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Some Thoughts on the Election and Moving Forward

The election results are in, and to say that they took most by surprise would be as big an understatement as saying that 2016 has been a bizarre year.

Personally, I was not thrilled about either of our two primary candidates. (Part of me still wonders how it is that we reached this point, but that is another conversation for another day.) Since last night, I have received dozens of messages from people on all points of the political spectrum, many relaying fears and concerns. I’ve been thinking about these conversations and trying to break down what all this means.

I am a cynical idealist who chooses to be an optimist (though sometimes cynicism wins the day). I rely on my faith to give me hope, and, in fairness, I would probably be writing something similar if Hillary Clinton won with the exception of maybe a couple paragraphs. I don’t believe that the sky is falling nor do I believe that the world or even America is ending.

These are some thoughts on how we can move forward as a nation. (My apologies for the length. As Joan Didion said, “I write to know what I think.”)

If you don’t want to read all this, I understand, so the headings/overview is below:

  1. Abandon Fear
  2. Listen
  3. Act
  4. Grieve or Celebrate But Don’t Burn the Bridges
  5. Hold Assumptions Loosely
  6. Don’t Demonize the Independents
  7. Look for the Helpers
  8. The Burden is on Us (Regardless of Party or Voting Choice)
  9. Remain Aware and Active

Abandon Fear

We shouldn’t spread fear and terror, and we should be careful of the “what ifs.” (That includes what we tell our young children; they don’t need to bear all the burdens of the world though it is good to keep them informed.) Even if it should be revealed that we are right about that which we fear, what have we gained? Nothing. (Now this is not to say that we should do nothing or that in abandoning fear we become complacent, docile, or inactive, but more on that later.)

Fear is a natural response and an instinct to dangerous and unknown situations. In a survival situation such as a snake attack, the adrenaline surge combined with fear can, in some cases, make you fast enough to avoid getting bit. (And in some cases, that adrenaline surge triggers the freeze response, resulting in death.)

However, in social situations such as this latest election, fearful responses rarely lead to good results. And this is because fear makes us easier to control, easier to manipulate, easier to defeat. Mob mentality is borne most often out of fear or anger. Neither are good.

Fear alone does not make us smarter. Left unchecked it leaves us demoralized, weakened, and vulnerable. We react, lash out, and leave ourselves more vulnerable than when we started. It can also feed into other narratives and lead to further destruction, less communication, and more slipping.

Instead, we must be vigilant. Aware. Awake. Active.

The reality is that we should be this way no matter who is running the government and no matter where we are. Politicians are rarely the people we hope they will be even when we most deeply support them. They make back room deals. They wield influence, trade favors, deceive people, manipulate outcomes, and oh so much more.

I am of the belief that none of them should be trusted. They should be watched, regarded with caution, and held accountable, regardless of the affiliations they proclaim. The same is true for businesses large and small. I suppose that while I have hope for the best in people, I also recognize the worst.

Now for many, this fearful response is churning even now. It’s hard to control, and some are already comparing Trump to Hitler and engaging in high levels of hyperbole just as others are proclaiming the start of a new and wondrous world and some are certain it will be business as usual and possibly the majority are just not sure what to expect. (In fairness, I suspect both extremes will see these beliefs challenged, moderated, and shrunk when they are actually tested.)

And if the fearful response isn’t riling up inside, we should encourage our fellow Americans and friends from around the world.  Many are genuinely terrified and even more don’t know what to expect. This is a good time for compassion, mercy, and kindness.

So if fear cannot be stopped from cropping up, what can we do? We can take that fear we feel and channel it into motivation. Not letting it cloud our senses or creating worse situations than what already exists. We need our wits about us, and we can prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Listen

We do have to listen, and that is one thing that we don’t do particularly well. On most points of the spectrum, many of us said what we wanted and avoided listening as much as we could. Or when we did listen, we translated what we heard into something that made sense to us based on our ideologies. This isn’t really listening, though it should be noted that listening, truly listening, does not mean necessarily agreeing.

In talking with people on all sides of this election, I can say that it isn’t so simple as racism, sexism, or any of the isms. I suspect there are some people for whom that was a deciding factor, but not all, and I would venture to say not even most. And I do see why some fear that this is the case. But if we ask what this is election is about (what is the core issue), we get vastly different answers from different groups, some of whom are unaware of the other issues or are unable to see their importance. In fact the general suspicion about the media has led to a general disbelief among many against just about anything it reports, which makes the results even more convoluted. (Again what people perceive to be the truth and what they thought was a smear campaign as well as the overall media involvement is best saved for another discussion.)

It is all too easy for people at all points to write all the others off with some simple phrase that we feel captures the entirety of their situation. But when is life really as simple as that?

There are many possible reasons for the choices that we have witnessed in this election. As time has passed, I have learned that it is often a matter of priorities and differences in interpretation. It isn’t as simple as saying “hate won” or “love won.” That sounds nice for the soundbites. But it horrifically oversimplifies it and inevitably results in at least one side feeling as if it isn’t being heard or understood.

Additionally, when we truly listen, we can find, when dealing with most, the points on which we agree and build connections from there that may lead to greater unity and understanding. Those connections may in turn lead to the construction of a stronger foundation on which to act in the future.

Act

Social media and the Internet Age makes talk cheap and easy. The reactions I’ve seen online far outweigh what I’ve seen in the physical world around me, and people in general are far more inclined to vent or rant or express themselves with hyperbole online than in person.

The subsequent release from such venting may make some of us feel as if we have been productive, but it’s not really as effective as actual action.

It is important that we are aware of what actual steps are being taken against our freedoms and against our people, and then we ourselves must act. The power of the people is enormous, and most do not realize this.

If there is something that you see or know is unjust, do what you can to fix it and bring awareness to it in the most constructive way possible.

Grieve or Celebrate But Don’t Burn the Bridges

I am saddened at the enormous rift that is apparent within this country. If reports on social media are not just hyperbole, then a lot of families are not speaking to one another. Communities are ripped apart. Declarations of rage, unforgiveness, and grief surge through the social media channels like ripped open veins. Friendships have been sundered. People demand that all those who did not act in alignment with their convictions leave them alone. It isn’t a pretty sight. Hopefully these wounds will mend sooner rather than later.

I admit I have been surprised at some of the things I’ve witnessed myself. There are some things, some statements, that I wonder if I will be able to move past.

I want to. I need to. I believe I will. But it will likely be hard.

This has been a heated election. The most turbulent and bizarre I have ever seen (which in fairness hasn’t been that many). But we are still family and neighbors. The emotional repercussions of this will continue to be felt, but we do need to move toward healing and forgiveness. (Even if the people we disagree with don’t apologize or ever see what they did.)

Some of us are going to be in disagreement because of where we wanted the nation to go and some because of what we believe this election represents. But at the end, we cannot let the government or politics tear us apart. A people divided is a people more easily controlled and more easily distracted.

While the family we get to choose is quite dear and something to be treasured, the family we are born into and the immediate community that surrounds us is not something to be taken lightly. Disagreements and conflict may be unpleasant, but understanding and positive change may come through those interactions and lives may be changed. Living with those who agree with us may be comfortable, but it rarely creates positive change in a nation so large and diverse as this one.

Hold Assumptions Loosely

What this election means is still being shaken out. Was this a response to President Obama’s policies or a rejection of Hillary Clinton for her politics or her policies? Was this an embrace of Trump’s ideology or a mandate to shrink government? Was it X or was it Y?

We can make all kinds of assumptions. We can make assumptions about why this happened and about what it says about the people who voted in one way or another. But these assumptions are not necessarily correct, and relying on these assumptions may in fact make matters worse.

Don’t Demonize the Independents

The one thing that seems to be acceptable is that independents may still be attacked, blamed, and generally have inferred upon them that all the ills of this election are their fault. While I do respect that there are other opinions, I would point out that when we tell this segment of the population that they are to blame or that their votes are wasted, we are only alienating them further.

Belief in a two-party system is not essential to the effective running of our government. It is something of a fiction created by both parties to retain control and allow them to focus on a few “key” issues, essentially wedging voters into one camp or another even if they only agree on one or two points. Other nations have multi-party systems, and they function.

More importantly, an incredible aspect of our election process is that people are able to vote based on their convictions (even if we do not agree on the types of convictions or the priorities of those convictions). For some of us, the demand that we choose between one of the two main parties (the lesser of two evils, so to speak) is unacceptable. Most would agree that the system is corrupted and broken. For some of us, that means we work within the two-party system to hopefully uncover a solution, and for some of us that means we must work to challenge the two-party system by supporting third party options.

Look for the Helpers

One of my favorite quotes from Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers) is “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

There are still people who will be working, ministering, and serving in all areas of life. We should look for them, encourage them, and…be them. Who sits in the White House does not eliminate these people, and we can always find ways to be one of the helpers.

This country is not going to turn into some dystopian nightmare overnight. The Purge is not coming. I don’t know what all the future will bring (and who can actually know), but this is not the end, and we can still do great good.

The Burden Is On Us (Regardless of Party or  Voting Choice)

Regardless of which side you are on in this election, even if you chose not to vote, the burden is on you to do your part to make this country better. (And make no mistake, it has always been this way.)

Some of us believe that we need less government involvement. If we get that, this means that there will be people who have depended on services and opportunities from the government who will suddenly be without these programs. Whether that is merited is another discussion. What matters is that there will be pain and withdrawal and loss if those programs are cut. And this means that if we are saying that the government is not needed to take care of these people, then we have to step up.

(Christians, this applies especially to us as Scripture is quite clear on our duty to care for the downtrodden, the homeless, the orphan, and the widow. And if we are going to say that this is for the church to assist in as many have, we must remember that we have to take action in this regard. We cannot sit on our haunches and wait for others to step up to the plate, and we cannot save our aid, compassion, and services only for those with whom we agree.)

Some of us believe that we need more government involvement. That may also happen, but with that runs the possibilities for abuse and the possibility that it may not be the sort of involvement desired. And if we don’t get it, then we still have to be prepared to wade in and provide the support that the government is not.

Additionally, we must all be on guard for abuses of power, violations of rights, and do what we can to prevent and stop those, regardless of who they are against.

Remain Aware and Active

This may be somewhat repetitive, but I cannot emphasize it enough. We must not grow complacent. Regardless of how we feel about this election, we can’t become docile or so discouraged that we abandon everything. Now, certainly, for some of us, there will need to be a rest period, but for the rest of us, for all of us who can, we must not weary of doing good or refrain from it.

This is the world in which we live. We all have differing roles to play, and we are all responsible for what we have been given.

At the end of the day who is president will impact most of our day-to-day decisions less than it might seem on this day and the upcoming ones. But we can make a tremendous impact by how we treat our friends, family, neighbors, and people within our communities.

I won’t let any candidate or leader or person steal my hope. And no matter who is in office, my responsibility remains.

I had intended to write about Hillary Clinton, the glass ceiling, etc., but this post has gone on long enough. I’ll tackle that one later.

Anyway, much love to you, my friends. Talk to you soon.

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