There have been complaints that the campaigns of the leaders of the two major parties in our upcoming federal election have been a bit lacklustre. But could that be something to be grateful for?
While there have been some negative comments towards others’ policies, let’s hope that every candidate keeps the negativity to a minimum, especially personal criticisms.
Perhaps surprisingly, that’s not only good for the sake of civil discourse; science says it’s also good for the candidates.
A study published in The Journal of Politics notes that “there is no consistent evidence in the research literature that negative political campaigning works.” The report goes on to say, “While attacks probably do undermine evaluations of the candidates they target…they usually bring evaluations of the attackers down even more.” That’s a lose-lose situation for all concerned.
The mood of the public always dips during negative political campaigns. Normal people with the best of motives can get caught up in the anxiety and anger of opposing sides. There’s substantial research that suggests political sledging and nastiness can cause emotional extremes and illness. We’d be better off if we rejected the kind of thinking that takes offense at harsh opinions or perspectives, or reacts in fear that they can harm us or our country.
Irrespective of our beliefs, most of us seek morally upright and harmonious government. It seems that a more effective political campaign can be built on honesty. “Honesty is spiritual power,” wrote Mary Baker Eddy in her book, Science and Health; a viewpoint that brings health and harmony to all aspects of our lives, including the world around us. “Dishonesty is human weakness, which forfeits divine help” (ibid) – forfeits success, peace and happiness.
Honesty is good for the politician too – the less people lie, the better they feel, both mentally and physically.
A spirit of fair play suggests that we give candidates space to have their say, and then it’s our task to discern their motives and look at their record. Disciplining our own thought, refusing to dwell on another’s personality or personal opinions and their amplification in the media, is possible and will add to our continued wellbeing.
For me, as a Christian, that means prayerfully listening for and being guided by universal, divine intelligence and wisdom that discerns the very contents of each heart. As a Christian Scientist, specifically, I think we can aim for a win-win result this year, whatever our political stance, by considering and working to adopt this view, which can also be attributed to Mrs Eddy:
“We should remember that the world is wide; that there are a thousand million different human wills, opinions, ambitions, tastes, and loves; that each person has a different history, constitution, culture, character, from all the rest; that human life is the work, the play, the ceaseless action and reaction upon each other of these different atoms. Then, we should go forth into life with the smallest expectations, but with the largest patience; with a keen relish for and appreciation of everything beautiful, great, and good, but with a temper so genial that the friction of the world shall not wear upon our sensibilities; with an equanimity so settled that no passing breath nor accidental disturbance shall agitate or ruffle it; with a charity broad enough to cover the whole world’s evil, and sweet enough to neutralize what is bitter in it.” (Miscellaneous Writings 224:11-25)