Since the election, what I’ve been trying to say was love each other, love each other, and love each other. From the reactions I got, it seems some people weren’t able to hear anything but attack. Over and again I was told how divisive I am.1 It seems that for some of us, unity is the currently the supreme value.
So I’ve been praying about what it means to be unifying. I think many people–on both sides–believe it means to shut up about what you don’t like and accept the status quo, but in a Church that has always fought for justice I just can’t see how that could be right. When people are afraid and enraged and feel attacked for voting their consciences, the appropriate response can’t just be to yell at everyone to shut up.
Unity doesn’t mean that we all believe the exact same thing. It means that we listen and respect and try to understand each other. It means that we use appropriate channels to voice our concerns, including peaceful protest. It means that we acknowledge people’s fear even if we then try to show them that it’s unfounded. It means we work to defend each other, even if we don’t have a dog in this particular fight.
But opportunities to do all this seem to be evading us. So for those of you who, with me, are trying to understand and love people on both sides, I thought a list of concrete things to do might be helpful. They may not all be up your alley, but they’re worth considering.
Respect—specific actions you can take to respect people who differ from you.
- Assume that people mean well. Don’t read between the lines to discover an attack where one wasn’t intended.
- Stop with the hateful rhetoric. Call out prejudice, but don’t refer to people as fascists and crybabies unless they are heavily influenced by Mussolini or literal infants in tears.
- When using words like racist, do the best you can to label actions, not people. For one, it’s a dangerous thing to define someone by one element of his character. For another, it’s not fruitful to slam the door in his face. Take issue with language or behavior and you might still be able to have a conversation.
- Don’t hold people to a higher standard than the one you set for yourself. If you expect others to understand that not all Trump supporters are bigots, you need to acknowledge that not all protestors are rioting, and vice versa.
- Remember that every person you criticize—friend, family member, stranger on the internet, even politician—is a real person, beloved by God, with wounds and suffering that have formed her. Be kind.
- Make a list of all the things you respect about the party you don’t belong to. (If you’re an independent, make two lists.) Once you get going (including intentions and conviction), you might find there’s more there than you expected.
- Encourage people you see who are trying to understand how the other side thinks. Believe me, when you start to affirm something that’s different from what the majority of your friends believe, you’re going to suffer for it. A little encouragement goes a long way.
- Put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. Ask yourself: if I were gay or rural poor or pro-life or undocumented or a victim of sexual assault or underemployed, how would I feel? Is it possible to believe as this person believes without being a racist/baby-murderer/snowflake/xenophobe? Then give him the benefit of the doubt. Assume he’s not terrible and act on that assumption.
- Remember that the point of all this isn’t winning but love.
Information—the sources you listen to and the way you share them.
- Read books that weren’t written for you, and follow news sources that don’t skew your way. Share their work, even if with a caveat. I don’t agree with everything in any of these articles, but I think they’re all worth a read.
- I found this article particularly helpful in understanding the Trump voters who weren’t motivated by pro-life convictions.2
- This one (despite its profanity) similarly gives an explanation of the desperation of many people living in rural poverty.
- These quotations from individual Trump voters shed light on how multifaceted that group is.
- This man–no Trump supporter–writes in a very thorough way about how he believes the accusations of racism are beyond excessive. This one is really fascinating.
- On the flip side, this post outlines some of the serious concerns the left has following this election.
- Elizabeth Warren’s letter might also raise eyebrows among Trump supporters who expected him to drain the swamp as he promised.
- It helps to read what those in the middle are saying as well.
- This post on how to be an anti-racist ally might make you very uncomfortable. It’s still worth your time.
- Be very deliberate about your comments on social media. (Seriously, click over there. Half of what I’m trying to say here I already said better there.)
- Don’t share stories you haven’t fact-checked. May I recommend www.snopes.com to start?
- If you listen to the radio, alternate between SiriusXM Patriot and Progress. If television, add some Fox to your diet of MSNBC. Subscribe to the Washington Post and the Washington Times–real print subscriptions that support responsible journalism in an age of clickbait. Try not to hate your opposition but actually to listen.
- If you love Trump, make a post on social media in which you acknowledge some of the concerns you have about him. If you don’t, share a list of positive things you could see coming out of his presidency.
- Continue to speak out against injustice, but make sure you also decry injustice coming from your side. You might think that everybody knows that when you defend immigrants you clearly oppose riots, but people these days are struggling to ascribe any positive attributes to the opposition. Make it easier by saying the obvious aloud.
- Go find some of those friends you unfollowed during election season–the ones who are good and intelligent if a bit overly-vocal about politics–and read what they’ve shared. Then reach out to them to start a conversation.
- Research—if you’re genuinely afraid of the consequences a Trump presidency will have on your life, find the particular laws and executive orders you’re concerned about and learn what it would take to reverse them. In many instances, the process would be impossible or at least so complicated as to push it after mid-term elections.
- When your heartfelt attempts to be just and compassionate are met with rage or disdain, consider taking a break from fighting the good fight to read some happy news and remember that there really are millions of marvelous people in this world.
- Get off social media for a week and just live your life.
Conversation—the way you view and interact with people you know.
- Go to coffee with a friend from the other side of the political spectrum. It might be best for you to set a time limit on political talk, giving yourself half an hour or so to work through the very real differences between you before switching to less incendiary topics.
- If you know somebody who’s afraid following this election, reach out and ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
- When an online interaction is getting heated or you’re talking past each other, invite your interlocutor to meet in person to continue the conversation. It’s harder to hate each other in person.
- Be aware that you use words that set off red flags for other people or just seem meaningless (privilege, subsidiarity). Try to use language that we all share.
- Remember that not every battle is yours to fight. There are times when you have to stand your ground and other times when you can change the subject or keep scrolling.
- Don’t defend the indefensible. Just because you approve of a particular politician doesn’t mean you have to take his side on every issue. We are fighting for truth and goodness here, not for a political candidate or ideology. Admit it when your side is wrong.
- Reach out to people you know who voted differently from you and ask them, “Please help me understand.” Listen. Repeat it back to them. Do not argue. Don’t even share your perspective unless they ask. Just try to understand.
- When conversations get too heated, pull back and ask people to help you find common ground. We may not agree that a certain appointee is a racist, but we can agree that racism is wrong. We can agree that people ought to feel safe. We can agree that people ought to listen to each other. There’s far more that unites us than that divides us.
Action—choices you can make to benefit the broader community.
- Take a look at the appointments being made by our president-elect. If any of them concern you, call your representatives to voice that concern. If any of them reassure you, do the same.
- Consider wearing a safety pin, even if you’re not a liberal. This is a signal that you are a safe person to ask for help and that you’re willing to step in if you see injustice. If people view it as a political statement, explain that you are opposed to cruelty regardless of its cause.
- Don’t wear a safety pin if you’re not willing to put yourself at risk.3
- Pray daily for our current president, our president-elect, and every person whose political persuasions rub you the wrong way.
- Encourage your elected officials to pursue genuine dialogue. This article suggests that Catholics who have worked in ecumenism could lead the conversation.
- Pick an institution you struggle to understand and respect (a crisis pregnancy center, a mosque, the National Organization for Women, a Baptist church, the VFW, Greenpeace, the NAACP, the NRA) and stop by for a visit. Ask if they have a representative you can ask some questions of. Don’t try to change their minds, just to understand. And maybe bring cookies.
- Take your kids to visit a nursing home. It may not do anything politically, but works of mercy always serve the common good.
- Look for beautiful things to refresh you. Read a lovely or painful or entertaining book. Man cannot live on rage and controversy alone.
- Support local businesses and get to know the people who run them.
- When you’re upset on behalf of a particular group, instead of being angry, do something specific to serve that group. If you’re concerned about immigrants, donate to an organization that serves them or volunteer to teach ESL at your church or community center. If you’re worried about affordable housing for the poor, get involved in Habitat for Humanity or sign up to tutor people working toward their GED.
- Tell people you love why you love them. Especially the ones who make that hard.
- Make eye contact with strangers and smile at them. This is a particularly easy time to do that, as all this week you can tell people happy Thanksgiving and I can’t think that anybody will be offended.
- Stop by your neighbors’ houses with cookies/an invitation to dinner/an offer to rake their leaves.
- Tell immigrants and refugees who you know personally that you’re glad they’re here.
- When someone is afraid or angry or otherwise upset, offer to pray with her right there.
- Go home for the holidays and love your family. Even the difficult ones.
- Spend time in silence every day.
- Write a prayer of thanksgiving for the existence of those on the other side of the spectrum from you. Be specific about their good intentions and all that you’ve learned from them (or from trying to speak to them).
- Before posting online, reading an article that challenges your view, or speaking to a person you disagree with, offer this prayer:
Holy Spirit, speak in me and through me. May my stony heart be broken open to love and may I speak the truth the world longs to hear.
- Teach your children to love people who are different from them–by talking about it and by demonstrating it. If you don’t have friends who are a different race, try attending a different church (or the same church at a different time) for a few weeks to integrate your Sunday morning. If you don’t have friends who are a different religion, you might consider calling a local place of worship and explaining that you’re trying to help your children learn to love different people and you’re wondering if they might have a family that would like to meet for a playdate.
Find an entirely nonpartisan charity, one that feeds kids or builds handicapped-accessible playgrounds or helps single parents go back to school or shelters abused women or something, and make a donation.
- If you see someone who’s being treated cruelly for any reason, step in. This comic shows a peaceful way to defuse a situation.
- Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.
My friends, unity is a beautiful thing, but it is not the most beautiful thing. Truth and justice are far more important, even at the expense of unity. But we can serve truth and justice with kindness and compassion, seeking to listen and understand, respecting people even if we can’t accept their beliefs. Unity is not achieved by people shutting their mouths for fear or shame but by people honestly seeking to love and understand each other. Instead of letting the devil convince us that the other is the enemy, let’s stage a revolution of kindness and make this terrible election season the spark that lit the world on fire with love.
(One way to start being unifying would be to make only constructive comments on this post rather than insulting me in all caps. Just a thought.)
- Even when I posted an article in which a Clinton supporter said (with all evidence of sincerity) that she believes Trump supporters to be “good-hearted, well-intentioned, loving, tolerant, inclusive, and American.” [↩]
- I already understood those. The right to life is the most important right we have and I had no problem respecting those who voted on that issue in this particular election. [↩]
- Note: I don’t agree with everything that author says, just thought it was a good read. [↩]