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Politics with compassion

by Rev. Karen Sapio, Claremont Presbyterian Church

As I write this, my social media feed is filling up with early reports from the New Hampshire primary. No matter the outcome, the results are likely to turn up the heat here in California where our own primary is less than three weeks away.

Election years are always tumultuous, but in today’s hyper-polarized climate, the tumult threatens to tear at long-held friendships and even family relationships.  

Of course, this is not the first time in history that election year tensions have put communities on edge. Politics in the 18th century were particularly brutal. Expanded suffrage, (though still only for men), and growing proliferation of newspapers made possible by industrialization and increased literacy meant that political screeds, cartoons, and threats reached more and more of the population—something like the impact of social media in our own day. 

Violence at political rallies was fairly common. Just before the general election of October, 1774, John Wesley, leader of the spiritual renewal movement that would eventually become the Methodist Church, wrote in his diary:

“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them

1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy

2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and

3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

The first piece of Wesley’s advice is clearly political: vote for whomever, in your estimation, is the best candidate. His final instructions, however, might be seen as a spiritual challenge. How—in 1774 or today—do we engage in the important work of democracy without losing our capacity for compassion? How can we engage in the political process without being overtaken by anger, resentment and frustration? How do we advocate for candidates and policies with passion and purpose without, as Wesley warns, “our spirits being sharpened against those that vote on the other side?”

In this election year, many of us are struggling with this. How do we stay in relationships with people we love whose politics we hate? Do we argue harder? Send links to articles supporting our position? Post more memes? 

Most likely none of these things will convince our friends and family members—and they might injure our relationships. Can we learn the practices of active compassion that can enable relationships to flourish in spite of political differences? 

On Saturday, February 29, Dr. Frank Rogers of The Center for Engaged Compassion and The Claremont School of Theology, will present a workshop on compassion practices that can help us build peace among family, friends, and neighbors during the upcoming election season. 

Rogers’ teaching and research centers on seeking to repair the world by applying the ancient wisdom of compassion and contemplative practices to the problems of today. 

The workshop will provide both spiritual touchstones and practical exercises in how to navigate the difficult space of the political divide with people we love whose politics differ from our own. 

Participants will explore how to get through family gatherings, how to build relationships that transcend ideology, and how to work for social change that is centered in compassion rather than confrontation.

The workshop runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Claremont Presbyterian Church, 1111 N. Mountain Ave., Claremont. Lunch is included. There is no charge, however registration is requested at www.claremontpres.org/events/compassion-election.  

We will all still be here after both March 3 and November 3. We need to learn how to be community for one another or, regardless of the election’s outcome, no one will win.

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