The Ethical Dilemma: What Happens If the Other Candidate Wins?

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Don’t Gloat: I have a friend who is a major supporter of the other candidate (as in, he is a volunteer who organizes huge fundraising events). We’ve had many heated discussions, and while no one has called anyone stupid, I find myself losing the high regard I once had for him, not only regarding politics but also about his judgement and character overall.

The other day, after the latest bad news hit his candidate, he saw me and immediately said, “Don’t gloat.” I said I thought gloating now would be premature. But I’m wondering how to deal with him if his candidate loses (or worse, wins).

—If Not Then, When?

Dear When,

You are absolutely right, it would be jumping the gun to start gloating now. Every day there seems to be some new bombshell supposedly blowing up one or another candidate, yet they’re still running and there’s still ample time for new twists and turns before Election Day.

I don’t think gloating is an appropriate response no matter what. The biggest problem we face, no matter who wins, is that we are still one nation that needs to work together, even if about half of us disagree with whoever and whatever party assumes leadership. We see how refusal to cooperate goes in Congress, with our highest court still missing a judge and bills stalling while nothing gets accomplished. Everyone says they want change, but the first thing we have to change is being bad sports and refusing to play nicely together.

It’s natural to conclude that if your friend is so deluded about politics, he may also be wrong in other aspects of life, whether it’s business or raising his children or appreciating wine. But remember, he’s probably thinking the same about you. Recently, after commiserating with one group of friends about how I don’t understand how people support certain causes and why they can’t see the light, another good friend (who doesn’t realize I’m on the opposite side politically and in many other areas) used those very same words to describe “the others” that actually includes me. I was stopped in my tracks. I know she’s not a bad or ignorant or stupid person, and I’m sure she feels the same way about me. She and I have just evolved to view the same things very differently, for whatever reason. And yet we always have a lovely time together and connect on myriad other equally if not more important levels.

The point is, hard as it may be to believe, it’s unlikely that half the country is wrong/right, deluded/astute, good/evil, etc. What does seem to be true is that we are really polarized into thinking in such black and white terms. We need to work on seeing not just all the shades of gray that are really there but also all the colors. Whatever happened to the beautiful mosaic our nation was supposed to comprise? Why are we all so inclined to simplify everything into good or bad? Lately I keep hearing the term “nuance.” If only we’d apply that more to our perceptions of reality.

We all need to get out of our bubbles and into the hearts and minds of those who see things differently—not to agree with them necessarily, but to understand what they’re thinking and why. Conflict management teaches the value of focusing on finding common ground, getting to yes, and collaborating rather than attacking. If each of us started with the people around us and sought to understand them rather than shut them out or shout them down, we’d be more likely to be able to work together toward our shared goals, which certainly exist.

So start with your friend. Don’t look at him through the filter of his party’s color. Look at him as a whole person who has landed on the opposite side of one particular issue or even many different issues. And look at yourself too. Evaluate your own blind spots and prejudices. No candidate is perfect, and neither is any voter. We have an imperfect nation in an imperfect world. But we won’t be able to make it any better if we just retreat to our respective bunkers, hole up, and brace for battle. No matter who wins, we have to work hard to support rights and correct wrongs, and we need to do that through alliances and partnerships, yoking the “winners” with the “losers.” Instead of gloating or sulking, extend an olive branch and talk about where we go from here together.