I’ve had a couple of days to sit back and reflect on this year’s mid-term elections. This time of reflection has shown me how my perspective on things has shifted as I’ve accumulated life experience. Let me take a moment and share with you what I’ve learned.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I was convinced that the world would be a better place if one side won control of absolutely everything: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of government. THEN – and only then – could we get things done!
In my thirties and forties, I began to realize something. There are serious problems that arise when one side has all the power. The primary problem is that the other side gets incredibly angry and resentful when they have little if any power. A huge amount of negative energy accumulates among the outsiders – and those not in power spend every waking moment plotting how they will first regain power and then stick it to the other side. This puts us on a pendulum where we swing from one extreme to the other. The only constant is that roughly 50% of the population is angry and resentful at any given moment.
In my fifties, I have grown to see the wisdom that can come when different factions are forced to share power. The fact that no ONE group has all the power forces folks to actually talk with each other and work to identify places of shared vision and value. Such a scenario creates the possibility of a time when most groups get something (other than simply shut out of the process).
Of course, the last situation I laid out was described in ideal terms. It is contingent on people understanding that when people live in groups it is impossible for everyone to get everything they want all of the time.
Sadly, we live in a time when many don’t seem to realize that. So many conduct themselves in ways that suggest they think that they SHOULD get everything they want all the time. And when they don’t, they rage.
How did we get to this point?
This is where my religious tradition helps me understand. To put things in the language of Congregationalists, instead of living in a time where the individual’s demands (autonomy) are held in balance with the needs of the group (covenant) – we live in a time where individuals think of themselves as self-contained, completely autonomous units. Groups of people are no longer seen as communities; they are often seen as nothing more than a collection of individuals.
What do we do about it?
I can’t answer that for you. I do two things. First, I use my 12 Steps skills to let those who wish only those who see things like them had all the power vent and/or rage. After all, they have a right to their perspective – and it’s not up to me to help them “get it”. Second, I do everything in my power to help people build relationships with those with whom they disagree. When diverse people enter into authentic relationship with one another, each of their worlds is transformed.
When I say this, I often get some who respond by saying: “Are you suggesting that we sit down at a table with Christian nationalists and say it’s perfectly fine for them to viciously attack People of Color, LGBTQIA+ people, women, and people of other faiths?”
Absolutely not! For if my 55 years on the planet have taught me anything, it’s that the vast majority of Progressives, Conservatives, and Independents are good people who think all people should be treated fairly and with dignity and respect. The challenge lies in figuring out how we get to that point – for each camp has a VERY different vision for how we make that happen.
My prayer moving forward after the election is that we will grow in our ability to recognize the hidden blessings inherent in those times when we are forced to work together. For in the midst of those highly charged moments comes the one thing that can change our world for the better: personal relationships.