The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Don’t be insufferable Nov. 7 no matter the outcome. Here are 5 questions to help you.

A resident arrives for early voting at a polling location in San Antonio. (Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg)

How do you plan to respond Nov. 7 if you wake up to find the election results have gone your way? How about if they haven’t?

This is an important question to raise now, before any of us know what the outcome of the midterm elections will be. Because how we respond will set the tone for the months and years ahead, and it will also fortify or weaken our democracy.

While no one is likely to see every race go their way, or every race go the other way, there are going to be winners and losers on Nov. 7.

Here are five questions to ask yourself before the results come in:

1. Can you withhold your snarky comments? Can you keep your happy dance private? Can you refrain from being insufferable? Can you put yourself in the place of people who lost even if you cannot understand their political positions? If you deepen their disappointment by gloating and reacting with righteous fervor, our national rift will deepen.

2. Can you take loss without sullen spite? A hostile response, name-calling and finger-pointing will only divide us further. Is that what you want? Be honest. Because there are going to be people — winners and losers — who do want to maintain a deep chasm, who do want to keep sowing discord and distrust. Are you one of them?

3. Can you seek common ground? Many of our political differences are deeply held and reflect our strongest beliefs and values. Are you willing to engage in conversation with people who may not share those values, or even understand them? Can you seek to understand and to be understood without raising your voice or demeaning the other person’s character or value?

4. Can you stop fueling those who refuse to be civil? There are people who do not want to see harmony in our nation, who spread conflict for their own dark motives. We are not going to change them. Many of them are fueled by the spotlight and are engaging in arguments and insults to feed their ego. Denying them the thing they want most — attention — is the best way to diminish their influence. It is not easy to turn away when your buttons are being pushed. Practice. Practice turning your back, changing the channel, refraining from clicking or responding. This is how we change the tone of discourse.

5. Can you continue to stand up for your beliefs with passion, purpose and politeness? Accepting the election results does not mean abandoning one’s values. There will still be a need for passion, action and debate — but we must do those things with respect, and we must not tolerate others who do not — whether they share our positions or oppose them.

If civility has a chance in our nation, it begins with individual choices. Between now and Election Day, think about who you want to be and what you want to model for your children and fellow citizens. Have this conversation around your dinner table, with your work colleagues and over your back fence. Have it with people who share your politics and people who do not.

There is a pretty good chance you will feel elated or crestfallen Nov. 7. That is the nature of politics. But it does not have to be nasty or childish; we can handle it with decency. Start practicing this now. Our future is at stake.

Donna Cameron is the author of “A Year of Living Kindly.” She has spent her career working with nonprofit organizations where she saw kindness in action on a daily basis. Donna lives in the Seattle area. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.