It has been 12 days since the election. I have been sitting with it all, not sure what to say, think, write. Everyone has something to say. It’s hard for me to take it all in, to sit and listen to all the opinions and facts and projections and fears and hopes and anger and glee. I wish I was a better orator and had the intelligence and grace to know how I feel and what I think about all this, and espouse eloquently.
Then I remember I am a writer, a storyteller. So I can do that, I can tell you a story. I will tell you a story, because the one thing I do know post-election 2016, is that I want each of you to write your own story instead of reading other people’s stories. This is the one thing I do know. My voice needs to be heard. Your voice needs to be heard. This is a story of how we got to today, and what we need to do tomorrow to keep writing our own stories.
I have never felt such great sadness and fear about our country and our world and our literal existence with any previous election. My preferred candidate has not always won, and I have not agreed with everything any president has ever said or done. I’ve gotten angry, but I’ve never felt such alarm in my heart as I see how divided we’ve become as a country, as a world. I suspect this storyline is familiar to you too.
It does not matter who I voted for. It matters that our country is a democracy, and I don’t always get what I want. It matters that our country values freedom of speech, so that I can tell you what I’m thinking and feeling, and you can tell me what you’re thinking and feeling.
This matters because we’ve stopped doing that. We are here today because along the way, we began to shout at each other instead of talking with each other. We stopped looking people in the eye. We stopped sharing coffee and walks with people. We stopped remembering we are more similar than different. We forgot we belong to each other.
As our lives became busier, and as we created and stayed in echo chambers of our making, as we shared memes and sound bites, as we read click bait headlines, we began to see the world in Other Groups. Blues and Reds. Whites and Browns. Haves and Have Nots. And so many more Me and You Groups. And we haven’t stopped to take the time to notice what color their eyes are. We haven’t stopped to take the time to find out how their fears developed, how their families have thrived, how they’ve struggled. Instead of making eye contact with each other, we stare at the headlines and memes on our phones. We have forgotten our humanity.
Everyone in every Other Group feels invalidated. Feeling like you are not being heard leads to knowing your needs aren’t being met. Fear and anger fester and grow. And we start calling large swaths of humans some horrible names. Racists. Chinks. Misogynists. Faggots. We ascribe and project characteristics to people we don’t know. We don’t know who these people are, what their stories are, what color their eyes are. We don’t know how they got to their place in that Other Group. But we think we already know all about them.
And so here we are today in the storyline. This is a democracy so we have to accept election results whether we like it or not. Acceptance does not mean you like it. This democroacy also means you may be delirious with joy and hope for the future. This is a democracy so you can say and do what you can appropriately to try to have your needs met. This is where you change the words you are using to tell your story. This is the really important part.
I understand we have to talk things through with like-minded and trusted friends to process our feelings and formulate our points of view. I understand we need to read about current events. Do all of that. Then do more. Read more. Read more about the history and context of each issue you are passionate about. Read things from different points of view. Read it all with an open mind and a skeptical eye.
Then do two things. One is to do good works. I know we take comfort in sharing hashtags and changing profile pictures and wearing safety pins. I know there is comfort and support in solidarity. But do more. Make the time to write and call your elected government officials. Make time to volunteer with causes you care about, whether it’s working a phone bank or stuffing envelopes or raising money or organizing rallies or boycotts. Just do something. Make time to impact the passage of bills you do not agree with, or with bills you do agree with. I don’t care what you agree with. This is the beauty of a democracy, I may not agree with you, but I urge you to do what you believe in. Protesting and rallying is important to let the world hear your voice. Showing up is only the first step though. It’s not enough. If you don’t like how policies are being made, find out what you need to do and who to contact to have your voice heard.
You must do something other than comment on Facebook or discuss at a cocktail party or march with a sign. You do not get the right to bitch about something if you don’t do something about it. Do something. Do something real and meaningful and impactful. Do works that impact issues and policies. Stop worrying about characteristics of people with opposing points of view. The latter does not impact change. Be a change agent. This is your country. This country is part of your story. Write your story.
And as you write your story, be mindful of the words you choose. This is the second thing you must do. Words matter. They have meaning. Words can hurt, words can heal. Use them carefully. Use them to connect. As you gain a greater understanding of the issues you care about, as you do good works, go and meet real people in the Other Groups. Go and sit with them. With one of them. With some of them. Bring coffee. Bring cake. Bring grace. Ask her name. Ask for his story. Keep your mouth shut so you can look into her eyes and listen to her story and pain and fears and failures and struggles and injustices. Find out how he got to this place in his life where he believes the things he does.
Take the story in. Do not judge. Take a deep breath and be still. Holding someone’s story is sacred work. Holding someone’s story means accepting this person as who she is, without judgment. When we judge, we are not connecting. We are building a wall greater than any wall any president can build. When we judge, we are perpetuating the stereotypes of an Other Group. “See, she’s so elitist, she doesn’t understand. See, he’s so uneducated, he’s too stupid to comprehend. How can they possibly think that way?”
That gets us nowhere. We’re back to shouting at each other, talking over each other, forgetting that we don’t all have to agree all the time. We need differences of opinion. We also need to remember that it’s easier to compromise with someone we validate, while it’s easier to dismiss someone we don’t see as human, as someone who belongs to us, to you. We each have a right to our opinions and beliefs. We don’t have to agree with them. We do however have to find a way to work with them if there’s any hope for humanity.
We all have flaws and fears that mold and create our beliefs and behaviors. We are all messy human beings. We all get swept up in things. It’s time to stop and be still, and breathe. And get to work, one connection at a time. Actively getting involved both within your own Group, and getting to know and understand the Other Group. The only hope for salvation for all of us is real change on an individual level. We must write our stories with humanity and grace and kindness. We each have a responsibility for this.
There are no easy answers. There is no quick fix. There is never enough grace. Especially in the face of outrage and despair and anger and fear. There is work to be done. A lot of it. Choose your words mindfully, pack a lot of kindness and grace, and start writing the rest of your story, the rest of our country’s story, the rest of the world’s story. One of our greatest storytellers, Garrison Keillor’s famous line is: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”
Do that. Take good care of yourself, do, and I mean do, good works, and keep in touch. Reach out to the Others, connect, stay in touch. Please do this, because I really should not increase my alcohol consumption long term, and I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.