I don’t know about you, but I’m at the point of wanting to take off for a long sail to a remote island until this presidential campaign is over. No matter where one might stand on the candidates (or stand against the candidates) I don’t think many will disagree with me in saying that I’m tired of the almost hourly deluge of anger, vitriol, and vile that this campaign has wrought. This was brought home to me recently when a fond relative posted a long diatribe on Facebook, lashing out at a post from another relative. Of course, the posts were about the candidates. One relative shared a post opposing one presidential candidate and the other relative took the bait and responded. At first I was shocked, but then I was saddened knowing that the exchange I just witnessed was playing out thousands of times a day across the nation in social networks and at work or at friend and family gatherings.
The problem I see is that the debate won’t end once the election is final. I don’t think this will be seen as one of those “defining elections” where people can say that the country has spoken and a mandate was given, so let’s accept the results and move on. In order to move on, each of us will need to let go of our anger and our set positions and seek a sense of what is best for the country; of what is in the best interest of the common good. I just don’t think we’re there and I’m worried about that.
And so, in what has become my usual response when I wonder what to do, I used my feelings and concerns as the focus of my time for prayer and meditation. I was not so much reflecting on where we should go as a country, but on what I must do. I was examining my own shortcomings, looking at where I have contributed to the pessimism and the hostile atmosphere we are witnessing today. I must say, the response I got was completely unexpected. The image I saw during my meditation was that of the laughing Jesus and the message was this: don’t take yourself so seriously. This life is to be enjoyed. Don’t focus on your sins or your failings (because there will always be sins and failings), focus instead on the joy of life. Look for those places and times where God’s love, mercy joy and humor are apparent in your own life.
I started out worrying about the direction of the country and ended up with a suggestion to seek the joy in life. This election will end and one way or another the country will survive. But to move forward, we will need to relearn how to live with each other and how to rebuild a sense of community.
I have a suggestion for how to regain a sense of personal peace and of the community common good. Ask yourself these two questions at the end of each day:
If we marvel at the color of the leaves as they turn in the fall; or stand and watch the wisp of clouds glide across a cobalt blue sky, that is being touched by God. If we hold a baby and smell her sweetness or if we are given a hug from our lover, that is a gift from God. Be thankful. And then return the gift by showing love and kindness to others. That too will be a gift of God given through you.
I’ve said this before because I know it to be true. Our country will change when our hearts have changed. And our hearts will change when we focus on our own thoughts, feelings and actions. I can’t control the presidential candidates. I can’t control my relatives as they spar on Facebook. But I can control how I respond to it all. And, my response will be this: I will seek to embrace the love and mercy of God every day and I will strive to show love and mercy to others – each day. The world can change, but the change must begin with me.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.