November 2016: After the Election


Some of us are grieving. Some of us are raging. Some of us are listening and reflecting. Some of us are getting busy. Some of us are doing all of these and more.


At times like these, we need to dig deep and ground ourselves in our deepest values and spiritual practices, reach out to each other—especially those in pain around us—and keep our eyes on the prize. As we are ready.


I’m fortunate to live in a place where there are multiple opportunities for expressing grief, anger, and hope, including the repetitive, rhythmic, communal physical movements—marching and chanting, dancing and playing, singing and praying—which trauma therapists say are essential to healing and empowerment. I hope you are finding or creating such opportunities where you live.


This election was not just about ordinary politics—mobilizing those who share our political positions, seeking to persuade those who do not—though we need to recommit ourselves to these efforts. Nor was it just about educating people about the facts, though there continues to be a need for that as well.


This election was also about other, deeper things. Some of it was—and continues to be—just plain bullying, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, willful ignorance. We need to challenge these as powerfully, as creatively, and as effectively as we can. We need to fight like hell, and love the literal hell out of each other. The future of the planet and marginalized people everywhere is at stake.


Some of it was about fears—some founded, some not: fear of being made less than and dominated by others, fear of being abandoned by society, fear of losing a world in which your deepest values and strongest convictions make sense—the kind of existential fears that can make people do desperate things. We need to listen and love each other out of our fears, and call each other to be our best selves.


And as I’ve begun to encounter some of the people “on the other side,” I’m seeing that at a deep level this election was also about fundamentally different understandings of basic values: what constitutes hate or disrespect, what constitutes love or faith, what fairness looks like, what safety looks like, what freedom means, and how important they all are.


At this level, I don’t see any way to move forward except to engage each other around these values, hearing each other’s deepest convictions and why we believe in them, listening to each other’s stories of how we got to where we are, and building relationships in the process.


Two things can happen out of such engagement. One is that we can begin to stop fearing each other; as Meg Wheatley says, “You don’t fear people whose story you know.” The other is that we can start to understand each other, which I believe is the only way to move towards the kind of inclusive society we seek. Not that we will always or even often agree with each other. But understanding is the only basis on which we can create a society in which each person is valued, everyone’s voice is heard, and we are all in this together.


What would such engagement look like? I’ve seen and heard glimpses of it in recent days. My brother, a Lutheran pastor, asked an elderly parishioner why she voted for Trump; she said she’d heard Clinton would outlaw Christianity. But because they were in relationship, she believed my brother when he said she’d been lied to… At a protest downtown, an earnest young man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat engaged a small group of protestors, repeatedly affirming his respect for them and patiently answering questions about why he believed what he believed, hour after hour… People have shared deeply on Facebook—not just their opinions, but their stories and their experiences, their commitments and their hopes…


This, too, is what democracy looks like.