DAY ONE, STEP ONE: Talk to the scary people.
The day after the election, in my grief and rage I implemented the first step of my “stay sane” plan.
Anyone I don’t know how they voted is a “scary” person. Get rid of the scary people. Excise them from my life. (I didn’t say it was a GOOD plan.)
What I really wanted to do was get rid of my own fear by denying my love, attention, and friendship to scary people. We’ll come back to that.
My first “victim” of this plan was a craftsman planning to do some work on my home. If you’ve ever done a design and a remodel you know that contractors end up in your space —in your home— a lot. His two young sons have visited and played with my dog while he was working. The man, who I feel very comfortable around and have an easy, joking relationship with, emailed me with a question.
I read it and realized I had no idea where he might be on the political spectrum. He could be a Trump-voting racist woman-hater. OMG. How could I have him IN MY HOUSE?!?!
In response to his question, I texted back:
ME: Good morning. Thanks for your email. May I ask who you voted for for President?
HIM: Could this affect my future employment?
Because he’s not stupid. I don’t hire —usually don’t like— stupid people.
But his question, blatant, aware, realistic, stopped me cold. Would I discriminate against him because of his politics? Was that me? I wanted to, that’s for sure. I wanted nothing more than to rage at him for not seeing the world how I see the world. Because my world is good, and clean, and Right. Uh, Huh.
ME: I dunno. I’m pretty scared of people who have certain values today. I voted for Hillary. I’m scared to work closely with anyone who won’t talk to me about it.
Can I be allowed a proud moment here? Look at me breathe. Right there. Look at me wanting to blast someone for an opposing point of view and instead, choosing to just be honest. There were some ludicrous levels of adrenaline right there, people, and somehow I stayed tapped into our shared humanity. I told myself, NO. BE BETTER.
HIM: That’s why the polls got it wrong. I’m in that minority of middle-aged white male liberals. I’m in shock today.
Please note, as I did, that he didn’t say who he voted for. Maybe that really is important for him to keep private. For some reason. Though I don’t understand, I don’t have to.
There was some other chit chat on the house topic, but I finally closed with this:
ME: As long as you’re a social liberal, and I don’t catch you hating on my gay, colored, disabled, immigrant, Wiccan friends, or forbidding your cool kid from reading SF, we can work together.
I said what was important to me —what I needed. I purposefully poked him with inflammatory language, because he has the same option I do: He can refuse to work for some bleeding heart, liberal, hippie, witch, moron. But everything was OK.
We had a meeting today and we had a blast waving our hands at the walls and drawing imaginary plate rails and wainscoting all over my living room. Love that guy. Because he was able to have the conversation with me.
If the scary people will talk to me, if they will honestly discuss their ideas, values, and can explain why they voted for whomever they picked…I’ll keep on talking to them. As long as they verbally espouse what I consider socially acceptable values, I can work with that. If they lie, their own cognitive dissonance will get them in the end.
DAY TWO, STEP TWO: Popeye says, “Wrong is wrong, even when it helps ya.”
So tonight I was working on my mailing list. I have challenged myself to get to 100 subscribers by next week. As I went down the list of people I had recently texted, I came across white, male, Republican friends. Yes, I have a few left. Mostly not on FB.
I paused. I “knew” at least one of them had probably voted for Trump —and he has daughters. I “knew” at least one of them had not, but he sure didn’t vote for Clinton.
Not treating anyone different.
Having the conversation.
If they will not have the conversation, that is not about you.
You can let them go from your life if they will not have the conversation.
I texted them, checking in to see how they were. I asked if I could sign them up for my mailing list. As we chatted back and forth —them agreeing to support me and my career shift because they know me, they respect me, they want me to be successful— all I could think is, “Do they know?” “Do they understand?” “If I don’t bring it up, I’ll get what I want.”
So in the end, after the back and forth we always go through as people who hug awkwardly while standing on opposite sides of political spectrums, this is what I said to each of them, in slightly different words for each:
“You are absolutely on the front lines now. I’m counting on you as the white midwesterner man that shows the racist, bigotted, misogynists how it’s done. Your “mandate” is harder than mine —so you have more work. As a white man, you are gonna have get out there and stand against the truly sick racists and misogynists who are not as evolved as you. You have a lot of work to do, defending those minorities and women. I hope you’re up for it. The horrible acts are already starting because some people feel they’ve been given “permission” to run mad without consequence. You have to get out there, XXXXX. Go be awesome!”
One did not respond. He might yet.
Another replied, “I will do my best.”
I don’t know if it was the right thing to do. But it is the only thing I can think of that feels honest about my beliefs, theirs, and the reality of the world we live in.
If you have other suggestions on how to do this better, how to demand more allies on the “other” side, please share. I have more of these conversations ahead of me.