All the Good I See

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I thought tensions couldn’t get any worse after last election. I think I deserve an award for my ability to vastly underestimate things. Over half of this country is experiencing emotional distress over the election. This stuff is big, and it’s real, and it’s hurting us all.

As I read the comments (my biggest weakness and the biggest source of my depression and stress) I think, “The goal now is to say the meanest, most hateful things imaginable.” Instead of making a point anymore, everyone’s goal is to hurt. That activity used to be limited to trolls. Now everyone is doing it.

If you’re like me, you tend to read more closely the comments of people who disagree with you. In doing so, you’re going to see some horrific stuff. And in seeing that, it really does seem like one side is evil and one side is good. Here’s the problem with that assessment, if you look more closely, you’ll see the really nasty stuff coming from everyone. This, by the way, is not an invitation to point out that the other side is worse. That isn’t my point. My point is, statistically, it’s pretty impossible for everyone to be evil.

The human response to danger is fight or flight. When fighting for survival, we do whatever we need to, without concern with what will be polite or kind. Online, we are fighting (or flighting) with words. It’s all we have, and it’s what we do.

“But,” we think of our political opposites, “how can you believe that?? You are an idiot! And your idiocy is endangering me and my loved ones!!”

Stop – let’s look at that. “Endangering me and my loved ones.”
Do you believe that? I’ll admit I do. It’s a terrible feeling, the kind of feeling that has me refreshing my news source websites over and over to see what’s going to happen next.

Now…. Can’t you imagine the other side thinks that too? Please stop and try to imagine that. It will help.

“But,” we insist, “they’re WRONG! Look at these facts!”

Here’s the problem with that: Both sides have facts. In this wonderful world of information, every person who has access to the internet has access to the facts they need to back up their beliefs. EVERYONE. The information doesn’t have to be accurate to be frightening and polarizing, it just needs to be convincing. And people who already believe something are very unlikely to look for facts to disprove their beliefs.

So what do we have? Pretty near an entire country of people who believe (based on information they can cite, link to, and have heard trustworthy folks in suits confirm) that they and their loved ones will be in grave danger if their political opponent wins.

This pervasive fear means something, though: No matter what happens, we have all already lost. We are a nation afraid. We are a nation angry and hurting and feeling betrayed by our government and our neighbors. We have lost trust in our friends and lost respect for diverse opinions in our communities. We have been blatantly, and in some cases gleefully, used against one another for political and financial gain. More people watch the news than ever because of the lunacy that has been this election. Ratings mean money.

The morning after the election, both candidates will be fine. Whoever loses will be disappointed but convinced that there was nothing more they could have done. They will assure themselves and their family that the deck was stacked against them. They’ll be prepared to regroup and leverage their nearly successful presidential campaign toward something lucrative.

The rest of us, though, will still be hurting. We’ll either be paralyzed by the fear of the dangers we were promised were sure to come, or we’ll be continuing to harbor distrust. We’ll all be mourning the loss of friendships and the absent goodwill of neighbors. Some will be so angry and in disbelief of the results, they’ll be considering revolution.

It will be hard for us to move past this. I’ve stopped believing that there will be any relief on November 9th when this is all over.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from this election, it’s that there are no words or arguments or explanations that will change anyone’s mind. The only things I have power over are my vote and my attitude.

I’m owning that power.

The fact is, I don’t feel any better distrusting or disliking anyone who disagrees with me politically. Yeah, there are assholes out there, and there are some really evil menaces in our country. But I’ve begun to see that people who don’t share my views are voting for what they see as the safest option. They are trying to mitigate danger and ensure the security of their families based on the information they have. Like me, they are afraid. I may not think they have the facts right, but I can empathize with wanting to protect their loved ones.

Realizing that makes me feel better. Looking for the good in people helps me.

For example: I’m sure my neighbor Bill and I have political differences. I don’t know him well. We sure don’t talk politics, but I have a hunch we’re not on the same page politically. Bill is a big guy – tall and slightly stooped with a white beard. He usually wears a straw hat and long sleeves, even in the heat. Every day, he walks his tiny dog, taking her patiently to all the paces she wants to go. Sometimes he looks a little tired, like he’s ready to go home, but he waits for her. I like that. I don’t know how he votes, but I think he’s kind.

I have a relative I know believes different things than me. He can be a little gruff about it. But he’s a hard worker who does generous things for his family (which also happens to be my family). He is devoted to his wife and good to animals.

I don’t know what everyone on my fb friends list believes, but I know they are my friends because they are good, honorable people. So there are 118 people who aren’t actually evil jerks, despite what those on opposing political sides would say about them.

At the end of the day, these people –my friends, neighbors and coworkers — all still have to live and work with one another. And honestly, it’s not worth it to me to believe the worst in them.

The American people have already lost this election. We’ve lost so much, and I’m not sure how long it will take us to recover. I have friends who say, “How can I know what these people believe and still have respect for them?”

Maybe we need to be more careful about what we attribute to others, especially ones we know and once respected. A vote for a candidate doesn’t make someone that candidate. Being on one side of an issue doesn’t mean alignment with the fringiest ideas on that side.

But most importantly, it doesn’t do our hearts and souls any good to condemn so many people. I’m so tired and frustrated and scared. I think everyone is. The only way I can move on is to believe in people’s best intentions and look for the good in the folks I see in real life.  And (as always) stay out of the comments sections. When will I learn?

Humans of Walmart

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It was late, and I had found someone to stay home so I could sneak away for an hour. I was on a mission, and the only place to accomplish it was Walmart. Options were limited in my small New Hampshire city.

I remember feeling two things that night: 1) Exhaustion so utter and complete that I was shivering and sweating at the same time and so deep that my muscles screamed when I commanded them to move my bones. 2) Excitement about my mission.

I couldn’t tell you what I was wearing. I couldn’t even guarantee I was wearing pants. I remember a jacket. I don’t remember having bare feet. I couldn’t tell you the last time I brushed my hair or even washed it.

My mission: Cloth diapers. I know, it’s not exciting or Earth shattering, but I had the idea that they could help us, and anything at all that could help was welcome. Cloth diapers would be absorbent and could be layered. My hope was that they would keep us from having to change the sheets as often. Nothing we did day to day hurt my husband as much as changing the sheets, but cancer was breaking down his skin. When skin breaks down, it leaks. When it leaks, sheets need to be changed.

I pray most people don’t know first hand that cancer has an odor. It smells of rotting broccoli. (I apologize for being graphic.) My quests in caring for Jim in his last stage of cancer were to keep him comfortable and to keep the smell of cancer away. The odor threatened me. It threatened all my efforts to deny what was happening. If I was going to face the next minute, I needed that denial more than I needed breath, because of how much I loved him and how much he was my hero and how wrong, wrong, wrong it all was.

I didn’t find what I wanted that night, and I went home defeated. When I didn’t find what I wanted, I’ll bet I made some terrible faces. I might have looked like a bitch to someone. I don’t know. You know what else? I might have looked hilarious.

As far as I know, I was the only person in Walmart that night. I didn’t see anyone else in my exhaustion and frustration. It was before everyone had cameras on their cell phones anyway, so probably nobody snapped a picture of me in my craziness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy and compassion this year. It seems to be a tougher year than most for it. If current events are any indication, it is sorely lacking these days. I think compassion doesn’t just disappear all at once, but it is chipped away little by little.

It may start with something as simple as a candid picture of a person looking crazy while they are at Walmart. Someone takes it. Someone shares it. Everyone laughs. The subject of the pic becomes a joke, instead of a human. I have clicked and laughed before, more than once. I wish I hadn’t. I won’t again. It’s a tiny chip, but an important one. It is step one, possibly followed by calling a kid a thug, a protester a looter, or a vigil a riot. Removing the human context, the pain, the anger, the fear, the loss, removes the empathy and allows prejudices to blossom.

There is a great TED talk about voting with your clicks. The more people click on dehumanizing pictures and videos, the more likely it is that someone will view a person acting strangely as an opportunity for a viral video instead of a reason for concern, or just a bad moment in someone’s day. They are going to whip out a cell phone and start recording instead of helping, instead of trying to be understanding, or just instead of respecting someone’s privacy and minding their own damn business.

Instead of click-voting to take away someone’s humanity, now I try to find proof of goodness and compassion, and click-vote for that. It makes me feel better. If you’d like to do the same, I highly recommend starting with Humans of New York. Brandon Stanton is the living salve for all the dehumanizing click-bait out there. He’s younger than me, but I want to be him when I grow up. He traveled the world in August/September. He and his subjects make me smile-cry all the time.