Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Not 9/11

It’s not 9/11.

On that day, my little boy asked me, “Mom, why did those people crash those airplanes and knock down those buildings?”

He was five at the time, and we were deeply in the preschool groove, so my automatic impulse was to explain that those hijackers had made some very bad choices. Which was true, but didn’t begin to cover the enormity of what we’d all just experienced.

“They’re bad guys,” I had to say. “Terrible, terrible people who did something evil.”

He let me hug him because I was the one who needed it, then went on his way, satisfied with that answer.

Fast forward fifteen years. My little boy voted, and my Facebook feed is full of people struggling to explain yesterday’s election to their young children, especially their daughters.

It’s not 9/11. Which makes your task harder than mine was.

We’ve been calling each other bad guys. Bullies. Perverts. Racists. Rapists. Communists. Fascists. Ignorant. Self-absorbed.

I didn’t vote for the new president. For the record, I’m experiencing profound anxiety.

I have little confidence in his ability or inclination to listen to competent advisors, rein in his rhetoric, or grasp and deal with the fine points of political negotiation or world diplomacy.

I also think he might be exactly what we—all of us—deserve.

I know some people who voted for him. None of them froth at the mouth. They treat women with respect. They spend real money and time helping disadvantaged people in thoughtful and useful ways. They honor others’ religion, or absence thereof. And none of them disengaged their morals and brains at the moment they decided who to support in the election.

This election indicates that a large number of people are feeling disenfranchised, unheard, and alienated. Angry. Confused. Given how close the race was, it’s safe to say that just about everyone is feeling that way at the moment. (Except the one teenager in the ice cream shop last night who I hope to heaven isn’t old enough to have voted: “Which party was Trump running for again?”)

That makes this an excellent time to sit down with each other and really listen to each other’s concerns, fears, and hopes. A better time would have been 18 months or so ago, when this train wreck of an election cycle started.

My knee-jerk reaction, even when I’m giving the advice, is “Yeah, those people really should start listening to my perfectly legitimate needs and concerns.”

Because to set aside my own biases and listen to someone else’s concerns puts me in a vulnerable spot. No one likes to be vulnerable. But it wasn’t [those people] who caused this election. It was everyone who felt comfortable demonizing, fearing, and rejecting people they disagreed with.

It was all of us—or at least, I haven’t yet met anyone that didn’t have a hand in it.

And if each one of us decides today to act like a sane, rational, compassionate grown-up, and to encourage our elected officials to follow our examples, there won’t be much the man in the White House can do to mess up the country.

Fifteen years later, I can even start to wonder if the 9/11 hijackers also started from a place of confusion and alienation that made bad choices look like the only choices.

Fortunately, it’s not 9/11.

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Lee Ann Setzer's blog about books, writing, and life in general.