I have a draft of a blog post I started in July sitting on my computer. In it I was going to write about the presidential campaign and my observation that we, as a country, don't seem to be doing very well with ambivalence, with the ability to hold, accept and tolerate that more than one thing is true at a time. The dialogue in our country was so black and white, with no interest in the real nuances of our problems.
Now I sit here typing, having never finished that draft to share with you, and we have a new president elect Donald J. Trump. The challenges with ambivalence I observed then have materialized into a full-on divisive election and post-election response. Some people are protesting, some are threatening to leave the country, and there have been upticks in incidents of violence against members of minority groups.
What strikes me is the prevalence of fear. The fear that somehow got us here in the first place, and the fear that is so real in the aftermath for so many, fearful of what will happen to themselves and their families in a Trump America. To quote Seth Myers:
I went through all the years of hard work required to become a therapist because I care deeply for people. Not just some people, all people. It scares and saddens me to think that 50% of America is so afraid for themselves and their way of life that some would even openly support hate and violence, and that members of the other 50% of America believes those people are wrong, uneducated or bad. It's pretty clear that this attitude and approach to dialogue isn't working, given how divided our nation is today.
Within ourselves we have to grapple with the same issues: fear of the new or unfamiliar, the desire to protect and defend ourselves and our internal status quo, denying or avoiding broken or ugly parts of ourselves. Either we stay defended and entrenched in our view of how things are supposed to be, fighting parts of ourselves, fighting our feelings and living in a state of limitation and dissatisfaction, or we work to find a new way to have the conversation. How do we find it within ourselves to be genuinely open to what is scary or unfamiliar inside of ourselves?
On an individual level, of course this is what a therapist does. A therapist can be your ally in facing and exploring the uncomfortable and unfamiliar in your life and yourself. However, a therapist is useless unless you are motivated to face the tough stuff and tolerate the deep discomfort that comes with change and healing.
What feels more challenging today is considering how to find it within myself to have open ears and compassion for people far on "the other side" in the same way I encourage people to do for themselves in counseling. Do I have the capacity to sit with a hateful racist, for example, and have compassion for his or her experience, fears, and needs? What are the limits and judgments that affect my ability for kindness and empathy? What are yours?
I'm certain that improving our capacity for being brave and kind to ourselves is how healing happens. It's possible that doing so in regards to others, even those who seem VERY other, is how social healing happens. I'm wishing you all peace and hope in this post-election aftermath.
After continuing to reflect on and read about this topic in the few days since I posted this, I want to note a few important and clarifying things. This post was a rough idea I tried to get out, without worrying about being overly clear and contextualizing my personal response. I get to do that because this is my blog. I'm not a journalist or activist, but still, I very much want to point out a few things, specifically regarding culture and race.
#1. I am not in ANY way telling people of color or minority groups to empathize with those spewing hate and racism. Mostly I am speaking to culturally white folks like myself who seem to want to forget, minimize, or erase how many of our fellow white folks across the country feel and encouraging other white liberals to try and set down their judgments in the name of progress.
#2. I'm mostly reflecting on the social processes that have parallels in my own psychotherapy work. I do believe that you can't encourage healthy change in people without first meeting them WHERE THEY'RE AT. And yes, my personal bias is that "healthy change" means more openness, less judgment, and certainly not racism, xenophobia, etc. I want to believe we can get there. That may be my luxury as a white person who hasn't heard our president elect say openly threatening things directly impacting myself and my family, but hope can't hurt, dammit.
Do what you can to make America a better place right now. Wear a safety pin, engage a friend or relative in a conversation, recognize your perspective is not that of everyone's in this vast melting pot of a country and it never will be. Be kind, not fearful. Those of us in the helping professions know that healing is slow and painful, but we believe it's possible, and that's what gets us out of bed every day. Don't give up.