No matter what happens next week, one thing is certain. After the election, our country will need Cooperative Wisdom to recover from an especially corrosive campaign. Regardless of who wins, there will be a change in the political environment, and change is always destabilizing. Familiar benefits may be endangered. Unexpected harms may emerge. Cooperative Wisdom teaches us to be alert for these disruptions.
It’s easy to do that on behalf of ourselves and people for whom we care. We’re all very aware of how a new President may impact what’s important or dear to us. In order to heal the wounds created by this election, however, we must also care about what matters to those who seem to be our opponents.
Government is perceived as legitimate only when it creates widespread benefits. The fierceness of this election has revealed that many Americans feel as though others are benefiting at their expense. Under these circumstances, there is always a temptation to circle the wagons. Cable news and social media make it all too easy to find like-minded people who confirm our biases and demonize our adversaries.
Cooperative Wisdom points in a different direction. Most people want to cooperate most of the time. We see this in neighborhoods and workplaces, where Trump supporters have lived and worked peaceably next to Clinton supporters—until someone puts out a lawn sign or wears a partisan button.
Elections push us into adversarial positions. If our candidate wins, someone else’s candidate loses. The win/lose formula may work well for sports but it isn’t especially good for democracy. A country is like an extended family. If it’s going to function well, no one should feel like a loser.
So how do we restore the feeling that this is a country in which all of us can thrive? Start with proactive compassion. This is no time for winners to gloat or losers to hold grudges. The candidates who assume power must reach out to their opponents. Those opponents must assume the role of the “loyal opposition”, finding common ground when possible and standing up for important principles when necessary.
Deep discernment will be needed too. Disagreement is disagreeable for most people. So, when we find ourselves in conflict, we have to ask what is at risk both for us and our perceived opponents. What is so important that we are willing to override our natural inclination to cooperate? What feels so threatening that we are willing to forget that the person on the other side is also a person?
Respecting what matters to others sets the stage for intentional imagination. Our social structures are stronger when they take into account the varied perspectives of people whose circumstances and experiences have brought them to different conclusions. Rather than dismissing them as “wrong” or even “stupid”, we are better advised to inquire into what they know that we don’t know. Underneath the divisive discourse of the election, what seems essential to them? Why do they think it is in danger? Once we open that dialogue, we can start thinking about how we might rearrange resources to construct a political structure that respects what matters to others as well as what matters to us.
And then there’s the tough work of inclusive integrity. Politics has been described as “the art of the possible.” Our government is enormous and complex. We will need all hands on deck to evaluate programs and proposals so we can preserve what works and revamp what causes harm. Bureaucrats and elected officials have an obvious role in this process, but so do Citizen Professionals, individual citizens who use their expertise to improve their communities.
Finally, we will need creative courage in the weeks ahead. The rhetoric in this election made it seem as though the concerns and needs of some people should prevail over the concerns and needs of others. But the strength of this country has always been in its founding principle that “all… are created equal.” Our union cannot survive unless we take each other seriously, committing ourselves to a nation in which “liberty and justice for all” is more than a slogan.
We didn’t write Cooperative Wisdom as a political tract. The five social virtues we recommend in the book are effective in families and boardrooms, faith communities and volunteer organizations. These principles also offer an alternative approach to the conflicts that have been so bitter in this election. Once the votes have been counted, there is a way to restore the cooperation that underlies our nation’s success and sustainability. We hope you will join is in applying Cooperative Wisdom to the challenges of the months ahead.
November 2, 2016