Few Safe Spaces Post Election

Swallowed In The Sea
Image by Flickr/KellyB

Post US Presidential election, depending on where you live in the country, there are few safe spaces where people feel they can voice their real feelings. This is not just about the presidential candidates but views of government, policy and general grievances about the many injustices and suffering that has been happening in the US for a very long time.

As a psychotherapist and activist that grew up in a family active in working towards peace and conflict resolution I have been lucky to hear the personal stories of many people all over the country and all over the world from various and diverse backgrounds throughout my life.

That’s why it was so disheartening to me to see anger, blame and vitriol post election results. Some people disappointed, fearful, shocked and angry at the election results in liberal enclaves and circles directed their feelings in hateful and aggressive ways whether in real life or online. Even pre-election results, I spoke to a man in Washington DC who had a Jill Stein (Presidential candidate of the green party) sticker on his car who told me that people would yell at him on the street.

In red states, many people with liberal views feel they have no safe space to express their feelings and concerns and there has been an uptick in hate crimes post election, most likely tied to the racist and misogynistic undertones of the Trump campaign.

People feel distrustful, weary, scared, anxious and powerless. Statistically, the US has one of the lowest voter turnouts amongst the most developed countries in the world. This means only around 50% of the country actually votes in presidential elections. Roughly speaking, only about 20-25% of the country chooses the president.

More and more I have seen a growing problem of people shutting off completely and productive discourse almost entirely absent between people with different points of view. Not only do I know “secret Trump voters” (I make a distinction between voters and supporters because the feeling I get is that many people did “protest votes” this election) but I also know people who chose not to vote but didn’t tell anyone for fear of judgment or retaliation. I know people who voted third party, did a write in and of course in Washington DC, many voted for Hillary Clinton. I am an Arab Christian woman and I have faced discrimination many times in my life so my ability to listen to all sides does not come from a privileged perspective, rather than one of growing up in a home where I was taught the most important thing we can do is listen to “the enemy.” They often have more in common than we think.

In Imago relationship therapy, we often refer to a concept called “validation” that is at the heart of repair in relational issues. Validating someone does NOT mean you agree with them. However, validating means you give a person the safe space to talk and share, you truly listen to them (most effectively through mirroring) and you can find something that makes sense about what they said- regardless of agreement. As a psychotherapist, I can honestly say, the greatest gift I have been given is the opportunity to hear other people and see how much they make sense. Childhood, life experience, personality traits, genetics and so much more contribute to how everyone sees the world in a complex and unique way. Everyone has their reasons and everyone I have heard makes sense given the circumstances in their life. Nothing is black and white- everything is shades of gray. I could not help people if I didn’t believe this at my core.

When we refuse to see a different point of view or another side, no matter how ugly we think it is, we do the world a disservice. We stop all discussion and we stop any progress from being made. For example, an African American millennial woman called me post election and although she didn’t vote for Trump, she confessed to me that she felt a sense of relief that Trump won. For many minorities and people of color, often the ones who don’t vote, they already feel like they are living in Trump’s America. Racism, hatred, bigotry, Islamophobia, sexism and misogyny have been rampant in this country but this election somehow exposed it in a new way to the people who felt the country was moving forward in these ways. Many who have been suffering from discrimination already hope that this is a wake up call for people to get active, organize and do something to make lasting and meaningful change instead of shallow change and hollow promises. Until we can hear these kind of voices, we cannot find real ways to move forward as a diverse but unified group of people.

But how can we move forward if people can’t even talk honestly about their feelings or if we only surround ourselves with people, media and ideas that confirm our biases already? Unless we step outside of our comfort zones, into a place of curiosity and benevolence and become active in the things that are important to us and future generations, then communication will continue to breakdown and divides will only get worse. Now is the time for relational repair for the country- it’s the only way forward.