Growing up, my mother always admonished me when I would say mean things about other people, telling me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, then I shouldn’t say anything at all. I will admit, I struggle with this, as many people do. After September 11th, I pledged to treat everyone I met with kindness. This election has divided our nation, and in reflecting on my feelings towards those with whom I disagree, I have struggled to maintain that pledge of kind thoughts and words.
I will be honest in my view. I am in mourning for what we, as a nation, have implicitly agreed to abandon in terms of civility, morality, acceptance, and basic human decency. I feel terrible sadness for and solidarity with my friends, family members and students, who genuinely and understandably feel disenfranchised by the outcome of this election, which has called into question for them certain inalienable rights that are supposed to be guaranteed to all of us. When I see and hear people gloating about how their candidate won, taunting and insulting others, I feel that so many of us have lost the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes. I have been guilty of not been entirely kind or patient with others in the face of what I see as their support of that which I consider to be despicable comments and/or behavior, but while I have tried to engage with others civilly, I have sometimes failed at the “civil” part.
I can’t say that if Hillary won, the conversation would be much different given the fact that so many of us have come to view our fellow Americans as “the others.” What I can say is that we have become an electorate that has largely failed at communication and empathy when it comes to those with whom we do not agree. For the second time in my lifetime and only the third time in U.S. history, the candidate that won the popular vote is not the candidate that won the electoral vote and hence, the presidency. Whether I like it or not, this is that way our system is set up. In four more years, we will all get a chance to make our collective voice heard again.
All that said, I will not spend the next four years trading insults with the people with whom I disagree. Given my mother’s two choices of not having something nice to say versus saying nothing at all, I will not remain silent. I will continue to engage, but I pledge that it will be done with kindness, whether or not I agree with the person. I will still present facts, but I will also make a point of listening to others without insulting them. I will put up with no less than the same in return. I will continue to teach my students to be kind to others, to listen to each other, to treat the wounds of ignorance with the salve of compassion and conversation. Lastly, I will continue to hope that the thing I have always told my children, that there is more good in the world than bad, proves true as we move towards an increasingly interdependent future.