In the wake of the election results, I find myself in the odd and frustrating position of "centrist," trying to pull friends back toward each other, or at least back from the brink of hostility or despair; all the while trying to stay true to my own convictions and beliefs.
For many of us, I think we feel like we are in a real-life version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, whereby our friends have been replaced with alien duplicates. They look the same, but we are now questioning whether they still possess the same values, sentiments, and other intangibles that had us come to love them in the first place. We also feel guilty for our sudden suspicion.
I notice we are good at telling each other what to do lately. Stop whining. Get a job. Stop protesting. Start protesting. Emotions like jubilation from victory (how about those Cubs, huh?), disappointment over defeat, or angst over the unknown are all legitimate. If you are a woman, a minority, immigrant, LGBTQ, or other traditionally marginalized, non-Privileged category, then even fear is understandable. It is going to take time and empathy to even begin to settle things down.
Blame also seems to be an overriding theme, at least on social media. Blame the third-party voters. Blame the uneducated ruralite. Blame everybody but yourself. Well, I am not about to cast blame on anyone who voted at all. It would have been nice if the forty-six percent of our electorate who abstained would have participated. I am also not about to make vast, sweeping statements about relative intelligence or assumptions of any other kind. We are all individuals and if we don't know each other personally then we should not be casting stones. I scroll right past any Facebook post that even mentions any of the above groups because I know where you are going before you even start. Don't start.
The most troubling situation, of course, is when you thought you knew where a given friend, or even family member, stood, and when they behaved out of character from your expectations, then you were shocked, even appalled. The key word here is "expectations." Unfortunately, expectations and assumptions are closely related. Did our friends then "fall short of expectations?" Maybe we weren't really listening to them to begin with. Maybe we don't fully appreciate their struggles, their experiences, their lives. We better get better at that, and right away.
That is at the heart of it, though, assumptions and expectations, and the breakdown of trust that results from that. Not only do we not trust others any more, we assume the worst until proven otherwise. Well, you cannot prove yourself worthy of respect if you are dead, or beaten, or harassed, or threatened. Furthermore, if you are the one doing the violence and insulting, you automatically forfeit respect. Completely. Forever.
One of my dear friends, who I know personally, and who shares a love of nature with me, has just returned from an overseas trip looking at exotic wild birds. She has volunteered to sit with me and explain why she voted how she did. I look forward to this. I might learn something. I will learn something. I already have learned something: real friendships endure differences of opinion on how to fix problems.
It will be harder to reconcile with far-flung friends who may be on the other side of the country, as being a writer is essentially the same as being unemployed and therefore I have no travel budget for a face-to-face. I do hope that friends who I have connected to each other, but may not know each other that well, will be patient and reserve judgment before "unfriending" or "de-tweeting," or whatever. I urge all of us to think before we speak, not to shout, and assume the positive if we assume anything at all. We have to have faith that our friends have not become climate change deniers or racist, misogynistic bigots overnight; that they will still have our backs if our public lands are threatened by sale or development, or we ourselves become victims of persecution.
The ultimate goal must be to rebuild trust. The Village should not be your enemy. What is unacceptable right now, as it should be, is bigotry, hate, violence, property damage, and wanton destruction of our social fabric, be it from the Left or the Right. Surely, we can all agree on that.