Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" gives several checkpoints of maturity, and one on the list is, "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same."
It's important to rise above defeat, as difficult as that may be. Rising above victory, however, may be even more important. An election shouldn't give the winner such an undue sense of having received a mandate that there is no need for humility. When we can meet election victories or defeats "just the same," we have achieved a helpful political maturity.
I've worked in two political campaigns. Both proved victory and defeat to be impostors of sorts - inaccurate assessments of the long-term outcome for the country. One was for the presidency, and our candidate won. History, however, hasn't given his presidency very high marks. In retrospect, I have to admit that the defeated candidate might have made a better president. The other campaign was a gubernatorial one, and our candidate lost. But he went on to serve as a valuable and effective United States senator.
Recognizing that the labels victorious and defeated often have little value, we might all agree to put them aside quickly after an election. At this point, both the elected officials and their contestants can benefit from our good will. Those who didn't win office may be seeking guidance for future steps, and perhaps even healing and comfort for campaign missteps. The elected official has to come to grips with his or her campaign promises.
Even those promises that flow from great integrity often bump into the reality of what is politically possible. Now is the time for everyone to forgo partisanship and mere opinion in order to move our country forward and save it from costly mistakes - costly not only in terms of money, but also in the failure to provide opportunity for all its citizens to more nearly fulfill their potential.
The relevance of this centuries-old Bible verse shines with particular brightness after an election: "The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us" (Isa. 33:22). Whether you read "us" as "you and me" or as the whole nation, the message is clear. One divine intelligence rules over the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government. Anyone who serves unselfishly in these arenas has help - divine wisdom - right at hand. And the same loving intelligence also governs those who did not obtain office but who can still contribute inspired ideas and help shape government. There may be a failed candidacy, but never a failed candidate.
The understanding that God is the source of all good, including the wisdom, honesty, and selfless motives needed to make government work, has practical power to improve all branches of government. Prayer based on this understanding can help the executive branch send more inspired legislation to Congress, Congress to pass bills that aren't merely knee-jerk reactions to problems, and the judiciary to find fewer laws in conflict with the Constitution.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper and a well-informed member of the electorate of her day, wrote of the possibilities that can emerge when the "vanity of victory" is put aside: "...all vanity of victory disappears and the glory of divinity appears in all its promise" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pg. 25).
Rising above victory and defeat makes winners of everyone who cares for the country enough to run for public office. The motive to serve the public fairly is a win-win situation. It leaves no lingering disappointment, no arrogance. Unselfishness comes from above, reflects God's glory, and fulfills His promises through the just government of all.
Thou, Lord, hast made
me glad through thy work:
I will triumph in the
works of thy hands.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society