Why I Am Pleased With the 2016 Election Cycle
On November 9, we wake up to the aftermath of our gigantic family fight. I don’t know anyone who isn’t exhausted by this election year — for many of us, worn down by the racism and sexism that seems to be flying out of every orifice of societal discourse.
After the election, we can pretend the fight never happened, and get back to having a reasonably civil turkey dinner together, largely agreeing to avoid uncomfortable topics like religion and politics and discrimination. Or we can keep the argument going.
I think an “Attainable We” vision means we keep the debates alive.
Black or white?
In 2015, 10 million people via social media nearly overnight learned something about how the mind works, with the infamous meme debate: Is the dress blue/black or white/gold? We discovered that we don’t all see things the same way.
For my daughter and I, the dress is consistently white/gold. My son sees it as blue/black. My daughter and I are dumbfounded at his view, just as he is perplexed with ours.
In reality, the dress in question is blue/black. But that doesn’t mean my daughter and I are wrong to see it the way we do. We simply do. Our brain processes the same information my son has, but comes up with a different result.
Our brains are always interpretation centers that make sense of data, not truth-finders. There is no singular truth, even when it seems materially like there is — because we all sense differently.
The Black Lives Matters movement, this election cycle, and divergent perceptions of sexual assault have revealed a stark difference in how our one community interprets the same information.
I see this year as having been an opportunity to break open our ugliness. More white people are seeing racism faced by non-whites. More men are hearing vulgarities faced by women. More unnecessary violence is exposed. More obscene behavior is quickly and publicly shamed.
Remember when domestic violence was considered to be a “private family matter?” Sheila Wellstone’s public talks helped “out” the taboo of that storyline.
Remember when smoking was cool, recommended in advertising by doctors and dentists — and Santa Claus? When the storyline shifts, it can shift big.
Remember when groups were attempting to legislatively ban LGBTQ marriage equality? When the storyline shifts, it can shift quickly.
In roughly 1970, a call went out to temporarily house members of a visiting gospel choir from Chicago in my small hometown. My parents did not hesitate to take in a few of the young African-American men.
I was about eight. I don’t recall any details of these men, their voices, the peculiarity of having strangers in our house who looked so different from everyone I had known to that point. What I do remember is the emotion of the neighbors across the street. It was the first time I heard bigotry spewing from people I otherwise knew as warm human beings.
I was confused by it. It did not then — and has never in all its permutations made visible since — make sense to me why something as unimportant as skin color could lead to such a strongly negative reaction.
Decades later I attended a workshop in which a handful of us gathered in an intellectual discussion about our roots. The moderator asked each of us to offer a few minutes of introduction to the moments that led to our belief systems today. I pulled out of seemingly nowhere the memory of the neighbors’ reaction. Seeing such intolerance and judgment set deep roots.
I define a pivot point as a precise moment in time when the structure of everything is irretrievably altered. That childhood experience was a pivotal moment for me.
I could have reached that intersection and come away with a different value. I could have listened to my neighbors, and related to their view of the Otherness of a “Them.” But what I saw was ugly. My neighbors seemed scarily odd for believing there was a “lesser” pigmentation.
We naturally will always be divisive — because of that prickly perception difference. My effort this year is in trying to let go of wishing everyone saw things the same way I do.
Not only is homogeneity impossible… (The chant: “remember the dress!”) … and not only would the world be impossible if no one wanted to do the jobs that make our society what it is… (The mantra: “I don’t have the stamina/interest to be a teacher/ politician/ police officer/ foot doctor — thank goodness others do”)… but… who am I to judge the choices of anyone but me? (The motto: “Don’t I have better things to do with my time?”)
“Letting go,” however, is not the same as ignoring injustice or unfairness. I believe we need to continue pointing out gaps in the categorizations we all reflexively trust. We benefit from sharing personal stories, to see if an adjustment is possible — asking why someone believes what they believe, rather than simply shouting louder about the stupidity of what they see.
We cannot avoid being part of an interconnected universe. We are inextricably linked even with those whose viewpoints differ from our own. We know how difficult it can be to sanely navigate that reality — but we learn in the uncomfortable spaces of those differences.
My kids, 12 and 17, are irretrievably influenced by what they witnessed this year, and how they participated in conversations about what it means to be a caring society. This year’s public dialogue will form a root system for their own values, and their future impact.
I think, ultimately, we will find that this very tough year did a lot of good. It exposed our underbelly — reminding us starkly of how much work remains to be done, but also of how many more of us are working together than there used to be.
Mikki Morrissette is creating AttainableWe.com as a new playground for shifting our angle of perception and noticing the invisible that runs through us and around us.