Open Letter to Liberal America: Let’s Choose Compassion

First : To anyone who feels afraid for their safety as a result of this election or just by the course of life in this country as you know it – I am sorry. I love you, and I’m sorry. This situation is about you much more than it should be about me. Everyone in this country deserves to feel safe.

Second: I am not as engaged in politics as many people. I dislike the process of choosing a side and arguing. I see how divisive this process can be, and has been, and I have just been continually frustrated by our inability to bring two sides together and have an actual conversation. But now I am writing something related to politics for the first time ever! And the inspiration comes to me immediately after the election rather than before, because now that the camel’s back has broken, it seems more clear what needs to be done.

Third: No matter how powerless you feel right now I urge you to remember that what happens now is truly up to us. This is an absolutely pivotal moment in history! There is so much collective energy and emotion to be harnessed, and we can put it to great use IF we adopt the right perspective and work together. This is about creating a movement towards unity. It’s a choice between allowing ourselves to be defeated, allowing ourselves to become more divided, or finding a new narrative for ourselves that bridges the deep divides between us.

And please read this whole thing; if at any point I seem politically or otherwise misaligned with you, then just consider me ignorant and wanting to become more informed! I don’t know everything and I don’t want to pretend to. I DO want to get a real conversation going, and every voice is important. Every voice is crucial. This is written mostly from a 20-something, college-educated, Clinton supporter perspective, because the vast majority of people that I know fall into that camp, and that’s just what I can identify with and understand, as well as criticize. It does NOT mean I’m sending a hate message to you if you supported Trump, or that I will dismiss your point of view. I really do want to listen and understand.

Now on to the main message:

What we really need right now is compassion.

I am hearing a lot of people in my sphere of influence responding to Trump becoming president as if it is a literal leap backwards for our country, a message of hate towards our friends and families who belong to minority racial or religious groups, or identifying with a minority sexual orientation or non-cis gender identification. I feel sincere sadness and fear for those groups of people; I know this is a frightening event for them, that people legitimately don’t feel safe, and that that’s not okay. I see these feelings expressed by many people I know on Facebook right now. I am not wanting to lessen that sadness or grief, because it is genuine, raw, and comes from love and a desire to make our country a safe space for everyone in it. It is a part of the compassion we need to move forward.

Here is where Compassion Part Two, the main message of this blog post, needs to happen, and that is compassion towards the people we don’t understand, towards the “other side”. For as many Facebook posts as I’ve seen sending love to people who are afraid, I’ve seen just as many or more that are directing hatred and anger towards people that voted for Trump. To those of you who are angry, I understand. You feel violated. You feel betrayed. You feel let down by your country. It’s incredibly hard to come to terms with the reality of what happened — and that’s exactly what this is about. We all need to be part of a bigger conversation. This isn’t just about how we feel right now, it’s about reality.

The reality is this: hatred is not the reason so many people voted for Trump. (It might be the reason some people liked and supported Trump, but it is definitely not the reason he won this election.) Our takeaway from this election can’t be that the American people are bigoted, misogynistic, racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic,  etc… That is too generalized, too simple. There has to be a bigger picture here. As soon as we write off all of Trump’s supporters and dismiss their opinions, we end the conversation, cause people to shut down, and worsen the problem. I’ve seen this dynamic played out too many times to believe otherwise. Instead, it’s time for us all to get curious. What were the real reasons Trump won? What were the real issues that drove people to vote for him DESPITE his ideologies? Can we really believe that the results of this election came about because of bigotry, rather than because of ignorance, disconnection between groups, and frustration with not being heard??

I am genuinely curious to hear the love-based narrative of the other side. I don’t know what it is, but I really do believe that it exists. Donald Trump won this election because he tapped into it. He tapped into a bigger narrative than I am personally in touch with, and in doing so he appealed to the emotions of a whole demographic of people that I honestly don’t know how to relate to. I’ve never lived in those places, never lived in the Midwest, never lived in impoverished white rural communities, never depended on income related to the oil industry, never been surrounded by fewer college-educated people… etc. (and I realize that by spelling out those demographics I’m revealing my own shallow knowledge of what Trump’s voter base looks like, but oh well) I would guess very few people in my sphere of influence have either. There are people in this country experiencing life in a TOTALLY different way than I am – than we are – and the differences in our lifestyles and experiences are bound to lead to different sets of values and different perspectives on life. If this election has shone light on anything, it’s that our differences are more pronounced and divisive than ever, or at least more than we ever were aware.

If we want to bridge this enormous gap, we need to bring compassion into the situation, to take the edge off our anger towards each other and find common ground. That’s what’s really missing in America: common ground, common language, a common basis for relating to each other, and the ability to have real conversations instead of heated arguments. The path of compassion starts with admitting that we don’t understand everything that’s going on, don’t have a basic understanding of the human beings on the other side of the picture that have and are equally entitled to their own legitimate concerns right now. If we are interested in moving towards unity, we have to release our firm hold on our opinions and judgments of others. How do we expect the other side to abandon the belief that their idea is THE RIGHT IDEA if we can’t do the same?

In a way, I think this needs to be about acknowledging and developing a set of skills that we have, as a society, undervalued. It’s about learning to listen better. It’s about taking a step out of the chaos of our everyday lives to question our perspective. It’s about caring about each other and finding ways to connect with people who aren’t a part of our everyday lives so that we can all understand each other better.

It’s about assuming good intentions in people! If someone doesn’t share your life experiences how can they share your values? How can you hold that against them when we don’t have a means of friendly, informative, easily accessible public discourse? We NEED to create this discourse. We need to share our experiences with each other, and be open to hearing the experiences of other people. Even, and especially, the people that you want to direct anger towards right now! It is just as much “our” fault as “theirs” that we are so divided. Not only this, but by reacting out of anger towards the people that trigger it, we practice the exact same non-tolerance that we claim to be fighting against. We are all human; we are all in this together. We will only come out the other side better and stronger if we find a way to work together, or at the very least to make space for our differences without hating each other for them.

And please remember, as you see news of hateful acts in the wake of the election (or things like this)… remember not to judge the state of our whole country based on the violent acts of the few. Hateful people are hateful people, and will find excuses for their behavior no matter what. We can’t excuse or write off that behavior, but we also can’t allow those acts to change our beliefs about our country and ourselves. For as many acts of hate we are exposed to in the media, there truly are countless acts of kindness that don’t make headlines. Be a force of kindness and humanity — or choose not to. These are your two options, every moment of your life, even right now amidst all this chaos and emotion. Which do you think will ultimately serve you, and everyone?

So… after a long-winded plea for us all to be compassionate (and thanks for sticking around through the whole thing), I want to ask for help. It’s really in our hands to unite if we choose to. We are smart, creative, loving, human people! We all have stake in this game! What do you think of all this craziness? Are you willing to jump in with me and brainstorm?

I had an idea the other night. What if we create common ground in a really simple way, through actual conversation? Through story-telling? Absolutely everyone has a story worth telling and worth listening to. If there was an easy way to set up conversations between people from all kinds of different walks of American life, not about politics but just about life and being human… wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you be interested in seeing what would happen to us as a nation if more people connected like that and had respect for each other? If you aren’t convinced about the power of story telling, check out an organization called StoryCorps (website here). Really amazing stuff. At the least it’s a dose of humanity in a time when it feels like we’ve totally lost sense of our collective humanness.

And maybe it’s just that, that we need a dose of humanity. Now is the time to really start getting involved with causes we care about, volunteer our time, step out of the rat race a bit to just live, and live for what you think really matters. If not now, then when? Trump is president now, whether we like it or not, whatever will come will come, and we’ll have to face it when it does. The best thing we can do is find a way to be united.

I was starting to write this up late Tuesday night in the energetic buzz of the news that Trump won, while I listened to the sound of San Francisco erupting distantly in cheers and whooping and honking of horns. Celebration? Protest? Uproar? I don’t know, but the city, and probably the whole country, was electric with energy that night. It’s hard to explain what it felt like, just experiencing something that huge happening. I felt something a lot bigger than my own emotions. I felt like my body was actually buzzing with the collective energy of the moment. And with it I felt an inexplicable creativeness. What other option do we have now but to find a way to create something beautiful in this mess?? Maybe this is rock bottom, maybe that’s where we’re headed, maybe it’s not, but this is the moment we’re dealing with no matter what. Who else is feeling the creative and compassionate potential of this pivotal moment? Does anything I’ve written here resonate with you? Do you have ideas for how best to take this moment and make something of it?

…Or do you think I’m full of shit? Because I’ll also say before closing that I definitely need more knowledge. Who can help educate me, or help me educate myself, about the people I don’t understand, the people that voted for Trump? I almost certainly sound ignorant in my writing in multiple ways, and I can totally own that I AM!!! I am ignorant, and I want to know more!! We all are ignorant in ways we can’t see, and accepting that in ourselves and each other is going to be so important moving forward!

On that note… that’s all I’ve got right now. But please, don’t be a stranger. Let’s brainstorm, let’s have a conversation, let’s get together and share food and hugs and humanness. It’s all gonna be okay.

Highly recommended reading (Thanks go to Alex Kritchevsky for sharing this on FB): Unnecessariat

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2 thoughts on “Open Letter to Liberal America: Let’s Choose Compassion

  1. Jo Dodson-Boyte

    Emma, I am pleased to see you writing about this. I don’t know you personally but I am Duncan’s grandmother and I followed your blog on the PCT and thought I would continue reading as long as you were inclined to write. I don’t know any more than you why so many people voted for Trump, but I do have some ideas. I came late to being interested in politics, but I always voted and tried to be an informed voter. i always felt that even though my candidate did not win, everything would still be ok because we are a democracy and we are united. In the 1980s after having spent 9 years living overseas I began to notice articles stating how enormous salaries were being paid to CEOs and I thought,”This is obscene.” Yes, they deserve a really good salary because they have great responsibilities. But hundreds of millions is way too much. They could not do this job without the help of all of their employees and they probably have employees who could step right into their position and do just as well as they are. Many of these employees were not getting raises. After 9/11 I became an activist although not a really dedicated one. I was upset that the people who ran the big banks and Wall street were not made to suffer as they had caused many, many of our citizens to suffer. I was also disgusted that they actually received bonuses after causing the implosion of our economy.

    I agreed with the democratic idea that we all do better when we all do better. This was not the case now. The top one percent was doing great while ordinary wages had been stagnant since the 70s and the rest of us were barely getting by and in many cases suffering. We waited patiently for things to improve but that did not happen. Then Trump came along saying what they wanted to hear. So did Bernie Sanders but Bernie did not win the nomination, Hillary did. And of course the opposition continued their lies about Hillary being untruthful, a murderer and responsible for Benghazi ( when was a secretary of state ever held responsible for Embassy attacks?) and incessantly emails, emails, emails. Not willing to vote for Hillary and not doing their homework into Trump’s background of stiffing contractors, racism, sexism, bankruptcies, pathological lying, they voted change without realizing how dangerous that is.

    I don’t know what can be done except to remain vigilant and use our laws to fight for any of our freedoms which might be in danger of being taken away.

    Thanks for the link to StoryCorps, I will check that out.
    Jo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Emma! Thanks for your words on the subject.

    I agree with your sentiment that now, more than ever, we ALL need to show and to receive a little bit (okay a lot) of compassion. And I’ve noticed similar scenarios play out as you have. We seem to be really compassionate towards the people we agree with, or whom we can relate to. The real struggle is extending that compassion to the other side.

    For me, I struggle with this because I feel that the other side is wrong. Not just in the “I’m right, I’m better than you, you shut up” sort of wrong way. I just feel like the “other” side is morally corrupt. I see it with my own family, who are blatantly racist, but refuse to see it that way. And I love these people, but I can’t support their belief system. I don’t understand it, and I don’t want to! Here’s an example of what I see, and why I can’t handle it (#literallycanteven):

    You may recall a few months back an unarmed black man was killed by a police officer in Charlotte, NC, and the city (and much of the state) went crazy. I woke in the middle of the night after that day, sweating and crying. I don’t know what happened, if I had a bad dream or what- but something hit me hard. “Oh my God!” I thought to myself, “We are just killing innocent people. Our government is killing black people for no reason, and we aren’t doing anything about it.” And that was it for me. I took to Facebook to reach out to some friends and ask around, where are the protests, what can we do? My aunt saw my post and immediately went into a racist tizzy, spitting the old arguments that white people love spitting when things like this happen. “Well what about black-on-black crime? He should have just listened to the officer the first time. What about that black guy who killed a cop back in 09?” and such. I couldn’t believe what I was reading… and I let my aunt know- what are you saying aunt Ro, some black people commit crimes so ALL black people should be viewed as criminals? THAT IS THE LITERAL DEFINITION OF RACISM!!!

    I’ve heard ridiculous things like this from time to time growing up. My family came to this country from Italy, and all of my Italian relatives still have their old world charms about them, which I really have never understood, especially when they say things like, ‘I’m not racist, I have black friends.” I watched them defend Trump after each and every single disgusting scandal that went down this past year, and I just don’t understand it. I mean, we have women, vets, the disabled, and queer family members, and my family wasn’t phased by anything Trump said against them. Then they have the audacity to call liberal winey and oversensitive. No… you’re just an asshole. You don’t have to be “politically correct” all the time, but you don’t have to be a callous jerk either. The two are not antonyms!

    So my struggle with all of this is: how do I maintain my sense of integrity, fight for social justice, defend the disenfranchised, and go to bed feeling good about myself each night, while not turning my back on the people who’s world views and opinions of the self-perceived “other” thoroughly nauseate me? How on God’s green Earth do I keep my cool and offer my love to the people who think that other PEOPLE are below them just because of where they were born, what religion they practice, or how they look?

    Love you ❤

    Like

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