I am writing this blog on Sunday evening—two days before Election Day. This election is universally viewed as a major crossroad for the USA. The country is passionately divided, and each side believes that its candidate’s loss will mean losing life as we know it in our wonderful country.
This blog will post Thursday morning, and I am hoping and praying that, no matter what the outcome—and we may not even have a clear winner by then—that the country won’t be burning down due to riots, looting and violent crime in the name of “peaceful protests” against the election result.
Destroying our country in the name of love for it is antithetical. If you love this country, then destroying it because you’re upset helps no one. It only causes harm and requires billions of dollars for cleanup and insurance claims that could otherwise be used to support worthwhile causes—helping to give a foot up to people who are struggling economically…providing additional training to law-enforcement officers…improving the environment…building the economy…supporting people with health-care challenges. The list of individuals and groups in need is endless.
While peaceful protest is a constitutional right in America, violent protest is a prime example of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Instead, what if we think about this as a teaching moment? Or a chance to try a different strategy?
If, as has been said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, then more violent protests will harm, not help, the situation. Neither will emotional breakdowns, as occurred after the 2016 election, when “post-election stress disorder swept the nation.” Psychiatrists and psychologists saw a significant increase in new patient inquiries…PBS stated that “57% of Americans report that the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress”…and the topic of politics became a primary complaint point at patient appointments. Some children had to take time off from school to manage their upset…and counselors and emotional support dogs were brought in to a local college to help the students there.
I think the challenge is broader. It’s not about the election, per se. It is about the ability—or inability—to handle emotional upset or disappointment. Younger generations have been raised with participation trophies and in education and social environments that protected them from feeling disappointment—all this in an effort to preserve their self-esteem. We are sorely in need of helping millions of individuals learn resilience and effective strategies for dealing with disappointment.
Social media has had a tremendous influence on this younger group as well. If you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, I highly recommend it. In it, tech experts who helped develop Facebook, Twitter, Google and more talk about how these well-intended tools have become extremely dangerous to our social fabric and emotional health.
As I’ve said in past blogs, success in life is dependent upon not just enjoying the good times but also about being able to recover from the challenges. Without the emotional maturity to accept disappointment or loss…learn from it…and choose a different strategy going forward, our country will be burdened with individuals who are incapable of self-reliance and doomed to be dependent children rather than mature, independent adults living the free and fantastic life they yearn for.
Yes, adulting is hard—as is learning to make decisions and living with the consequences of both the good and bad ones. It requires stepping out of a world structured by play dates and organized activities—with every due date written and outlined in a syllabus—into a world in which adults create their own outlines, identify their own goals and define the steps to achieve them.
What can be done instead? Complaining and attacking isn’t going to change anything. Four years from now, we can make a different choice. For the moment, perhaps an entirely different strategy is in order, starting with taking action in order to have a sense of control over our lives. Doing this is vital to both emotional and physical health.
For starters, identify the areas you are most passionate about. Racial disparities? Health-care challenges? The education system? The environment? Something else?
Next, determine how you can get involved. It doesn’t necessarily mean starting something on your own. You can volunteer or work for someone in those areas. The wheels of change roll very slowly in Washington, but you can make a difference in individual lives every day through mentoring, tutoring, environmental clean-up events and much more. No matter what happens in Washington, there are many ways that you can help create a better world while supporting your own emotional health.
Secondly, to all the grown-ups in the room, be good teachers and mentors. The vast majority of learning is done through imitation, which means the better role model you are, the more those around you will learn. I am shocked by the cruel language of blame and accusation on social media, even though I know that these same people stand strongly against bullying behaviors. My girls are very quick to point out when I judge others or dismiss someone’s idea. We all do it…but it creates an undercurrent of negativity rather than constructiveness. Watch yourself, and see where you’re jumping to judge rather than opening to learn. Disagreement is fine. Vulgarity is cruel.
Last but certainly not least, the culture of divisiveness must stop. Reach across the aisle to those people you have blocked from your social media and the friends or family members from whom you have distanced all in the name of disparate opinions. We can’t learn—or heal—if we can’t talk. If you really care deeply about the country and the election results, then you will care enough to realize that we all want the same thing—to live in peace and prosperity, all working together to achieve those things. Let down the walls, and stop the finger-pointing, name-calling and blaming. No matter who is in the White House and what his style is, change happens at the individual level. We can’t control “their” behavior…we can only control our own. It is up to each of us to create the world that we want it to be. You have the power, and this is your moment.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.