Right this minute, I don’t much care how you voted anymore, because the election is over, and now we have to look ahead and not back. I understand you’re angry at the opposition, and I understand you’re afraid that the other side wants to take something from you. But right now, I’m also more worried about how we can possibly move forward if we all hold onto the “he said, she said” and “he did it first” fallback positions of our childhoods, with our feet planted firmly and our arms folded across our chests, or with our fingers in our ears shouting, “La La La… I can’t hear you!” Right now, I’m the parent who is angry with both squabbling kids. My own position is irrelevant to the resolution. I am heartbroken, and I would feel exactly the same about the divisions in our country if the election had gone the other way.
Anger and Fear are the evil twins of Compassion and Trust. None of us was built without some capacity for each of these four qualities. We need them all to survive different times and circumstances in our lives, but balancing them is a truly tricky business.
Fear makes us cautious and often protects us, but can also paralyze our actions or cause us to overreact. Trust lets us take steps forward and build new alliances, but can also make us vulnerable to hurt or attack. Allowing fear to inform us, but not direct us, can be a very, very difficult thing to do.
Anger can galvanize us to overcome our fears and to act. It’s also a necessary step in any grieving process. On the other hand, left to boil and grow, it can divert our focus, and ultimately can hurt more than help us. Compassion for others forces us to look outside of ourselves, perhaps consider a greater good. Understanding (while not necessarily agreeing with) the mindsets of others gives context to discussions and can pave the way to compromise and unity. So, while anger certainly has its place and purpose; we must each decide when and how far to let it drive us.
But where does that leave us in the USA as a nation, and each of us individually? For the past year or so, we and our children have listened to a variety of candidates slash mercilessly at one another. We have watched as both political parties failed to really hear the voices of the opposition, or even to understand the cries of their own constituents. Anger. Frustration. Lack of compassion and understanding. Fear of the unknown. Intolerance of the status quo. Intolerance of one another.
There’s just been so much noise. A media circus on all levels. A continual need for fact-checking, with sometimes even the veracity of the fact-checkers in doubt. Local battles were sometimes as nasty as the national campaign. The fires of various kinds of revolution (economic, social, diplomatic, political) have been stoked at every turn, and the one clear message through all of this was an understanding by just about everyone (including many politicians) that the people of the USA are looking for change…
If only we could find some consensus on what that change should be.
Environmental regulation. Tax reform. Healthcare reform. Gun control. Immigration reform. Term Limits. Supreme Court Appointments. Minimum Wages. The Electoral College. Social Security. Civil Rights. Free Trade. Isolationism. The list goes on.
Some people have said they want to leave the US. Others live in fear of deportation.
We’ve seen all kinds of reactions to the election results, from the unpleasant and nasty (racial incidents) to devastated Californians in the throes of grief suggesting secession. They are not yet ready to contemplate the potentially negative impacts of leaving the fold. The federal government, while currently the source of their frustration, is also the source of disaster relief during fires and earthquakes. Healthcare, welfare, and Social Security benefits would still have to be figured out and funded or cut going forward. The FDIC would no longer protect their banks. There’s a lot of coastline in California to oversee without a Navy or Coast Guard. The cost of water, gas and oil might become prohibitive, and water availability from other states might even be impacted – a real difficulty for a largely agricultural state. Transport across state lines would become international transport both ways. Just sayin’. Look at Brexit for a laundry list of other things to consider. And still, the idea has some traction.
The point is that tensions and emotions are so high that even previously unthinkable things like secession or migration from the USA, a new House Un-American Activities Committee, and other similar suggestions on both sides of the political spectrum have become part of our conversation again – at least to the extent we can call all shouting and no listening a conversation.
We are no longer indivisible – in fact, we are ideologically split in half. Face it, folks, there is no clear mandate here either way. Half of the country disagrees with you. We need to take a deep breath, and then realize it’s time to start trying to understand how those people could possibly consider their opposing viewpoints valid (No, they aren’t all just stupid, no matter which side you fall on.) Social media has been good and bad for us. It has forced us all to hear all sorts of things from all sides. It has fed us both information and disinformation. And it has fueled the fires.
In the end, each of us has a responsibility to take stock. It isn’t enough to know what we don’t want and blame others for where we are. It isn’t enough to just accept the assertions and rhetoric we like best. It isn’t enough to think we know what drives other people. It isn’t even enough to be right.
My heart is absolutely broken, because the country I love is no longer united. We can no longer envision ourselves as a big dysfunctional family, squabbling but still loving one another. We’ve lost our reason and our ability to find consensus. We unrepentantly hurt one another with intent. We’re a very broken family, and things in our lifetimes won’t ever be as they were again, or as we perceive they were. We even sometimes forget that our nation is only one in a greater world community. Right now we’re that crazy family down the block, and everyone else is a little nervous about us. We all need to stop shouting and just shut up for a bit before something truly cataclysmic happens. Something that can’t be rolled back or amended.
We need a little time to cool off, to shake off the bedlam of the past year, to take stock of where we are and where we think we’re headed. Then, the really hard part starts. It’s time to really listen. The challenge is to honestly listen to one another’s fears, and to recognize everyone’s anger, fears, and frustrations are very real to them. It’s time to pull up our big kid panties and show (and in return expect) compassion and respect for the reasons that brought each person to his or her beliefs. It’s time to speak rationally so others will take us seriously. And it’s time to comprehend that until we work to find some pieces of common ground, we’ll have no place to stand as a nation. Remember, we are still only a small part of the bigger world outside. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
That means you. It means me. It means all of us.