An unusual thing happened in Frankfort the other day. After years of being in the minority party, Republican House Speaker-elect Jeff Hoover welcomed Democrats to join his eight-member transition team as the GOP assumes leadership status in Kentucky’s state House. Who saw that coming?
Rep. Hoover announced that he will apportion committees to reflect the percentage of elected Democrats and Republicans. His team will also review procedural rules to make the lower chamber fairer to both parties. Considering the GOP was often marginalized by a majority leadership that ran roughshod over procedural rules, Hoover’s refrain for payback turned heads. Even with a 64-seat super majority and the power to crush Democrats, Hoover chose the high road and set a different tone—much different than the nation has experienced since the election.
Street protests, some turning violent; students and teachers marching out of classrooms; and most recently, an actor in a major theatrical productions lecturing the vice president-elect in attendance, have marked the depth of political animosity of our times. While such protests are a permitted freedom because of the form of our government, we should remember that the political structure—despite who occupies the White House or the State House—endures, while occupants come and go.
In the age of civility-deficits, consideration of how we protest and process political disappointment is an obligation of good citizenship. After hard fought political battles and investment of sweat and tears, disappointment is natural. But accepting the outcome of an election is a maturity necessary for democratic institutions to flourish. In fact, accepting and adjusting to the outcome of things outside our control is necessary to becoming a healthy human being, which brings me to my daughters recent JV basketball tournament.
It was a great event until the second game when a couple of fans perceived injustice on the court. They loudly complained about the referees. They hollered at their own kids for missing plays. They complained about driving so far just to witness such a fiasco. It made the rest of the fans extremely uncomfortable. Funny thing is, they ended up winning the game. Even so, something was lost. Their shrill complaints disrespected fellow fans. Their harsh criticisms hurt their own kids. They failed at modeling good sportsmanship or fanmanship, if there is such a word.
We live in an age of self-centeredness and inflated-ego where the world revolves around us, our desires, and winning—whether it’s our kids basketball team or our political party. Yet, the idol of winning at the expense of everything else is costly. This idol is a cruel master that deforms the individual and hurts those around them, ultimately becoming a bitter thing. Every one of us is stung by the pain of disappointment, but the difference is in what we do with our pain.
Imagine taking a trip that lasted much longer than it was supposed to, in uncomfortable seats and when you arrived at your destination, you had no place to stay. This is more than a flight delay at an airport due to an early Midwestern snow storm. It’s the story of the Pilgrims and their voyage on the Mayflower nearly 400 years ago. They came to this new world seeking freedom of religion but it came at a great price. They suffered with sickness and exposure and spent a winter on a ship anchored off what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. Nearly half died that first year and by the world’s standards, they were losers on an errand of futility.
Yet in the fall of 1621, they still thanked God in a three-day celebration with local Indians. An Indian by the name of Squanto, helped them plant corn, taught them how to hunt and fish and survive in the harsh climate. Squanto, who was enslaved as a boy and brought back to England where he learned the language, returned the year before, only to find his people had been obliterated by disease. He was a Godsend to the Pilgrims. Today we reap the benefits of the Pilgrim’s courage and the graciousness of Squanto who had every reason to be bitter toward the English.
Today we’ll celebrate with twice the blessings and half the troubles they experienced. One lesson the Pilgrim’s and Squanto leave us is that gratefulness and thanksgiving are the best antidotes to bitterness and despair. They taught us a new definition of winning: people filled with undaunted courage, grace to forgive, and hope that light will overtake darkness. Taking this lesson to heart—better yet, embodying this lesson around the dinner table today, will make for a happy Thanksgiving.
Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a nonpartisan public policy group. He resides in Cadiz with his wife and children.