In a few hours, the polls will close. And for the next few days or weeks, we’ll all have a choice to make: how are we going to handle the outcome of the election? Especially if the “outcome” means flying through intense political turbulence, as simmering frustrations, uncertainties and fears boil over around us.
If—or more likely, when—we see that turmoil, let’s resolve to be characterized by something very different. No matter what is going on around us, and no matter how relieved, disappointed, uncertain, elated, anguished or “over it” we are, we need to be marked by an unshakable kindness, joy and peace.
How does that become our reality? Especially if we or those among us feel crushed by a particular result? A few key principles and actions will make all the difference—not just outwardly to a watching world, but within us as well.
How Will We Act, Think And Feel If “Our Person” Loses—Especially If We Feel The Result Is Unfair In Some Way?
We need to think ahead of time about how we are going to handle ourselves if “our person” loses, especially if we think there was unfairness involved, and what we are going to model for our kids, our friends, our community. Because with so many races running so close, we would be foolish to not decide that now.
As Mary Renault put it in The Charioteer, “There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected: the expected for which one has refused to prepare.”
This isn’t just about the presidential race, but about any race we care about. One of my closest friends is running for our State House of Representatives, and her opponent has played every underhanded, dirty trick in the book. I can find my blood pressure rising at the thought that my dear friend—who would be so good in that role—might lose because her opponent sent out volunteers to steal all her yard signs and harass her via dozens of false reports to election officials.
Politics can be a dirty business . . . and we need to decide ahead of time that we won’t be. In fact, that we will be the opposite. The “Golden Rule” that we teach to our kids, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” as actually stated by Jesus, is about exactly this situation. In context (see Luke 6:27-31), He is essentially saying, “I want you to treat the people who are being cruel and underhanded with you, in the kind and grace-filled way that you wish they were treating you.”
Our Kindness To Others Transforms Everyone
In years of research (especially for The Kindness Challenge) we’ve found that kindness, specifically, has a power to transform that is unparalleled in social science. The acts and attitudes of kindness change us …and then each of our relationships… and then everything around us.
Today, we may feel like we’re powerless in a swirling sea of conflict and chaos—but that is absolutely not true. Our kindness has the power to change the world we live in. This world that has become epically harsh, vastly more divided—yes, even this world, this culture can be transformed by our words and actions.
We are called to be those agents of change—which may first involve changing us.
Yes, speak truth as you believe you are called to speak. But only if you can speak truth in love. (See Ephesians 4:15.) Yes, participate in your civic duty of voting and encourage others to do the same. But when you come up against those who are harsh and cruel, as you surely will, never respond in kind. Absolutely stand up for those policies that you think are crucial. But have the humility to realize that wise and faithful people can legitimately disagree. The fact that your friend or family member doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean that they are suddenly foolish or complicit with the forces of darkness.
Through kindness and love—especially when provoked—we can be a potent presence that transforms everything around us.
We Transform A Culture One Person At A Time
Our kindness is transformative one person, one conversation, one social media post at a time.
There’s no such thing as engaging a culture. A culture is made up of people. We engage with each individual person. Which means accepting that we are called to truly love that one person in front of us or on our social media feed even when we really don’t want to—especially when we don’t want to! It means trusting that each individual display of restraint, calmness, positivity, and trust will have a chance of diverting the person we’re interacting with away from their anger or catastrophizing or fear. And then maybe the next person. And the next.
It also means making a purposeful effort to truly be in the world (engaging even the difficult situations) without being of the world (without ever being difficult ourselves). And when we do this, according to our national research study, here’s how those one-on-one choices will change our culture’s deep patterns of hurt:
First, Kindness Transforms Us Even As We Practice It
The most important aspect of intentional kindness is not what it does for others, but how it changes us. We suddenly see our own “kindness blindness”—those areas we were impatient, irritated, sarcastic, defeatist or distracted that we simply didn’t notice before! Sometimes that blindness even extends to unkindness towards ourselves.
Second, as we become less critical and more grateful, others around us change. Because kindness has a way of becoming the salve for many wounds.
Kindness sets off a chain reaction. It replicates itself. It goes viral. In a beautiful, miraculous way, it spreads by transforming those it touches so they become carriers and pass it along.
We tested an initiative called the 30-Day Kindness Challenge, that has since spread around the world. Many people described seeing the person they were being kind to suddenly become more gentle, caring, and attentive themselves! These people realized that they had become a sort of super-spreader: they were spreading kindness in all directions without really intending to.
We’re all remarkably influenced by the culture around us, living and breathing certain attitudes that then become our own. We pick up certain beliefs largely because of what others around us think. That is the power of influence.
Well, God says we have that influence too—with everyone we touch.
During this election season and beyond, we are influencing others. We can subtly contribute to the negativity and conflict that is already everywhere. Or we can share the antidote of kindness with every person we meet. And over time that kindness will transform and change hearts and minds, which will change the culture. Which means in the end, true kindness is far more powerful than any election could be.
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And check out her latest book (co-authored with her husband, Jeff), Thriving in Love and Money. Because you need a better relationship, not just a better budget.
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This article was first published at Patheos.