Like so many people here in the United States and around the world, I’ve had a very strong reaction to our election. Given the pre-election polls, I was shocked by the outcome, and given how I voted, I was disappointed by it. As I’ve ridden the roller coaster of intense emotions over the past week and listened to reactions, read articles, and talked with people in my life – I’ve been struck by the profound level of division and disconnection in our society, which actually concerns me as much as almost anything else right now.
Elections often get nasty and we tend to hold our political views passionately. However, as a student of American politics (my degree from college is in American Studies) who has followed campaigns pretty closely for most of my adult life, this one has been particularly negative and divisive. And, with issues of race, gender, and class being so prominent in the debate, it took on even more intensity and fear than I’ve ever seen or experienced.
In response to some of my feelings and insights about the election – specifically related to my concerns about the treatment of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community, I wrote an “open letter to my fellow straight white men” last week and posted it on social media. It felt both important and scary for me to write this piece and share it.
The feedback has been mixed, but enlightening – lots of comments of support, as well as many comments of disagreement. More than disagreeing with me, however, I’ve received a number of personal attacks – people calling me horrible names (especially onTwitter), questioning my manhood and intelligence, and more.
I realize that people’s emotions are running hot right now, but I wasn’t quite prepared for this reaction. However, I think this is important to pay attention to on a few levels. After my initial shock and stopping myself from reacting back in anger, I’ve read through all of the comments and have been sitting with my feelings of anger, sadness, confusion, defensiveness, fear, and more. When we feel attacked, it’s easier to either fight back or run away…but I think it’s even more important to lean in, get curious, and be willing to engage.
Engaging in dialogue or debate about important issues online is tricky and often unproductive – I rarely do it. I also don’t often get intense negative reactions to the things I write and say – both because of the general topics I focus on and also because of the size and nature of the audience with whom I’m communicating.
One of the main reasons I don’t usually write about or talk about politics, as well as issues of race, gender, class, oppression, and/or anything else that may be considered “controversial,” is because I don’t want to create more division – there is so much of this in our culture as it is. My work, as well as my overall approach to life, is focused on inclusiveness as much as possible. I also, quite frankly, don’t really like being called names, attacked, or criticized – I’m a pretty sensitive person, so throughout my life and with my work, I have chosen to stay away from things and topics that might open me up to harsh judgments from others.
This election outcome and the feelings and reactions of the past week have pointed out a few things to me about this. First of all, for a variety of reasons, I think it’s important for me (and many of us) to be willing get past our fears and talk about these important topics, even and especially if they’re uncomfortable. Second of all, this is hard and most of us, myself included, aren’t that skilled, experienced or comfortable doing it – especially with the intensity of the emotions and the situation right now. We also often have blind spots and insecurities – some of which we’re aware of, some of which we aren’t. And, third of all, there is a lot of anger, fear, and separation in our country and our world right now. I’m not sure I was as fully aware of it before the election as I am now. It’s there and although the intensity of this past week may dissipate a bit as we move into the holiday season, the underlying issues and disconnections don’t seem to be going away on their own or anytime soon.
My primary question to myself right now is: How can we lean in and engage with one another about these important issues in an authentic and productive way? The challenge I’m sitting with personally at the moment is how to speak up for what I believe to be true and important, and at the same time do so in a way that brings me closer to those who may disagree with me?
My main questions to all of us are: How can we speak our minds and keep our hearts open? How can we stand up for those we believe are being discriminated against, and not discriminate against others in the process? How can we engage in big, complex problems, and come up with solutions (not just argue and make things worse)? How can we be both fierce and kind at the same time? How can we see and take responsibility for our own bias and arrogance, and actually listen to one another with understanding?
I’m not sure there are easy answers to any of these questions, but it feels as important as ever to be asking them right now. I do believe strongly that if we’re willing to ask and answer these questions, and if we have the courage to engage with each other in a productive way, it’s going to take an enormous amount of authenticity by all of us.
As I’ve learned over the past many years studying human behavior and relationships, and specifically inquiring into the nature of authenticity, it’s much easier said than done to be authentic. Authenticity is about having the courage to be honest, first and foremost. But, it’s also about having the self-awareness to remove our self-righteousness and the confidence to embrace vulnerability. Honesty, without self-righteousness, and with vulnerability is what true authenticity is all about.
Dr. Martin Luther King said “We have no morally persuasive power with those who can feel our underlying contempt for them.”
What’s tricky about this for most of us is that when we’re being self-righteous, we don’t think we’re being self-righteous, we think we’re RIGHT. Self-righteousness fundamentally separates us from one another. If I’m “right” about something and you don’t agree with me, that makes you “wrong,” and now we have a wall between us. The natural human response to self-righteousness is defensiveness.
On the other hand, when we have the courage and confidence to be vulnerable, we let down our guard and share what’s true and real within us. The natural human response to vulnerability is empathy. Empathy brings us together and connects us with one another. It also reminds us that we’re more alike than we are different – even when we disagree.
As hard as it may be for some of us right now, it seems to me that what we need is more empathy, understanding, and compassion for one another as human beings. Some of us are mortified by the election results, some of us are thrilled. I think that most of us are some version of scared – this is a change and a big change. Like with any change, we don’t know what will happen and how it will turn out. Whether we think it’s likely to be terrible, move our country in the wrong direction, and have a negative impact on us and those we love, or we think it is going to be wonderful, move our country in the right direction, and have a positive impact on us and those we love, we simply have no way of knowing at this moment.
What we do know for sure, is that we can’t really do too much without each other. In other words, WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!
How are you feeling about the election? What can you do? How can we work together and come together after all of this? Share your thoughts, feelings, and insights about this below.
Chris Mauger says
All of this is spot-on, Mike. I’ve dealt with my emotions and interactions regarding the election in two very specific ways, and it seems to be helping. First, I’ve embraced the fact that my opinion on the better candidate and the potential impact of the actual result is just that . . . my opinion. Clearly, millions of people disagree with me, some of whom are highly intelligent people whom I respect. So I can’t simply write it off as “our country has a lot of idiots.” They see things that I apparently do not, so I have to respect that. I’m not right about everything (as my wife will certainly verify), and I’m truly hoping that this is one of those times. Secondly, all we can do is bring as much positivity and optimism to our lives and to those around us as we can. There will be bumps, there will be things that make us shake our collective heads in wonder, and there will be things that are frightening (not the least of which being that we’ve elected a guy who apparently has no idea what the job he now has requires). We can’t do much about that, but we CAN control most of the impact it has on our day-to-day lives. Hopefully the President will listen to those with relevant experience and make decisions that are reasonable. I’m hoping that a lot of the campaign rhetoric was just strategy to get elected (as unethical as that is, at least it gives us hope that the actual presidency will be more subdued).
One can hope.
That being said . . . Cory Booker, 2020.
Mike Robbins says
Thanks Chris! We get really attached to our opinions, don’t we? This is a great opportunity to look more deeply at that for all of us.
This was a great blog post and I appreciate your openness. Below is a quote from Dr. Ben Carson and I am applying these words to my life and going to try to live them.
We do not know our future but God does and His purposes for us are good and His love is available for all of us. God is love and therefore we should be also.
“While much of America seems to be getting more and more divisive, I’m going to be holding doors for strangers, letting people cut in front of me in traffic, greeting all I meet, exercising patience with others, and smiling at strangers. I’ll do this as often as I have the opportunity. I will not stand idly by and let children live in a world where unconditional love is invisible and being rude is acceptable. Join me in showing love and respect to others. Find your way to swing the pendulum in the direction of love. Because today, sadly, hate is gaining ground. Love must begin somewhere and love will overcome hate. Imagine the difference if we each purposefully love a little more.”
Love you Robbins Family
Mike Robbins says
Thanks Marla! Yes…time for us all to expand our capacity for kindness, openness, and understanding…
Jo Ernest says
Thank you so much for taking a risk and writing your blog with honesty and deep concern for our country. I share your views and am depressed and unsure about what will happen next. I can’t decide whether I am more concerned with the fact that he has no idea what he is doing or what is required of the job of president, or if it is about the fact that he is supported by the alt right and other hate groups such as white supremacists. Above all, this is not who we are, or at least it is not who I thought we were. Hence the confusion.
Hugs and thanks to you! -Jo
Mike Robbins says
DJ Colbert says
Thank you. Thank you for your courage, your voice, your intelligence, your ability to put into words so clearly and eloquently what we all seemed to have missed. I want to be part of the solution and I can’t be if I am not listening to those I haven’t agreed with and understood. I don’t want to yell and scream and wail, I want to listen, and dialogue, and learn how to co create the world that includes, supports, heals. Clearly we missed what was aching to be heard in our country. That this has unleashed such hate and created more fear than I every remember since childhood, I feel so grief stricken. However, I am truly grateful to you and your family for conversation, hope, promise of the ‘we’ and willingness I am seeing around of people wanting to find a way to bring us together and not maintain the distance. There is a resounding YES, we want to march, but not against anyone – for something, for healing, for our beliefs and values and not against another’s.
Here’s hope for the opening the leaning in…thank you.
Mike Robbins says
Thank you DJ – great to see you…let’s all pray for our country.
Lynda McDaniel says
Thanks, Mike, for your heartfelt essay. I believe this election reflects, in part, all the shadow we’ve been building by not addressing uncomfortable and controversial issues. They exist whether we like to acknowledge them or not. I know a lot of people who say they don’t follow the news because it has such bad vibes. But tuning out doesn’t help. I like your ideas about how we can re-engage and make a difference. We need to be engaged–not like news junkies, but as responsible citizens.
Lynda, I share your view. We can’t get to the root of our problems if we lack the courage or will to talk about them openly and honestly. Talking with like-minded people keeps our blinders on. We must care enough to understand what others are going through by asking them or at least getting a broader perspective from trusted sources and quality alternative media. Talk with some black people for insight on black concerns, native people on native conditions, homeless people on homelessness, unemployed people on job loss, workers on pay issues and job insecurity, immigrants on their concerns, etc.–where’s our humanity when we show more compassion for animals than for human beings? Yes, human issues may be complex, messy, and scary. Creating a better country and world requires each of us to inform ourselves with truth so we can be better, think better, and do better.
Mike Robbins says
Mike Robbins says
Mike, as always…..appreciate your perspective. Lots of anger, disappointment, frustration, rancor out there right now. While I didn’t appreciate the election cycle’s craziness, the lack of a real conversation about the methods and policies to create a better country, nor the outcome….I think the nuttiness will pass, and that calmer heads will prevail. I have chosen to tune it out and let it be for now.
Perhaps word deconstruction is best at this moment…..from “ignorance’ you get “ignore”. Tune it out my man, and let your message of appreciation and authenticity reign.
Power on dude.
Mike Robbins says
Hi Mike – Although I am one who disagrees with you politically, you would be the last person I would name call, demean or even challenge publicly. Although we don’t share a political view, I have great respect for you as well as anyone who will open up, lean in and actually listen to the other person… with honest interest in the opposite point of view. I believe you also to be one to gain knowledge on a subject before you take a side. That is something I don’t see in a lot of people these days, including myself at times. What I see happening in our country right now is disturbing and likely a result of people only listening to one side. We have all become experts on everything with little actual knowledge of anything and we have stopped thinking for ourselves and have let the media drive our thoughts and speech. I don’t know what it will take to bring us together, but having respect for our fellow human beings is a good place to start. As you said, “…It also reminds us that we’re more alike than we are different – even when we disagree.” If we all agreed on everything, how boring and mundane would this world be? Like Papa used to say, “That’s why they make chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream…” Anyway, I believe people like yourself will help bring us all together by starting the conversation and having the control and wisdom to not react to the attacks that will undoubtedly come. Stay strong and stay true to your core and don’t stop starting the conversations that need to be had.
Blessings to you…..
Mike Robbins says
Thank you Skip! I appreciate your thoughtful response, kind words, and wisdom. Yes…it seems to have become more challenging these days for us to listen and learn – maybe because there is so much coming at us and the intensity seems to have ramped up…but being able to take more time, think more deeply, look at things from multiple angles, and try to understand where people are coming from is essential. I hope we can all find more patience, courage, and depth to be able to do this – our county and our world depend on it.