How To Prepare for Election Night

This question has been percolating in my brain for quite some time, posed by myself, but also by just about everyone I meet. My friends, my patients, my colleagues, random people- everyone seems absorbed with the question of who will win the upcoming USA Presidential election, and what will happen if X wins, or Y wins, or if it’s unclear. And so many seeds of distrust have been sown, that no one seems absolutely confident that the reported results will reflect the true will of the people.

I certainly have a preference for who wins (it’s not hard to find, if you want to search for my opinion), and I cast my vote at a ballot box at our local library last week (10 days before Election Day). What I found interesting, though, is the big sense of relief I felt, as I cast my ballot, and as I obsessively hit refresh on my favored forecast website, and it told me what I wanted to hear- that things look positive for my preferred candidate.

As Election Day approaches, and as the major political party that I prefer less makes political moves that I don’t agree with, I’ve become more aware of how reactive I can be, especially on social media. How easy the “like” and “retweet” buttons are, how quickly I can feel satisfied and smug, or outraged and righteous. And so little of it has anything to do with real connection to things and people that matter, deep down.

I’m a part of a listserv for mental health professionals, and a thread which has had a lot of energy recently has to do with “How can we mitigate post-election aggression?” It has been curious to watch, even my respected colleagues, often get stuck in polarization and blaming, rather than mindful awareness.

I spoke recently with my own therapist about all of this, forming some important considerations that now color my perspective in the upcoming week (and however long it takes after the election for things to become more clear).

And none of that hinges on the election. Elections are a dramatic (and vital) page in the book of human progress, but they are more the result of the day-to-day, not-very-flashy, human interactions, than the cause of them. And thank goodness, because while I can’t personally do a whole lot to directly influence a given election result (I did donate and phone-bank and vote, though!). But there is a lot that I can do.

  1. I can work on my own emotional and spiritual growth. This is probably the most important thing I can do, and certainly the one I’m most directly responsible for, and in control of. I can do the deep internal work to explore why I lash out at people at times, and treat them unkindly. I can heal my wounds. I can become less reactive and more patient, more kind. My path to this includes continuing my personal therapy, and joining the 10 Percent Happier Election Sanity Challenge, a guided course of meditation, focused on mindfulness and lovingkindness.
  2. I can practice the pause. This emerges from #1, but I can put specific effort into being less reactive. When I respond immediately, it tends to be unskillful, but when I practice the pause, I am more aware of my full response to a given situation, and allow a response (or the choice to not respond) to come from a placed of being settled, and at peace, rather than being stirred up. I’m practicing this by setting an intention whenever I log onto social media, and intentionally avoiding some sites and people that stir me up in an unhelpful way.
  3. I can share this mindset, this intention, this practice with others. That’s part of the reason for writing this post! (Rather than firing off a dozen tweets that leave me momentarily vindicated, without actually connecting with anyone). I’m a part of this group, whether you mean Californians, Americans, humans, or this universe. So, the more I am able to keep my own mind throughout all of this, the more that can ripple outwards. There can be advantages to black-and-white thinking, of seeing so clearly that THIS is “my” group and THOSE people are “the enemy” that we must stop at all costs. At the end of the day, we are all humans. We are all citizens of this planet. And while I disagree passionately with some of you at times, I respect all of you, and I need all of you.

I’m likely to spend Election Night with an eye on the news, still. And I’m certain to have feelings about whatever happens. But I know that not a whole lot will change about myself, who I am, what my values are, and how I feel compelled to act in response to those values, based on who ends up on top. Best wishes and peace to ALL of us.

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Matthew Gibson, MD

Matthew Gibson, MD

Family Doc/Psychiatrist/Therapist | Star Wars | Exvie | Dabbling in Poetry, Rope Art, Painting: I write about all that and more! TikTok/Insta: @matthewgibsonmd