Playing our part in reducing toxic politics

Across the globe, rage too often goes hand in hand with staying informed and engaged. But there’s a spiritual perspective that enables us to think and act in a way that counters the spread of division, hatred, and fear.

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These certainly seem like toxic times when it comes to political discourse around the world – from endless arguments in the United Kingdom between “Brexiteers” (wishing to leave the European Union) and “Remainers” (wishing to stay), to fierce divisions over who is the legitimate president of Venezuela, to polarized views of the way forward for America between the major parties in the United States.

It often seems as if rage is the price we have to pay if we want to stay informed and engaged. How can we keep anger at bay while still caring about the issues that matter?

A starting point for me has been to ask myself how I’m perceiving those who hold firm to positions I disagree with. In this regard, a comment made by previous U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has been thought-provoking. Ms. Haley said, “In our toxic political life, I’ve heard some people in both parties describe their opponents as enemies or evil. ... We have some serious political differences here at home. But our opponents are not evil, they’re just our opponents.”

To take that line of reasoning even further: There’s an underlying spiritual perception of others that makes it impossible for us to view anyone, including any politician, as a genuine enemy. This perception is a spiritual sense of others that sees that any negative qualities we might associate with them are not unalterable. They are not actually a part of what they really are.

Christian Science explains that the true identity of every individual, whether we know them personally or via media coverage, is in reality the spiritual reflection of God, good, the source of all. We are all created to express the nature of God.

That being the case, whatever doesn’t exemplify this identity is not what someone really is as a child of God. Likewise, any view we may have of ourselves as prone to get provoked, riled up, or even filled with hatred toward another person is not an accurate perception of what we really are, either.

This doesn’t mean ignoring, condoning, or resigning ourselves to wrong behavior. It means we challenge the fear of being subject to actions and events beyond our control, which stems from the perception of life and mind as material and inevitably prone to bad as well as good.

The Scriptures promise us that “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Instead of accepting fear or anger as intractable – in the political realm or elsewhere – we can pray to see the continuing presence and power of the good that God always beholds. In doing so, we begin to discern that the bad doesn’t really have the power it may appear to have.

I saw this when dealing with someone whose actions so deeply distressed me that seeing him as God’s creation – made to glorify Deity’s goodness – seemed too hard. But I persisted in praying based on a central observation concerning Christ Jesus in the teachings of Christian Science. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy writes, “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals” (pp. 476-477).

Through his extraordinary record of healing both sickness and sinfulness in others, Jesus proved the good that can be accomplished by holding to the true view of others as God’s expressions. As I humbly strove to do this, my fear and resentment of the man who had aggrieved me finally lessened, and the situation was soon resolved.

Isn’t this an approach we can take in the political arena, too? Rather than getting drawn into the toxic mental atmosphere of hating a candidate, we can help to heal it. To gain a more spiritual outlook isn’t to shy away from difficult situations. Rather, it defuses fear by awakening our thoughts to bear witness to the good already at hand. It helps us sustain mental equilibrium and poise. And it undergirds the courage needed to take action we feel divinely inspired to take.

Whether we back the winning or losing candidate in any election (wherever we are in the world, and no matter how high the stakes), we can persist in our commitment to perceive the spiritual view of one and all. In this way our very words and deeds will be cast on the side of exemplifying God’s goodness and will stand as a vote against the spread of division, hatred, and fear.

Adapted from an editorial published in the July 15, 2019, Christian Science Sentinel.

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