The political landscape has changed. And I’m not just talking about the results of another election. I mean that the attitude and atmosphere surrounding politics in our country has shifted dramatically.
Growing up, I dreamed of pursuing a career in politics. It was the age of The West Wing, when being a part of the American government was something prestigious, a great way to serve our country and work for real change.
But it doesn’t seem that way anymore. We now live in a world of Scandal and House of Cards. Politics is now seen by many as a necessary evil. National dialogue often sounds more like a toxic relationship than an open conversation. State politics (at least where I live) are a mess. Even races for local government have become combative.
But recently I got a phone call. It was from a college friend who is running as an independent for a seat in his state legislature. He was calling to ask for prayer, encouragement, and financial support.
As we talked, I shared with him how disillusioned I’ve felt. He listened. And then he shared his hope.
He said he understood my frustrations. But unlike me, his frustrations led him to get more involved.
In his words, he is running as an independent, “not as a way to turn my back on the other parties, but because I really think I can help build bridges. We all share the same concerns. Now we have to do the hard work of finding the solutions.”
He went on to share his heart and his hopes, what he’s learned from being involved, and where he has already seen change as a result of doing the hard work of crossing party lines and looking for common ground. For him, politics is still a way to serve his neighbors and work for the common good.
That one conversation changed my whole outlook. Why? Because my friend had painted a picture for me of what it looks like to be politically mature—what it looks like to stay engaged, even when the political landscape looks bleak.
And, he helped me to re-engage.
Since our conversation, I have picked up the newspaper again, started reading books about politics, and begun to pay more attention to both national and local political races.
Along the way, I’ve learned a couple of lessons about how to stay engaged even when my candidate or party doesn’t come out on top. Maybe they can help you too.
Lesson 1: There’s Always Another Election
It’s very possible that the candidate that I’m pulling for will lose. But I’m realizing that’s okay. Just because they lose this time, or my preferred party doesn’t come out on top, there is always another election. I have the great gift of being able to vote… again and again and again. So, I’m committing to not giving up. To stay informed and keep voting.
Lesson 2: My Representative Still Represents ME
Even if my top pick didn’t win, I need to remember that the person who now occupies that seat is still my representative. As such, he or she answers to me. So, I need give my elected officials a call. I need to write their offices. Show up at their local events. Let them know what issues concern me and ask them to seriously consider the impact their position will make on their constituents.
Lesson 3: Read. Listen. Learn.
And I’m not talking about checking in for 60 seconds to my favorite 24-hour news network. Really read. Yes, read deeply and from a variety of perspectives on the issues. I need to get a couple of newspaper subscriptions and take in what is going on over my morning cup of coffee. Furthermore, I need to learn to listen, to tune in to longer conversations on the radio or television in which the candidates and officials themselves are sounding off at length about their positions and the issues that they see as central. I can’t let someone else do my thinking for me. I need to learn as much as I can and weigh my options.
Lesson 4: Pursue GREAT Conversations
I’ve started opening my door to every person handing out a political flyer in my neighborhood. Why? Because it is a chance to learn more about the candidates and have some awesome conversations about the issues that matter. I’m getting to know people on both sides of the aisle. So my encouragement to you is this: don’t close yourself off from having those conversations. If you get an invitation to a local meeting of the Democratic or Republican parties, GO! Hang out with them. Ask good questions. Learn about the positions and encourage them to consider other perspectives. Showing up can have more of an influence than we realize. Let’s open the door, take the phone call, and accept the invitation.
Lesson 5: Run for Office
Yes. Some of us should consider it. That is what I admire most about my friend. He believes he can make a difference and decided to run for office. Sure, he might lose, but there’s always the next election. The important thing that he taught me is that politics isn’t a game to win. It’s about leading change well and realizing that sometimes, just by running, you can shift the conversation and highlight issues that wouldn’t have otherwise been addressed. So if you are feeling inspired to run, then go for it! Your voice matters. Use it well.
In short, these are just a few of the lessons that are helping me to become more politically mature. My friend gave me a great gift in reminding me that we still have incredible opportunities to make a positive impact on our world.
So what are the ways that you are trying to make a difference this election season?
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on government and politics from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.