On Tuesday, this year’s election cycle will be blessedly over. Some results we will know right away and some may be weeks away. Whether your candidate wins or loses, whether your candidate commits to a peaceful transition of power, one thing is clear: that peaceful transition begins at home.
What are we modeling for our children? For our friends and neighbors? Are we protesting outside the home of a doctor doing her job? Do we feel justified in joining an armed and self-styled militia? Are we name-calling candidates and their supporters? Are we attacking judicial nominees because of their faith and family size? Do we dig in our heels and refuse to budge because we are sure that our interpretation is The Truth, therefore the only possible interpretation?
Or do we sit down and talk with those who see things differently than we do? Do we ask ourselves what they might know that we don’t? Are we willing to examine our own strong reactions and be ok with others feeling differently? Are we proactive in learning to disagree better?
This election has been the meanest, hardest, ugliest one I’ve seen. Arthur Brooks told Brigham Young University graduates last year that “America is developing a ‘culture of contempt’ —a habit of seeing people who disagree with us not as merely incorrect or misguided but as worthless.” We see that playing out in spades this year.
I feel like I’ve got a tough skin and can handle conflict and disagreement, but honestly, it’s been hard for me to be on social media recently. It’d been hard to have discussions with people I love who support people I can’t stand. It’s felt easier and safer to just take myself out of the conversations or avoid them altogether. But here’s the deal: While withdrawing may feel safer, it doesn’t actually resolve any conflict. Go figure.
I listened to a podcast recently where host Morgan Jones asked her guest Chad Ford about his new book, “Dangerous Love: Transforming Fear and Conflict at Home, at Work, and in the World.” I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
Some may know Ford as a writer, analyst and entrepreneur covering the NBA and NBA draft for ESPN, but that’s just his side gig. His life’s work has been as an international conflict mediator, working on some of the world’s most complex problems.
We often have one of two approaches to conflict: avoidance, as I’ve been doing, or dropping into our fight stance. Ford notes that we tell ourselves “OK, I’m under duress, I need to protect myself, I need to protect my family, I need to protect my community, I need to protect my faith. And, I’m going to pick up a sword, and I’m going to go to battle.”
What a fitting description of today’s divisiveness, whether that’s looking at political campaigns, social movements or the way we deal with viruses. Brené Brown calls it “armoring up.” We have to be right all the time. “It’s defensiveness, it’s posturing, and, worst of all, it’s a huge driver of bs,” she says.
We need to turn down the heat in the public square, but that does not mean we roll over and stop advocating for the changes we see as necessary. It does mean that we engage differently and better. It means that we stop acting out of contempt and spite. It means that we turn towards others we have disagreed with and lean in to conflict resolution.
Turning down the heat in the public square begins by turning down the heat at home. The peaceful transition of power that is the hallmark of American elections begins with personal commitments to peacefully accepting the results of the election.
No matter which presidential candidate wins, some of my family will be happy and some will be sad. But none of us will riot. And all of us will be grateful this election is over.
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.