Post Election Doom and Gloom.
Well, it happened. Michael Moore and that guy who has predicted every presidential election for the past few decades were right. The media outlets were wrong. I was wrong. I thought we were headed toward our first female president. And, as Zach Galifianakis pointed out, "the first white president" for my children. We are a few weeks past the election and, the news cycle remains fixated on President-elect Trump 24/7.
I worry about the behaviors of my fellow adults. We don't know how to argue. We are poor role models in this regard. Are we teaching our children how to engage in civil discourse, or to just throw stones? I am also guilty of simply throwing stones. We all need to get better.
Yesterday, my three year-old threw a glass jar of peanut-butter on the floor. He was mad at his 5 year old brother after a heated debate on the appropriateness of the Hamiliton casts' plea to VP-elect Mike Pence. As I've come to expect, my 5 year-old promptly tattled on his younger brother, but then, in a surprise move, accused his younger sibling of being insensitive to the value of peanut butter.
He sternly barked at his less-worldly brother, "Peanut Butter Matters!" His not-so-thinly veiled arrogance prompted my three year to defend himself. He quickly retorted, "All nut butters matter." A debate ensued over the course of the next few minutes, followed by the two not speaking for hours. It made for a quiet afternoon and evening with several periods of awkward silences. As I examined the issue from afar, not wanting to get in the middle of course, I considered my more-educated 5 year old's position. He spoke with great conviction when he explained how peanut butter was not valued nearly enough in family pantries.
"Discrimination by parents fearing a peanut allergy has plagued peanut butter for years. Sunbutter, almond butter, and even cashew butter receive much less discrimination," he pontificated. "Other nut and legume allergies are just as prevalent, yet peanut butter receives a statistically significant difference in discrimination on grocery store shelves by moms and dads alike."
"Bullshit!" called his younger, but confident brother. "Several of my nursery school colleagues aren't allowed to eat almond butter. And, do you even know how expensive Trader Joe's cashew butter is? It's freakin' delicious, but most of the good parents I know, aren't shelling out $7.99 a jar. That's why I say 'all nut butters matter.' We shouldn't allow peanut butter to justify it's value at the expense of any other nut butter. They are all equal."
"Of course all nut butters matter," said the sarcastic older brother. "Don't you see how you are missing the point? It is time to acknowledge that peanut butter is getting the short end of the stick. Its value just isn't recognized nearly as much as its sticky, spreadable peers."
"Don't you talk down to me!" shouted the younger opponent. "Just because you know your ABCs and can count to 20 doesn't mean you can talk to me that way." I love all nut butters. They all do a fine job as a compliment to the organic jelly on my sprouted grain bread."
The tension was palpable. This interaction between the two siblings was unfortunate. Neither side was very effective in getting their adversary to adopt or even sympathize with their respective point of view.
I share this story to segue into a recommended podcast by Malcolm Gladwell. If you haven't listened to his series, called Revisionist History, do yourself a favor and check it out. A particular episode, entitled Generous Orthodoxy, stands out in my mind. I won't do it justice with a recap here, but within the episode he discussed students from Princeton's Black Justice League engaging in protest. The students want former President Woodrow Wilson's name removed from the university because of Wilson's documented racism. Gladwell criticizes the tone of the protestors, and picks on one in particular. "This university owes us everything. I owe none of you people anything. We owe white people nothing. All of this is mine. My people built this place!" I owe Princeton nothing. Princeton owes me everything!" These were the recorded words of one emotional student.
To quote Malcolm, "These are not arguments that are going to convince anyone." I'm not calling this student a bully, but she is demanding change without recognizing her audience's point of view. She has valid points. She has a great argument to be made. A legitimate cause. The lesson here is that bullying or out-shouting an opponent rarely effectuates change. Sure, a bully can bend someone's will until they coalesce, but is that the goal? It shouldn't be. Mutual understanding and compromise are the results we seek.
Opportunities exist daily to practice this skill. And, it is most certainly a skill that transformative leaders possess. I'll share an example. A few days ago, a Facebook friend, who was a high school classmate, posted a sarcastic story in order to make his point. His point was that the world hasn't ended in the 14 days since Donald Trump's election. He wrote that while leaving his office building the evening prior, a stranger handed him a free donut from the local hipster donut joint down the street. He used this random act of kindness to illustrate how life was apparently the same (for him). To paraphrase, he wrote, "I don't know how we can all live in a society in which strangers hand out delicious treats to passersby."
I found his post to be condescending, narrow-minded, and arrogant. I don't often respond to posts on my newsfeed, but I found myself digging for a random story to share in a comment. I wanted him to know there are real people who have already faced acts of hatred as a direct result of Trump's election. I wanted to scream through Facebook how naïve he was, call him a "dumb-ass," and just destroy him for what he wrote.
But, I did not. And, I am glad I did not at that moment. What would I have accomplished with such a response? Very little I'm sure. In my 35 years, I've yet to belittle someone, only to have the person later thank me for doing so.
My regret is the missed opportunity to have engaged in a meaningful way. I could have validated his opinion that the sky wasn't falling, and then voiced my concerns. And, I could have done so in a way that invoked empathy and concern vice defensiveness.
Here is what I should have written. "______, you are correct that the world has not imploded, and it probably won't any time soon. I understand your point. Good score on the free donut too. Those random acts of kindness are a nice reminder of the decency within most people. There are some major causes for concern though. I've seen multiple stories of hatred directed toward minorities and non-christians directly resulting from Trump's election. Some of the attacks hit close to home for me. What if someone wrote a swastika on my child's school? How would I explain to a 5 year old that some Americans hold contempt for his mere existence? I understand what many folks are feeling. Perhaps it is overblown, but even one instance is too many."
A response like this was sure to draw an empathetic response from this individual. I say that based upon my experiences with this individual and my knowledge that he too, has young children. My comments might not be as effective for a different audience, but the tone provides a good starting point. This would have kept the conversation going. Perhaps it would have drawn others in as well. That would have been my goal. A productive conversation. So, I missed that opportunity. But again, opportunities are abundant.
We should practice every chance we have. Change your tone on social media, and see if you can draw in others with differing opinions. Anyone can draw in folks who think just like them. Donald Trump recognizes this principle and used this knowledge masterfully in his campaign. But it's not just on social media. We still engage face to face with family members, friends, and colleagues. Want to change the way others perceive you, or react to you? Change your tone, validate their feelings, and offer your own concerns. Keep the conversation going.
By the way, my three year old did drop a glass jar of peanut butter on the floor. It was a swell way to start the day.