yes, sometimes she’d say something about what she loved about staying at home – and I might inwardly wince, realizing my experience of motherhood was different. And I’m sure she did as well. But that was part of caring about each other.
As people, we look to each other for support. We want to feel that our views and our choices are right or are the best we could make. It helps all of us cope with the fear and anxiety of living. We join groups — churches, clubs, political parties, causes, or simple birthday party crowds — in order to bond with like-minded people.
We find comfort in similarity.
Actually sitting down and talking with someone about their reasons for believing something, when it’s different than the way you feel or believe, takes much more effort and intention. You have to tolerate not agreeing, control your defensiveness, and take the time to try to understand at a much deeper level. You have to be willing to listen without the agenda of proving the other one wrong. And if you don’t agree, something about that relationship has to be more valuable to you than the disagreement. If it is, you stay friends, you stay married, or you stay in relationship. You agree to disagree.
If the difference in your views is too great, then the relationship can suffer. Or it can end.
So what do you do now if one or more of your relationships have been affected by political differences?
There are people giving advice on post-election stress. Turn off social media for a while. Talk to your children calmly. Focus on what you can control by volunteering or helping others in some way. Remind yourself of historical perspective. Don’t let fear or anger govern you. All of that is good.
I would add — take the time to try to understand someone else’s perspective, especially if they’re someone you love. Don’t do what, sadly, we all can do when trying to “win,” and allow yourself to label them or put them in some box with a vile name on it. Don’t make immediate assumptions. Give them the same respect you want for yourself.
The healing from conflict in relationships is not so different, whether it rises from a heated election, from a traumatic breach of trust, or from any disappointment or act of disrespect.
There is no room for contempt in any of it, if the relationship is important to you.
There can be healing, if both involved are trying to listen and understand.
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Originally published on November 12, 2016; updated and republished on October 8, 2023.
Photo by Pixabay.