I was channel surfing recently and came across a commercial for the upcoming federal election. I changed the channel and came across another commercial. After having watched bits of each I thought to myself that I was ready for this election to be over and wasn’t particularly concerned about the outcome. That thought caught me by surprise as I am a political aficionado. I follow what goes on in government both nationally and internationally and I also love to discuss various hot button issues at length. It occurred to me that if someone like me can be so tired of the political cycle, many people must not only be fatigued but quite possibly overwhelmed by it.
Politics no longer lives in a realm outside of us. Instead, politics are now deeply personal, which means that there is a lot at stake in any given election. Recent elections have focused on issues that are deeply personal and inextricably linked to the type of world we want to live in and build for the next generation. However, with the promise of change and betterment that an election might bring, also comes the possibility that the outcome might be the polar opposite of what we wanted. The consequences of which can feel dire.
Additionally, discussions about politics have become inescapable. With the upcoming federal election in Canada and what seems like an ongoing election cycle for our American neighbours, politics remain constant even when the seasons change. Whether it is the onslaught of 24 hours news channels that are constantly dissecting every piece of information, or online message boards where people openly share antagonizing opinions without any responsibility to fact check, it is easy to get caught up in the negativity.
So how do we not just survive but thrive in this increasingly politically charged atmosphere? How do we remain engaged in political dialogue without becoming disillusioned about the world we live in? How do we support our clients as they navigate relationships with family members, friends and colleagues that quickly become hostile due to divergent political and personal views?
It is important to begin by recognizing that how we approach these issues will determine the outcome we achieve. Responding angrily to a tweet or getting into a heated argument with a family member over dinner is unlikely to produce civil discourse. Recognizing that what we talk about has an impact on the daily life of the other person can help build empathy. The point of a discussion cannot be to change the other person’s opinion. Discussion is about planting seeds and exposing people to things they may not have considered. We cannot go into conversations expecting to change someone’s opinion. If we do, we are bound to be disappointed.
Let’s also give ourselves permission to tune out or disconnect as needed. While smart phones and app notifications make it easy to constantly be plugged in, periodic breaks can help us avoid becoming overwhelmed by the information. Unless it is your profession, political engagement doesn’t have to happen 24/7. Taking a break from the deluge of information can help us process the information better and also provides an opportunity to focus on other equally important things.
Lastly, when it all seems too much, let’s take a moment to reflect on how far we have come. Let’s celebrate all that we have accomplished, the battles that were won by previous generations that have had positive impacts on our lives. History books are filled with stories of human triumph. Let’s use this to energize us for what lies ahead.
Political engagement is important; our democracy depends on it. However, political engagement should not compromise our mental health or well being. Maintaining optimism in the current political climate is not easy, but it is possible.
Coretta Rego MA, RP, CCC
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA