The Mean Season

Like many of you, I am already bemoaning the tone and tenor of the Presidential campaign.  I’m not surprised, mind you, nor are you, I’m sure.  While we might have hoped that the candidates and their surrogates would “take the high road” and focus on issues in substantive ways, this fall promises to be the meanest, nastiest, most vitriolic campaign in our nation’s history.  I am sick of it already, and it’s not even Labor Day, the traditional “kick-off” date for the campaigns.

To make matters worse, I find many of my friends, both real and “virtual,” pouring gasoline on the flames of division and divisiveness.  No sooner are words out of the mouths of the candidates (or some talking head supporting one or the other of them) and – BAM! – social media is riddled with outrage.  My friends (who tend to be left-leaning) are quick to both create and forward postings about the latest affront or indignity uttered by their conservative counterparts, often without taking the time to step away from the keyboard, much less to check the facts.

Why, I wonder, do people who ordinarily behave in compassionate ways, support and perpetuate the vitriol that we’re so quick to bemoan?  Is it just too easy to pass along a degrading comment about a political opponent with the push of a button?  Are we trying to come across as “hip” or clever to our friends, most of whom are already aligned with our position already?  We’re certainly not seeking to lift the political discourse out of the gutter that it’s in.  Many of us wouldn’t dream of uttering in public many of the accusations we hurl online, yet we hit the “like” or “share” button with reckless abandon.  And that makes us participants in, and part of, the problem

As people of faith (no matter what faith you subscribe to), we are called to seek out the best in ourselves and in others.  That doesn’t just apply to our flesh and blood selves, but to our online identities as well.  In our lives we stand in solidarity against schoolyard bullying.  We march for human rights and the doctrine of inclusion.  Some of us proclaim loudly and proudly that we “Stand on the Side of Love.”  Yet behind the protection of our keyboards and our computers we don’t think twice about “othering” and even demonizing those who don’t share our political viewpoint or who see the solutions to our problems differently than we do.

Don’t get me wrong:  I have nothing against moral outrage and indignation.  We need to voice, both loudly and clearly, our concerns and our solutions.  We should advocate for our positions and our candidates.  But when we mock, degrade and vilify those who think differently than we do, we debase not just them, but ourselves and the very democracy that we all so dearly treasure.

As we become inevitably immersed in this mean season, I invite you to join me in striving to live up to the principles of our faith, of your faith (whatever it is), no matter how hard that might be.  In the language of Unitarian Universalism, let’s ask ourselves how might we continue to “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity” of our political opponents?  How might we remember to strengthen, rather than degrade, the strands of the interdependent web of which we’re all a part?  Let’s consider how we might, in the words of Jesus, love not just our friends, but our “enemies” as well?  Perhaps it begins by simply taking a breath before we hit “share” or “like” on our Facebook page.  May that be our spiritual practice in the weeks and months ahead.

This day, and every day, I wish you peace.

Peter


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