I would like to avoid a political argument while also telling you that I was very excited to vote for Hilary Clinton. We’ll see in the comments if that’s possible. Before I went home on election night, I bounced through the grocery store, filling my basket with celebratory treats as I patted myself on the back for electing our first female president. What an exciting time!
But when I got home and turned on the news, I binged on sushi and sorbet in stress instead of celebration. Configuring the remaining paths to victory with each state that went to Trump, I made some bad choices: I judged people I did not know based on their decision to vote for someone I disagreed with. I blamed them and their poor judgement for the story that was unfolding on my television screen.
I and many others spent a few emotional days wondering how we could have been so wrong. I realized that this issue was deeper than being right could ever fix.
We reduced people down to their candidate of choice, stereotyped them based on that candidate’s flaws, justified hatred (verbal or otherwise) and fear based on those stereotypes, and segregated ourselves more deeply than ever based on those emotions. As a country, we decided that we wanted change, and we were going to get it by doing nothing — almost half of the country didn’t even vote — or by tearing others down. The election brought out the worst in us.
Actually, to put it that way makes us sound like a bunch of victims, which is far from accurate. The election did not happen to us. Even if you did not vote, you most likely participated in the ruthless dialogue, fed into the clickbait culture that drives media to publish pandering articles, or practiced a deep denial about your ability to make a difference.
Here is what I think hasn’t been said enough: You have a choice that’s even more important than the ones on your ballot. You have to choose what kind of person you are going to be and how you are going to treat the people around you.
I could blame any number of people for the insanity that has swept over the course of the election cycle, but:
- Blaming is a choice.
- Closing your mind to another viewpoint is a choice.
- Hating is a choice.
- Doing nothing is a choice.
This election brought out the worst in us because we let it. We are capable of making better choices.
Gandhi wisely said, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” but I highly doubt that these choices reflect the world we want to live in. And if we believe the president can change the world, then so can each and every individual. For that reason, I want to use this moment in our nation’s history to help me better represent my values and vision for change. So, here are the lessons I’ll be taking with me into the next four years and beyond. It’s not an exhaustive list for becoming a better person, but it does represent the biggest changes I will be making as a result of recent events.
Three Credos for Making Yourself Great Again
1. You can only change the world if you participate in it.
Opinions are cheap and plentiful; they shouldn’t be the only currency we offer. When I watched my candidate lose, I felt an unexpected sense of personal responsibility in that. I voted and had some conversations with my loved ones, but that was the very least I could do to participate in democracy.
Many people have expressed the desire to change the process of elections in the U.S., but I don’t believe that can truly happen until more citizens are actively engaged in that process themselves. To that end, I will be actively seeking opportunities to volunteer for candidates I believe in. When elections aren’t going on, I will support the causes that I matter most to me.
If you’d also like to be a more active citizen, learn about volunteer opportunities with the government or other organizations in your area.
2. To make better decisions, ask better questions.
I’m not trying to make excuses for a candidate when I say that if you look hard enough, you can usually find a reason not to like someone. This is especially true in the Information Age, when the Internet is big enough for anyone to publish anything, and our demand for information is more voracious than ever. We want it in 140-character tweets, photo galleries, hour-long news shows, and memes full of so much venom we’re too poisoned by groupthink to fact check. But irrelevant, biased, or incorrect information does not improve your skill at making important decisions.
We have to accept that journalistic integrity isn’t dead, but it’s sure not mandatory. The media doesn’t just exist to provide you with inarguable facts. They cater to their audience, and maybe even more to their advertisers. They optimize their content based on what will get your attention. It’s your job to decide what you believe, and you’re selling yourself short if you don’t do a little research. Statistics can be manipulated, scientific studies can be paid for, and quotes can be taken out of context. No one is likely to have a universally right answer, but if we ask better questions we can make better decisions.
When I find data that resonates with me, I will do a better job of vetting it. I will encourage others to do the same. I hope you will too.
3. Move forward with vision, not division.
When you take a stand — any stand — there will always be someone who opposes it. Their reasons aren’t always logical or fair, either.
Some people hate Hillary Clinton. Some people hate Donald Trump. Weirdly, our election became an argument about who we hate less. Just as often as we weighed their approach to policy, we critiqued their appearance and mocked them for things that ultimately had little to do with their ability to run the country. But they both persevered through our most malicious election to date. There’s something to be said for that.
If you are passionate about your goals, let that drive you forward. Not everyone will like you, and not everyone will be mature enough to separate that from their professional relationship with you. If you continue to think bigger than petty personal disputes, you’re likely to rise above them much faster.
This is something that causes me hardship. I want to be liked. I’m sure everyone does. But when I am unable to communicate with someone, I tend to take it as a personal failure. I want to work harder on practicing grace when facing resistance. The first step is reframing my perception to focus on the goal instead of the tension I may experience while reaching it. Often, I want the same things as the people sitting on the opposite side of the table. Keeping our shared mission in mind will probably get me a lot farther in the long run.
I hope that we can all take a look in ourselves and grow from this very divisive experience. A president alone will not determine the fate of our country. We must all take responsibility for our role in ensuring a bright future and living up to our potential.
Has this election helped you grow as a person? Tell your story in the comments.