A feeling of joy and relief has arrived for many people in this country.
After four years of going to bed with our stomachs in knots, hearts heavy and brains on fire, trying to make peace with yet another horrible thing, it will be a while before our shoulders fully drop and the knots in our stomachs unravel. It will take time to trust that the world might, at some point, be fundamentally OK.
At the same time, more than 73 million people chose to support our outgoing leader. This fact gives pause to the many others who cannot fathom that choice. And yet it happened, which leaves us with a difficult conundrum.
This conundrum is not a place to stop and get comfortable with a new kind of outrage, a new version of “what the hell is wrong with them?” If we use this conundrum as a doorway, not a destination, perhaps we can move the dialogue forward and create something that brings out our humanity once again.
In a country where the average American has to work more than a month to earn what the average CEO makes in an hour, there’s no doubt that our rage wasn’t born in 2016. But, even if this leader didn’t officially create the hatred and contempt that now pervades our society, he did create a system in which everyone feels the right to shout their opinions and disgust through a megaphone, to publicly point fingers at whomever they think is to blame for their discontent. This leader has empowered the mental garbage that floats through almost every human being’s mind and entitled it to an audience.
Over these last four years, there’s been no attempt whatsoever to rein in our grievances, to be kind or behave in any sort of civilized manner. The current leadership has modeled an attitude of bullying, blaming, and shaming, an attitude utterly devoid of empathy. A leader who feels perpetually persecuted and is always looking for someone to blame creates a sentiment that mirrors his own.
Many moons ago, there was a saying … if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Today, this saying might sound absurd, ignorant, and even dangerous to free speech. Most Americans believe that not nice words are important for creating change and making the world a better place. I agree; the idea that we would only speak if we had good things to say sounds like a recipe for becoming sheep.
But over these last four years, with a leader who spews venom and toxicity, we have twisted that original expression into its modern form, namely, if you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.
I frequently find myself wondering, what happened to our basic sense of decency and decorum, to integrity and basic kindness? While it may seem old-fashioned to follow some sort of public etiquette, at this moment in history we could use an infusion of old-fashioned values. We could use what Senator Cory Booker called a “resurrection of grace.”
It’s hard for us to agree on anything these days, but I hope we can agree that a regular diet of anger and intolerance does something dreadful to us, to who we are as a species. It poisons our consciousness and brings out the worst in us.
What if each one of us made a commitment to stop contributing to this cesspool of hatred? What if we each made the choice to stop using the public square to announce and celebrate every angry thought or grievance that floats through our minds? Just because we think something doesn’t mean it’s true, and it doesn’t mean that we have to say it. In fact, when we stop awarding our angry thoughts with so much attention, stop providing these floating mental flotsam with a megaphone, they tend to get a lot quieter inside our own heads.
We cannot control anyone else’s behavior, but we can control our own. What if, crazy though it may sound, we just acted a little kinder than we felt, or thought?
We don’t have to wait for our leaders to change our country. We can start a revolution right now by making the choice to use our words and our own behavior as a means to resurrect decency and decorum, to bring back goodness and integrity as fundamental societal values. And maybe even, to invite grace back into the conversation.