I have an interesting job for this time in our culture. Over the years, as a therapist, I hear people talk about their varied concerns. These last two weeks, I have more about the same subject, the election. Thoughts, concerns, worries, musings, humor, fear, agitation and indignation.
Living in a Blue state in a metro area, it is not surprising that most of the people I hear from are talking about their shock, sadness, anger and dismay. People have various ideas on how to proceed with their feelings; get involved, avoid the news, protest or barricade themselves at home.
In the last weeks, I have heard the some words repeatedly; echo chamber, the bubble, phone bank, the media, donation…among others. One thread I am following is confusion and desire to know and understand. It slowly comes out that we need to talk more and that doesn’t just mean to the people whose answers we already know. It is time to lean into the discomfort.
The weekend after the election, I was at a locally owned store we frequent and the owner and I have a friendly banter. I asked him if we was one of the 59 million who voted for Trump. He looked at me a bit sheepishly and said, ‘I don’t talk about it much for fear of being judged’.
I stood back in took him in. ‘Oh, okay’, I said. ‘Tell me, how did you decide?’ He told me it was for his business and thought that change is needed at the higher levels of governing. This man has a disability and has family member that is also disabled. Somewhere, he feels disenfranchised with the current system.
I nodded, thinking that this seems like a reasonable, political point, especially if you are fiscally conservative. That being said, I asked, ‘Well, okay, but can you explain him to my kids?’ as I pointed to my boys who were hovering nearby. He said, ‘That part is harder. I don’t like the behavior of this man..’ and he trailed off. We spoke a bit more and moved on to other topics.
Seems like we are going to have more and more of these conversations. Many likely at the Thanksgiving table this year. I am not picking sides (yes, I am left leaning) but, it seems we all know what our ‘peeps’ will say. We need to lean in ask the tough questions of ‘why and how’. The open-ended, curious questions that show we are not just waiting to talk again but, we are listening. We all want to be heard.
Now, I get it there is a lot of extreme rhetoric out there and it’s hard to know who believes what from a glance but, also we can’t assume. If someone has an opinion we need to ask ‘why?’ Myself, I work hard to teach my kids how to be good citizens and that means a lot of explaining about differences, privilege and the varied things that make a person and I don’t have all the answers. I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I really screw it up but, I try to circle back and revisit the best I can.
While living in a progressive, lefty city, I grew up in rural Red State where Reagan was a God and my Dad was the preacher. My Dad was not a religious man by any conventional standards but, he was definitely the spokesperson (and financial contributor) for the importance of the Republican party. He had many flaws (like all of us) and one if his big ones was that he didn’t have room for discourse.
There was no space for an exchange of pluralistic views at our dinner table and many times he called me a ‘tree-hugging, fish-kissing’ liberal. Whether that label was a friendly jib, earnestly or not, my exploring views were not well tolerated in his presence. So, I stopped sharing them.
We moved on to less political topics and we rarely opened the door on these thoughtful, provocative topics. We played it safe. I believed I knew him and his rhetoric and I imagine he thought I was crazy or at least misguided. We didn’t ever say, ‘tell me why you think that way’ or ‘help me understand’.
Sound familiar? Again, we can find the people to agree with us but, to sit through the dialogue of those with which we disagree, that is the hard part. There is no guarantee that it will feel good or we will feel heard. That part is called vulnerability, as Brene’ Brown says, ‘it’s scary and brave at the same time’.
I don’t have the solutions, the method or the way out of our conflicts but, I am a listener of others and I see that when we respectfully listen people usually feel heard. When we feel heard we can then move on to problem solving. We obviously have a lot more conversations about how to deal with racism, homophobia, the haves and have nots, the 1%, equity, xenophobia, and that is just a start. Let’s start with leaning in.