writing on suffering and awakening

The mountain and the molehill: the paradox of the presidential election

I recently saw an interview with a group of people who were undecided about how to vote in the coming presidential election. Most of the people interviewed didn’t see much of a difference between the two candidates, and didn’t seem to think the election was a big deal.

Watching this, I got really angry at first. How can anyone not understand how important this election is? I thought to myself. How can anyone really think these two candidates are similar? I had some more thoughts that were less kind. 

Then I started to realize that they had a point. 

The presidential election is a really big deal. On November 8th, Americans will choose a leader who will help guide the country through the next four years and whose decisions will affect the lives of all living beings. We need to elect someone who is up to the task.

The presidential election is not a big deal. On November 8th, over seven billion people will not be elected president, and continue living their lives as they always have. People will play and work and be born and die and just keep on being. The foundations of the universe will not crumble if the wrong candidate wins.

Both statements are true at the same time.

Paradoxes are everywhere if we pay attention. Moreover, they can be a tool to help us better relax into life. A paradox is wonderful because it’s something we can’t fully wrap our heads around—it causes a break in our endless chain of thoughts, a moment when we get to say “I can’t figure this out.” Admitting that gives us freedom.

A presidential election is a perfect illustration of what might be the fundamental paradox of human life—that we are both not in control of what happens, and that our choices and our actions do matter. I vote, knowing that my one vote won’t change the outcome, because I also know that if I don’t vote, I bear some responsibility if the election goes the other way. I don’t get to choose the next president, except to the degree that I do.

No matter who wins the presidency, or which party controls Congress, the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. People will laugh and cry and hit the snooze button. It’s going to be okay. It’s okay now. 

But we also owe it to ourselves and to each other to vote. More importantly, we owe it to everyone to take what action we can to promote service, kindness, peace and understanding. 

We can’t change a thing and we can make all the difference.

Ian Cooper