Political season is ripe for hurt feelings.
I’m playing observer to little throw-downs, flare-ups, and punch-outs in races across our coverage areas. Some of that action is cloak-and-dagger, such as political sign theft in Amherst. Some is contextual, such as veiled accusations over city council video interviews in Oberlin. In Wellington, daggers are drawn and ready to be used as the result of a long disconnect with the public over the handling of the school system.
A 14-way battle royale over Oberlin council seats can hardly be waged without friction. And in Amherst and Wellington, where mayoral showdowns have been brewing for months, residents are picking sides.
Regardless of the candidates’ merits, that kind of deliberate political division — neighbor from neighbor, co-worker from co-worker, and between family members — can cause irreparable rifts. It shuffles people into team mentalities, a kind of weird local patriotism that can make it easy to lose sight of what’s important.
The effects of campaign season stress are well-documented and it’s easy to find articles by mental health experts on how to handle it. But what strikes me every election cycle is how that political stress, left unchecked, tends to spill over and manifest in other forms of anger.
These are the weeks that scare me.
They are the newsweeks marked by angry calls and Facebook messages from readers about everything and anything but the election — I think it’s easy to see political season stress behind red-faced anger over traffic snarls, tax language, gaffes, typos, high school football losses, a long wait at the drive-through, or petty arguments on social media.
In my experience, we handle these kinds of mundane challenges much better when we’re not already on our last nerve over campaign ads and political debates.
Our American system is far from perfect. It leaves many people feeling helpless to effect change and ready to lash out.
I have some advice. Take it or leave it:
• It’s OK to disagree about politics. It’s not OK to be a jerk about politics. If you feel righteous fury building up, maybe go for a walk and calm down. Or online, be willing to leave the keyboard without getting the last word in. Trust me, nobody’s keeping score.
• I’m the last person to advocate being uninformed. Definitely learn all you can about the candidates and issues, but know when to turn off your political brain. Always put people before ideology.
• Be confident. If you are sure of your own values, you’ll be more at peace when you vote and when others vote. And don’t let changing others’ minds consume you or become your identity. There will never be a time, nor should there be, when everyone you love agrees with everything you believe.
• Be willing to change your mind if the facts say you are wrong. I’ve been wrong once or twice (or always… ask my wife). Hours of research are worthless if they’re informed by confirmation bias.
• Remember: It’s not the end of the world if your candidate or issue goes down in flames. There’s always next year or the year after that.