When we win, our instinct is to celebrate, to announce the good news to others or even gloat about it. In a political election, like the one that the United States just completed this week, the winners usually received the most votes. With the majority support, the winner and the winning party might be tempted to do whatever they want discounting the needs of the losers – the minorities?
Throughout history in the world, the winners of a political battle not only ignored the needs of the losers, they often went further in persecuting the losers in order to suppress any possible future revolts. Not so with a democratic society like the United States of America. The founders of the United States knew that if the winner of an election persecuted and ignored the needs of the minority groups, it is no better than any other dictatorial or totalitarian government. What makes a democratic government difference is that it continues to honor the rights of the losers, the minority, even though they have lost.
This is why the Bills of Rights were such important amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The right to have “freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. . . . [and the] right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” were not written for the powerful in a democratic government because anyone or group that has power already has the right to speak their mind without fear of persecution. They already have the right to publish anything they want without the fear of being censored. They already have the right to ensure their own privacy, especially when power comes with money. The Bills of Rights were written to protect those who are powerless, the minority, the losers of elections. Even though they have lost, they still have the right to speak and write about their experiences, the right to assemble, the right to petition the government, without the fear of persecution and retaliation.
How do these rights of the minorities impact the victors of a democratic election? By all means, the winners should celebrate and to make known their victory to others. However, a winner in a democratic government must also take the responsibility to protect the rights of the ones who have lost – the minority. The best way to do that is to listen. This listening cannot be a hollow gesture to appease the dissenting voice. For this to work, the goal of this listening is to achieve understanding. Achieving understanding does not mean one has to agree with everything that the other shares. The discipline of listening will increase the sensitivity of those who are in power as they make decisions for the whole.
The responsibility of the losers of an election is to take some time to reflect on the experience of being the minority. Take time to understanding why the winner and his party were capturing the support of so many people. Again, you do not have to agree but need to understand it. Take the time to discern, given what has happened, what are your needs and concerns that are significant and important to you and your group. Then find ways to articulate your needs as an individual and as a community knowing that the losers still have the rights to speak, to publish, to assemble and to petition.
Our tendency, as losers, is to immediately start planning for retaliation – to make the winners’ lives difficult. In some places, this impulse to retaliate may include violence. If we do that, we are no better than those who employ terrorist attacks on the majority because they do not get what they want. We must find ways to work out our differences with non-violent civility. In a democratic society, we must remember that the losers’ rights are still intact and that these rights will continue to give us channels to voice our concerns and needs.
Before we arrive at any constructive decision, we must have understanding. And understanding requires that the powerless groups to be able to articulate their needs in constructive ways while the powerful are able to listen. The common bond that holds us together is that we agreed to be part of a society that values each person or group’s rights.
I propose the following truth event for communities that have both winners and losers after an election:
- Invite participants to affirm the Respectful Communication Guidelines.
- Read the Preamble and the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.
- Invite participants to consider the following questions.
- How did the results of the election impact my life?
- Answer one of the following:
- As part of the winning party of this election, what are my responsibilities?
- As part of the losing party of this election, what are my concerns and needs?
- Invite the losers of this election to sit in a circle in the middle of the room. Invite the rest to sit in an outer circle.
- Using Mutual Invitation, invite members of the inner circle to share their reflections on their questions.
- After the inner circle has shared, invite a moment of silence.
- Invite the member of the outer circle to switch seats with the inner circle.
- Using Mutual Invitation, invite members of the winning party to share their reflections on their questions.
- When everyone has shared, invite participants to consider completing and sharing the sentences:
- I noticed . . .
- I wonder . . .
- End the gathering by asking participants to complete and share the sentence:
- Democracy is . . .
Reflection Questions for Proper 28 (Year C)
Canticle 9 – Isaiah 12:2-6
2 Thessalonians 3:6-14
Eric H. F. Law
For competent leadership in a diverse changing world