Cultivating compassion

November 11th, 2016

In the midst of the wide-ranging reactions to the election this week, one particular stream of responses has caused me much reflection. It is the response that sounds something like this: “Ok, so Hillary lost and Trump won. Get over it. It will be fine; let’s not all lose our minds.” In my conversations and social media feeds, this has been voiced from those in the moderate liberal and varying conservative camps. Some of these people voted for Hillary or a third party candidate, some for Trump.

But this election cycle and response calls for something more than indifference from ALL of us. The times call out for us to cultivate compassion.

In order to cultivate compassion, we need to understand why some people are “losing their minds” this week and why others are rejoicing. To practice compassion, it seems worthwhile to begin by considering why these election results might be a hard pill to swallow.

I woke up to a text Wednesday morning from a Mexican American colleague of mine who is brokenhearted that our next president began his campaign by announcing that when Mexico “sends its people” to the US they are sending problems, drugs, crime, and rapists. Further, he is terrified that many of his friends will soon be deported en masse.

A dear friend of mine who is bisexual now worries about discrimination in the workplace or housing market should FADA pass, as Trump has promised. He worries about LGBTQ youth that soon will have a Vice President who is outspoken against their sacred value. Additionally, my friend understandably fears he may not be able to get married when he and his partner are ready to make that step together.

Many Muslim Americans are grappling with the reality of a president who has suggested forcing them to register, who far too often characterizes their 1.6 billion brothers and sisters as de facto haters of America, and who thinks it wise to prevent anyone who shares their religion from coming into the country.

And many women are hurting as well. I spent over an hour Wednesday talking to a nearly inconsolable woman. As someone who was sexually assaulted in her past, she couldn’t believe that her future president seemingly lacks any concern for what happened to her, instead calling assault the content of locker room talk and boasting about having done it himself. Even some women who have not been assaulted are outraged that a man who has an unrepentant track record of demeaning, attacking, and objectifying women will soon be the leader of the free world.

African Americans have to grapple with the reality of a president who has suggested their lives are so bad that they have nothing to lose. People who have, for the first time, access to health care wonder if that will continue. Americans with physical handicaps – who face daily challenges Trump cannot comprehend – soon will have a president who mocked someone with disabilities. Parents of fallen soldiers will look at a picture of their lost child and hear the echo of their president’s assurance that he understands their plight because he has “made a lot of sacrifices.”  Our military will now report to a man who advocates killing the families of enemy combatants and who prefers soldiers “who weren’t captured.” 

I do not rehash this for the sake of insulting Trump or starting arguments. But for many, election night was about more than one team losing and another winning. It was not even about taxes and freedom and rights. It was about someone who has demeaned, degraded, and dismissed them or their experience becoming the President of the United States of America. It was about a consistent bully who received the Electoral College stamp of approval. For many, it was personal, as millions of people seemed to echo Trump’s lack of concern about their stories.

So we must cultivate compassion. One does not have to mirror another’s story, echo their concerns, or endorse political ideologies to affirm grief, pain, fear, and hurt. Compassion doesn’t require that we agree with those who are hurting. To be compassionate — to embody the words ‘you are not alone’ — means only that we recognize another’s difficulty, seek first to understand, and refuse to be dismissive. This work (and make no mistake, it is work) is most especially important for those who, like me, benefit from systems of privilege.

I want to close with another thought. The work of cultivating compassion is not one-sided this week. One thing this election has done is opened many eyes to the realities of a segment of our country that has been suffering for some time. They have felt forgotten by the political system, left behind by the economy, dismissed by the culture, and altogether overlooked by their country. These are the blue-collar workers of America’s East and Midwest. They are the people — the real, human lives — whose homes lie in the shadow of cold smokestacks. They are Americans who have seen their income dry up as their work is exported and automated.

Many of us have much to learn about the places they call home, about the struggles they face, about the pride they fight to maintain. I know I do. If I am honest, I have been far too inclined to look past them, and to dismiss their pain as invalid, their fears as unwarranted, their anger as misplaced.

But it’s time for me to cultivate compassion.

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