Be The Change…

Candle

I’m dumbfounded. I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed.

I’m dumbfounded by the results. Like many I never thought someone this clearly unqualified for the job stood a chance of getting it.

I’m ashamed of the results. “We the people” are not at all who I thought were were. I am ashamed of the fact that so many people honestly, truly believe that someone who speaks to the worst in human nature would be the better choice to lead this country.

I’m embarrassed by the results. Nothing more publicly demonstrates what “we the people” really are than who we elect to lead us. We’ve just confirmed every outrageous stereotype of “the ugly american” to the rest of the world. As a people we are more like him than not. And that’s embarrassing.

In my email and across my other sources of information have been a wide range of opinions. At one end are those pointing at pre-World War II Germany, and convinced that we’re heading down a similar path. At the other end are those that are taking a more “been here, done this before, the country will survive”.

I honestly don’t know what to think. Both seem equally plausible.

And that that are is, to me, very, very scary. And I know a lot of people are scared.

I’ve been trying to temper that fear with practical – perhaps even stoic – contemplation. I’ve narrowed it down to two areas: what can I learn, and what can I do.

Both focus on the one and only thing I have in my control: myself.

Always learning

A while back I was prompted to define what I might call my “one word”; the one word that defines me, my values, my course in life. Reflection on my life so far resulted in the realization that that word is “learning” … or put more completely as two words: “always learning”.

So I challenged myself to consider what I can learn from these results.

That there is polarization is no surprise. That the country in more polarized than I thought, and in ways that I would not have guessed, is. The term “whitelash” was apparently coined last night as referring to the backlash of what would be stereotyped as presumably the middle-class white male who feels particularly disenfranchised by the progress of recent years and the new status quo that progress represents to him. Political incorrectness in the form of blatant racism, misogyny, and worse, became appealing because it represented a form of revolt against the current state of affairs. At its extreme it allowed people to “be honest” (one of the candidate’s traits commonly cited as appealing) in ways that they felt they weren’t previously allowed to be. One thing that resonated to me when I saw it some months ago was the urban/rural divide. Looking at how closely the map correlates to this year’s results, one can only surmise that there are, indeed, two Americas, each with dramatically different values. [Update: here’s the article that caught my eye back then: How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind, pay particular attention to the map.]

That social media is divisive is no surprise. However I think it’s divisive in a very unexpected and passive way. One of the reasons that so many people are so surprised today is because what they’ve been experiencing on social media has only been to support their particular position. Whether explicitly, by not following or paying attention to those we disagree with, or algorithmically, by social media sites only showing us things that it believes we’ll interact with, the fact is we’re immersed in echo chambers of like-minded beliefs. We are rarely challenged in our thinking, we rarely seek those challenges, and we rarely accept challenges to our beliefs with anything close to an open mind.

That the media is biased is also no surprise. But what’s been made clear is why it’s biased. The media is a business, not a public service. Their best business opportunities today (aka revenue opportunities) are to feed our echo chambers with whatever we’re likely to interact with. And yes, that includes presenting incomplete, unsubstantiated, and sensationalized information to get us to view, click, and consume.

There’s probably much more I can learn from these events, and I expect to try to unpack that all over time. But these are the three big topics that strike me on the morning after.

The question is, what to do?

Be the change…

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” –  Gandhi

This quote comes at no better time. Be it my flirting with Buddhist and Stoic philosophy, mindfulness, meditation and more, my personal realization is that I am the only person I can change.

Acceptance of others – particularly in the form of open minded (and open-hearted) learning – is my personal big take-away.

That there is such a massive portion of the American population that feels that this was the right choice requires understanding, not judgement.

This is really, really hard. It’s difficult not to consider the choice of leader broadly considered dishonest, uneducated, racist, and misogynistic, as a caricature of the people who support that choice. They, then, must also be dishonest, uneducated, racist, and misogynistic since that’s what they choose to represent them, right?

And that, of course, is not fair. While unlikely, he may, of course, not be all those things. It could all be a new form of political “reality show marketing”, something that he is indeed very good at. But to generalize that characterization to supporters is inaccurate, at best, as generalizations often are. While some certainly fit the characterization, I’m sure, many – perhaps even most – do not. These expressed their support either in only partial alignment with his values, or as nothing more than an avoidance of an alternative that, for whatever reason, they honestly considered worse.

What’s important will be to understand the disenfranchisement, and develop empathy.

I honestly don’t know what to do with social media, or media in general, other than continue to be skeptical.

The media has, for the most part, always held bias, it’s just that at no time has it become more apparent than during this election cycle. I don’t know of a truly unbiased, or balanced source. To be even more brutal, I’m not sure I can define what “balanced” even means anymore.

Social media, on the other hand, is new, and we’re all just figuring it out as we go. In some ways it’s the media on steroids, yet in other ways it’s akin to a city center where everyone has their own soapbox to stand on and shout from. It brings too much value to my life for avoidance to be a solution, but understanding its inherent bias as a source of information and entertainment, is key.

In both cases, skepticism is called for. Now, as I said I’m already skeptical by nature. It’s a characteristic I particularly encourage when it comes to technology. Clearly it needs to apply to all sources of information.

I think it’s more important than ever to not only live my values, but stand up for them. The standing up part is hard because it takes so many different forms.

I’ll probably increase my support of organizations that hold and act on my values. Unfortunately it’s rare that the alignment is complete – which means careful consideration of what supporting those organizations might mean, and understanding that with the good may come some things I may not actually agree with.

Particularly with social media I believe it’s becoming more important that people take stands, publicly. This is harder to explain, but perhaps an analogy will help.

There’s a common feeling, and often a religious tenet, that charitable giving should be done anonymously and without fanfare. I disagree with that position. I believe that setting an example is more important than modesty. If my publicly supporting an organization causes others to support it – or even consider supporting other organizations of their own choice – then my support has twice the impact. Of course self-aggrandizement is never the goal, and I’m certain that’s where the negative feelings come from. But done selflessly, being the example can be as important, perhaps even more important, than the magnitude of the support.

In the same way, setting an example for positions taken on the issues of the day can be as important. This is scary, and I won’t necessarily dive all-in right away, because I want to understand and consider my approach and motivations. This is too important to do lightly – as perhaps best reflected by the path that lead us here.

In conjunction with that, it’s even more important than ever to be open to those who disagree – in whole or in part – and actively take steps to understand. In being open to understanding perhaps I’ll be able to take more appropriate, and ideally less divisive action as a result.

But, hard as it is, I must remember that I can not change anyone but myself.

Comments

  1. You just articulated so much of what’s been going through my head these past 48 hours, Leo. Thanks for your usual clarity and perspective.

  2. The feelings you express of being embarrassed, dismayed, anxious, frustrated, etc. in the aftermath of the election…I too experience those same feelings. Extremely intense at times…ebbing and flowing like waves of fret. The only difference – those are feelings that resulted from the election of Barack Obama. I’ve been dealing with them for eight years. A long time.

    No, I’m not trying to be cute with a clever comeback. Or disrespectful. I just want you and others to understand that my feelings and my worldview perspective — however different they may be from yours — are just as real and just as valid. What was my primary reason for voting for Donald Trump? The answer: Extreme concern that We The People no longer govern this country. Instead, the political and media elite have assumed far too much power…and arrogance…in believing their worldview is right and everyone else, i.e. the irredeemable basket of deplorables (as Trump conservatives were described by Hillary Clinton) is wrong. The extent of intolerance and hate exhibited by those on the left toward anyone who disagrees with them is disgraceful. They call themselves Progressives. A better name would be Regressives.

    • This is fascinating, mostly because I’ve seen the last 8 years as really positive ones. The country is better off than it was 8 years ago, in my opinion. It serves to show just how different perspectives can really be.

      I simply cannot comprehend that our current president elect is in any way qualified for the job.

      Time will tell.