[from the Bucks County Courier Times]
Today, five days after election day, most readers of this column are angry. There is partisan litigation. Some dispute the outcome. Each of us held hopes and expectations about winners and losers, and many now have fears of fraud or meddling.
Regardless of political affiliation, we all know much is at stake: our future well-being, our prosperity, and our transcendent values about what America stands for.
Our emotions are rooted in deeply held personal beliefs. Our trust in each other remains shaken. The acrimony of the weeks leading to this moment remains. Nothing seems settled going forward. We are tired and crave calm with peace and healing.
Our state of anger is linked to primitive fight-or-flight mechanisms. Seething anger peaks as fits of rage. Rage activates instinctive parts of the nervous system. We stop reasoning and revert to reflexive and often violent survival impulses.
Personally, I notice that I’m easily triggered, less patient, and feel moments of frustration and despair. I have difficulty even thinking when I’m angry. I close down. I’m not listening. I’m defensive and combative. I’m inflexible.
These postures make collaboration nigh to impossible. Anger and rage rarely, if ever, make things better. They are not tools for constructive change. We hurt ourselves when we harbor anger. We hurt others when we act in rage.
The opposite emotions that foster peace, trust and creativity are hope, love, and amity. Each of these is ours to adopt. Nobody has the power to impose our emotional state upon us; we must freely give love and trust. We are equally free to abandon hope to cynicism. Which state we pick depends on spiritual perspective and mindset.
Attitudes of appreciation, gratitude, and good will are doorways to fresh possibilities. My colleague Bob Anderson’s column last week urged that we imagine the face of a friend on the candidate we oppose. This willful mental shift creates space for kindness, tolerance, and mutual openness – a state of grace.
Grace is not capitulation. We can hold true to our faith and values while we extend grace. We can be caring friends while speaking and acting forcefully but with no malice. For example, as parents we don’t stop loving when our child has a meltdown and acts angry. We may feel angry about the behavior, but we act in love and keep the child safe while de-escalating the situation. We behave like adults and grant the child grace.
In the months to come, each of us will find our skills of hope, love, and grace tested. We will be forced to work at it. We will be tempted to characterize ourselves and others as winners and losers. The media has promoted the adversarial aspects of politics, as if the election were a sports event. Our political parties have characterized their objective as “victory,” and they have spoken of “beating,” “fighting,” or “crushing” the opponent.
But we are still one nation. Campaign adversaries aren’t going away. And despite appearances, we do share common values that transcend politics. Post-election, we must remember the shared ideals that unite us in our diversity. Can we recommit to a unified nation governed by and for all of us where everyone enjoys equal liberty and justice with no one left out? Can we keep each other safe and secure? Can we love one another, even when we disagree?
I believe we will, with Divine assistance. We can grant each other grace despite our anger. We can act in hope with the courage of faith. To support this lofty intention, we can join specific programs. One is Livingroom Conversations – a program that brings people divided by ideology together to gain mutual understanding. Another is Braver Angels that brings “reds” and “blues” together to talk, listen, and understand.
Grace comes hard in these circumstances, but the alternatives divide and bring misery.
Richmond Shreve is a member of the Newtown Friends Meeting and lives in Newtown. From a Faith Perspective is a weekly column written by members of local faith communities.
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