The other night, coming home from a weekend with family and friends, feeling restored and ready for the work week, I overheard a conversation on a plane that made me cringe. A couple was trashing a political candidate and his supporters, saying rotten and vile things about them, as if they weren’t real people with thoughts and feelings, but a group that deserved to be ridiculed and vilified.
My stomach twisted. I’ve been in government and politics my entire career, and while I try to keep a level head and a reasonable tone in my commentary, even I can lose my head sometimes and let anger bubble over and burst out. It feels gross, looks ugly, and leaves a lasting mark.
In fact, I still feel bad about some of my responses during the 2012 election. Forgiving others is often easier for me than forgiving myself.
“I don’t want to be like that,” I thought while we lined up to deplane.
But thinking wasn’t enough. This coming year, I’m going to need more help than that.
“Please, Lord, don’t let me be like that. Don’t let politics strip me of my dignity,” I prayed.
I decided that would be my resolution for 2016. It is something I’ll need to work on every day, and it will require help from the God I believe in and rely on.
This election, the stakes are very high. The outcome is very uncertain. The emotions are very turbulent.
In the midst of this, how can I find and maintain the “productive serenity” that I wrote about in “And the Good News Is…” in 2015?
First, I try to be empathetic. If a political opponent has different approaches than mine, that doesn’t make them a bad person. It means they have different backgrounds, experiences, and ideas. I ask myself if there’s anything I can learn from them?
Second, I remember that America is wonderful because of its diversity, not in spite of it. “It takes all kinds,” I used to hear on the ranch. I love my right-wing friends, my practical friends, my bleeding heart friends — without all of these viewpoints, life would be pretty boring.
Third, I know that being born in America was like winning the biggest lottery ever held. Americans start at the finish line -- where we go from there is up to us. Tearing each other apart hardly seems like a good way to spend our lottery money.
Finally, I keep in mind that politics isn’t really all that important. Good governance, safety, a chance to grow economically and professionally -- those are important things. And we all share those goals -- no matter where you are on the political spectrum. We just have different ways achieving those results. The most important things in life remain what we’ve always known: love, loyalty, faith, family, and friends. That’s it.
But all of this level-headed thinking won’t be of much use if I allow myself to get dragged into the mud. And it is up to me and no one else to keep out of it.
I don’t have to own what anyone else says, but I have to take full responsibility for how I respond and react to even the most egregious provocations in an election year.
And so I resolve to protect my dignity, no matter what happens politically in 2016.
Now, let’s just hope I can keep this resolution longer than the one where I resolved to get more cardio exercise and drink less wine.
In fact, drinking more wine might help me keep this year’s resolution!