Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Election fatigue, etc.

Obviously, it's been a whirlwind of a week for Americans. A week ago we split in two like the curtain in the Temple after Jesus' death. And everyone is making a really, really big deal about every.single.little.thing. People have turned into religious fanatics about their candidate of choice, decrying all those who would vote for someone else as unrighteous. As my tone might give away, I'm really sick of it.

I'm not downplaying the importance of dealing with all of the difficult issues this election has brought up, and I certainly don't want to minimize the hurt and fear that many people feel, but I feel like the politics is getting in the way of addressing those issues or healing those hurts. Maybe I'm biased because I hate politics and I think they're more divisive and tedious than helpful. Maybe I'm frustrated because of my tendency to want to defend the other side when I hear one side decry the other. I guess you could call that playing devil's advocate, but for me it comes from more of a place of empathy than wanting to mess with other people's heads.

Today, we spent almost an entire class period discussing the election. I got frustrated because it took me back to high school when I was a conservative Christian, very much in the minority, and people would, because we live in a solid blue state in a pretty secular area, assume that everyone was a liberal atheist. It was very uncomfortable, lonely, and marginalizing to feel like I was the only one who believed what I did. It was even worse when people made fun of the group I belonged to generally and sometimes made fun of me personally for belonging to that group. So even though I was of the majority opinion in my class discussion today, I couldn't stop thinking about how I felt in high school when the vocal people attacked the other side to such an extent that anyone on that other side would feel uncomfortable speaking up. That's how persecution starts.

I'm tired of people painting all Trump supporters in broad brush strokes, not listening to what they have to say. I know many people who voted for Trump, some of whom are even family, and I know their reasons for voting are multi-faceted and don't necessarily have to do with racism or xenophobia. Calling all Trump supporters racists is not fair and not going to help us understand what happened this election better. In fact, I think that's what gave Trump his power in the first place; a group of people felt marginalized and unheard. On a certain level, I can relate to that, having been part of a group (practicing Christians) constantly being mocked in the media and in school and the workplace.

What this election has driven home to me is that all people deserve to be judged and heard as individuals. We have a tendency to hear that a person is part of a religious group or a political camp or hear that they are mentally ill or disabled or LGBTQ or even that they're from a certain region of the country or have a certain hobby or drive a certain car and make a whole set of assumptions about them. Sometimes many of those stereotypes can be true, but sometimes they're not. And when we jump to those conclusions, we rob those people of their voice, personality, and experience and rob ourselves of the chance to hear that person's rich tapestry of a story.

To bring it to a personal level, I have gone through a lot of different emotions and thoughts regarding this election. After last Tuesday, I was initially shocked and horrified, much like my classmates. I was scared about what would happen in the future. I was frustrated when my sister tried to rationalize the election results and tell me it wasn't worth worrying about. I wore black to class and tied my scarf in a pussy bow, determined to look mournful all through the lecture. The only problem was, my professor, perhaps sensing the heaviness of spirits that day, was really, really funny that class. I left smiling and my soul was sunny again. I didn't want to ruin that. It's not often you get to feel that way.

But part of me felt guilty - I was supposed to be angry and disappointed, wasn't I? It wasn't right to move on. But then I realized that it wasn't bad to move on. If there's anything I've learned from struggling with anxiety, it's that you have to keep yourself from writing the history of the future. You can't assume the worst for tomorrow and let it ruin today. I've lived so much of my life doing that and it's time to stop, especially for something so unpredictable and out of my control. I can't control Donald Trump's actions, but I can control, to some extent, my thoughts and actions.

With that thought, I'm also reminded anew of the importance of showing love to others and continuing to do my own work to try to make the world better. I've felt guilty for hating politics and not wanting to debate the ins and outs of this election cycle, but that's because I think it's more worth our, or at least my, time to focus on the people and tasks right in front of me and the hurts and needs that go unmet regardless of who's up for reelection.

I guess what this morning's class discussion really underscored for me though is how isolated and alienated I feel in my current state in life. I don't feel like I fit in with the kids in my class who make fun of Jesus and talk about how much better America would be as a socialist nation and drop the f-bomb every other sentence. But I feel even more uncomfortable in the emptying pews of my family's church, listening to my pastor decry those who support gay marriage or who don't fight against abortion. The election did make me feel even more disillusioned with Evangelical Christian culture. I was disillusioned before, frustrated with the lack of love, compassion, and acceptance that I saw. Disgruntled with the political agenda that had become part of our theology. Upset with the injustice, hate, and ugliness perpetrated in Jesus' name that reflect the behavior of the Pharisees he decried much more than the Savior himself.

I heard a guy say after class that he didn't like anything Jesus said. My immediate response (in my head) was that he probably doesn't even know what Jesus said. He probably just knows what Christians say and how they have portrayed Jesus. The more I read about Jesus' words and actions, the more I realize how far his followers today fall from the ideals of love and selflessness and the example of reaching out to the misunderstood and marginalized that he displayed. But not many people are of that opinion, at least that I've come across. Most of the Christians I know are either clinging to Evangelicalism or leaving the faith entirely. How do you walk the line and temper the two extremes? How do you do the same for politics? How do you deal with always seeing the other side of things, making it difficult to feel at home in either camp? Why can't people be moderate about things...Why do we have to swing to extremes?

I feel like I don't fit in anywhere. I never have, but I had forgotten about it somewhat and now here it is, hanging right in front of my face again. Before I would say that I fit in with my family, but now that I'm no longer a conservative Evangelical, I don't. And it's uncomfortable, I can't deny, especially for someone who's never been rebellious and doesn't know how to be.

I could go on about the other life problems...the social anxiety, the anxiety-induced insomnia, the brokenness of the mental health care system, the despair of never finding a man who will accept and understand me and who isn't irrational, judgmental, over-idealistic, and immature and who I can feel comfortable with and actually be able to get to know. But I think I've gone on long enough.

I wish we could live in love instead of judgment. I'm sick of all the hate and judgment that we pass on each other, whether during election season or not, whether Republican or Democrat. I wish we could respect each other and listen and love and go beyond politics to stories. Stories of people's lives and loves and the lessons they've learned along the way. That's what I want to dedicate my life to: Telling stories and listening to hearts.

11/19/2016 Addendum: After receiving some feedback on this post, I just wanted to clarify that I didn't mean to invalidate any concerns people have concerning the president-elect and the future of our country. I know that for many people, there are some very real and valid fears, threats, and concerns surrounding this incoming presidency. I don't take that lightly and my heart goes out to anyone for whom that is true. 

However, I do want to remind people on both sides of the political spectrum that mocking, hating, and stereotyping all members of the opposite side is creating just as much of a problem as any particular issue you are concerned about. We change the world - for better or for worse - with our everyday words and actions and the way we treat other people. So I beg of you to be more considerate about the way you talk about, talk to, and portray the other side. Take time to listen to their argument, take time to understand their point of view. 

And if you are very worried about this election, consider talking to a counselor (if you aren't already.) And consider that we don't know what the future will bring, we can only take care of today. Putting the worries of things that might ever happen on ourselves today will only make life miserable. 

These were the two things I wanted to drive home through this post. I think the extreme polarity of this election should be a wake-up call to us as a nation to start listening more, understanding, seeing our similarities, trying to make sense of our differences, and gaining a broader perspective. A lot of people talk about tolerance, but sometimes that tolerance is only limited to a certain group of people. I know many will read these words and think they are pie-in-the-sky idealism, but how far has hate, division, and arguing really gotten us in life? How many minds have been changed with debates? How many have been changed with patient love? Personally, debates have driven me further away from agreeing with the point of my opponent while hearing a friend patiently explain their thoughts on a subject or seeing a family member quietly live a certain way have made me change my mind in profound ways. 

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with this post or with the outcome of the election, I wish you peace and joy in the upcoming season and personal healing in any difficult situations you are or you have walked through.

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