Once in awhile, more and more lately, I find myself reading the comments.
I know, rookie move, especially if you’re someone making a brave attempt to find peace in today’s convoluted digital world. We are all aware that the comments, the trolls that populate them, and the attempts at righteous persuasion that unwittingly feed those trolls, are the landfills of the Internet. It’s where good ideas get flogged to death and bad ideas spread like the zika virus.
So why do I keep getting drawn into that mess? It's all due to that quadrennial tradition known as the American presidential election. In this digital age, the traditional ruthlessness of politics has gotten worse, and it's too bad, because the decision we're debating is more important than ever.
My quest: give a damn about politics because I know the consequences are major, but stay mindful in the process. It’s a tall order, I know.
My friends, welcome to the Great Election Hurricane of 2016. The river of opinions has swelled for months now. What started as trickle of ideas and endorsements has become an incessant downpour of rants, a cascade of comment wars, and a deluge of slant pieces and snark memes. The rising tide of anger and frustration inevitably breaks the levee--again--impassioning friends to turn on one another, to toss out vicious insults, and level infantile cries of ignorance toward anyone who dares to challenge their preconceived notions.
I'm no noob, I know the game of politics is complex and messy. Possibly little known fact to many readers of this blog, but I hold a master's degree in public policy and I worked in political advocacy for years. Other than mindfulness and nature, politicking is my bread and butter. So I've watched and studied this sport for decades, observing the stick-to-the-issues idealists, the nothing-but-smear-campaign demagogues, and every candidate in between.
I'm also acutely aware of just how important all this is. It's a vital part of democracy that we have different ideas and debate them heartily. More than that, it's absolutely necessary that all of us actively participate in our political process, because the decisions our leaders make are often the difference between life and death.
But as much as I want to engage this critical pursuit, I also don’t want to engage myself into insanity.
To me, this year feels starkly different than elections of the past. The age of social media and the lack of mindfulness it provokes has made for a perfect storm of political aggravation. This digital tempest of competition inevitably leads to a slew of unmindful behavior. So how do we calm the storm? How do we stay mindful within the whirlwind election season?
In this new election age, we must strive to become mindful advocates.
Someone who listens to different opinions.
Someone who stays true to themselves without becoming self-righteous.
Someone who leads by example instead of prescription.
Someone who stays respectful in the face of disagreement.
Someone who doesn't always have to be right.
Someone who turns the other cheek instead of responding with a taunt.
And none of that is easy, trust me I know. Go to the Facebook page of any presidential candidate and (just for research) read the comments. There's a flood of rage out there overwhelming the dam of rational sanity--opinions stated as facts, opinions becoming insults, opinions inciting outrage. When I see this, I start to get outraged myself.
Sometimes my own opinion has lead me to waste a good hour formulating a comment that I don't actually end up posting. Sometimes I see friends who agree on the need for progress toward a fair and just world, belittle each other over a slight disagreement on how we achieve that progress. Sometimes I see caring Americans who agree that we want to better our nation, level vile insults at each other because they disagree on the definition of “better.” Usually at the end of a day I’m left dispirited by it all, exhausted by all the time I’ve wasted watching and/or participating in it, saddened by the savagery I’ve seen it foster.
But being a mindful advocate means we still participate---we don’t give up our identity or passion, we don't stop advocating for our candidate, and we always speak up to injustice. We just do all that with civility and respect.
And we do so because we are at a crucial time in our civilization.
Historically, the debate of ideas in politics has never been simple or easy. Neither the ancient Greeks nor our founding fathers pulled any punches. The liberal and the conservative side of our democracy, today’s Democrats and Republicans, have always been at odds. At one point this conflict even led us to civil war. But most of the time, when push came to shove, our leaders compromised and worked together for the good of the country.
Today the decisions we make as voters, and by proxy the leaders we choose, go even further and have the potential to affect the good and bad of the entire world, be it poverty, war, or environmental calamity. It behooves us to look toward our deep commonalities and to nobly convince others of our ideas for change rather than resort to attacks, lies, and conspiracy theories. When we treat our fellow man with respect not just to have a better shot at changing minds, but to have a better shot at saving our planet from uncertain doom.
So I pledge to be a mindful advocate and an activist for good.
To trumpet my beliefs without tearing others' down.
To debate at the appropriate time, but do so with respect.
To speak to those I encounter as if they were real people instead faceless digital avatars.
To accept that we can differ on the policy but still agree on the end goal.
To inspire rather than incite.
To love rather than lash out.
To show by my example that, in this day and age, such civility is even possible.
This is how we make America great again. This is how we save the world. This is how you convince people to vote for your candidate. This is the way of the mindful advocate.
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