Fascinating Conversations

Just What Was Said

In the days since the election, and because of the election, two things have happened. Some people have stopped talking to each other. And others have started.

People rarely develop deeper understanding when they stop communicating. That’s why I decided to invite a lot more conversations with people, no matter how they voted, and listen to understand rather than to argue.

When I was at a business event last night, I knew that the social talk would inevitably turn to how people were feeling in the wake of the election.

Sure enough, while many were elated, others were deeply disappointed and disturbed by the outcome. I was heartened by widespread agreement that Americans  now needed to give the president-elect a chance to govern, no matter what else. I heard far more thoughtful opinions than outright alarm. I heard expressions of patience and faith in the political system, albeit tempered with tones of uncertainty.

This event appeared to be the perfect opportunity to make good on my pledge I wanted to get people on all sides thinking more about each other without sparking more friction. But where to begin? How?

Here’s how I figured that out: two days after the election, I went to Canada. (No, not for good. I’d booked the trip months before, to go and see my sister in a community theatre production.)

While I was there, my friends and family had many questions for me, and a lot of concern about the election. I was curious to know their thoughts, too. After many rounds of informal post-election quizzing, I was excited: I’d found a solid all-purpose post-election conversation-starter question, one that would give even the most disappointed person pause for thought.

What is the one thing you can know for certain about every single person who voted for Donald Trump — and ONLY about people who voted for Donald Trump?

When I started asking my question, I’d give anyone three chances to answer. I heard a fascinating broad brush of generalizations. “They wanted change,” was the kindest, or maybe the mildest, answer. “They’re racist.” “They’re deluded.” “They want jobs back that aren’t ever coming back.” “They feel threatened by gay people.”

All of them? Every single one? Are SURE? Nope. Naw. Uh-uh. That’s not it. Nosiree. Last chance? Okay. Here’s the answer I gave them:

The only thing you can know for sure and certain about every person who voted for Donald Trump is that—wait for itthey voted for Donald Trump.*

Virtually no one chose that answer. But everyone who took my quiz agreed that it was true. More than a few looked a bit uncomfortable to realize that they’d made some pretty big assumptions about millions of people they’d never met (or had actively avoided bothering to talk to).

I then plunged into my new quest, and began conversations with people who told me they had voted for Donald Trump.

All three were female. Two were women of color. One was Muslim. Educated women, owners of what America calls “small” businesses with multiple employees. I asked them why they voted the way they did.

The top reason the first woman cited was the emails. Her company managed information technology and security. “I have to abide by complex rules related to information security and proper handling of classified information, thousands of rules, every day, to keep our country secure. I absolutely could not support a candidate who did not take those laws and rules seriously.’

The second woman was elated by the election results, and proud that Trump had a female campaign chief who had guided that campaign to success. “I’m not worried. I think God is taking care of us all.” What did she think of the women who had come forward with allegations of sexual assault  by the president-elect? “I think they were all lying.” Trump’s sexist remarks? “Oh, he wasn’t serious.” This white woman felt that there was simply too much attention placed on incidents related to policing and racism, and that “people just need to get over it and move on.” Then I watched her face transform into an expression of utter distaste as she said about Hillary, “She’s so crooked!

Two women both said with confidence that they felt a Trump presidency will be good for business. In their view, many people had not felt confident about the direction of the post-recession economy. Now, they felt that the economy was set to bloom under the new President. They gave no specific reason why.

Neither the Muslim woman nor the woman of color expressed any concerns about the president-elect with respect to sexism, racism, or misogyny.

All three women were urban, not rural, dwellers; none mentioned any sense of having not been listened to for eight years.

The black woman and the white woman both felt that Obama had not done enough for African-American communities, especially those in dire circumstances in cities.

But here’s the thing: Not one of them said she agreed with everything the president-elect said or promised. All of them had concerns about whether the things they’d hoped for might actually come to pass as the Trump Administration shows what it’s made of.

Those concerns open the door to more conversation. The good news is, we’ve got four years to re-learn how to talk to each other. And how to listen.

At the end of the night, I took a deep breath. I’d done it: fostered genuine conversation, listened deeply and thoughtfully, learned a lot about my fellow humans, and quite possibly given them new things to think about. And maybe even made some new friends. I can do this. And I’ll keep doing it. I hope you do the same.

 * Strictly speaking, I acknowledge to readers familiar with logical fallacies that this is in fact a tautology (the definition of a thing in terms of simply being itself).

How The Light Gets In

Keep writing to me. I write much better and think more deeply when I am not in a vacuum.

One of my most powerful Muses in these early post-election days, one of my deepest tributaries feeding the torrent of thinking, is a longtime friend who expresses her fear and anger and concern for America to me.

For every person who is saying or writing “give the president elect a chance and let’s keep a close watch and be ready to act” there is another declaring that “history has already given us all the information we need to know that we are now at DEF con one”.

I’m listening, and I’m thinking. I’m trying to think about where I will choose to be most vigilant and active besides writing a blog.

The thought coming out this morning as I walk the trail is this.  I’m looking for examples in reality or fiction of a peaceful resolution of a conflict between a force driven by elation and vengeance and a force fueled by fear and anger.

This is not a trick question. I am looking for models and examples that can give me some insight.

You are smart, thoughtful, educated people. On both sides of the line, I might add.What do you think?

In musing about the outcome, I was wondering when in history or fiction there were any example of a peaceful resolution of an encounter between forces driven on one side by elation and revenge, and on the other by anger and fear. I have only been thinking about it for a few minutes, but so far I didn’t come up with any examples that did not have cataclysmically destructive consequences .

Then a smart, passionate friend with a soul full of social justice who has been sending me Posts and articles full of fear and anger about the results of the election in a country where she doesn’t live, this morning sent me an article written in 2004 by Maya Angelou, who was distraught and fearful after George W Bush was elected.

Here’s the link.

https://www.thenation.com/article/no-place-self-pity-no-room-fear/

It’s worth reading, and isn’t that long.

Reading it reminded me of an interview with Brene Brown that I heard in the summertime. It seemed to point in the direction of an answer.

 

Compassion is not a relationship between the wounded and the healed. It’s a relationship between equals.

You have to know your darkness well enough to sit in the dark with others.

We are divided as people because we are not integrated as individuals. I have to understand my darkness in my life. I have to understand how both of those work. It’s this integration in our world of what’s perfect and what’s broken.

There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. And we spend our lives spackling the cracks. We spackle it with money, with achievement. We spackle up places where we need to like to come in.

The bravest among us will always be the most brokenhearted. Because if you have the courage to love, you’re going to get your heart broken.if you have the courage to care and be engaged, you will be disappointed.

If you have the Courage to be innovative and creative, you’re going to fail.

I’m not less afraid of the dark. I just know that when I go in, there is beauty in it. When you’re not afraid of the dark anymore, it’s actually not the dark anymore.

I’m afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of uncertainty. I’m afraid of vulnerability. I have just been in there before. And I know it can be beautiful in there. And I know that the choice of going in there and finding beauty or staying outside of the dark my whole life, that I’m not willing to do.

How do you grow courage to be on the other side again, to be in the dark? Grace.Grace is the whisper that says when you’re standing in front of the door, “I can’t make this less scary for you, but I can remind you that you’ve been there before.”

~ Brene Brown

 

Whether my struggle is with someone else, or myself, or possibly what I might think could be half of the population of a country, what would happen by starting with compassion?

Compassion isn’t concession. And I’m still coming Ing my mental archives of history and fiction to find an answer to my question, so don’t give up on me there. But this morning, that quotation was a little bit of light through the cracks.

In other words, we as a nation have been here before. let us allow the voice of grace to give us the courage we need to join forces and rise again.

I’ll Take Discomfort, Please.

I just had another moment filled with gratitude for the rich harvest of my exploration into human connection over the past year .

One of my Canadian friends, someone I have known for almost 40 years, is also deeply passionate and profoundly upset about the American election results. You might wonder why this would matter to someone who doesn’t live in the United States at all.

My friend has always been passionate to the core. Articulate, whip smart, she can sniff out hypocrisy ahead of the crows, and is a deep believer in human rights, environmental rights, rights for reproductive freedom, just to name a few.

She posted her criticism and disappointment with the the results of the presidential election, and, at first, broadly disparaging views of all Americans in the wake of that decision. I read her vitriolic,angry language on my Facebook feed and felt uncomfortable. I was not alone: I watched as, one by one, friends who had followed my initial thread left the discussion. I felt ashamed. I felt afraid that my friends would judge me by deciding that if I were friends with my passionate angry friend, that I must also endorse her views and her mode of expression.

I noticed the many waves of emotional response that came up for me, but I did not act. Over and over, I thought, why don’t I just ask her to be less strident? Ask a passionate advocate to calm down and be reasonable? When has that ever built connection? Pretty much never. I could Or why don’t I just disconnect myself from her? That will make all the noise and discomfort stop. Actually, to withdraw would create even more distress for me, because she’s someone I care about, and want to stay connected with. Even if I disagree with her.

Even though I did not know how to respond, I knew that to disconnect, unfriend or unfollow her would leave me out of integrity. Integrity, I now know, is doing what is right and not what is quick or easy. Disconnecting would’ve been easy. It would have felt numb, maybe calmer, but would have traded emptiness and isolation for discomfort.

Related: What it means to Stay On The Mat

So I stayed on my mat. I weathered the discomfort for days. And in a little while, my friend suggested on her own that she might remove herself from my public feed because perhaps her she was making people feel uncomfortable.

My passionate friend continues to rail on in messages to me one on one. That feels a little less uncomfortable, but it still makes me feel ashamed when she says “you people in the United States did this.” Especially when Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote. But I suppose my friend was content to indict the entire electoral system, everyone who participated, and everyone who could have but did not.

I reflected some more. When I stopped and processed the shame response, and figured out what is going on underneath, I remembered that I am not alone. I am not the only person who is distressed that someone might decide that, simply because I am a citizen of the United States, the views and statements and values and believes of the president-elect also represent me and everything I believe in. (Just for the record, that would, um, not be true).

I have always loved her for her passions. The incredibly strong language she is using to express her furor and emotion, I realized, also reflects the profound helplessness she feels to be living so close to such a giant nation: a giant that, as far as she can see, appears to be ready to trample fundamental rights and freedoms of millions of people.

Do you remember the line for Star Wars when Obi-Wan Kenobi suddenly steps back in the millennium falcon, and looks as though he has a giant migraine,

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”

Nothing good happens when you travel on people who are afraid and contrary minded. The only thing that happens is that eventually they rise up against you and fight back with a fury that you could not possibly have imagined.

Do you remember the line for Star Wars when Obi-Wan Kenobi suddenly steps back in the millennium falcon, and looks as though he has a giant migraine,

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”

Nothing good happens when you trample on or eliminate people who are afraid and contrary minded. The only thing that happens is that eventually they rise up against you and fight back with a fury that you could not possibly have imagined.

As humans, one of our most primitive wirings is designed to make us respond to something we don’t understand and say “this is something that is not like me. It could kill me or hurt me. Let me kill it instead.”

Millions of years of living in a civilized society are all about subverting that instinct into discussion and understanding. Societies fail when we fail to learn and to teach each other to engage instead of to exterminate.

The point of this post is that I’m discovering ever more deeply both how profoundly we as humans need connection with each other almost as much as we need air in order to thrive. To have that life-giving connection, I am willing to work through discomfort, pain, inconvenience, and hurt. Why not detour around all the hard stuff, numb the hurt, or just avoid it? Because when I don’t work through it, I end up isolating myself from the very people I most need and want in my life, the people whose smarts and love and passion bring such richness, albeit such challenge, to my life.

Related: Why it’s worth risking potential hurt: because the cost of avoiding it is ultimately greater than working through it.

All My Bags Are Packed

48 hours have passed.

I’m actually looking forward to four days in Canada answering questions from friends and family about what just happened. I’m thinking very carefully about the value and importance of civil discourse, not just in the United States but in other countries talking and thinking about the United States.

Do I have a lot of emotional response to the election results? Absolutely, I do. Recurring waves of emotion.

I’d thought that after a couple of days, that would all subside. I woke up to find myself in an undertow, sucked down by a fresh wave of emotions and finding I had more to say.

Is anyone’s interest served by my dumping raw emotions out onto Facebook? Absolutely not. I have these emotions, though, and I have to process them. I process by writing.  I find a few places in private to talk through things with thoughtful friends with whom I can speak candidly, sift out the unhelpful language, and figure a way through to the point where I can speak with civility in public again.

Some of my friends are especially worried about the future in America of a wide range of human rights, and rights for women in particular. They have expressed those thoughts in extremely strong language filled with emotion, and I understand that very well. I share many of their fears and high emotions.

I have also had a lot of difficulty trying to understand how to process emotions, and what good they are and what to do about them. Fulmination (of which there was no shortage on the post-election internet) is futile. If it’s not practical, I’m not interested.

I’m Action Girl: I need to figure out what to do, not just how to stew.

I’m grateful to have spent most of this past year, with eerie prescience, developing a better understanding the full range of emotional responses, and how to get curious about them before going out into the world and interacting with people.

Related: Research and courses by Dr Brene Brown

Let’s just say it’s work that I am glad I have done. It’s never been more useful.

Before I got on the plane, I was talking to JJ about this, and we agreed that, with respect to women’s rights, there are now two generations of women who have had some of these rights and freedoms already in place for their entire lives. It may be that they are about to feel what it means to fight for those rights and freedoms, just as our own mothers and grandmothers have done.

It is far too easy to vilify or simply shun people who think differently from you. When you don’t talk to people, and you make assumptions about them instead, we never understand each other and we never find common ground. The only thing we know for sure about someone who voted a particular way is that they voted a particular way.

I process emotion by writing. I expect I shall be writing a great deal more in the days and weeks ahead. I appreciate that many of my friends have many strong emotions as well. And I know that all of those things will take time for them to process as well. Remaining in a perpetual state of emotional high dudgeon is just plain unhealthy on every level. So sooner or later we all have to get past that and figure out what next.

One of the marvelous things about this republic is that it permits the contrary minded to work for change. My goodness, there’s now a whole lot of very important things to do. Pollyanna has not taken over my brain. Civility and determined optimism have. Where to begin?

Will You Join Me?

Will you join me, wherever you are?

I would like to start a national conversation.

I would like to challenge every person who was disappointed by the election to seek out one person who voted differently from them. Have a conversation – not an argument – with that person, and ask them to talk about why they chose what they did, and what that choice means for them and their lives and their vision for the future and their hopes and dreams. And I would ask those of us who are disappointed to simply listen, wholeheartedly, listening to understand, not to respond or to argue.

And in turn, I would ask those who are elated , who now feel as though their fortunes over the last eight years are about to be reversed, who now feel that they have been heard, to help others understand something. How do you wish that you had been treated for the last eight years? If you voted the way you did because you did not feel heard, because you felt but no one has been listening to you for the last eight years, tell us how you wish you had been treated, and consider involving and engaging those on the other side with the kind of grace and compassion and empathy that you wish someone had extended to you. That is the only way we will learn.

E-Day Plus One

This inaugural post started out as a letter to my family, letting them know I was okay after the election. I went out for my morning six-mile walking loop. Once I hit the trail, something unusual began: I started  dictating what began as a short unedited email to my family in Canada. I thought nothing of it at first. But as the day unfolded, I couldn’t help going back to the initial badly-machine-dictated message. I spent the day revising as the thoughts kept flowing, and turning it into what became this extended essay.

Of all the artifacts of citizenship in the United States, one that has often puzzled me is the Pledge of Allegiance. Suddenly one of its clauses gave me great heart.

I was thinking that regardless of the election outcome, United States remains one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I’d felt apprehensive as I dropped off to sleep on Tuesday night. I was comforted, just a bit, by the idea that the constitution that protects fundamental rights and freedoms remained in place.

Awaking to hear the news of the election outcome, and once again sorting through emotions, I realized the opportunity this outcome brings for people to come together.

The Republican House and Senate now have a greater responsibility than ever to safeguard fundamental freedoms, and somehow surround the new president with wisdom and compassion and guide his ability to hear all voices.

It will be challenging.

This is a time for exquisite civility.

I awoke wondering whether the half of the population that voted to support Donald Trump had spent the past eight years feeling as much fear and discomfiture about the America they move in as I now feel this morning.

For those who now represent the Contrary-minded, there is plenty of work to do. It is simply more challenging to stand up for the under-represented, the marginalized, and those who need protection when we see a new leader who gives us little or no suggestion of standing up for those people himself.

Just as I had become incredibly disaffected by the polarizing effect of a great deal of media coverage in the lead-up to this election, I am keenly aware that media can continue to be an incredibly divisive force now. If so, that’s not going to help Americans come together (not that encouraging unity has ever been the responsibility of the press, but fostering polarization ought not to be either).

No matter what else, the constitution remained in the same place it was when I went to bed the night before. Nobody’s rights and freedoms had been changed. Exercised, yes, indeed. Changed, no.

The election is a reminder that no freedom ever seems fully won, and every freedom needs to be constantly defended – even those that seem utterly self-evident truths.

For those who now represent the contrary-minded, there is plenty of work to do. It is simply more challenging to stand up for the under-represented, the marginalized, and those who need protection when what we see in place is a new leader who gives us little suggestion of standing up for those people himself.

Just as I had become incredibly disaffected by the role of media coverage in the lead up to this election, I am keenly aware that media can continue to be an incredibly divisive force now. That’s not going to help. Many reporters and those with wide followings on social media encouraged thousands of people to post and re-post hurtful and thoughtless presumptions about people they had never met based solely on the candidate they supported.

We need to learn better than that. We need to do better than that, no matter how we voted. We can’t know anything about the lives, and fears, and experiences, and visions for America, of people who voted differently than we did if we don’t TALK to them. That dialog is simply essential to moving forward. We cannot fear each other. We need to KNOW each other.

There are an awful lot of Americans who have felt for eight years, with increasing horror and fear, and often dreadful change in personal circumstances, that they neither recognized nor wanted the America that was unfolding. They didn’t like where it headed. Did we end up where we are by misunderstandings on both sides?

A constantly-growing proportion of the contrary-minded population of 2009 – 2016 chose to withdraw from civil discourse, and not participate in shaping the direction of society. How did those who supported the Administration in power fail to sufficiently engage them? Would reforms like same-sex marriage or Affordable Care have gotten more buy-in if they’d been moved more slowly? Or would no amount of patience and collaboration have brought both sides together?

Is change that is pushed through by definition doomed to be repealed? Or is the lesson that we MUST have the courage to dare and push things through while we can, AND the determination to defend these hard-won rights in perpetuity? The Civil Rights Act is still in place. So is Social Security, for now.

I am grateful for the wave of outrage that the President-elect sparked by his freewheeling comments on how he had grabbed women without their consent. I am grateful for the surge in public discourse over the idea that anyone should ever consider sexual assault, on anyone,“okay.” I sincerely hope that issues of consent of respect remain front and center.

So much seems uncertain. Will we lose health care? Will LGBTQ rights be rolled back?

Not if I can help it.

It has been a long time since two nations warred in the bosom of a single state. Whatever else happens, that’s not happening in the United States right now, and there’s not going to be another civil war. Does it mean that people will have to work together? Maybe, but in ways none of us has ever seem before.

I remember being disturbed by the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. The only prediction I had at the time was that he was going to make Americans feel good about America again, and I was unsure of whether that would be a good thing. In the end, the sky didn’t fall, and Reagan was surrounded by a lot of people who help keep the good ship America afloat and on some kind of course. Were the world’s darkest fears realized? In the end, likely not.

I remember the weeks of uncertainty waiting for the outcome of Bush vs Gore, and having weeks to get used to the idea that Bush might become president, even though I was dismayed by the prospect. This time, there was no such soft landing. It was just a hard cold shock for a lot of people who thought Trump could never be elected.

The shift in world order becomes an interesting question to me. Just as the post-World War II world was twilight for the British Empire, I mused that the election of Donald Trump might presages a similar phase for the United States if America moves to global isolation rather than alliance.

I am part of a family of thoughtful and articulate smart people who post extraordinarily well crafted thoughts on social media and speak with equal eloquence. One of my family members noted the diversity of his family. It was only in reading his list that I remembered that I am an immigrant here, albeit now a naturalized citizen (and, for the record, retain my Canadian citizenship as well). I might not look like the immigrant that Donald Trump speaks about some negatively, but it is the first time I have felt uneasy since my arrival here almost 30 years ago simply by virtue of the fact that I wasn’t born here.

Speculation about the future of America, or the Administration policies, or the presidential appointees or the fate of the Supreme Court, is fruitless at this point. Vigilance, civility, cooperation, and seeking places to begin to build a shared vision for the future are the work ahead for America now.

I asked my friends outside the United States to please not universally revile Americans for the choice that voters made and the way that choice was expressed by the Electoral College. Not only did Hillary Clinton win the popular vote, but the overall choice of a presidential candidate does not represent the choice of every citizen in the country.

I remember being disappointed by America’s choice of George W Bush. Twice. I remember at the time reminding especially my Canadian friends and clients that the presidential choice represented the will of just slightly more than half of those who voted. We will never know the will of those who did not vote. But please, I told them, it is important to remember that there is an approximately 50% chance that the American citizen you were talking to is just as deeply disappointed, and even more fearful as a citizen in her own country as you are to be a citizen of yours watching what just happened in hers.

The work that remains ahead is mammoth.

Is it better to throw up our hands and give up for four years, or to settle down and make sure that those populations that are most at risk still have a voice, despite the challenges they now face?

Not everybody has the legal option to move to Canada. I do. I’m not ready to give up on the United States just yet. How much of a difference can I make as a single individual here? That remains to be seen. Today, I light the single candle rather than curse the darkness.

Come and join me.