What Do We Say to Each Other After the Election?

No matter who wins the election millions of our fellow citizens, our family, our loved ones will be sad, distraught and perhaps angry. How we react to that will make all the difference. No matter what we feel we would do well to recognize and show empathy for what others are feeling too. We should look beyond our own emotions and use the moment to see others. 

I often hear people say “I just can’t understand why anyone would vote for that person.” That, to me, may be the greatest trouble we face. That declaration shows we don’t understand those we share the country with. The divide we feel is real. It’s damaging to human relationships. It tears apart families, communities and it’s weakening our republic. 

No matter the outcome of the election we should all resolve to do our part to understand where those who disagree with us are coming from. We simply cannot afford to avoid everyone who disagrees with us, even if we find their beliefs damaging, immoral or unconscionable.  Surely they don’t view it that way.  I’ve rarely met a person who thought they were doing the wrong thing and reveled in it. Every person’s point of view makes sense to them. We do ourselves a disservice if we don’t learn how to learn from each other.  We must do all we can to see each other, hear each other, and understand each other. This will require grace, humility and a commitment to community. 

Okay, I know what some of you were thinking: “You don’t get it, this election is different. We can’t just agree to disagree and pretend it’s okay. If the candidate I oppose wins the damage to the republic may be irreversible. Their policies, character and morals will ensure irrevocable harm. To not denounce them and their followers is in essence complicit to the harm.” 

Let’s assume that the candidate you oppose lives up to that dire assessment. What advantage will be gained by not talking to those who support them? What good will come by alienating ostracizing, avoiding, belittling or shaming them? Do you think an election defeat will show them the error of their ways? That the  morning after the election, somehow, they will be chastened and conform to your view of morality and good government? Is that how you will respond if the election goes differently than you had hoped?

We cannot afford as citizens, families, friends, co-workers and fellow travelers to let the cancer of division fester. If we are not brave enough, bold enough, and meek enough to have the hard conversations who is? 

Here are three suggestions that have helped me have these kinds of delicate conversations. In the coming days and weeks after the election they may be a value to you too.  

First: Reaffirm to those you disagree with that your relationship and their opinion matter to you. Affirm and reestablish your connection with them. I like this definition of connection from Brenè Brown, “Connection is energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued-when they can give and receive without judgment.” 

Second: Ensure your goal is to understand their perspective not to persuade them. Simply try to understand why they view things the way they do. I often have found myself saying “I just don’t understand why someone would think that.”  Now whenever I say that I realize it is an indictment of me. Instead when I can say “I would say you would say…” and they agree with me then I know I understand. Then, when it’s appropriate, I can articulate where we may disagree. Again, not with the intent to persuade but with the clear intent that they understand why I view things the  way I do. Often we come to realize we agree on much more than we thought we did. 

Third: You are not personally responsible for saving the republic, ensuring democracy and salvaging every relationship. Some people will not be able to have a conversation with you without being aggressive, frustrated, angry or manipulative. That’s on them not you. There are times we all need to walk away from certain exchanges. We can only do what we can do. But I do think it’s incumbent on each of us to try to do all that we can do.

Will this change the nation overnight? No. Of course not. Neither will one election. Will it change you? Yes!