These certainly seem like toxic times when it comes to political discourse around the world—from endless arguments in the United Kingdom between Brexiteers (wishing to leave the European Union) and Remainers (wishing to stay), to a fiercely divided electorate in recent presidential elections in Brazil, to bitter campaign battles in the United States midterm elections.
It often seems as if feeling or facing rage is the price we have to pay if we want to stay informed and engaged. So we might ask ourselves, “How do I keep anger at bay while still caring about the issues that matter?”
A starting point for me has been to ask myself how I’m perceiving those I disagree with. In this regard, a comment made recently by the departing US ambassador to the United Nations has been thought provoking. Addressing a charity dinner in New York City, Nikki Haley said, “In our toxic political life, I’ve heard some people in both parties describe their opponents as enemies or evil.... We have some serious political differences here at home. But our opponents are not evil, they’re just our opponents” (CNN.com, “Nikki Haley: ‘Our opponents are not evil, they’re just our opponents’,” October 19, 2018).
To take that line of reasoning even further: There’s an underlying spiritual perception of others that makes it impossible for anyone, including any politician, to genuinely be an enemy. This perception is that whatever negative qualities we might associate with them aren’t actually a part of what they really are. The spiritual fact is that every individual, whether we know them personally or via media coverage, is in reality spiritual and created by God, the source of all good. We are all created to express the divine nature—as God’s very own spiritual reflection.
Because that’s what truly exists, whatever doesn’t exemplify this identity—even in someone we might be tempted to fear or hate—is not what they really are as sons or daughters of God. Likewise, any view we may have of ourselves as prone to get provoked, riled up, or even filled with hatred toward another person is not what we really are, either.
This doesn’t mean ignoring, condoning, or resigning ourselves to wrong behavior. It means we challenge the fear of being subject to events beyond our control as the subtle whispering of what could be called the greatest spin agent of them all: the mentality that perceives life and mind as material and inevitably prone to evil as well as good.
The Bible calls this mentality “the carnal mind,” and its every intimation that evil is more powerful than good has to be “spin” because the Scriptures promise us that “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Instead, we can pray to see the continuing presence and power of the good that God always beholds. In doing so, we begin to discern that evil doesn’t really have the power it may seem to.
I saw this when dealing with someone whose actions so deeply distressed me that seeing them as God’s creation—made to glorify Deity’s goodness—seemed too hard. But I persisted in praying, based on a central observation concerning Christ Jesus in the teachings of Christian Science. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures Mary Baker Eddy writes, “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals” (pp. 476–477).
Through his extraordinary record of healing both sickness and sinfulness in others, Jesus proved the good that can be accomplished by holding to the true view of our fellow men and women as God’s expressions. As I humbly strove to do this, my fear and resentment of the man who had aggrieved me finally lessened, and the situation was soon resolved.
Isn’t this an approach we can take in the political arena, too? Rather than getting drawn into the toxic mental atmosphere of hating a candidate whose words and actions tempt us to react in that way, we can help to heal it. We can pause and pray, and in that prayer we can identify whatever would seem to speak to us of the existence of an unspiritual man or woman and challenge our acceptance of that false, material conviction. To do so isn’t to shy away from difficult situations. Gaining a more spiritual outlook defuses fear by awakening our thoughts to witness to the good already at hand—and to gain confidence that it always will be. It helps us sustain the mental equilibrium and poise by which we can pray with inspiration to support the emergence of ideas that meet humanity’s needs. And it undergirds the courage we need to take any practical action we feel divinely inspired to take.
Whether we back the winning or losing candidate in any election (wherever we are in the world, and no matter how high the stakes seem to be), we can persist in our commitment to perceive the spiritual view of one and all. In this way our very words and deeds will be cast on the side of exemplifying God’s law of goodness and will stand as a vote against the spread of hatred and fear.