That Which is Found in Your Own Heart

Dear you,

On the night of the election, I hid in a blanket and cried so hard in my husband’s arms that my usually ornery cat jumped up to our laps and straddled us both. Yesterday, I waffled between crying without cue and staring blankly off into space. I felt as if I had been punched in the gut. I am heartbroken.

Watching Hillary’s slow loss was to re-witness all the ways in which women have been picked over, spurned, ignored, silenced, and kept out of private rooms. It was a reminder of all the ways I have personally felt these insults in my lifetime. Regardless of how another may interpret her loss, that is simply how it felt to me.

And there’s a whole other side to how people are interpreting this loss — that this ushers in a new wave of racism, misogyny, and fear-mongering that we have not seen before. That it is our new American identity.

I refuse to believe this.

One — Racism and misogyny and fear of the “other” has always been in our identity. Nothing is renewed — it is just more visible to some for whom it was previously invisible.

Two — This vote was an act of desperation for many people. Whether a person voted for Hillary, the Donald, third party, or not at all, all of it was done in a way to make their voice heard. And this was particularly clear to those who supported Trump because they felt as if their voice was heard in him.

I’m not talking about the “build a wall” bullshit, or the muslim ban idiocy, Mexicans are rapists, or any other pussy-grabbing comment he made. Where he resonated for many was in the talk of bringing jobs back to middle America, of recalling a time when a person could live in the same community their whole life, work a blue collar job and send kids to school if they wanted to go.

Of course, there are bad apples in the basket. And there are signs already that this win has emboldened people to act in hurtful ways. That is the truth and one the Republican party must contend with as they move forward. But that does not mean Republican = racist any more than it means Democrat = open-minded. The majority are simply hanging their hopes on the fact that they now feel like someone is listening to them.

There’s a whole Cracked article on this that puts the issue perfectly in perspective. I won’t completely rehash it here.

I came from one of these communities. Most people had been living in the area for generations, farming, ranching, or working for a feed factory, a trucking line, an oil company. It’s a small area that worked like an ecosystem — one or two large industries fuels the basic catch-all for employment, this employment fuels the small businesses, these small businesses fuel the sense of community, and community fuels all else. It’s easy to see where a person fits, if they want to fit.

But remove one of these things — replace a local grocery store with a Wal-mart, let one large company move business elsewhere, lose one church, school, or community center — and the ecosystem collapses. And the ecosystems have been collapsing at a rapid rate for reasons too complex to lay the blame on any one cause.

The world has always changed without any of our consent.The profit of corporations and big-box stores have far outpaced the services any Mom and Pop can offer (according to who you ask) and people are all too willing to sacrifice convenience for community. In most of these small places, there is no longer any choice. The advance of automation technology eliminates the need for jobs that previously supplied income to whole families. The jobs available require a college degree mostly available in cities far away and the college degree has become so expensive it’s prohibitive even for families still lucky enough to have their original employers.

We are required to adapt to live. But the adaptation that is required is not small. You must rip yourself apart. Prosperity is occurring elsewhere;  all you have to do is leave all you love behind to get it. All you have to do is send your children away and hope they come back for you.

I am a child who left and did not come back. I go home as often as I can and I cherish it when I do. But I would be wrong if I said that all is the same when I come back. There is distance now. I don’t have the same priorities as I did when I left. I don’t think the same way, nor do I act the same way. Even the way I speak changes with the company I surround myself with. I am now the other. Not to all, but to some.

And herein lies the division. We both did what we felt had to be done; we either stayed to fight for our home or we left to seek opportunities for our future. The result is that one half feels abandoned and the other half feels betrayed. Try to guess which one you are; you likely identify with both.

Say what you want, but these communities are experiencing deep losses. There is no clear way to get it back and there is no urgency to help them. And of course, marginalized groups have always felt deep losses.We can talk all day about it and I will never disagree with you. It is felt every time a kid is shot on the street because of his color and every time a slur is heard about their religion.  But suffering on one side does not negate the suffering of the other. This is a painful world. Everyone in it hurts.

There are two calls right now. One, to reach across the table and try to understand each other. Another, to reject bigotry and fight for what is right. These are not mutually exclusive. It is absolutely possible to do both. But it requires a level of compassion many of us struggle for on a good day. Now is the time to dig deep.

I have never lived in an echo chamber and I will not start now. Echo chambers and sorting ourselves into like communities is what made (and continues to make) both sides unable to see each other’s reason. I value my conservative friends and the discussions we have had together because it proves to me over and over again that keeping our friendship is far more important to both of us than is winning any argument.

But I also will not hesitate to call out an injustice when I see it. Just because I can have compassion for both sides does not mean I allow racism and misogyny to go unchecked. You can absolutely fight for what you believe is right and still keep peace at the top of your goals. After all, that’s all we want. Peace.

Let us all check our words and actions. Let us not assume anything about anyone. Do not speak out of anger, fear, or hurt. If you need to do so (and that’s a perfectly valid need), do so in a safe space. Then pull yourself up and go back out there practicing skillful speech based firmly in love and compassion. Practice every day and forgive yourself when you fail, especially when someone else is speaking to you out of their own pain.

Reject hate, anger, and fear — even that which is found in your own heart. Do not give in. The world is too fragile a place without your strength.

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