Things have been rough lately. A lot of people have realized that things are not going well in this country, and this is not how they want things to be. People who before may have been fine more on the sidelines are beginning to get more and more involved in their communities.
That is wonderful. That is what democracy is about. It demands our active participation.
Sadly, we live in a very polarized time and there are folks out there who may disagree with our views who see their way of life threatened, who may have different priorities and different agendas, and may also be getting involved. How do we stay active, engage in our communities in meaningful ways, but avoid getting burnt out, and also, avoid starting to think of other people as “lost causes”? How can we tap into our compassion to drive us, rather than our anger? How can we be driven, in healthy ways?
Last night my partner and I were talking, he asked me about that last part. How do I plan to engage with people in the community, long-term, and stay mentally healthy, without starting to think of people who disagree as “others”, “wrong”, or “lost causes”. I told him that too often we have listened to the way the media has misrepresented the election. We’ve been told again and again and again that around 50% of people voted for Trump, around 50% voted for Clinton, and whoever was leftover voted for Johnson and Stein.
That is not at all the case. Because first of all, more than 40% of eligible voters, DID NOT VOTE. So, of the approximately 57% of people that did vote, only a quarter of eligible voters chose Trump. Close to the same number of people chose Clinton.
And many, many people feel that they may not be able to have a conversation with their Uncle who did cast a ballot for Trump. You know what? It is perfectly healthy to set boundaries. But, our fictitious uncle is not who we should be talking to perhaps. Our Trump voting uncle had a long election to think it over, and he made up his mind. He has been made to feel like an outsider, an other, wrong, all of that ugliness we are trying to avoid.
Some (on both sides) may ask, why should we curtail ourselves from telling others when they are wrong? We are standing up for what is right. But that is the issue. Both sides feel, deep down, they are right. I think I am right. I voted for the person I felt would do the best job. That isn’t what this is about. It’s one thing if you are standing up against actual abuse. But sometimes we get into a mindset of anticipating abuse, making assumptions, and being divisive. My partner’s aunt who is a fairly conservative older woman, recently posted this story on FB:
Oh my goodness! I just had a call from a friend I go to church with. Their home had some damage with graffiti and sledge hammers taken to their brick retaining walls. The young men that did the damage were caught by her neighbor who is a policeman. When asked why they did what they did, they replied it was because the couple had voted for Trump. The policeman told them the couple hadn’t voted for Trump. They had voted for Hillary. The young men said they thought they had voted for Trump because they go to church! Hmmm…Both of these young men are 19 years old. They didn’t vote-they’re not even registered to vote. I just say May God bless America.
This whole election has been fueled by anger and fear. I think its time for us now to be bigger than that. We need to be fueled by compassion, for our own health and for the health of our communities. And within that framework it can be ok to recognize our limitations, to take a breath, to tap out, and not bombard ourselves with guilt at having not argued with every person at the opposite end of the political spectrum until we tore our hair out. It’s ok to introspect, and say “It seems like this conversation is getting unhealthy, and unproductive, so lets put a pin in this, and try again another time.”
I teach preschool. One tool I use, is called the Cozy Corner. I try to have have a couple of them, depending on the size of my class. If kids get in a fight, they can take some space from eachother to calm down before they go and talk it out. Because otherwise they are just going to keep escalating the problem. What I propose right now, is a kind of National Cozy Corner.
Lets give our Trump voting friends, family, neighbors and strangers some space, unless you see that there is direct and immediate harm about to happen. Trump Supporters, give your Hillary or Bernie Supporting friends, family, neighbors and strangers some space. Lets take a beat. Lets think. Lets breathe. We’ll come back together and talk in a little while. It’s going to be ok.
In the meantime, wouldn’t it be better to try to find ways to connect with that very large group of people who didn’t show up at all? Talk about feeling like an other and an outsider, imagine what it would take to make you voluntarily not vote. Lets change tacks perhaps. Lets remind these folks that they are our community members, they matter, their issues and their voices matter.
Maybe we won’t agree with everything when we reach out to the nonvoters. But are there one or two things we can find in common? Are there things we are passionate about and they are passionate about? Lets find ways to reach them, not because that’s another vote, but because those are people, who have needs that aren’t being met.