Avoid an election hangover: We should re-examine our own beliefs and how we disagree

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It is "the day after the night before." This phrase is a traditional description of a hangover.

But for the purposes of this article, "the day after the night before" aptly describes what many are going through in these post-election days. The election is over and the results are in. Now do we begin our national hangover or something better?

The cause of this hangover is not too much celebration of our victories or too much crying over our losses. Rather, we may be experiencing a guilt-induced hangover.

This seemed to be a nasty campaign season all around. The television ads were particularly excruciating. Candidates described their opponents with pictures and pulp summaries of their views that made them appear as though they should be in jail rather than running for office.

Words like liar, cheat and thief were not only implied, but endorsed. It's not too hard to feel guilty about "the day after the night before" when this has been the level of our political discourse.

And let's be honest about it. Our faith communities were not immune to all this. Finger-pointing, name-calling and personal vindictiveness over political candidates invaded not only our neighborhoods and workplaces, but our churches as well, both within our own Catholic communities and beyond.

I have to wonder what it will be like in our churches when we are asked in Jesus' name to exchange a sign of peace after months of political warfare. How do we recapture any sense of unity after all this? How do we recapture any sense that we are all in this together? How do we recapture the care and concern we should have for each other when we've been so busy skewering each other like kabobs on a barbecue?

Don't get me wrong. Political issues are important. Voting is a critical part of faithful citizenship. There are real issues with real perspectives where we differ and differ strongly. The church addresses a host of issues in the public arena. We teach what we teach about the sacredness of human life and human dignity no matter who wins on Election Day.

But I want to make as certain as I can (and I trust that you as my readers would want to say the same) that our politics and our positions on the issues are best drawn from our principles, our values and our faith. Not the other way around.

In the Catholic church, we have this practice that we call an "examination of conscience." It's a meditation -- good souls do it daily -- on what good we have done that day and what good we have failed to do in light of our faith. But it's not so much meant to be a listing of accomplishments or a checklist of sins. Rather, it is a reflection on how well we have lived or not lived out our faith in any given day.

It's a good practice. It not only encourages the desire to do better. It also encourages humility and a better understanding of where exactly we are getting our ideas, where exactly we are getting our principles and where exactly we are getting our values.

In the context of contemporary politics, a good examination of conscience may lead us to explore exactly where we are getting our prejudices, where we are getting our political positions and where we are getting our passions. Are we just absorbing conventional wisdom, sponging up the drumbeat of contemporary cultural propaganda, victims of the very political advertising we allegedly loathe? Or are our positions reflective of a carefully crafted and well-informed conscience?

Then, we should explore how we live out our positions, how we explain them, how we debate them, how we embrace them and, perhaps most important, how we treat those who disagree with them and us.

There seems to be not enough reflective thinking in American politics. A very big reason for this is that we don't discuss our varied perspectives with each other to learn more. Instead we throw verbal rocks at each other. It's too easy to caricature, too easy to mud-sling, too easy to hate the anonymous.

In this "the day after the night before," instead of feeling guilty for the nastiness of the campaigns, might I suggest that we work together to build bridges, to really get to know the people behind the political passions, to understand each other's motivations, each other's dreams, each other's hopes, each other's fears and especially each other's firmly held convictions and beliefs and the "why" of both.

We have different views and different passions. But we are all in this country together and on this Earth together. We need to find what common ground we share. Most of all, we need to commit to really keep talking with each other and not see those who disagree as a caricature of our own creation or a figment of our own imagination.

Then, rather than "the day after the night before" being a hangover of ill will, it can become a step toward good will.


David A. Zubik is bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh (www.diopitt.org).


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