Tomorrow will be a "quiet" election day in the United States. On the other hand, next year's election promises to be anything but.
Let's hope that in the many months of campaigning to come, private lives don't turn into public caricatures, in which people come to be known primarily for their mistakes. While it isn't good to ignore severe character flaws that could prevent someone from serving well in public office, it is important to look beyond caricatures and to recognize that mistakes are not usually the whole picture of a person.
It's also worth making a conscious effort to find good qualities that public figures express. And then to recognize that these qualities do not belong exclusively to certain people, but have their source in God, in universal good.
When a man addressed Jesus as "Good Master," he replied, "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God" (Mark 10:17, 18). Recognizing that all good qualities originate in God and are natural to His children, His "image and likeness," we can more easily accept that mistakes are not inevitable and natural to anyone. This helps in constructively getting past someone's personality and assessing his or her position on the issues.
Probably most of us voters, most of the time, really want to know the positions candidates take on specific issues. Personal information slipped into our news sources, however, can act like a siren call to follow every revelation of the individual's history and actions. This lures us away from understanding the issues, even distorting those issues and warping our judgment.
Turning from a strictly human view of men and women - to the spiritual image and likeness of God that is everyone's actual identity - we can recognize signs that a person's real heritage and life are good. Mistakes in a career may often be viewed as learning experiences; if they have resulted in lessons learned, then the lessons, and not the mistakes, are the things to remember.
And always, the good someone has accomplished may be seen as having its source in God and not in human endowments.
At one time I was up for election. As the voting day got closer, I felt increasing turmoil within. The attention I'd been receiving was largely favorable; it wasn't criticism that disturbed me.
It was, I determined, a sense that the good associated with me was personal, as opposed to something of God that I expressed. Finally the last line of the Lord's Prayer, which I had repeated many, many times, kicked in: "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever." The meaning to me was that it is God who accomplishes all good, and to whom all glory is rightfully given. I saw that any good I had expressed, or would express, was in its entirety a reflection of universal good, and not a mere personal accomplishment.
My peace returned. And the support I received from constituents during my time in office was marked. I didn't receive a lot of personal glory - nor did I make many foolish mistakes.
If such a scenario seems more like a heavenly hope than an earthly possibility, we might consider this insight: "Heaven is not a locality, but a divine state of Mind in which all the manifestations of Mind are harmonious and immortal, because sin is not there and man is found having no righteousness of his own, but in possession of 'the mind of the Lord,' as the Scripture says" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 291). Recognizing that we have "no righteousness of [our] own," but also are "in possession of 'the mind of the Lord,' " indicates a way we can pray for public officials, and for anyone who is receiving undue attention. It is natural to see the individual as governed by divine wisdom and goodness.
Each one of us can make a difference in toning down the rhetoric by attributing the good in a person to a divine source. And by seeing that what isn't good does not have a place in God's creation. As we do this, and perhaps by our example help others do it, we can reclaim the public arena for the thoughtful consideration of issues.
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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society