(Changing Roots Editorial) – It’s easy to feel powerless given our politics today. It feels like the media, big money and the elite are manipulating the system to their benefit at the expense of everybody else. You’re not wrong. But we can’t let that continue. Each of us can do our small part to make our republic better so that we can all live our best life.
Understand toxic partisanship
There’s nothing inherently bad about being a proud Democrat or Republican. However, it can quickly become damaging when people consider those in the other party to be their enemy. Learning more about how we became so partisan and what forces make us feel that way gives you the skills to prevent yourself and others from becoming dangerously partisan.
Define what matters to you
Some of us have a specific idea of what we want in a politician, most of us do not. We don’t know what things we should value. Should we care about policy? Experience? Effectiveness? Character? How should we compare which factor matters more than another? If I think a candidate is smart and honest, but they support policies I don’t like, how should I feel? Unfortunately, there is no objectively right answer, but there is likely a right answer for you. Thinking about this in a structured way can help.
Since our brain likes to feel like it is consistent and logical, it’s best to come up with a framework that makes sense to you, before inserting any real person into it. This way, you may feel like you’ve picked someone with a bit more thought than who you’d rather have a beer with (but, hey we’re a democracy, so do what feels right boo).
Because it’s complicated and nuanced, most people feel overwhelmed about the prospect of figuring out who they should support. This is a big reason why we tend to ignore the political process until there are only two options left to choose from…which has not turned out so well for us.
Micro donate to your favorite candidate
Adding money to politics may not seem like a helpful thing on the surface, but political contributions are a fundamental part of our democratic process, at least right now. We can use it for good or opt-out and let the big companies and the elite wield it for their self-interest.
Once you have an idea of which candidate you like, sending them a small donation has an impact beyond just helping them buy more cheesy TV ads. It sends a signal to the candidate and to other people that this person is worth supporting – social scientists call this social norming. Take two candidates, Ashley and Will. Ashley has received donations from 20 million people while Will has received donations from 100,000 people. If we have no other information about either of them, we will have a more positive view of Ashley because more people support her. This is why likes and views dictate everything in the social media world.
If there’s a candidate you support and you can spare the change, send them a small donation and tell your friends – you’ll be helping them more than you know.
Small steps add up
Politics is simply the name for how we – as a country – try to take into account the opinions of over 300 million people. Looking at the United States from that vantage, it’s pretty bananas we’re able to get anything done. If we each take a little time to understand what we want a bit better, life can get better for all of us. Remember, you have influence, you just need to claim it.