Peace and Democracy?

Lately I have been thinking about the US election process and the ways in which political campaigns, as they currently operate, make it pretty challenging to develop a civil, peace-full country. It isn’t that respectful conversation isn’t possible, but with all of the work done to differentiate between candidates, the accusations and judgments, one could come to think that at least one of the two candidates were in cahoots with Lord Voldemort, Kim Jong-il — or gee, just choose your latest personified evil.

I don’t know about you, but I always appreciate it when candidates acknowledge the goodness of their opponent, even when it does seem to be a set up for criticism. Why? Because whenever we acknowledge the other’s humanity, we create a space (albeit sometimes only a peek-a-boo sliver of light) for peace to break in.

The thing is, democracy is built on a foundation of argument. We wrestle with ideas, policies, values, priorities – all of it – with the hope that we will arrive together at something that we can conjointly agree to. There is compromise. No one gets what they really want – but everyone gets something. Sometimes we forget that. As we identify with a party platform or certain values that a candidates expresses, we can overly identify with them, pulled into party enthusiasm. The next step: vilify the opponent.

Isn’t it interesting that our democracy helps create a space for working together and the possibility of respect and peaceful dialogue while simultaneously setting us up as potential rivals and enemies?

So, with this “push me pull you” of the tension inherent in political debate in mind, here is what I’d like to say today:

  1. Look for what is good about each candidate and hold onto that.
  2. Expect them to screw up in a way that offends your personal sensibilities. They are not YOU – and I hate to break it to you, but you have been known to be wrong from time to time.

Also, and I think that holding this tension is both possible and critical:

3.  Don’t lose your outrage at injustice. But remember that how you express your outrage and work for change affects you and all of us.

And finally:

4.  Remember every day during this political season to plop a big helping of tolerance into your morning coffee. Be that democracy you long for.

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