Fired Up, Part 2: Softening Perspective, Steeling Resolve

Apologies for the length of this post. Like many people, I’m still working through a lot of emotions and ideas following this election. It looks like it is going to take several posts to get it out of my system. See Fired Up, Part 1: Changing Where, When and How I Get Information.

Moral ambiguity is a hard line to walk. In an election where people became tribal and primitive in their powerlessness, where everyone was an us or them, it was hard to feel like an ethical, decent person. I’ve always believed how we behave under fire is truly representative of our character and of our integrity.

canstockphoto9443627It would be easy to say we all failed the test, but many people would decry being painted with the same brush. I can only say how I failed. I got angry, I fumed, I thought of other humans with a degree of contempt. It was easy to get caught up in the maelstrom of emotion on either side, but stepping back, it’s even easier to see the willful ignorance on both sides.

You see, I did not want change. My life is comfortable. I had the fortune of being born white in a country that apparently still believes that is something. I have the fortune of good health and health insurance. I’ve had the fortune of being intelligent. Not as smart as I like to believe I am, but enough to pass tests, go to school, to interview well, to find jobs.

I had the fortune of an inner eye that told me whatever happens, I’d be okay, because that’s the way I’m wired. I have a habit of rebuffing others’ complaints, because like any bootstrapper, I believe we all have the same capabilities and that turning lemons into lemonade is a cottage industry that anyone can manage. I’m wrong about that and in cultivating empathy, I have to remember that I am wrong.

As a woman and the parent of a daughter doesn’t all this misogyny bother you? Yes, yes it does bother me. But an individual’s misogyny, like President-Elect Trump has expressed, is just a reminder that some people are still that stupid. Misogyny on the ground and in my face enjoys a good ole’ screw you and just watch me ace you, moron. I don’t mind being underestimated – it’s a tactical advantage.

avoiddtrumplistThat an unappealing human should say things any civil person would find appalling and potentially criminal, is really nothing to my esteem. Until he legislates the misogyny, he’s just a gross person that I wouldn’t let near my family or friends. He’d be on my personal registry of shitty people I avoid. The fact that now he will have the power to act on his belief system, aided and abetted by his creepy religious sidekick, is a real problem.

Right now, some of his supporters are spending a lot of time doing virulent versions of nanny-nanny boo-boo by ramping up graffiti and verbal and physical assaults on people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and women. Someone just signed their permission slip. This is a real problem and humans, regardless of their vote, should be angry about this and prepared to step up as witnesses and defenders.

canstockphoto4607292It’s a funny thing how we try to disavow those in our particular demographic when they do something inexplicable. I mean 53% of voting white women voted for Trump. Clearly, I don’t understand most white women. I suppose I could fall down the rabbit hole of theory and speculation, but it will either be condescending or again, just wrong.

And I really don’t get the white power thing. You just happen to be born white. It’s not like you did anything to earn it. It’s not a product of integrity or values or virtue. If you want to be proud of your skin color for its own sake – well, shit. That’s just Hannibal Lecter weird. Maybe it’s generous to assume that we do these things out of fear and out of love, in the hopes of empowering ourselves through numbers – in the hope of saying to others who look like us, we matter. You matter. You are not alone. But the triangulation of supremacy, victimhood and violence is a threat to civil society.

Lastly, religion and politics. It’s toxic. The 1980s and Jerry Falwell happened. The Republican party mainstreamed religious belief systems as a recruitment effort. People began to feel a moral imperative to legislate exclusionary beliefs. The argument is that identity politics, a religion unto itself, has been trying to legislate their beliefs as well, but I find a stark difference between laws that oppress others in the name of religion and laws intended to protect the civil rights of all Americans, not just the ones who have fish decals on their bumpers.

I have no moral high ground here – I was willing to overlook a lot of things when I voted, because the alternative was worse. I’m scared of the people I saw at Trump rallies – their virulence, the angry mob mentality, their t-shirts which showed a shameless racist and misogynistic view towards their fellow Americans. I looked carefully at the pictures, at individuals, at their children – looking for signs of moral decency, looking for their humanity. I wanted to understand, but I don’t.

canstockphoto5824707All I hope is that my fellow Americans’ win is not a Pyrrhic victory. I must not emulate those representatives that gleefully hoped our last president would fail, because that is treacherous schadenfreude, to wish such a thing on fellow citizens. I must hope that things will not be as bad as I imagine they will be. I must not be an asshole by wishing them so.

So what now? For me, I feel the softening around my edges. My rage is not sustainable. My brain never stops at the boundaries of my beliefs. I’ve been thinking a lot about those people that I am scared of, those people I don’t understand and the road ahead.

I’ve been thinking about actionable measures, about what I do when the elected officials  begin to delete people’s health insurance and restrict the bodily integrity of women. What do I do if they persecute journalists and entertainers, intimidate and threaten protesters, enable religious fundamentalists in all their inglorious rigidity? What will I do if the nuclear threat is heightened to the 1950’s-style hysteria? What will I do as hate crimes crop up around me? Will I be paralyzed? Will I pretend that I don’t see?

canstockphoto12192237The tables are turned. To people who value civil rights, reproductive rights, the right to not be a believer, the right to be of a different religion other than Christianity, the right to love and marry who we choose, the right to be whoever we are inside, it feels as if we have been rendered powerless, noisy Tweeters and street blockers, flailing against the machine.

I think about the introspection I might have undergone, if my candidate won. It would have felt like entrenchment, spending the next 4 years defending her against the words cunt and bitch and episodes of domestic terrorism. Much like many Trump supporters have felt about their religion and lack of education and employment, digging in, constantly on the defensive as the world leaves them behind. But entrenchment and reflexive demagoguery do not create good governance.

I’m not ready to paint a happy face on this, but I am ready to say, This is where we are. What matters? What is helpful? How will I live my integrity, live my character in trying times? Who am I going to be during the next four years?

I’ve started with some ground rules for myself:

  • No stupid nicknames. The President-Elect Trump will be President Trump, no matter how many times I want to refer to him as the Pussygrabber-in-Chief. Okay, now I’m done.
  • I will continue to use qualifiers when describing any group: Some, A few of…which is to say, my brush will be as narrow as it needs to be.
  • I will pay attention to the issues and more specifically, to legislation.
  • I will use my writing skills, my phone skills and whatever money I can scrounge up to support causes I believe in and to fight against injustice.
  • I will continue to respectfully engage those people with whom I disagree.
  • I will listen more than I talk.
  • I will defend the things I hold dear: civil rights, the environment, justice and reproductive rights.
  • I will continue to seek knowledge and understanding.
  • I will honor those who fight, here or abroad, to make the world a safer place for others. This means vigilance against unnecessary wars, ensuring aftercare and respecting their service regardless of whether or not I agree with the objective.
  • I will do the best I can to uphold my personal integrity. Walk the walk. Lead by example.

Who do you want to be? What values are you willing to go to ground for? What is helpful or important?

45 Comments on “Fired Up, Part 2: Softening Perspective, Steeling Resolve

  1. These posts are therapeutic for me too.

    My biggest regret is that instead of speaking with folks whose ideas I might have modified, I preached to the choir. I still think that love trumps hate, and have a hard time processing people who vote for candidates that don’t. I have to work on that.

    I too was born white. I adopted a Hispanic son (25 years ago today!) and have several family members also born white who are in interracial marriages and who have bi-racial children. I am truly worried for them.

    So while I agree with what you said, I will have to figure out how to get there myself.

    Also, I think that the GOP will try to gut many of the policies — important social programs for example — that I firmly believe in. It will be a delicate balance to rally against those changes and still not fume.

    I will try.

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    • I am worried as well, Elyse. There is evidence of more racially motivated incidents and that some of these people feel emboldened to act on their worst instincts. I think the GOP will do damage to this country in ways neither we nor the people who supported Trump can imagine.
      I feel the psychological impact of all the hatred and vitriolic things said over the last year. I distrust my fellow Americans. I have felt despair and the horrible sense of a particular piece of history repeating itself.
      That being said, I have to find a way forward. I don’t want to live my fears. I know you’ll find your way as well – your voice and righteous indignation will be needed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just have to find the funny. I can always get through trying times if I find something to laugh at. Trump hasn’t been funny in a long time …

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        • I find parody and satire to mostly be overkill this year. Too many outrageous things have been said and done. Many people thought it was like watching reality TV – entertained and soothed by someone’s foibles. Nope, not funny at all. I’ve got to go back to the tried-and-true laughing at myself and finding joy where I can.

          Liked by 1 person

        • But remember how it was in the Bush years. There were so many completely outrageous things that we were overwhelmed constantly. I am anticipating that we are there again (and have been for a long time during this campaign).

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        • I’m worried that the Bush years will start to look like glory days compared to the years ahead, but no doubt we’ll all find much to mock. Considering how the presidency ages a person, I’m thinking he’s going to have to go full rug to maintain that hairdo.

          Liked by 4 people

        • He actually promised to change his hairstyle if he won way back. I’m not making that up — I’ll see if I can find the blog post I did on it.

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  2. Michelle, thank you AGAIN! I know you speak for so many of us. I will post you list by my desk. I have made such lists before and conveniently forgotten them. I need concrete reminders.
    Let us all walk the walk together, one step at a time!

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    • This is definitely a one-step-at-a-time kind of deal. A little too overwhelming to imagine the long term effects. I think in times of trouble, all we have is our honor and integrity and I guess I wrote this to remind myself. It’s especially important to pull up our public discourse into a more civil arena as well, or we won’t be able to talk to each other.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Please keep writing! You do a wonderful job of giving voice to what I am thinking and like minds are great in times like these. Thank you so much for your words and the time you dedicate to sharing them!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I cannot stand The Donald, but I accept that he is president. IF he moves away from his hateful rhetoric and exhibits some reasonableness, I’ll be able to speak of him with a modicum of respect, if only for the office he holds. BUT if he continues to be disrespectful I will reflect vitriol right back at him. It’s all up to him to set the tone of the conversation.

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    • I find much of what he espouses to be repulsive, but maybe it’s this fact that makes me more determined that he does NOT get to set the tone for me. I understand your anger, but “he started it first” is going to be our worst possible defense. We’ve seen and heard enough from people who feel vindicated acting like assholes by blaming someone else.

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      • I wasn’t thinking of my response in terms of blaming The Donald, I was thinking of it as me being a mirror that reflects who is back at him and his followers. Not to be mean or reactive, but to be accurate and assertive. To be a source of reality in a very unreal world.

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        • That sounds like a reasonable position and is reflective of personal integrity. I suppose that I’m talking myself down from some very tall trees at the moment, so I’m channeling a lot of Buddhism. Somebody used the phrase “positive anger” in one of the comments on an earlier post. That is more apt than anything I’ve said.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Michelle, I wish you would run for president. What a wonderful example you set for all of us. I have already bookmarked some of the news sources you listed in your previous post, and I am encouraged by your ground rules. However, I can’t stop thinking about other leaders of the past who convinced misguided people that specific populations were to blame for their ills, and that their leadership was the solution. It scares me sick.

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    • First, I would be an awful president, holing myself up in the library while making random food requests from the White House kitchen. But thanks for the kind words.

      I think a lot about my daughter who is, at this point, still taking cues from me. How do we handle loss? How do we handle disagreement? How do we show personal responsibility and civility? I have often failed to honor my better nature and that is something I must own. This is something we do have control of and I guess I’m challenging myself to practice what I preach.

      There is plenty to be worried about and to be afraid of, but I can’t stay in that place. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much of my life being anxious that I’m unwilling to do it now. I’m unwilling to give over the energy to fear that I will need to fight for those whose fears may be fully realized. In other words, the underground railroad to Canada starts here…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I like that you’re writing this out. This whole thing has made me mindful of empathy. Half of your countrymen voted one way. I would suspect that very, very few of them are racist etc. So it’s important to understand or at least see why. I also have to recognize that my belief in tolerance and understanding comes from a place that has not been tested. I live in a white, middle class town. There are poor people, sure, but the unspoken consensus here is that it’s their own fault, which allows us to rationalize ignoring the problem. Most of us here are all the same. How would I behave if confronted with “the other,” if my personal economy suddenly hit the skids? Would I seek blame? Or would I seek solutions? Would I speak against? Or would I speak out? There’s talk of revolution. Maybe we all need personal revolutions. You appear to be on your way, Michelle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think these times beg both for personal and institutional revolution. But we always, always have to start with ourselves. Everything feels particularly dramatic and drastic right now, but once the shock wears off, we have to get down to business of moving forward. It’s been an exhausting year, but as ever, I try to see the positive effect of being shaken out of complacency. As for the degree of racism, it seemed an awfully easy vein for Donald Trump to tap. And here we are.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Ross.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Michelle, your post echoes many of the discussions I have been having with friends both in person and through Facebook. Trying so hard to “go high” as difficult as it is. But I also have vowed to not remain silent in the face of intolerance and hateful speech … respectfully opposing offensive memes or statements that twist the truth beyond recognition, or worse …. It has been a long, emotionally trying week. And I fear the weeks and months ahead could be equally trying.

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    • I like that First Lady Obama injected that mantra into the mainstream. Although to be fair, it’s easy to go high when you have nothing much at stake. I think the real value in maintaining a degree of civility is that it sets a good example for those around us. We have that choice and that is important – to recognize that we have power, in a time when it’s easy to feel powerless.
      I’m glad that you have vowed not to remain silent. Silence is all demagoguery needs to destroy its citizens. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I feel all is not doom and gloom. There’s too many of us who like to make noise.

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  8. This. This. A thousand times. this. I haven’t yet found the words to express the particulars you have managed to articulate so beautifully here. My shorthand is “whatever you do, choose to be curious.” I think had we all been a good deal more curious about what was going on for the “other” before and during this process, the whole process might have been a pretty different. Getting curious *after* seems all the more crucial, for all the reasons you have provided. Thank you, fellow traveler. I don’t expect the journey to be easy and I am grateful for thought companions.

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    • Thanks, Lynn. I like curiosity as an approach to just about anything. These days, I think it will be a challenge to cultivate that. This week I have, in my writing offline, been exploring that bias and prejudice I associate with people who support President-Elect Trump, in the hopes of softening the pain, fear and anger that hits me in recurrent waves. Just not there yet.

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      • Yup, I hear you. But just because it is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it. That’s probably exactly why we must. But I share the challenge. Big time.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I NEVER talked politics with anyone before the election, which is why I was so surprised after the fact to find out that a lot of people around me voted for Trump. These were the ones voting against Hilary (not ardent supporters mind you,) but it still bothers me that any woman voted for him. In speaking with one woman, she stated that over the last 8 years, she hadn’t seen a significant raise in her pay and that was one reason. I’m really not sure why she thinks that will change. Or why that was the overwhelming factor (although she did express her distrust of Hilary as well.) Still not sure either why anyone would trust any politician or businessman…

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    • One of the more interesting thoughts I’ve picked up in my reading last week, was the idea that Trump talked about concrete actions that people could understand, as opposed to the vague political talking points. Building a wall, deporting, cancelling, dismissing and rolling back – action, even if it was appalling and wrong.
      So the lady you mention might have connected with the idea that she would get better pay. I think it’s probably wrongheaded, but what if there is a placebo effect? She expects to make more money, so she demands it or finds a better job, ergo she does make more money.

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      • I would guess that it’s not all that unusual for people to expect that the president can actually directly affect our lives on that level. For the most part, they can’t.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Honest and thoughtful, as always, and a great glass-half-full checklist. As here in the UK, we’re all going to have to raise our games … and our heads!

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  11. I was so grateful that my Unitarian church held a gathering Wednesday night. A dozen speakers from organizations like NASCP, AMOS, individuals from the Muslim, transgender & immigrant communities told their stories, shared their fears & hope. It helped all of us gathered to honor what we were feeling–whatever that was–and let those emotions be the catalyst for The Next Step. Some of the folks in that community have been lobbiests, organizers, DOERS, for decades. I’m not. My way will be like yours. Mindfulness, donations, choosing to be more informed. I might even read a newspaper now.

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    • So glad that you have a community that buoys you up. I’m still waking up each morning and feeling raw. I have not been able to get back to reading the news, because each time I see a story about the pack of rapacious hyenas on the list for government appointments, I feel ill and helpless.

      I realized this morning how people like me engage in a process of rationalization that has doomed populations since the beginning of time. I’m trying to figure out the balance between clearly understanding that this is all wrong, while not internalizing and becoming, as is my wont to do, chronically depressed for 4 years. It probably didn’t help that my meditation was interrupted multiple times this morning by my insistent, yowling tomcat.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. And this is how I wish my countrymen would also regard after election results. Sigh. Congratulations on making that first step. And God bless you country! ☀️

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  13. Pingback: Fired Up, Part 3: Mitigating Despair | The Green Study

  14. I love this post — more specifically where you’ve settled after this horrendous year and a half. I agree with all you’ve said. And I think this election has made all of us sit up, take notice and think — even those of us who are not American — of what’s important to us, what we’re not prepared to lose, where and when and how we’ll step upbto the plate and get involved, where we might have failed or missed the signs or could have done something to prevent this. Maybe, awful and terrifying as it is, this election and this president is the catalyst we all needed to participate.

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    • Only a temporary settling, Fransi – I seem to find myself feeling despair afresh each morning. Taking a break from it all is going to be necessary. And I have a novel re-write to finish, so time to go make art. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I hope, for the sake of our country, that Trump does okay. The problem may be his ability to follow through on promises like bringing back the steel mills and restoring other blue collar jobs. As we both know, it’s not like he can take a fleet of semis to Mexico and drive them all back across the border. Peace, as always.

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    • I’m struggling to find hope in any of this and as many of my offline friends could say, it takes me about two minutes of discussing the issues before I completely lose my shit. I sound more reasonable in writing, but I’m furious and scared for the world my daughter will be growing up in. Just have to keep talking myself around to courage and action. Thanks John, for being out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Fired Up, Part 4: Screw It, I’m Going to Smile Anyway | The Green Study

  17. Great post, thanks for sharing. I agree that we need to keep fighting and supporting what we find important to us – for minorities, equality, women and children’s rights, LGBTQI rights, environmental and religious. I feel what we decide to do next is important. Peace and blessings 🙂

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    • I’m still struggling to get beyond the anger and focus on helpful actions, but that is the ultimate goal. I try to remind myself that anger is an indulgence we cannot afford right now. Peace to you as well.

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