I was stunned by the results of last Tuesday’s election. I am not alone in feeling this way, given that many pundits described Donald Trump’s win as the biggest political upset in modern history. Even the President-elect himself was purportedly shocked.
Some people I know are devastated. Some are resigned. Some are jubilant. Some are gloating, and some are hoping to prevent the inauguration from happening. Some are frantically processing the implications of the results for themselves, their loved ones, the country, and the world.
I am doing the last myself. On a large scale, I have ideas about how I can support the causes and movements I believe in, like everyone can, regardless of their political affiliation. I can play a more prominent role in regional politics. I can volunteer my time and money. And I can worry. Worry itself will not help, but worry often goes hand in hand with vigilance, which is more useful.
Closer to home, I am more uncertain about what to do. Statistically speaking, roughly half of the people I know and interact with regularly cast a vote for the “other” candidate. Based on numerous news reports, these people I know could be fringe-dwelling hate-mongers, and based on numerous other news reports, they could be generally decent people who were disillusioned with politics as usual and voted for someone who to them represented much-needed change. Given the nature of many news stories I have seen in the days since the election, it would be very easy to shut down, turn in on myself and believe I can trust no one.
Except for the fact that I refuse to do it. I will not go around in my daily life assuming everyone around me is my enemy. That could be naïve, but it would cause both my quality of life and my capacity to be a force for good in the world to take a nosedive. I like to feel positive about my interactions with people, even in this post-election world, so I have decided to redouble my efforts to feel connected to others.
Here is how I am going to interact with the people in my communities going forward. I am going to ask myself the following questions:
Am I listening? I pride myself on being a good listener. It is something I am called upon to do professionally, and I am also told by my friends that I am easy to talk to. Traditionally, I have enjoyed hearing what others have to say, and I have learned some fairly good skills for making sure I pay attention. However, tensions are running high in the world, and I know that discussions can take a left turn quickly, even casual, seemingly surface ones. I will be tempted to shut my ears or go into “convince mode” if I encounter someone whose views differ from mine. I will do my best to resist this temptation and actually hear people, even and especially if they disagree with me.
This does not mean my opinion will be easily swayed. It means I will do my best to gather data dispassionately instead of getting caught up in negative feelings. And I will try to insist on the same from the people I am talking to.
Am I compassionate? There is a line in the Grateful Dead song “Uncle John’s Band” that I think of frequently that goes, “What I want to know is, are you kind?” I try to be. I even succeed sometimes. Other times, though, I catch myself rolling my eyes when I hear people saying things I disagree with or think are “ignorant” or “stupid” or “misinformed.” I am sure my attitude and energy change, and not for the better, and this is not conducive to being kind. One of the best ways to slam hearts and minds closed is to berate, belittle, and dismiss. So, even and especially if I feel my temperature rising, I will breathe deeply and stay in touch with my humanity. It may not be as easy to de-escalate emotion as it is to escalate it, but it is possible, and I am committed to trying.
Am I vigilant? Remember what I said about vigilance and worry? These do not go away simply because I am working on my listening skills and my capacity for kindness. I intend to do my best to connect with people despite differences of opinion, but I also intend to be vocal when I see or hear things that I consider to be wrong, cruel, or unfair. You know the adage “If you see something, say something?” I am going to get the t-shirt AND the coffee mug.
If you read carefully, or even if you do not, you can probably tell which way I voted, no matter how even-handed I would like to think I am being. I am trying to write dispassionately about a subject that is inspiring extreme passion, in me and in countless others. The nature of the topic, coupled with the limitations of my writing skills, guarantee that I have not been able to make my point as clearly as I would like. I needed to try anyway.
Want to talk? Reach out, to me or to someone you know who will greet you with kindness and an open heart and mind.