The Boy Scout motto dates back to 1916 but the words are just as relevant and wise today: always be prepared. Consider the warnings below to be your emotional preparation for surviving another election year in America, which commenced about six months too early for my liking.
We should know better, but every four years we fall into the same negative traps and patterns that leave us feeling like an extra on a particularly gruesome episode of the “Walking Dead.” But not this year. Take to heart the 10 huuuuuge mistakes to avoid this presidential election season.
The 10 Huuuuuge Mistakes to Avoid This Presidential Election
- Don’t blow it off. I know, I know. The campaign season is too long and the vibe is incredibly negative. I’m ready for the election to be held tomorrow so we can put it behind us. But that isn’t going to happen. The news isn’t about to get any better either. After each party has named a nominee, the rancor and blanket coverage is only going to get worse. If you’re pulling your hair out and shouting gibberish, take a week or month off from news coverage. But don’t sit out the entire event known as the US Presidential Election. Even if your vote won’t change the outcome of the election either direction, your participation sends a message to politicians, family, and friends that you are involved.
- Don’t unfriend friends. Facebook isn’t the only place to unfriend a friend, but it’s an easy spot to dump people who disagree with you. One particularly troublesome variation of the psychological condition known as cognitive dissonance is not being able to simultaneously like a person and hate their ideas. So the easiest way to rid yourself of the dissonance is to simply stop liking the person. But it is possible walk and chew gum at the same time – and like people whose ideas, in your opinion, stink. The secret is found in two simple principles, convictions and civility. Convictions without civility leads to conflict; civility without convictions leads to compromise; convictions and civility together lead to conversation, something we need a lot more of in these tempestuous days!
- Don’t bring up the election in every conversation. If you’re mad, don’t bring it up unless you are in a group that is 100% in agreement with your views and equally as mad as you are. If someone else is mad for different reasons, don’t bring up the election and wind them up even more. If you mention something about a debate or the polls and someone looks back at you with a blank stare, just say no. Stop. Be aware that person is secretly praying like crazy for you to talk about something else – anything else. If you want to be a good citizen, pay attention and dialog. But no need to obsess. Other happenings in the world have not stopped until the upcoming second Tuesday in November. When in doubt about what to bring up, there’s always the weather or that kitten video you saw on YouTube.
- Don’t let others bully you. No matter who you support, your candidate has baggage and ideas that make them and you, as a supporter, an easy straw man target. Everyone has the right to critique and criticize the candidates. Their thought process may sway you in a new direction. But when someone starts calling you names because of who you support, let that person know, you can’t bully me into changing my vote.
- Don’t rely on the perceptions of others to form your views of the candidates. Our Founding Fathers wrote early and often that in order for democracy to work, it requires an informed and involved electorate. Too many of us depend on the talking heads or random conversations to make our decision on whom to give our vote. Go to candidates’ websites. Listen to their speeches. Find out first hand what they are saying and believe. Don’t rely on others’ filters to cherry pick sound bites and expect to know what you personally like and don’t like about a candidate.
- Don’t ignore opposing views. Even if you already know why you won’t support a particular candidate, listen carefully – to the candidate and those who support him or her – to catch a flavor of what is going on throughout the country. This isn’t easy for me because I have an overarching point of view that states there is way too much whining in the country today. I really do think there is a spirit of grievance that hovers over us and is fanned into flames by advocacy groups and stubbed toes. That said, I just need to listen. Hearing what angers and hurts people will sometimes point to the real issues we are facing as one nation under God.
- Don’t demonize the other side. We can judge others’ actions but Jesus reminds us in his Sermon on the Mount that it is a dangerous thing to stand in judgment over others’ hearts and intentions. For one thing, it clouds our ability to judge ourselves! We all know some people have it wrong. Oh so wrong. Really wrong. (Note, the repetition indicates a mild sarcasm font was turned on.) But that doesn’t mean their intent is wrong. I’m of the opinion that most everyone in politics wants to make our country better, even if their ideas on how to do it are far different from mine. (Well, at least in their first term and hoping Frank Underwood truly is a fictional character.) It doesn’t mean I won’t battle for what I believe is a better way to progress, but God hasn’t made me or you the ultimate judge over the heart and intentions of others. I confess. This one is a toughie. It requires the conviction and civility I noted earlier.
- Don’t expect (and demand) to get everything you want in any single politician. We don’t get things exactly the way we want in marriage, family, church, staff meetings, work groups, sports teams, bosses, airport transfers, and so on. Life isn’t perfect and, even if it was, our unique perspective would give us something to complain about and wish was different anyway. So why do we get so mad and disappointed when we discover no single candidate is and has everything we want? Hopefully there is someone who champions what matters most to you. But don’t expect anyone to be spot on from A to Z with your stance on the issues. If that is a must for you, maybe you should start working now to be on the 2020 ballot!
- Don’t surrender to cynicism. What can I say? I don’t have a great argument to prove that the presidential election process isn’t quite ugly. But just like sausage, even though we don’t want to watch how it is made, a lot of us enjoy eating the final product. My real argument against cynicism is personal. I think it is better to be optimistic than defeatist; it is better to choose happiness over harboring anger; it is better to be positive than negative. So, even if you don’t like what you’re seeing in the election process, at minimum, even if for purely selfish reasons, eschew cynicism for your personal well-being.
- Don’t pronounce the Apocalypse if your candidate doesn’t win. There are huuuuge issues on the table this election year—and every other election year. I have some grave concerns about the future of our country—economically, morally, spiritually, socially, and any other words that end with “ly” that you want to add to my list. But I grew up in the upheaval of the 60s and the stagflation of the 70s and to my surprise, we survived. We’ve even had a few periods of what felt like a spark of national renewal. I suspect we will again. But if the country plummets downhill toward a dark, dangerous, dystopian tomorrow, it won’t be because of a single election. Probably.