Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election Musings...listening and love are the answer

My thoughts are pretty jumbled so I hope this makes sense. 

I didn’t sleep much last night.  I knew the election would be close but I just never dreamed that Trump would actually win.  It seemed unbelievable.  I do not think either Clinton or Trump were good choices and I knew that one of them would be our next president but I was unprepared for the emotions that would stir in me.  Fear, sadness, disappointment, worry. 

I’m hearing lots of anger towards those who voted for Trump over Clinton.  I did not care for either but preferred Clinton over Trump.  Here is my thinking.  I've spent nearly 20 years trying to teach and show children how to solve problems peacefully and trying to combat bullying. I've worked with countless immigrants, legal and illegal, and countless refugees. I've worked with students with disabilities and students of color and students from a variety of religious backgrounds. Just as we all live and work and interact with and hopefully love people from a variety of backgrounds. I do not like Trump’s positions on immigrants and refugees and that is an issue that I feel strongly about.  I worry about teaching children to be kind and not to base judgments on shallow criteria such as race, religion, disability, language, etc. when our president finds it acceptable to name call and insult based on just such criteria.  I find what he has said about minorities and women offensive.  I worry about some of his comments regarding freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  I find it worrisome that he spouts his opinion on things, says things that are divisive and offensive and then doesn’t apologize.  I find it worrisome that his opinions and policies seem to change from day to day...he insults soldiers in one breath and then promises to help veterans in the next.  I also find it troublesome that he has had a number of failed businesses, bankruptcies and failed marriages.  He does not qualify as a role model, in my opinion.  I also worry about international relations.  I’m afraid he is going to anger the wrong person and start a serious conflict or war.  And I am worried about what message this is sending to the rest of the world.  So lots of worries. 

Now I don’t think Clinton is a great role model either.  At the very least, she is dishonest and corrupt.  However, she has experience and I don’t worry that she is going to offend me or someone I love every time she opens her mouth.

 I am genuinely worried. There are checks and balances which give me some comfort...but will Republicans in Congress put limits on Trump? How will I teach children to not bully when the leader of our nation is a bully? And what about those I love that are not here legally? How will this impact them? I fear families being torn apart. I do believe that if we can somehow get past the rhetoric of the two parties and start to listen to each other and work as individuals and communities to strengthen our society, then we have a chance. Because even on this divisive day, I believe we have more in common than different. If we can be careful of how we speak, and maybe listen more than we talk, we can heal.

For the past week or so, I have tried to really listen to my friends who decided to vote Trump.  I’ve also tried to listen to those who support Clinton…as well as those in between.  I’ve done my fair share of talking too. I wanted to understand different perspectives because I truly want to believe that this nation is not as divided as it might appear. I wanted to understand because I want to believe in people’s goodness and our ability to come together as a nation, as “we the people.” 

What I found as I listened were that most of my friends (certainly not all of them…and I recognize that my friends represent only a small, narrow slice of the U.S. population) felt much as I did…that neither candidate was ideal.  That they had struggled to determine who to vote for.  That they wished there were better options.  And that after reasoning things out, they had decided that there were more or better reasons to vote for one candidate than the other.  As I've reached out and tried to listen to some of my friends who voted Trump to understand their perspective, I see that for the people I know personally, few of them were motivated by racism, sexism, or bad morals. I don’t necessarily agree with their reasons but it brought me a modicum of peace to see that they found many things he says and does distasteful just as I do.  It brought me a great deal of peace to see that they are, as I believed them to be, kind, intelligent people who want what they believe is best for this country.  They wanted a change from corrupt career politicians and they wanted to protect the Constitution which they hold dear.  I am not saying I agree with their conclusions but I can respect that we disagree on some issues but also hold many things in common.  

I felt saddened and worried this morning.  But I got up and spoke with my own children and a couple of friends.  And I came to work.

First thing this morning, we had a Veteran’s Day program held by our 5th and 6th graders.  As I listened to them sing “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” and  listened to them recite the “Gettysburg Address” from memory and pay tribute to their fathers, uncles, grandfathers, cousins, mothers, aunts and others who have served in the U.S. military, I felt my heart begin to lighten a little bit.  This country is beautiful and is filled with potential.  I see a great deal of potential in the children…a great deal of hope.  After the program, I went back to my classroom and because my students were all abuzz about the election, we talked about it.  I taught them a little about the three branches of government and the checks and balances of our government.  And I let them share their thoughts and ask questions as long as they were respectful.  They asked some good questions.  They shared a variety of opinions and I appreciated that a couple of them said things like, "I've heard my parents say ___ but I don't know if it is true..."  Or "I've heard others that think this but I think this".  They listened respectfully to one another and I think it helped all of us feel a little calmer.  Granted, they are young but if they can listen to one another and try to understand one another, then I have to believe that we as adults can as well.

We are at a critical time, I believe.  We can choose to divide even more…become “us” against “them.”  That, I believe, is a major problem with our current two party system.  But we can also choose to listen and compromise and find common ground.  I have friends on every side of this election and I am sure I am not alone.  And ultimately, all of us are trying to provide a safe and happy place to live our lives.  Let’s learn to listen and to walk together in peace.  How can we do that?  I don’t have all the answers…but here are my thoughts.

  1.  I think we start by having hope that this country will survive.
  2. We listen to one another rather than pointing fingers and placing blame.
  3. We also work to educate the next generation... we teach our own children and any we can influence to respect others even if they have different opinions, backgrounds, races, etc. And the primary way to do that is through modeling.  Barbara Bush said, “Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens in your house.”
  4. We remember that each person’s views and opinions are shaped by their experiences.  Our experiences are different and so our opinions are different.  But we can learn from each other.
  5. We are all more alike than different. 
  6. There is so much to be grateful for.  I’ve read A LOT about WWII.  I’m reading a book about it right now.  Things are bad in many ways now and there is much that needs to be improved.  But there is also much that is good.  We are not in the midst of a major world war.  Most Americans have enough food to eat and a safe place to sleep.  We live in a democratic republic and in four years we will get to repeat this cycle again and elect leaders again.  (Okay, that doesn’t feel like something to be grateful for today after this grueling election…but Trump won’t be our president for the next 40 years so there is a silver lining.)  Our children are being educated. There is much to be grateful for.

Finally, I am going to get religious for a moment.  Thomas Monson said, "Be of good cheer.  The future is as bright as your faith.  Throughout life, there is good and bad.  But if we turn to God, individually and as a nation, He will help us through whatever comes.  There is joy to be found even in difficult circumstances.  Let’s all try a little harder to be a little kinder, to love a little more, to return evil for good, to be a friend to the friendless and a champion of the underdog.  Let’s strengthen our families and strengthen our neighborhoods and communities.  We can’t change the world, but we can change our own hearts and that can slowly change the world. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness:  only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate:  only love can do that."

Gandalf, in Lord of the Rings said, ““Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”  I can’t change the political climate in this country but I can do small acts of kindness and love. I will start today.