The Days Ahead: Suggestions On How to Help & Create Positive Change In Difficult Times

Well, here we are.  Friday of this week is Inauguration Day, bringing with it a good amount uncertainty as to what might transpire in the months and years ahead.  As the polls came in last November I was shocked and saddened in the results, but in the days after the election I realized why things happened the way they did.  Many people wanted sweeping and drastic change and many thought that Donald Trump was the only one that could bring that change.  I want to be hopeful but if the early actions of our president seem to be causing our country to becoming increasingly divided and angry at each other.  It is an awful feeling to watch this happen before our eyes.  But this isn’t another doom and gloom story.  There are difficult times ahead, but rather than just point out all the struggles we might face in the near future as most stories seem to do these days, I’d like to offer some thoughts on how we can navigate these issues together, educate and create change without forcing it on others, and how we can spread positivity and hope in times of darkness, no matter what side you’re on.   

A Different Approach

I had written a section of this post reviewing some of the many disheartening and scary things that our incoming president has done even before taking office and how his words and actions are creating hatred and further divide our country, but I decided to delete it because at this point I’ve sure most are aware of what's going on and I’m certain we’ll experience more.  I just want to get to the heart of the matter.  Even though our future looks bleak we can make change and right now is a damn good time to start.  Let’s first start at how we can look at some things a little differently.  

Everything is Bad

I can’t help but notice that over the past few years and 2016 especially, that we as a society have become more like the news.  What creates ratings in the news?  Stories about violence, death, and sadness.  As bad as it is, people watch that stuff.  We can’t take our eyes off of the car wreck on the side of the highway.  Even the weather reports have taken this same turn with regularly occurring storms being given names like “snowpocalypse”.  Hurricanes are no laughing matter but I couldn’t believe this news anchor last year saying: “...if this storm 20 miles west, you are everyone you know are dead...and your kids die too.”  How is this helpful in any way?  

The connection here is our society has become just like the news.  With the way social media works today it is so easy to share and spread a story that we do so without much thought, and the majority of it is negative.  It is doom and gloom, it is often angry and hateful.  We post without thoughtful commentary and we very often post without the proper facts.  We continue to feed into this machine and it is hurting us all while generating clicks and money to those with no good interests in mind.  Does anyone think this is the only way to write these phrases?:  “Will 2016 just end already? This is the WORST”, “UGH David Bowie died, worst year EVER!”, “This year is going to be the TERRIBLE once Trump takes office!!!”.

When make statements like this we are making a choice to label an entire year and everything in it as bad.  LOTS of stuff happens in a year.  LOTS of good things along with the bad.  A small shift in the way we approach this stuff could make a big difference for us all.  Really, let’s not talk about our life like it’s the nightly news.  

To recap, I’m not saying not to speak about or share things that stir up emotions in you; to only share happy stuff.  We certainly need to bring violence against others, injustices, and political corruption to light.  I’m suggesting that when talking about something troubling to you or others, it is helpful to add commentary and suggestions on what you and others can do to make it better.  We also could make the choice of sharing more of the better moments.  

There is Hope

There are a lot of things on the horizon that might give reason to be scared and to give up hope but I am a believer in that we experience the most growth through the most difficulty.  In 2016 I lost my grandmother and my father only a few months apart.  Those times were some of the saddest and hardest of my life but I learned so much about life in those moments; I became a better person.  I see parallels with what lies ahead for our country.  There is a lot of work to get done.  There are a lot of people who get mistreated and discriminated against every day that need support and people to speak up on their behalf.  Our government is broken, corrupt, and does not have our interests in mind.  There is so much.  It won’t be quick and it won't be easy but if we take a deep breath and lean into this we can change things.  I truly believe that.  

What better time to change the mindset of those with discriminatory and hateful beliefs than when they have come out of the shadows?  What better time to work to make change in our government than when they think we are most divided?  If we truly want a prosperous and harmonious life in this country we can make the choice to start approaching these problems in a better way.  The road will be long and difficult but it will help us all be better people.  

What is Needed

We Need to Talk

This is priority number one.  We need to have more open conversations about issues that affect us and that are important to us.  We need to have the difficult discussions.  But we need to do so in a patient and compassionate way, and that starts with listening.  The majority of the current “discussion” around current events isn’t discussion at all.  Much is arguments filled with judgements and humiliation based on beliefs we form about those we are talking to.  It is a fact that many people who support Trump are racists.  This does not mean that all Trump supporters are racist, yet that is a label many receive.  When we form assumptions like these before entering into a conversation it doesn’t set the table to make progress.  

As much as we disagree with someone, as much as the things a person says seem so out-of-this-world far off, harmful, and irrational, and as much as it make us angry and frustrated inside, we need to not come from a place of anger in return.  We need to ask why people feel the way they do and we need to do so calmly and with patience.  Try to avoid your first instinct to tell others they are wrong.  Ask questions and listen.  Then move on to the next steps.      

When the time comes, state your case in a calm, non-aggressive way.  It is shocking to me how many people believe they can change others via yelling and insults.  A major realization for me in 2016 was that only person you can change is yourself.  Attempting to force your beliefs on others to make them who you think they should be is a great way to waste your time and stress yourself out.  A better alternative is to calmly, gently, and concisely offer an alternative way to think about things.  Condescending and insulting talk causes people to close up and adds fuel to their fire.  Patient and collected statements are better remembered and the best way to plant some seeds that might eventually grow into change.  

This is not an easy thing.  Maintaining your cool when someone is being hurtful and irrational takes a ton of work and patience, but if you can stay strong, fight through, and offer respectful thoughts and ideas, you’ll be better for it and you’ll have the best chance of fostering a more positive outcome.  

We Need to Educate

Another thing we have to be mindful of is that most people don’t choose to have irrational and hurtful beliefs.  So much of what we believe is instilled from a young age from our parents and our surroundings.  This does not in any way make negative speech and actions ok, but what we are raised to believe is not something in which many of us have much choice or control.  Unfortunately, many people in our country were and continue to be brought up to believe some awful and untrue things.  The fact that the teaching of the history of our country often avoids proper discussion and facts about our worst moments does not help the situation.  Again it doesn’t make it right but we don’t get to pick where we are born and the things we were taught that stay us for so much of our lives.  So along with being mindful in conversation, we need to do our best to be teachers.  

If you want to be better in helping others, I suggest first educating yourself on things that are important to you, with real info, not just articles in your FB feed that are two paragraphs long with ads all over them.  Do your best to know and understand as much as you can about the history of our country that most affects today's civil, social, and political climates.  This requires some work, but part of shifting the national mindset requires us to know a little more.  

Often we encounter people with irrational ways of thinking that will disregard facts.  Show them actual data to prove your point and they still choose not to believe.  My best suggestion here is to try to educate in a way that makes people think; in ways that might bring up emotion.  Make comparisons to everyday life and try to get people to step into the shoes of others for a moment.  Try to teach without force.  Plant the seeds.  An approach I like is: “I learned “abc”…and that makes me feel “xyz””.  

In the end, there is a whole lot we can and should try to teach, but if we must show anything in our teaching it should be that we only hurt ourselves by living with anger and hatred for others and that the benefits of working together regardless of disagreements is better than not working together at all.  

We Need to Do Just a Little Bit More

If we really want to try to fix some of our issues it will take some discomfort.  You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when someone says or does something someone else that feels wrong?  That some feeling you get when you get nervous about something?  I know that everyone is familiar with this feeling.  This is our fight or flight response that our body shows when there is danger or difficulty present.  When we are in a situation and feel this in our bodies our first reaction is to not want to feel it anymore, so we will remove ourselves from a situation or simply do nothing so the feeling goes away.  

If we want to make change in the coming social and political climate we will need to get more in touch with this uncomfortable feeling.  

Most of us have been there recently.  Whether it was a “slightly” racist joke from a friend, something a family member said at the dinner table, the way someone acted towards another in public; I know we’ve all seen something recently.  And what we need to do when that discomfort comes up in us is not walk away. We need to go towards and work through that feeling.  Showing up is better than closing down, and the time to show up is now.  It is really sad that we’ve allowed things to bubble under the surface for so long but we can make things right.  The easy way is to do what many of us have always done, to just walk away, to not speak up, to allow your emotions to take over and cause you to be angry.  The other way is scary as hell but imagine how much better people we would all be if we practiced and worked on standing up for what is right.

Onward

The last few months have made it more clear than ever that there is a lot we need to work on in this country.  But to get anywhere we need to get through our differences in a respectful calculated approach.  We need to put in the some work, and we need to start now.  My previous suggestions and a few more:

  1. Get out of your comfort zone.  When something feels wrong, do something about it.  Don’t run or shut down especially when it comes to standing up for and protecting victims of discrimination and hate.

  2. Show care and compassion to everyone you can, especially the people that you disagree with and whose words and actions stir up strong emotions in you.

  3. Don’t make assumptions about others.

  4. Ask questions, learn, and be patient and kind in your conversations and interactions.

  5. Learn as much as you can about issues that are important to you and affecting us most and share that knowledge in a non-invasive way.

  6. Realize and be grateful for what we have, celebrate the good things, even little things, while constructively pointing out the things we need to change (and maybe offer some suggestions on how to change them).  

  7. Try to imagine what it would be like if we could influence just a few people to learn to have less anger and hate towards others.  Imagine all the energy and time we would have to do great things if we stopped arguing with ourselves and got together in the interest of change.  

  8. If this all sounds good to you, share these thoughts with others.  

We can overcome what is ahead of us.  It begins with compassion, kindness, and patience.  It continues with peaceful education and it is effective when we don’t back down from uncomfortable situations and instead speak up with poise and clarity.  Let’s get to work.