At this point in time, no clear winner from the presidential election has emerged, although it seems, on the surface, that the path for Vice President Biden to victory is easier than for President Trump. When a victor emerges, maybe a few days from now, maybe a few weeks from now, how should those who supported the victor treat those who supported the other candidate?
I’ve read some posts on social media that suggested that we take our cue from Avraham, who prayed for his enemy, Sodom. In last week’s Parsha, Avraham is called “ha’ivri” and Rabbi Yehuda explains the reason for that name is that “kol ha’olam mai’aiver echad v’hu mai’aiver echad.” The whole world was on one side and Avraham was on the other side. The whole world had one worldview and Avraham had another worldview. Now what is the other worldview that Avraham professed? I think that we could make a compelling argument that it was his faith in monotheism, so much so that in this week’s Parsha, he is willing to sacrifice his son in the name of religion. However, there was something else that distinguished him from the rest of the world, and that is how he treated others, especially those who did not share his religious worldview. In last week’s Parsha, after he defeated the four kings, he did not forcibly convert those whom he defeated to his religion. He only tried to persuade others to live a life of ethical monotheism but he did not force his religion on others. And then in this week’s Parsha, he does something that is simply amazing. Avraham discovers a little secret from God. God is about to destroy Sodom and some neighboring cities. The inhabitants of these cities stood opposite everything for which Avraham stood. Avraham should have hated Sodom because the inhabitants fought against Avraham’s worldview. In fact, Avraham could have easily felt smug and validated that it would now be demonstrated that his worldview was correct because God was about to destroy Sodom. However, Avraham loved them and prayed for them. That is “Ha’Ivri,” someone who has a different worldview, in both his religious outlook and his interpersonal outlook.
So perhaps this is the message to the victors of this election, whoever they might be. Let’s not gloat, let’s not be smug when we win, even when we win against those who we feel are diametrically opposed to our worldview. And we should pray for the losing side that they should be okay, like Avraham prayed for Sodom.
But I hope we realize that the other side is not Sodom. Whatever your political views are, please do not think that the other side is Sodom. Most Americans are decent people. Most Americans agree that we should live in a country with a robust democracy, with individual rights and a strong economy. Most Americans agree that we should live in a country that provides security to its citizens, that cares for the weak and vulnerable and that fights against intolerance, racism and hatred in all forms. We have been debating endlessly about how to accomplish that, but most Americans on either side of the aisle agree with the basic principles upon which this great republic was founded.
Avraham prayed for Sodom. He expressed sympathy for a people with a destructive culture. To heal America, though, we must do more because the other side is not Sodom. We must express empathy for the other side, because we need to actually connect with the other side to heal our country. Nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman described four attributes of empathy:
- Being able to see the world as the other sees it,
- Being non-judgmental,
- Understanding another’s person’s feelings, and
- Communicating our understanding of that person’s feelings to the other person.
The winners of this election have a tremendous opportunity to further their political agenda. But they can further their agenda while also bringing the country together. And the way to go about this is trying to connect, and really connect, with the other side. And the way we really connect is to say, “I may disagree with their method of improving the economy or helping the weak and the vulnerable, but I know many voters on the other side are decent people so let me try to see the world as they see it.” Those whose candidate lost will be nervous and scared, and the way to connect with them is not to simply pray that they see the truth, your truth, or that they get over this devastating loss, but to actually try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and communicate that you understand their fear, their anxiety and their nervousness, in a real authentic, genuine way. And that is the first step to healing this divided country.