Anne-Marie Slaughter: As a Nation, ‘We Are Not Thriving’
After the election, the first question on all our minds should be “How can we make our country thrive — for all Americans?” We so often think about thriving in individual terms: How can I have a career and a family and time for myself? How can I slow down and appreciate the world around me? How can I live a healthier, longer, more serene life? How can I make room for the things that matter most to me?
Perhaps the best place to start is to eliminate “me” from those questions. The stark divisions on display across the United States on election night — rural versus urban, coasts versus center, whites versus people of color, masses versus elites, men versus women — show us that far too many Americans feel left out and left behind as a country they do not recognize hurtles toward a future that’s very uncertain for all but a small percentage at the top. The voters who elected Donald Trump were voting more than anything else for change — sweeping change to fix an America they see as badly broken. But the millions who voted for Hillary Clinton and against Trump now fear that he will turn back the clock to a patriarchal, nativist, white supremacist America.
What we can be certain of is that we are not thriving. So what to do? We can begin by trying to put ourselves in others’ shoes. Trying to listen to others without judging. Trying to find lines of connection rather than division: love of family, sports, hobbies, dreams, and aspirations. Hillary Clinton told her supporters that we owe President-elect Trump “an open mind.” If we want to thrive as a country, we must approach our fellow Americans with an open mind as well.
One way to open our minds is to realize how much we ourselves can change over our lifetimes, to accept that our future selves are likely to be quite different from our present selves. When I talk to younger women about how to fit work and family together, I often start by asking them to think back to what they were like when they were 10 years younger. For a 25-year-old, that means remembering their 15-year-old selves. Then I say, “Imagine that your 35-year-old self will have changed that much again. You may be focused completely on your career for now, with children a distant possibility, but at 35 you may find that having a child is front and foremost in your mind.”
Perhaps the only thing certain about life is that those of us who are younger will become older. We must make room for the possibility — indeed the inevitability — that although we will probably still believe in the pursuit of happiness, our definition of what happiness means, and how best to pursue it, may well change. We may want to slow down at some point, to raise children, care for aging parents, support a spouse, write a book, learn to code, find God, or explore the meaning of life. We cannot know when or how those changes will happen, but we can develop contingency plans, thinking about our careers in terms of a portfolio of skills and experiences that we can pursue in different ways at different times.
If we are open-minded about our future selves, it will be easier to be open-minded to others as well, to understand that their beliefs and commitments are also a function of the different life experiences, families, and communities that shaped them. We should not accept hatred, bigotry, bullying, or belittling. We must insist on a basic moral compass. But we can learn that difference need not mean division.
We have endured round-the-clock politics for the last 18 months. It is almost impossible to thrive on a steady diet of polls and pundits, chronicling and dissecting our national fault lines. The stark red and blue blocks within and across states show us just how siloed and segregated we all are. Like gardens with only one type of flower or fields with only one crop, monocultures weaken over time, falling prey to disease and pests. Political monoculture is equally toxic.
So thrive by opening your mind, exploring and embracing difference. Find a friend, family member, or colleague who voted a different way than you did and explore why, suspending judgment. Find an activity that will force you to meet people you would never otherwise meet. Make unexpected connections, swear off your phone one day a week, force yourself to see and talk to the people you cross paths with at the store, on the subway, in a taxi or car-sharing service. Jolt yourself out of your customized cocoon and help reweave our social and political fabric, one thread at a time.