The weeks following the U.S. presidential election have been fraught with anger, violence, destruction, condescension, fear, rioting, media bias, and hateful rhetoric. Regardless of your party affiliation or who you hoped would win the election, it’s fair to say this past month has been a shitstorm of negativity. The U.S. is divided and deeply wounded.
But something else has also happened since election night — something with the potential to connect and unite even those of us who stand on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Conversation.
Even amidst the chaos and pain and concern for our future, there have been extraordinary moments of understanding, growth, and resolve that were borne out of a simple dialogue between two people.
Here are the most important, impactful conversations I’ve had with friends, family, and acquaintances since the election.
We cannot divide people into two groups if we want to be unified.
This concept is crucial to our progression as a country. If we’re to move past the hurt and deep-seated resentment each one of us feels, we have to stop reducing one another to a binary label. Good and bad. Right and wrong. Republican and Democrat. Liberal and conservative. Intelligent and moronic. Selfish and selfless. Moral and corrupt. Victim and aggressor. Us and them.
But these categories are too simplistic to encompass the nuance inherent in any given person’s set of moral and political beliefs. Reducing someone to a single word based on his or her vote is dangerous and unproductive, not to mention insulting to our intelligence, rationality, and emotional complexity as human beings.
It’s far easier to dismiss someone entirely than it is to admit you might have more in common with that person than you realize. But we have to do that hard work — now and always. We have to stop pitting ourselves against one another and start attempting to heal the divide.
How can we do this?
Here are some ideas to start:
• Stop unfriending people on Facebook just because their political ideas differ from yours.
• Have conversations with people who think differently than you do.
• Ask sincere, thoughtful questions.
• Seek to find common ground beyond a political label. What can two people with opposite party affiliations agree on? Ask each other that question and go from there.
• Talk about value systems.
• Be careful about how you use labels.
• Actively check yourself for moments of judgment. Are you quick to condemn someone in your mind as soon as you hear that that person voted a different way than you did?
Now, more than ever, we need to take action to defend what we believe in.
I’m a firm believer in the power of open, healthy, constructive dialogue to inspire change. But that’s just it: conversation inspires change; it doesn’t create it. It doesn’t matter how many conversations we have — if we don’t turn those words and ideas into positive actions, we’re missing the point.
The staggering amount of hate crimes and violence on both sides since the election puts our country in a fragile state, one that demands peaceful, positive action. It’s not enough to simply be passionate or vocal about the causes we believe in — we have to also be people of action who are willing to not only talk about change and progression, but actually take the necessary steps forward to create it.
If women’s rights get you fired up, for example, you can’t just sit back, scroll through your newsfeeds, and “like” every feminist post on Facebook and Twitter. You have to do something. You can donate to organizations like Planned Parenthood, join a women’s group, run for local office, call your senators to talk about equal pay, write a blog post that teaches someone something — about signs of sexism in the workplace, how to combat rape culture, or how to speak to young girls about their self-worth and value.
And this doesn’t just go for the ultra-opinionated, zealous people out there, either. To all the lukewarm individuals in our country — the 45% of our population who didn’t vote or the ones who did vote but want nothing to do with politics for the next four years — here’s my plea: look beyond yourself to see the world’s problems with a clear eye. It’s uncomfortable and oftentimes outright depressing, but don’t turn away. Find the thing that gets you fired up and find a way to do something about it.
It’s important to do your own research.
People see and hear what they want to. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s one that becomes all the more obvious during an election season. There’s a reason so many people were able to overlook Donald Trump’s comments about Mexicans, Muslims, women, and so many more. They didn’t want to have to justify those horrific remarks. Similarly, there’s a reason so many people dismissed Hillary Clinton’s email scandal as just that — a scandal. They didn’t want to admit she might be capable of lying and deceit.
It’s in our nature to be creatures of bias. And it’s the nature of media to be biased, too. And when we’re already surrounded by biased friends and colleagues and family and TV networks, and then social media platforms like Facebook use an algorithm to purposely reconfigure our feeds to appeal to our biases, things can get dangerous.
Don’t let yourself be trapped in a bubble or an echo chamber. Sure, it’s wonderful to surround yourself with supportive, like-minded individuals with whom you feel at ease, but don’t get too comfortable. Do your own research on policy. Read multiple news outlets that have differing political stances, backgrounds, and journalists. Admit to situations and policies that upset you, even when they involve or are carried out by your party or preferred candidate. Talk to people with whom you disagree. Do your best to eliminate the bias that exists on and offline.
It’s in everyone’s best interest to look at facts and not get swept up in passionate rhetoric. Because when we’re better informed, we can view a situation from each of its potentially unflattering angles. We can be more understanding and empathetic to the perspectives that differ from our own. And when we’re sensitive to these different perspectives, we can find common ground and we can compromise. And when we can compromise, we can accomplish wonderful things.
Supporting certain groups, especially minorities, does not mean abandoning other groups.
Saying Black Lives Matterdoes not mean I’m saying that other lives don’t. Supporting Muslims and their right to freedom of religion does not mean I’m condemning Christians. Advocating for LGBTQ rights doesn’t mean I believe queer people deserve special treatment. Fighting on behalf of immigrants doesn’t mean I’m overlooking the struggles many citizens face. Being vocal about wanting to support and honor the people in our country who’ve been historically disenfranchised and oppressed does not mean I’m choosing one group of people over another.
It means I want to raise everyone up, especially the people who need an extra boost, so we can all be on a level playing field. A fight for any human’s rights is a fight for all human rights. That’s the whole point of these specific movements. People aren’t advocating for special rights for one group over another — just equal rights.
The sooner everyone understands this concept, the sooner we can all come together to fight for equality and civility for everyone.
Words have meaning and power. Be careful how you use them.
Using racial slurs, incorrect labels, or degrading nicknames is no longer acceptable. It doesn’t matter your age, background, political affiliation, skin color, gender, or socioeconomic status — there is no excuse for deliberately using words that have a cruel implication, prejudiced connotation, or a history of being used to oppress and dehumanize certain groups of people.
You may argue that actions matter far more than words. In many cases, this is true. But our words — how we refer to people and converse with others — are the foundation of our character. And our character influences everything we do in this world. We can all be more respectful, sensitive, and informed when it comes to language.
If you don’t know why certain words are offensive, educate yourself. Make an effort to understand its origin, its implications, and the communities it involves and affects.
And if you find yourself in the position of knowledge to help explain something to someone, do it with kindness. Don’t be cruel or dismissive if someone makes a mistake. Speak to people from a loving place; seek to educate, not scold.
Compassion is the foundation of kindness.
In a world full of so much hate, tragedy, and division, do your part to be a beacon of kindness. Be kind to everyone, including the people who aren’t kind to you.
Sometimes, this kindness comes naturally. Other times, it’s a near-impossible task. When, for whatever reason, you find it difficult to be kind, harness your capacity for compassion.
Remind yourself that every person in this world has dreams and hopes — just like you. Remind yourself that every person in this world has problems and hardships and struggles — just like you. Remind yourself that people tend to fear what they don’t understand. Remind yourself that we all filter the world through our own unique set of experiences. Remind yourself that every person in the world wants happiness and love — just like you.
Keep reminding yourself of these fundamental truths, and use them to pave a path of compassion, understanding, and genuine no-strings-attached kindness.
The world can always use more of that.