We All Have Stories to Tell

As citizens of these United States, as citizens of this world, we all have a responsibility. We have always had a responsibility. There are moments in our lives when we are brutally reminded of these responsibilities and this is one of those moments. Throughout the presidential election, I found myself deeply disturbed and disgusted by many of the things that our now president-elect was communicating. In one of her speeches Hilary Clinton picked up on this, calling these types of comments and the people who believed them to be true, “deplorable.” Immediately, people picked up on the word – some pointing fingers, some in defense, some in disgust, some in denial. I have had relatives and friends since claim themselves as “deplorable” and I remained silent. I voted for Hilary Clinton, because I believed that it is important for us to stand up for our neighbor, to take care of one another, and because I felt that Donald Trump represented everything our country should not be. Yet, I remained silent except for the squeak of my own vote.

Today, still in shock that someone who represented such vile views of mankind, someone whose words bred violence, disrespect and fear has become our president-elect, I have come to the realization that I need to speak – I must no longer remain silent. Each one of us has a responsibility to speak our truth and today I choose to take that responsibility. I do not believe that the majority of individuals who voted for Trump are hateful individuals—these individuals are not deplorable. However, there is a small and violent minority of individuals who picked up on Trump’s hateful language and saw it as validation of their hate and the sign that the time had come to act. We are at a juncture, there are many strong feelings and we could all fall into the clutches of hate or we can take a moment to pause, to embrace our common humanity to listen to one another and move forward.

I have family and childhood friends who voted for Trump. These are not hateful people. They are people who are nurses and police officers, people who have chosen careers because they wanted to help people. These are people who stayed up past midnight – driving in a snowstorm to wait for my mother’s flight to arrive so she could be with me after my daughter was born a month early. They are people would stop to help if they saw a car, disabled on the side of the road. They are people who would bring a warm meal to a neighbor in need. They did not vote for Trump because of his bigoted, misogynistic, racist messages; they voted for him despite these messages. I admit, there are moments when I find myself wanting to scream at these folks “don’t you get it, do you realize how selfish your vote was, don’t you realize what this man you voted for represents, where is your humanity?” There are moments when I think to myself, there is no way I want my children to know them, to know anyone who cannot acknowledge the abhorrence of the message that our President elect communicated during his campaign. This is my truth – I am angry and disgusted and I find myself judging as I try to make sense of why any good person could possibly vote for someone who was willing to represent the bigoted, hateful message with which our president-elect chose to align himself. But judgment leads to isolation, judgment leads to silence, judgment leads to hate. Instead, I am trying to choose to accept the fact that I simply do not understand and I probably will never fully understand.

Today my young nephew posted a video of a Trump supporter being pulled out of his car and being beaten. My immediate response was one of disgust, judgment of his ignorance. But here is the truth, this young man, my nephew – like so many of the good individuals who chose to vote for Trump, has not experienced a life of marginalization. He has not had to live in fear because of the color of his skin, his sexual orientation, his gender, his nationality. He has not had to escape his country in fear of his life or the lives of the people he loves. He has not been hungry or had a door shut on him because he was considered different. When he saw that video, perhaps for the first time in his life, this young man saw hate directed toward a group that he might be considered to be a part of. We point fingers at what we don’t understand. We look at the awful things that happen and we group people together in our judgment and then we find those whose beliefs (and often fears align wi th ours). This makes us feel better, perhaps a little safer—validated in our thoughts because we are no longer alone. “You, them, me, him, her, those …” the fingers keep pointing, the language of judgment fills the space and we let fear control all our thoughts and actions. Fear is legitimate – I believe that evil does exist in our world. But that faction of evil is so small, unless we give it the power to control us. As a society, as people we are self-centered, often greedy, focused on material things, on the well being of those close to us, we want and generally as long as our needs and most of our wants are being met and are not being threatened, we are pretty complacent. I have been pretty complacent.

I can no longer be complacent. Right now, we are in a time when the echoes of hate and fear have become louder and many of us are caught on one side or the other of the great cavern. On the news the other night a woman protesting Trump’s election shared, “there will be casualties on both sides.” This woman of Latino heritage is not so different, I think, from my nephew. She is afraid. Instead of posting videos of the “bad guys” she fights, to protect herself and the people she loves. Violence begets violence and judgment begets judgment. We are not seeing one another. Instead, we are seeing us and them — self and other. Our vision has become clouded and in those clouds the light of love and the possibility for connection, for dialogue, for change is being shadowed by fear.

On Friday morning, I brought my 3-year-old daughter to a peaceful gathering of protest at the university where I teach. She had gone with me to vote on Tuesday and we had talked about why I was voting for Hillary Clinton and she has seen my devastation in the days that have followed the election. She doesn’t understand why someone who is, in her words, “mean,” could have been chosen by people to be in charge of our country. I wanted her to see how many people stood with her, how many people believed it was important to take care of our neighbors, to keep one another safe. At that gathering, she saw hundreds of people come together to say that they were hurt, scared, angry and that they would not allow hate to stand. She heard about the importance of education, about the importance of discourse—talking with our neighbors so that we might all be able to move forward in love. Hours later, university administrators received phone-calls from parents condemning the university for creating an environment like this, where their son or daughter felt unsafe. In the local newspaper, the president of the university conservatives club admitted he had not attended the protest, but remarked that calling a group of people bigots simply because they voted for Trump was the same as calling all Muslims terrorists. I was at that protest, and student speakers did note that Trump’s message had resonated for hate groups, members of those groups had endorsed him and that some of those individuals now felt validated as a result of the election and were beginning to act on their beliefs. They also acknowledged that there were many people who voted for Trump for other reasons and that we needed to listen to those reasons—that the citizens of our country are hurting. I did not see finger pointing or a call to violence. What I heard was sadness and confusion that people could vote for someone who represented such hateful ideals and fear that these ideals might now become an acceptable part of the daily life of our country, our world. I do not believe that most of these parents or the president of the university conservatives club support the bigoted and racist ideals we gathered together to say no to, but I do question the conclusions that they arrived at. Far too often we ground our conclusions in assumptions instead of investigation, instead of listening. We get so caught up in our own fear, our own defenses that we do not pause to enter into the space of being present with our vulnerability; this has become human nature. To not be prepared, to not know—makes us vulnerable. But to hear one another, this is exactly what we must be—vulnerable.

Violence is not acceptable. I do not condone violence toward any group—whether they are those individuals who have been positioned to live in fear throughout their lives because of who they are, or they are those individuals who are now judged and find themselves facing violent reactions as a result of who they voted for. Violence fuels hate and when hate begins to take hold of us we lose the ability to see our neighbors as complex, imperfect people who are not all that different from ourselves. We do not share the same stories, but our needs and desires as human beings, are not all that different. We all need to feel safe, to feel loved, to know that we are seen in this world as someone with value and that we are not alone.

We need to begin to listen our neighbor. Instead of judging, we need to ask why—recognizing that we may never fully understand the answer. We do not have to understand, but we need to make ourselves available. We all need to learn to speak our truths and acknowledge the stories of our brothers and sisters—whether we fully agree with them or not. It is only through making ourselves vulnerable, accepting that we don’t have all the answers, sharing our stories while being present and truly listening to those of our neighbors that we might come to bridge the space—that void where fear lingers. We are all responsible for the choices we make. We have come to the juncture where our choices may mean life or death for ourselves or someone else. I choose life, I choose love, I choose vulnerability, I choose to listen, I choose to speak and I choose change.