November 8, 2016
I am profoundly saddened at what my adopted country wrought on November 8. Not because we elected Donald J. Trump president, but because half the American public heard Mr. Trump paint himself as racist, sexist, misogynistic, and isolationist – and then made the decision to vote for him anyway. My sadness and fear are rooted in the fact that Mr. Trump’s election appears to validate all those hateful sentiments.
"When They Go Low, We Go High"
And yet, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because I know that for most people, hatred is not a position; it is a manifestation of deep-seated fear and insecurity. I am hopeful that this is an opportunity for us to confront the demons of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia that were brought into the light by the Trump campaign, and to begin a dialogue to start healing the rifts that have clearly existed for too long without being openly acknowledged.
It is easy to lecture others when you hold a position of power. We have now discovered exactly where that has led us. It is much more difficult – and requires much more grace and humility – to have difficult conversations when you are on the losing side. But as First Lady Michelle Obama has said repeatedly in her eloquent speeches, “when they go low, we go high”. Grace and humility are precisely what is required when taking the high road.
As a mediator, I find that trying to convince others in the face of strongly held beliefs rarely works. Study after study shows that facts don’t convince people to change their beliefs; indeed, facts usually serve only to strengthen those beliefs. What can bridge seemingly insurmountable divides is listening to people’s fears: Listening not with the intent to respond, to argue, or to convince, but simply with the intent to understand what is going on beneath the surface.
Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we rush to reunify the American public. As The Atlantic pointed out just a week before the election, "a rush to reunion can entrench injustice. Instead of papering over differences, Americans need to be smarter about engaging them."
So let’s regroup, support each other, and find strength in our shared values. Let’s not retreat into our echo chambers. Instead, let’s take this opportunity to talk about politics at the dinner table, in schools, in social settings, and in other places where it is too often taboo in American culture. Let's create opportunities to participate in difficult conversations. Let’s continue to fight for the values and ideals that we hold dear, by engaging those who think differently than we do with respect, humility and genuine curiosity.
Not doing so – or worse, engaging in reactive anger and hatred – will not help us achieve our goals; it will only serve to deepen the divide. And that is something none of us can afford to have on our conscience.