Hi, kiddos. Sit down for a moment please. We need to talk about something. (Put away your phone and pay attention to me. This is important.)
As you know, last night, a man named Donald Trump was elected as the president of the United States. He won the electoral vote, but not the popular vote. (You understand those terms, right?) We’ve had this happen before, even in my lifetime. It may seem odd, but it is how our system is currently set up.
There were many other people who were elected last night, and still more that will be brought into positions of political power because of Donald Trump’s choosing. That was part of our job as voters, and will be part of his job as president. Some of these people share Donald Trump’s views, some of them do not.
I don’t want to spend too much time on explaining the political system. What I want to talk about is everything that you’ve heard up until this point about this man and his beliefs, and to explore the possibilities of what happens now that he will hold one of the most powerful positions in the world.
There are many people who are afraid today. People who didn’t vote for Donald Trump are afraid, and even those who did vote for him are afraid. There is a lot of fear because everyone is uncertain of what is going to happen. As we know, fear can quickly lead to anger and not-thought-out responses. (Remember when you ran off and I couldn’t find you, and I got angry at first when you did come back? Anger is a natural response to fear.)
We are all not only uncertain of what rules and laws he is going to try to change, but how each other will act in the upcoming months. Donald Trump said a lot of things about a lot of people – a lot of very hateful things – and it is making those people in particular very afraid.
Let’s go over a few important things.
1. THIS MATTERS.
We are very, very lucky to be privileged. Because of the color of our skin, the area in which we live, the income we have, and the love we have for each other and from family and friends, we can go about our day in a way that others cannot. Many people have to be afraid when they go out in public, and sometimes, in their own homes! Just because of the color of their skin, or their gender, or who they choose to love, or the beliefs they have about God and truth, they are teased, given mean looks, harassed, or even harmed. Can you imagine having to deal with that every single day?
You might think that some man’s election to the position of president doesn’t affect you. Please do not let me have failed as a parent in allowing you to feel so privileged that the suffering of others does not influence you. While I am certain that there actually will be laws passed that will influence our daily life as you know it, there will be many other laws passed (and actions taken outside of laws) that will negatively affect those that we know and love. Never forget that.
From this place of privilege, it is OUR responsibility – YOUR responsibility – to do what you can to make every single person feel safe, accepted, and loved. It doesn’t matter whether or not you agree with them. Everyone wants to feel safe, accepted, and loved. Because you feel those feelings in your life, it is your responsibility to help others who do not. (And if you do not feel those things, let’s talk about how we can change that.)
2. EVERYTHING YOU ARE FEELING IS OK.
There are people who are angry right now. People who are sad. People who are in shock and just sitting silently. People who are happy and hopeful. People who are tired of the election and trying to move on to different discussions. People who feel it is going to be ok and people who need to hear that, and people who don’t believe that and don’t want to hear that.
There is no right nor wrong way to feel right now. (There never is.)
I am watching all of this, and actually, feeling all of it. I feel angry at people who don’t feel badly about hating and disrespecting other people. I feel sad that many people have bad thoughts about people of different skin colors or ethnic backgrounds or genders or sexual orientations. I feel scared about how some of our friends, and how each of you, might be treated. I feel tired and just want to go to bed and ignore it all. I feel energized, called to do something more now and to be more active in promoting the world in which I want to live (and in which I want you to grow up). I feel hopeful, because I feel like the big elephants in the room have finally been pointed out and now we can have productive conversations to address them. And I feel numb.
Whatever you are feeling right now is ok. And when those feelings change, as they will, that is ok too. It is important to remember that everyone else is going through changing feelings alongside of you. Do what you can to help those who want to feel differently, and be there for those who want to just feel as they are feeling.
As you are ready, practice feeling the way you want to feel and help others to do the same. If you don’t want to feel sad or angry all of the time, feel really sad or angry for a while, then see what you can do to change it. (Maybe go outside for a bit or draw? Journal, or come talk to me?)
As we’ve discussed, always take responsibility for knowing your own feelings and for the actions that you take because of those feelings. Never feel badly for the way that you feel because that will only make you feel worse! And it’s hard to be your best self when you feel icky.
3. IT IS OK TO DISAGREE. IT IS NOT OK TO BE DISRESPECTFUL.
Disagreement happens naturally. We all see the world in different ways. That is not only ok, that is helpful! Through kindly discussing our disagreements, we learn to see the beautiful diversity in the world.
Disrespect is what happens when you act without curiosity and appreciation for those different points of view. Disrespect hurts the person you are talking to, and keeps you from experiencing a valuable interaction with someone of a differing viewpoint.
We often disagree with one another at home, but we treat one another with respect. (Or if we don’t because we are angry, we apologize later and try harder the next time.) I expect the same of you with your friends, strangers, … with everyone.
Agree or disagree, but never disrespect.
4. BE WILLING TO SAY, “I DON’T KNOW”.
When you get confused, you want to find an answer. It is human nature. And when you find an answer, you want your answer to be the right one. (It can hurt to feel “wrong”.) You are taught this a lot in school. There is a right answer (that gets you a good grade on your test) and a wrong answer.
Unfortunately, in life there are very few right and wrong answers. (Of course, there is a right answer when doing surgery, fixing our car, or knowing which way to go to get to Grandma's house. I'm not talking about those kind of situations.)
We are all deciding what is right and what is wrong in our own minds and working together (or fighting) in the world to enact things we see as right and prevent things we see as wrong.
Right now, there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of confusion. There are a lot of people looking for answers, and a lot of people claiming that they are right and others are wrong. You may even feel this. I do.
But if we are going to learn anything, if we are going to grow at all from this confusion, we have to be able to admit we don’t know. (If you keep claiming you are right, you keep doing what you have always done. And as is often quoted (attributed to Jessie Potter), ““If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.”
Being willing to admit that you don’t know takes far more strength than digging your feet into the ground, your head in the sand, and believing that you know it all (or enough). You have this strength. Use it.
5. YOU NEED TO CREATIVELY ENGAGE WITH THE CHANGE THAT IS HAPPENING.
Change happens all of the time. Your opinions change, your level of knowledge changes, nature changes all around you. The ages and jobs and grades in school of our friends and family changes. Your mood changes many times throughout the day. Our dinner plans change, you change your clothes once (or twice) a day, … you get the idea. Everything is always changing, whether we realize it or not.
Sometimes, we get lazy and complacent (meaning at ease with how things are while ignoring the consequences of our actions). We become so used to our safe and comfortable life that we forget that it too is changing. And we forget that with every thought we have and every action we take, no matter how small, we are influencing this change.
Have you ever smiled at someone in school, and they came over to talk to you? With that little smile, you started a conversation, and maybe lifted their mood. On the flip side, have you ever been in a bad mood and said something hurtful? (Yes, yes you have. So have I.) Those hurtful words created more hurt and anger, which made the situation even worse.
“Creatively engaging” with this change means being aware of your own thoughts and actions and choosing as best as possible how you will interact with the world. It’s like playing in a sandbox with other kids on a windy day. You get to choose which sand castles you will build. Other kids may leave you alone, help you build it, or try to knock it over. The wind may pick up and blow the sand everywhere. “Creatively engaging” means hearing your own thoughts as you play and choosing what you will build in the sand, how you react to others, and how you react to the wind.
As we all feel those emotions that we discussed earlier (the fear, anger, excitement, and so on), you must take responsibility to creatively engage. Don’t hang out and assume someone else will take care of things. This is your life. Only you can shape it into what you want it to be – no matter how the other kids are playing or which way the wind is blowing.
There is a lot more going through my mind, but this is a good place to stop…and to begin.
Let’s begin talking more about these things at home. Maybe have more conversations about these ideas with your friends. If you are feeling really bold, try talking with someone else – a stranger or someone with whom you know you’d disagree. See what emotions come up, and how you are able (or unable) to creatively engage. We all have something to teach each other. We just need to listen and learn. (Yes, even I have things to learn from you!)
Don’t feel badly if it is difficult. Learning how to play football or how to belong in a classroom full of new students wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. This practice of paying attention to this change in life, and those parts that aren’t pretty, won’t be easy. But I promise that doing so will make your life and all of our lives richer and happier.
I love you. Know that you are loved. Always begin there.