This week, we witnessed a flood of emotional responses from people around the country and on both sides of the aisle, and I have been among those reacting emotionally.
For all of us, this election was meant to answer the following question: "what kind of America do we want to live in?" For many, Trump's election is a slap in the face - a statement that all progress on race, gender, and equality has been false. They find themselves living in a country they no longer know or understand, where logic and data no longer seem valid.
For some Trump supporters, there is anger and confusion over protests and the associated breathless emotional despair. Others feel anxiety about the Trump Administration possibly breaking (or, in some instances, keeping) the promises candidate Trump made. Some appear to have interpreted Trump's victory as a license to give voice to the vitriol they have carried quietly for years; others may have seen their vote as a hard choice, based on the hope of having a fighting chance at economic advancement.
On both sides, people reacting to the pain that they feel about being misunderstood. This election has produced more tears, hateful discourse, biting humor, and anger than we have seen in decades. You can witness it on the news, Facebook, or even in the halls of elementary schools. And, there are three fundamental reasons, why so many in our divided country feel equally mystified by the "other side."
1. "Unfair" means something different to everyone.
We all carry our own sensitivities and opinions when it comes to defining what is "fair." For me, gender and race are dominant concerns - both because I am a woman and because I am raising a little woman of color. I respond in ways others may not because I bring my own experiences to the table - instances where I, or my daughter, have been misjudged due to our gender or appearance. Having felt that pain personally, I see gender and race injustice, as a real threat to my own family. This has shaped my sense of what is tolerable or fair and guided my choice in this election.
For many in our country, the "unfairness" they experience most prominently is access to economic and political structures that they see as elitist and unattainable. And Trump's message met their concerns related to unfairness in the economy and a lack of influence over politics and the media.
This does not necessarily mean that Trump supporters are dismissive of race and gender issues. This also does not mean that Clinton supporters are indifferent to economic or political insecurity. The only conclusion we reliably can draw is that each group held a very different set of concerns as their priority when they entered the voting booth.
2. Fear is a powerful force.
Elections are about fear and hope, and the 2016 election was no exception. Many in this country fear the rapid social and economic changes happening around them.
They fear a changing global economy that could make their jobs irrelevant. The power and influence of Wall Street and large institutions could overtake the opportunities for individuals and small businesses.
Some fear returning to the past, where they were excluded or looked down upon for being different - for not fitting into the categories of white, male or Christian. For others, the changing landscape is terrifying because it goes against everything they have known or were told was "normal" or safe. Only fifty years ago, interracial marriage, working moms, and the gay community were barely discussed for their unacceptable nature. For some, this segregated past seems unfathomable and cruel; for others, these changes go against everything they were told by their religious leaders and communities, was "right."
Everyone is afraid right now. We all need to listen to where that fear comes from in us, and we need to understand where it comes from in others.
3. It is hard to be empathetic, when you are afraid and feel victimized.
The antidote to divisiveness is empathy. But, when we are afraid, we are in a "flight or fight" mode, which means we reacting to our immediate emotions, rather than responding with reason and understanding. We are not able to turn off the noise in our own heads so that we may hear others and feel their pain. We soothe ourselves by reinforcing our own "rightness" and clinging to those who echo our viewpoint. As a result, we have all become victims in our own minds.
No matter who you are, or what your political viewpoint, we all need to take a step away from the certainty that "we" are right, and "they" are wrong. We must recognize that everyone is afraid right now. We all need to listen to where that fear comes from in us, and we need to understand where it comes from in others.
At the end of the day, we are all messy human beings who have enormous capacity to love, but only if we listen first. We have to be willing to accept we neither know nor understand everything. In opening our hearts to that which is completely uncomfortable, we might just grow and achieve the happiness we all seek, as a nation united.