Six Ways to Cope with the Election Results
Thomas G. Plante
Psychology professor Thomas Plante discusses what to do Wednesday morning if your candidate doesn’t win.
Come Wednesday, vast numbers of Americans are going to be faced with the reality that a candidate they’ve been told (or even that they’ve told others) is a criminal, a misogynist, a crook, a liar, or a racist, is now their country’s president for the next four years.
What are parents going to tell their children, especially if those children have been taught to demonize one candidate or another? What are we as citizens going to say, or do, to accept what could be a surprising, disappointing, or even scary defeat of our chosen candidate?
While voters regularly threaten to move to Canada if their candidate loses, that rarely happens. But this election season—with its hateful, angry rhetoric—perhaps more than ever requires us to have a plan for what to tell our children, and ourselves, to move forward with hope and positivity.
May I suggest the following:
1. Take a deep breath. Parents can remind their children (and themselves) that in a democracy we don’t always get what we want. We live in a large country with over 300 million people. Part of getting along in that society means sometimes your desires don’t win the day. Sometimes you have to swallow a bitter pill, accept a loss that may be incomprehensible or feel unfair.
2. Remember that rhetoric isn’t always reality. During an election season, often people say very aggressive and egregious things in the heat of battle. Sometimes they exaggerate the challenges facing the country, or the dire consequences if what they want doesn’t occur. Facebook friends are lost over it; families are sometimes split because of it. People can get full of emotion and say things that might be mean-spirited and upsetting.
However, when reality sets in, those same people, history tells us, often manage to adapt and rally. That’s true when our favorite team loses, or when we don’t get into a college of our choice or don’t get chosen for the basketball team. We all can get impassioned, but once a decision is made, we often can be resilient, rally together, and work to accept the new reality even if it’s one we don’t like.
3. Trust in the pillars of democracy. One of the great wisdoms of our forefathers was to create a system of checks and balances, and a system of law. We are not electing a dictator, king or queen. Whoever wins the presidency will have to respond and be answerable to Congress, and to the Supreme Court. Our president thankfully is not a dictatorship. That gives us some solace.
4. Use this as a reset button for your own values. One of the terrible consequences of this election is that it has been so raw and so ugly, and inconsistent with the values of so many Americans of goodwill, or of institutions such as the Jesuit, Catholic Santa Clara University where I teach.
Wednesday morning, no matter who has won or lost, should be a cold-water-in-the-face moment for us all. It is a stark reminder to ask yourself if you are living up to values such as respect or compassion, two important pillars of Jesuit education. This is a good time to remind ourselves and our families that our values are to always treat people in a compassionate manner, and to treat everyone with respect, even if we disagree with or dislike them. Recommit to letting our ethical principles guide and center us. It may require setting a “reset” button. Who are we? Who do we want to be?
It’s like Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” It’s a very good mantra, one that you don’t have to be a Democrat to agree is right.
5. Grow where you are planted. While you may be distressed at having a president who you feel is taking the country in the wrong direction, everybody can do something to make the world a more humane and just place, starting with their own home, their own community, their own city or state. Do what you can, and find the people who want to do it with you.
Use the words of the serenity prayer to guide you: change what you can; accept what you can’t; seek the wisdom to know the difference. It doesn’t have to result in a national movement, it could be simply your stake in the ground of something you feel is important—preserving the earth; protecting the vulnerable; honoring the rule of law.
Small things matter, and they build.
6. Take a hint from Mr. Rogers, and look for the helpers. The beloved children’s TV host Fred Rogers said that whenever scary things happened, his mother would remind him to “look for the helpers.”
Hillary Clinton started the second debate saying America is good, that there is goodness in America. And she is right. Loud, hostile people get a lot of attention. But it is vital to remember that the vast, vast majority of Americans are good, and want to make America better. Look for that good in others. Invite the sacred out of people, and share what is sacred in you. See the divine in people, and when you find that little flame, gently blow on it, to make it grow.
After the brutality of this election season ends, we should all step up to be the helpers our country needs.
Thomas Plante is Santa Clara’s Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J. Professor in the psychology department. This article first appeared on the Psychology Today website.