In a race for the White House that has been anything but presidential, you do not have to look far for reasons to be disgusted. There are Donald Trump’s vile attacks against everyone from Megyn Kelly to Pope Francis. There is the perceived unfairness of the Democratic Party’s nominating process. And of course, there is the barrage of emails, phone calls and TV ads that are ominously beginning to saturate our lives.
No matter who you support or what issues matter to you, there is no shortage of things to be mad about in 2016. In recent conversations I have had with friends, neighbors and coworkers at Penn as well as back here in Iowa, it has struck me how negative people are already beginning to feel about this election.
But here’s the thing: election season is just only beginning to heat up. There are still more than five months until Election Day. The race shows no signs of changing tone, and since both candidates have unfavorable ratings higher than any other presidential candidate in modern history, the stage is set for an especially negative campaign season. So while the two campaigns tweak their strategies to win in November, perhaps we all need our own strategy to endure this race until the bitter end.
My proposed strategy has seven points, adopted from Stephen Covey’s bestselling book "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." It follows like this:
Be proactive. Too many people have a reactive relationship with politics. They react angrily when someone takes a position they don’t like and retreat behind perceived powerlessness when given the opportunity to voice their concerns. Frustration and disenfranchisement become self-fulfilling prophesies. We, however, are proactive. We recognize that we cannot change the tone of the race or the policies that the candidates propose overnight, but we can decide how we respond to them. Most importantly, we always vote, even if we are not entirely satisfied with the candidate of our choice.
Begin with the end in mind. Decide right now how you want this election to have affected you once it is over. If you want it to make you angry and bitter, it will. If instead you want to take it as an opportunity to learn about the electoral process and explore the issues you care about, it will make you a more engaged and better informed citizen.
Put first things first. Understand that the outcome of this election is indeed important, but do not inflate it to cosmic proportions. Do not let it consume your every thought, and under no circumstances should it negatively affect your relationships, even if your vehemently disagree with your best friend or neighbor.
Think win-win. OK, this might be a stretch. At the very least, find a way to think positively. If you are value-driven, you can approach this by studying the governments of other world powers to understand how lucky we are to live in a democracy. If you are more practically-minded, you might consider keeping an “election-day countdown calendar” so you can visualize how much time is left before the election and perhaps build anticipation for the big day.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood. When discussing politics, don’t interrupt and talk over the other person. Learn to practice empathetic listening, which Covey describes as “listening with the intent to understand, both intellectually and emotionally.” Ask probing questions, and when it is your turn to be understood, be respectful and look honestly for points on which you agree.
Synergize. The best way to be empowered by this election is to find other people that care about the same issues as you and organize to make your voice heard. If you are not ready to synergize yourself, be nice to the people who are synergizing. When you receive a phone call or a knock on your door from a campaign volunteer, treat the person at the other end of the line as a fellow human being who is simply seeking to share their perspective and empower you in the political process. (At the very least, do not shout “If you call again, I’m going to come through the line and choke you,” as one particularly disaffected gentleman said to me the other day.)
Sharpen the waw. Continually evaluate how well you are implementing this strategy in your life. Take time to reflect on your relationship with this election and be in tune with how it is affecting you physically and emotionally. Again, always look for ways to rescript this election in a positive light.
Is this strategy hopelessly naive? Probably. Nonetheless, we must find a way to make it through to November in a more constructive way. We may not be able to control the election, but we can control how miserable we make ourselves over it.
JACK HOSTAGER is a rising College sophomore from Dubuque, Iowa. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Hostager’s Take” appears every other Thursday.Comments powered by Disqus
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