After this polarizing election, there is considerable tension among Americans. In families, neighborhoods, the workplace and even between friends. It doesn't have to be this way.
Kindness and respect can re-connect Americans. On the other hand, meanness and disrespect can continue pulling us apart. The choice is ours. By our choice, I mean the choice of millions of ordinary Americans who know the infectious power of kindness and respect. Yes, "we the people" have more power than the government - that of President-elect Donald Trump, anyone who enters the oval office or anyone who represents us in Washington.
I know that, for at least 50% of our country, there is anxiety and fear about a Trump administration. "They will compromise American values," many Democrats, some Republicans and protesters have declared. Emblematic of this angst, the cast of the Broadway musical "Hamilton" stood together on stage, imploring Vice President-elect Mike Pence to disavow racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and anti-immigration nationalism. Like the "Hamilton" cast, we each have the right to comment, write or protest about policies we don't like. And it's our obligation to protest white supremacy America. But, protest by itself will not unite America. Kindness and respect can.
I'm reminded about kindness and respect every time I walk my dog. I live adjacent to a street of eight homes that mirrors America. Half the street voted for Trump and half voted for Clinton. Nonetheless, the eight neighbors have continued their acts of respect and kindness to each other. They regularly pick up each other's leaves and sometimes mow each other's lawns. They have block parties during every national holiday -- sharing beer, brats and burgers, no matter their party affiliation. Whether they voted for Trump or Clinton, they are good people because their values and everyday acts of kindness make them good.
One Trump neighbor's son, hearing my shouts when my dog ran away, chased him down and returned him to me. To him, it didn't matter whom I voted for. We shared the common ground of humanity, respect and doing the right thing. His parents raised him the right way, and I was the beneficiary of his kindness!
Every day, we as Americans have the choice of going out of our way for another American or ignoring one another. Speaking to each other or shunning our neighbors. We can curse people in line at the grocery store for taking too much time, or we can give them the benefit of the doubt. We can open a door or we can shut someone out.
Fifty percent of the electorate validated the future presidency of Donald Trump. And 50% percent validated the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. The reality of our country is that we are very much like the street where I walk my dog.
Many in the Trump half of the country - especially those in rural America - shouted loud and clear that they feel ignored and disrespected. I suspect, based on discussions I've had since the election, that their feelings of disrespect are not just about politics. They have been ignored by employers that have shut down factories and by their bosses at work. They have been disrespected by banks, utilities and other companies where good customer service is a relic and humanity, kindness and respect have diminished. The feeling that no one really cares is rampant across America.
I'm sure that no government policy can reverse this trend. However, neighbors treating neighbors with kindness and respect can. This requires each of us to notice each other, consciously asserting that each of us matters.
For almost 23 years, Project Love, a non-profit my wife and I co-founded to teach kindness, caring and respect in schools, has emphasized these values through programs with elementary, middle and high school students. Kindness has resonated with the almost 100,000 students that Project Love has trained, and they have paid it forward.
Last week, we held our 20th annual Kickoff for Kindness for 1,000 Northeast Ohio teens who want to actively promote kindness back at their schools. They heard from the former principal of Chardon High School, where a school shooting left three students dead and one paralyzed. How did Chardon rebound and reboot? Through the power of kindness.
Principal Andy Fetchik told the students that the school shooting represented both the worst and best day in Chardon High School's history. That is because after the shooting, based on counseling and support from an organization that formed as a result of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, students at Chardon intentionally embraced kindness and respect. Every student mattered, and their everyday acts of kindness reminded each of them that others cared. I've seen the same phenomenon in many Project Love schools when students and faculty make a conscious choice to be kind.
Half of our country voted to have a revolution of sorts - fix Washington, drain the swamp, protect our country, put America first, and Make America Great Again. These are words that may or not deliver positive results. And the agendas that emerge may bring us further apart.
However, we each can spark a kindness revolution, where the values of kindness, caring and respect are practiced in our urban neighborhoods, rural villages, suburbs, and in our businesses and schools.
Kindness will make us feel good and deliver an equal feeling to the person we're affecting. It's as easy as saying good morning, smiling, wishing someone else a good day, or showing gratitude by saying thank you. It's that simple!
One Kickoff for Kindness speaker, Orly Wahba, who founded Life Vest Inside, produced one of the most compelling videos I have ever seen about kindness. She feels that kindness is, indeed, the "life vest" that keeps us afloat. Her video portrays how one act of kindness can unleash a chain reaction of kindness that keeps on going. You can see this "Kindness Boomerang" video on her web site www.LifeVestInside.com.
Without Americans actively practicing the values we believe in - especially kindness and respect - neighbors will become strangers and neighborhoods isolated silos. The choice is not our government's; the choice is ours. So let's move beyond the election to touch each other through intentional acts of kindness. Then, ordinary Americans will enable our country to change.
Muszynski is Founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to www.PurpleAmerica.us. Project Love is a school-based character-development program of Values-in-Action Foundation. To see information about Project Love school programming, go to www.projectlove.org.