Dear Undecided Voter: You’re Struggling Because You Care

This article is part of our Election 2016 Anthology.

Dear undecided voter,

I see you.

Not in a creepy, stalker-ish way, but in an intuitive, I-feel-your-struggle way.

I see the journey you’ve been on since this election season began, because I’ve walked it with you.

I’ve watched you express your ambivalence on TV news shows, in online articles and on social media.

I’ve felt you lean one way, then the other, then back again with each news cycle’s ever-more-explosive revelation about the major party candidates.

I’ve taken that same sharp inhale when one candidate used lewd or callous words, and shared your deep frustration when the other candidate was careless with their emails or foreign policy choices.

I’ve bemoaned both candidates’ checkered pasts and lack of transparency, wishing they’d have a cleaner bill of character health. Because that would make this decision a heckuva lot easier.

Through this maddening swirl, you’ve probably looked at your more partisan friends and family with a mix of puzzlement and consternation.

With every #ImWithHer or #MAGA hashtag or every, “How can you not know who to vote for? The choice is so clear because the other major party candidate is NASTY”, you’ve begun to wonder if they know something you don’t.

They don’t.

Like you, they’ve been following each noxious headline as much as their conflicted sensibilities will allow.

Like you, some are beginning to lose sleep and get anxiety attacks.

Unlike you, they’ve made a choice so they can move on with their life. Spend their down time watching football. Hang out with their friends. Indulge, once again, in the guilty pleasure of a reality show or TV drama. You know – those everyday things to escape from this apparent car wreck of an election.

But you…you’re not giving up that easy.

You’re holding out hope for that one news story – another October surprise, perhaps – that will convince you, once and for all, why one major party candidate is undeniably better than the other. Why one is more morally upright, less crooked, more decent, less volatile, more civil, less power-hungry.

No, you’re not giving up that easy because you deeply, fiercely, clearly, want to make the right choice. You believe your vote matters that much. And you’d rather stay home than vote for the wrong candidate and spend the next 4 years (or the rest of your life) regretting your choice.

Clowning around

Both major party candidates could have taken this election process more seriously. They could have courted our votes more judiciously, and they could certainly have made their case more convincingly.

Sure, there have been some substantive policy speeches on the campaign trail, and you can find details of their plans for America on their respective websites.

But you know you can’t fully embrace a candidate from just a bunch of words on a page, no matter how well-written.  No, you want and need to feel them, see them speak to you from a podium, sense their energy and believe you can invite them into your life and living room for the next 4 or 8 years.

This year, you had to have been home on a weekday afternoon to catch most of those policy speeches live, to have made it a priority to watch them on YouTube after, or to have schlepped out to a campaign rally and heard them in person.

This year, you couldn’t rely on most news media outlets, much less political commentators, to summarize those speeches objectively and give it to you straight. Just like your more partisan friends and family, they’ve tended to imply, “How can you not know who to vote for? The choice is so clear because the other major party candidate is NASTY.”

On top of all that, one candidate was not holding regular press conferences to flesh out their case, while the other was flooding our airwaves with vague and unfocused rhetoric.

Of nasty women and groping men

Are these talking heads and more partisan folks right? Does this really come down to choosing our next president based on who’s less nasty? On who’s the lesser of two evils? On who has a less-flawed character?

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for of the abundance of his heart his mouth speaketh. – Luke 6:45

Samma-Vaca — Perfected or whole Speech. Also called right speech. Clear, truthful, uplifting and non-harmful communication. Practice of Right Speech goes beyond simple “thou shalt nots.” It means speaking truthfully and honestly; speaking in a way to promote harmony and good will; using language to reduce anger and ease tensions; using language in a way that is useful. – from the Eight-Fold Path to uncover your own Buddha Nature

If you practice a faith, follow a moral code or simply strive to lead a decent life, neither presidential campaign is giving you enough to work with. Besides the candidates themselves dredging the gutter to insult each other, media outlets, vigilante hackers or foreign states have leaked video tapes and campaign emails that leave us disgusted and even more confused.

This election, more than most in recent history, seems to be focused solely on questions of character, which isn’t a slam dunk for either candidate.

Practically speaking though, casting a vote based on their character alone just isn’t going to work. Because it’s bound to leave a bitter taste in our mouth, a feeling in the pit of our stomach that we’ve somehow settled.

And America doesn’t settle. It’s not who we are, and it’s not what we do.

So, what then? What do we look to, or look for, when character isn’t on the table? In an entrenched 2-party system, how do we exercise the pragmatic desire not to waste our vote on a 3rd party candidate, and how do we choose between major party candidates with such glaring (and typically disqualifying) character flaws?

For party and country

To borrow a phrase that’s been uttered on the campaign trail:

“When they go low, we go high.” – Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States

Instead of using it, as Mrs Obama does, as a partisan rallying cry to stay above the fray of campaign insults, turn it into your personal North Star in the voting booth.

This year, go high and find a more resounding reason to vote. Open your heart to the voice within you, the voice of your indomitable American spirit, the voice that’s been drowned out by the political theater and character-driven coverage we’ve witnessed.

Open up again to the love you have for your country and your people, the love that transcends our very real challenges and crises, the love that remembers we’re greater than the sum of our political part(ie)s.

Remember that unwavering love that fuels good works – the love that rebuilds fallen towers, the love that gives everyone a voice, the love that seeks to bridge party divides, the love that yearns to heal centuries-old community wounds.

And with that deep, heart-bursting sense of love for your country, meditate on these ‘go high’ perspectives:

– If the media (and the candidates) go low by insisting you make this a referendum on the candidate, go high and make this a vote for their Party. Which Party (irrespective of their daily machinations) is more on message overall, more organized and more willing to go to bat for each other? Although both major parties have been shaken and stirred in this election, which one seems more ready to take on challenges both foreign and domestic?

– If both candidates go low by questioning each others’ lack of judgement or experience, go high and think about which candidate best represents their party’s strategic direction and longstanding values. Although one candidate used to be a Democrat, and the other sometimes seems more centrist or Republican than they ought to be, who dons their party stripes with more dyed-in-the-wool and sustainable fervor?

– When candidates go low and disgust us by viciously attacking the other side, go high by putting this in its proper historical perspective. Negative campaigning has been with us since 1800, when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams campaigned to be president. Jefferson hired James Callender, a political pamphleteer, to write that Adams had ‘…hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.'” Until we, as a people, decide we don’t want or welcome negative ads on the campaign trail, they’ll remain a feature and not a bug.

– If the campaigns urge us to only look at what’s failing or ailing us, go high and remember that America’s model of government is tried and true. When America’s Founding Fathers spent 100 summer days in Philadelphia in 1787 crafting the Constitution, they argued over which political model to adopt for America, and they eventually invented the notion of self-government, a radical idea that America would use and promote till the present day.

THE PEOPLE SHALL GOVERN!

Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws.

All the people shall be entitled to take part in the administration of the country.

The rights of the people shall be the same regardless of race, color or sex.

All bodies of minority rule, advisory boards, councils and authorities shall be replaced by democratic organs of self-government.

- from the South Africa Freedom Charter: A 1955 document designed to end apartheid, born of the people and inspired by the US Declaration of Independence. The current Constitution of South Africa was promulgated by President Nelson Mandela in 1996 - it includes many of the demands of the Freedom Charter.

– For all America’s own transgressions en route to realizing that full-throated self-governance, it’s our very stumbles that steer us closer to what is true.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

”Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

Moments like this election may spiral us downward into self-doubt or self-recrimination for having let things get so out of hand. But it’s also that kick in the butt, that crack in the perfect offering to snap us back into remembering what counts, and into voting for more fundamental matters.

Don’t let the campaigns, the media or your more partisan friends bully you into voting for their candidate simply because it’s expedient.

America is a country that stands for decency, integrity, honesty and peace. We have it in us to vote with a respect for America’s political institutions, with a discerning faith that errant political players can and will (through our urging or the rule of law) step up for the greater good, and with an active desire to help make those changes happen – one district, one county, one state at a time.

May this article help you move from confusion to clarity, and help you make peace with your choice for America’s 45th President.

Now go vote.

(featured image from tribdem.com)

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About the author

Maya Mathias

Maya Mathias is a global leadership veteran, with a life and career spanning 3 continents and 5 inspired self-reinventions. She is a peaceful leadership advocate and mentor, bringing her unique blend of East & West to her leadership development and innovation management practice. Maya’s life began with a lower-middle class upbringing in Asia, surrounded by poultry & vegetable farms and the ‘simple life’. She doesn’t forget her humble roots, and her body of work seeks to bring more equality, justice and personal purpose in troubling times. Learn more about Maya here.

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