Friday, November 11, 2016

Using Compassion to Guide Your Action after this Election

There have been, now, a couple days to process the shock of the election. I think it's clear that, no matter which side you are on, shock was the first and most dominant sensation of the night. For me, and many others, it was a tragic shock: a sign that our country has turned to a hateful, vindictive little man who embodies the worst attributes of privilege to be our leader. And in the immediate aftermath, and in the days leading up to the event, my world filled with people who feel they are in a different country than the one they were in last year: the veil has been lifted and xenophobic, racial, and religious hatred are now on full display.

But for the most part, this is untrue. And while I support many of the calls for action that I've heard and seen, I thin that we can be most productive if we take a breath here and try and see things as they are before proceeding.

Don't Operate from Fear; Fear Got Us Here

A lot of people look around and think that Trump was elected because of hate. It's easy to imagine why; the dude has been yelling hateful and hurtful things about individuals and groups of people for the last 18 months (or 50 years, depending on when you started paying attention). His lack of basic human decency has been seen as strength by many who are sick of "political correctness" and the news media has been quick to jump on stories where the president-elect's behavior has seemed to validate the impulse to spread racism, sexism, and bullying. 

I want to take some of this apart here and examine it for what it more likely. Walking through this with me might make you bristle a little bit because we have a tendency to reject the dissonance we feel when our basic assumptions are being challenged. I urge you to stay with me to the end and reject me there, if you'd like, but I'm hoping to point us in a productive direction.

The first to conquering your fear of this situation is the realization that Trump wasn't elected by a majority of your fellow countrymen.
 So if you're afraid everyone around you is full of this hate, you're wrong about at least that. This wasn't a country-wide embracing of Trump values. 

But I want to take that a step further. I don't think that they 25.5% of people who voted for Trump voted for Hate. You can criticize their complacence in the face of hate, and that's fair, but I want to show you that it wasn't the hate that they embraced. They didn't vote for him because of his hateful rhetoric, but in spite of it.

Those Red states that put in for Trump are full of people who have watched their lifestyles disappear. They have seen the middle class erode, watched as the powerful union production jobs that their parents had turned into retail jobs, if that. In the meantime, they've felt left behind by a political system that pokes a lot of fun at them and gives them a lot of lip service. For an in-depth discussion about this, in particular, read this outstanding article from  There is real purchase in making the promise that you're going to bring those strong production jobs back. Are they really coming back? No. That's not likely at all.

The voters put their vote in for the person who was standing up for those jobs, in particular. It was fear of their disappearing lifestyle that drove them to it, not hate of the outside world. There is a fair amount of ignorance of the outside world, that's true. Much of what they know about urban life comes from the media and the media shows what has attention-grabbing content--and it's often scary.

What I'm saying is this: They are in economic turmoil. They are scared, not hateful--those two things are often hard to tell apart. Taken to its extreme, look at Hitler's rise to power. The people of Germany were not full of hate, they were full of fear. This fear was redirected very effectively, yes, but when examining the values of your neighbor who voted for Trump, you might want to start with fear instead of hate.

The Misunderstanding of Political Correctness

Now, it's important to note that Donald Trump's exposed behavior during the campaign would have lost you a job at any company in America.  If you talked the way he talked at Chipotle, you'd be walking out of there that day. Heck, Billy Bush lost his job just by being party to Trump's sexist rant, while he still maintains his status as president-elect. This is a shame, and this is unbelievable. 

Yet many people wrote it off as him "just being politically incorrect." This term "political correctness" is very unfortunate. Coined at a time when the powerful majority was beginning to treat others more like people, this comes across as an expedient to soften the blow for people who can't stand the truth. A much better word for it is "Civility." But there are many people who see the language of inclusion as a shackle that people have to wear. While I don't defend this point of view--any reasonable amount of critical thinking should lead you to the conclusion that you shouldn't be a jerk and alienate people from your message--you should realize that at least many in the Baby Boomer generation are fatigued "PC Culture" and that the umbrella of this term has widened to the point where it encompasses very broad bounds.

Trump's behavior went far beyond backlash against PC Culture--it went far into the territory of ignorance, xenophobia, and hate. But that wide umbrella-definition of PC allowed people a pathway to writing-off disturbing speech as simply irreverent. The news media helped this by constantly sharing the opposing points of view, often unsupported, and many pundits reinterpreted his behavior over and over, offering excuse after excuse.

Of course, this didn't change what he said. But this changed how people felt about it. What the talking heads on TV did was address the dissonance people were feeling and offer an antidote to that dissonance. People had already made up their minds that they were voting for Trump, and what they needed was outside justification to allow their inner dissonance to be nullified. Understand that this doesn't make sense from a logical point of view, but from an inner-emotional point of view, and that is the operating center for most of our decision making.

A New Justification for Hate

Probably not. There have been tons of hateful acts, including attacks, hateful symbols painted on public places, and the yelling of racial and religious epitaphs at people done in the name of Trump. Is Trump, by being president, going to justify the spread of hate? The answer is, probably only to people who were going to spread hate anyway. These aren't new hateful acts being bread by a hateful demagogue (at least I don't think so yet), but this is two different factors: 1) the borrowing of language, and 2) hype.

Young people, especially, are great at taking new language and making it a justification for what they are already experiencing. College students borrow the language of "trigger warnings" to justify the avoidance of dissonant feelings. I've heard of a student complaint where they argued that a certain teacher was too "triggering" due to what was considered an unfair grade on an assignment. But what a "trigger" is and isn't has deep psychological definitions. One, for example, doesn't have PTSD after a sad event; trauma is different than sadness and has a separate and specific definition. But the buzz of triggers allows people to co-opt the language and use it for the ends that they've already embraced.

So I don't think Trump will justify bullying, racism, or hatred--he will simply contextualize it for people who are already bullies, racists, or hateful. It offers a context, but it doesn't necessarily spread the feeling.

The second part is that the media is quick to publicize acts that are contextualized so. The media gives us a distorted mirror--often helpful and informative, but often just frightening. Scary things sell, plain and simple. 

Stop Living in an Alternate Reality--Be Where You Are

Be prepared for hard times. Remember that the hard times you've been through have served as practice for getting through these hard times. And these hard times will give you the practice for the next time. But there is no point in ignoring where we are. And if the worst-case scenarios are right, and you are one of the vulnerable ones in the upcoming policy changes, you still have to deal with it. I'm sorry about that, and there are a lot of things that I'm worried about--a lot of things--but ignoring it won't get us out of the situation.

The truth is, not everyone makes it through hard times. But remember that not everyone made it through the last hard times that you might not have felt. There are a lot of people in this country with a lot of different hopes and fears. Waves have crests and troughs, folks. We have to go through them all. Something my family always says, a phrase borrowed from a video game, "You can't flee this fight!" 

Look down at your feet. Those feet, right now, are where and when you are. Whenever you need to be reminded, look at them again, take a couple breaths. You are anchored here and here is the only place where you can deal with things--not in your head, where and when your feet are. Heads lie to us about different times--past and future--and different possibilities that didn't and won't happen. But your feet don't lie.

A Call to Action

Before taking action, we need to understand our parameters. Do I think you should take action against a demagogue? Yes, of course. But I strongly advise you to do your homework to understand what is going on. If you walk into this with the assumption that the sky is falling, you're not likely to get far. And even worse, your actions will likely be driven by the same fear that got us here and will be knee-jerks instead of calculations. Whatever action you take, it should be intelligent and calculated.

Another direction I have to urge you is the direction of inclusion. We are angry for feeling outcast from the dominant political force and his points of view. Lets not make the same mistake. If we mistake the voters as A) most of the population, and B) embracing hate, we will not be inclusive of their actual, legitimate concerns. We will strengthen their resolve to go in the direction of a substance-less fool who says the right things in the right tone of voice.

The action we take--whatever it is--should be driven by compassion. I'd rather you felt sorry for the people who embraced Trump than remained fearful or hateful of them. People didn't come out to vote in the numbers that were expected partially because their concerns were brushed off and the brushing off of the the other candidate made people feel outcast as well, or strengthened their feeling of being left behind.

To me, the biggest mistake we can make is to bristle. We have a tendency to lash out at each other on social media and fall into the name-calling that we despise. We jump to conclusions about each other. There has been a huge tendency to use broad generalizations to write-off what someone else has to say. This is mainly because we don't like the dissonance of hearing another point of view. You don't have to accept that point of view, but being closing your ears to it and attacking the point of view doesn't get you very far. It just pushes them in the opposite direction. Understanding their point of view with an open mind and open heart is the only logical path towards unity. These are easy words to say when you're the winner--harder words to say when you've lost.

Embrace the challenge. Make a plan. Share your plan. And regardless of which side you stand on, help and make our world better. As long as the divide exists and cooperation isn't expected, anything can be done without the consent of the other side. Is that how we want to live?

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