How to Preserve Our Relationships After the Election

Emily Brown
United States

I've been thinking since the power of thought returned to me about what happened on Tuesday and I'm not sure how this will be received but this is where I am.

Years of being a therapist has taught me that arguing — about anything — just entrenches people in their positions. There's also solid cognitive science on that. But two things loosen up closed minds: stories and listening. In many feminist circles this is called rhetorical listening. In community organizing it's often called indaba, circles of trust, Ubuntu.

In this past election season I have tried so hard to do this well. I have failed many times. Logic and facts are, alas, my weakness. But I have tried. And in my efforts I have listened closely and with love. I have asked questions and heard answers that sometimes made me uncomfortable. I have especially had to face the painful truth that as badly as I wanted our first female president and a continuation of Obama's great work, our hands were far from clean of blood and we largely failed to address the economic concerns of the working class. It helped my conversations when I admitted to those things in conversations with those whose views were so different from my own. I had to be humble. I had to be vulnerable.

I was not repaid for my humility in a victorious election, but I was repaid in preservation of relationships where I can hope that hearts and minds will change. I was also repaid in that several friends who shared that our conversations had led them to shift from voting Trump to voting third party or voting third party to HRC. Finally, and I consider this to be the most actionable, my Trump voting friends who have discussed their choice with me have made me a promise. They promised me that when he is cruel in word or deed, that they will help me to hold him accountable. I plan to lovingly hold them to that, but it took forging relationships with them to get to that place.

This morning, my highly intuitive, autistic 8-year-old son was writing a story and he announced that he had decided to put a character in "who has a personality like Donald Trump," and I replied "so, kind of like Voldemort?" (Not my best parenting moment, but this election has humbled me and the first step is admitting that I made a poor choice.) And without missing a beat he answered "Oh, no. Donald Trump isn't a wizard. He's a rapist."

So, I'm going to admit for a moment that it breaks my heart that because of this election my baby had to learn what a rapist is. But as a homeschooled child of a social worker, he's been somewhat plugged into this election cycle (for an 8-year-old). He spent a lot of time fearing a Trump win, even as I was so certain that wouldn't happen.

This may sound really silly, but it helped me to be reminded that while we don’t know that Trump is a rapist, he is certainly a racist, a narcissist, a misogynist, a xenophobe, a batterer, and on and on ... He is not a wizard. He is a mere mortal, surrounded by mortals, and as Leonard Cohen's death reminds us, "there is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in." So we are praying for the president elect. We are praying for our nation, and I'm going to stop calling the soon-to-be president anything other than his title or his name.

And we're going to write letters. And we're going to donate. And we're going to stand up for one another, even the seemingly smallest instances of intentional or unintentional mistreatment of others. And yes, this includes speaking up for Trump supporters when my left-leaning friends express anger and irritation toward them on my Facebook wall. That last bit is going to be the hardest. I am already finding it painful because I'm afraid I'll end up pushing away the people who make me not alone in my quest for social justice.

I'm choosing to do this because it's truly the only way I know to bring people together. I'm summoning my nerve to stand in the middle of warring factions, not because I want to compromise even a smidgeon of progressive ideals but because it's the only way I know to stop the shooting, even if only in my own little corner of the world. I'm really banking on the hope that when people can stop dodging (emotional, for now) bullets they might just be able to think and hear and feel and reconnect with love