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The Election, The Inauguration, and The Importance of Coming Together

I have seriously struggled this past year to find the right words during the U.S. presidential campaign. I had an opinion every day, but never knew quite how to clarify it or where it fit within the mix of the endless coverage. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, everyone comes from their own truth. I love people who voted for the candidate I did not. One of my most favorite people on the planet voted for the opposite candidate. And that took some time to grasp. A week exactly. That’s how long I didn’t talk to my dad. 

During the election, and since the election, I have been drawn to the coverage that tries to actually better understand why people were driven to vote the way they did, on both sides. I appreciate journalists like Van Jones and Michael Moore who ask every day Americans, removed from politics, to share their viewpoints and concerns. And then after they ask the question, they listen to the answer, and let it inform their next question. 

My dad isn’t a bad guy. He’s actually a super wonderful human. So are a lot of the people who voted for Trump. Just as well as the people who voted for Hillary. Or Jill Stein. Or Gary Johnson. Or the people who didn’t even vote. 

We live in a world full of different opinions. Full of different personal truths. Even spending most of my living days under the same roof as my dad, we have very different personal truths. He has never once tried to sway my own political beliefs, apart from some off-humor email forwards that are sent in good fun. My dad wants me to grow into my own full self, just as he has been able to grow into his. And with that growth comes opinions and truths. He respects mine, I respect his. A Republican-leaning father, and his Democratic Socialist-leaning daughter. 

This is just a tiny example of two people who disagree politically, still choosing to love one another. It’s easier when it’s a dad and daughter. It can be harder when it is an aggravating next door neighbor, or an obnoxious coworker. But maybe to them, you’re the annoying one. 

I was really excited to watch Hillary become the first female POTUS. I was one of the people who never really felt passionate about her, but by the end, I was definitely with her. I even took the train to Philadelphia the night before the election to be a part of her final rally. The energy was overwhelming, and I had tears in my eyes as I took in what I thought was going to be the preview of an enormously momentous time in our nation’s history. 

November 8 came and I sat with friends at a bar in Washington DC as the room began to come to terms with the reality that Donald Trump was actually going to win. Certain swing states went red and everyone’s faces went pale. DC voted 93% Hillary, so there was not much diversity in emotions at a bar in the heart of the city that would soon be getting a new boss they did not want. 

I went home when the result felt determined. I fell asleep watching the coverage on my couch and woke up just in time to have missed Trump’s victory speech. I didn’t watch the re-run. I didn’t really watch the news the next day. Seemed all the anchors were wrong for months, so I didn’t really feel like it was worth my time to listen to their shock in the results, as well as their own skills and sources. 

The week that followed was weird. Living in DC, I decided to go to the White House the morning the President-Elect met with the President. I don’t really know why I felt compelled to do this, but there was something about watching the motorcade leave the White House while Obama was still inside that made it all feel real. Two very different men held the current and future role of leading our country, and essentially the world, in these critical times.

Election week confirmed my plan to leave DC and move home to Minnesota. I lived in the nation’s capital before I started my big travel project, Big Shared World. Through this initiative, I set out to travel around the world and ask the same three questions of strangers from all walks of life. I wanted to learn if other people value similar things, or worry about similar things as myself. It was being immersed in a city that thrives on conversations about big issues that made me realize just how disconnected the larger population felt from those issues. Back before I traveled, DC felt a bit like a bubble, and I wanted to go outside of it. 

Upon the Big Shared World journey’s completion, I moved back to DC. After traveling to 40 countries in 15 months, I was craving the opportunity to nest. After asking over 700 people the same three questions, I was craving the familiar conversations of old friends from before the travels. Nesting with these friends was nice for awhile, but I could tell I wasn’t really trying to establish strong roots in DC. I believe the past year’s election season attributed to some of my feelings. When Trump was elected, my desire to be based a mile from whatever was happening in the White House was low. If Hillary had been elected, I think I may have felt different. But, I’ll never know. Trump was elected, and I felt how I felt.

Moving to Minnesota is not as much about leaving DC, a city that I have come to truly enjoy and consider a professional home. Moving to Minnesota is more about surrounding myself with people who aren’t waking up every day in the DC bubble. It should be noted, my adorable niece is a Minnesotan, and spending more free time with her is a big incentive. But in addition to familial connections, I want to be surrounded by people who didn’t most likely vote for the same candidate as me. While my home state of Minnesota has a strong blue history when it comes to voting for the president, the state voters were nearly tied between the two candidates this past November. 

After Trump was elected, I wanted to put the lessons of my project to good use. I wanted to be closer to the middle of the country where peoples’ votes showed that we live in fearful times, with many people getting more excited about building walls to keep away from those who are different than them, than investing in bridges to connect us all. 

I traveled the world trying to understand different people and their viewpoints. I did a big project trying to promote what binds us all together in this big, shared world. I learned from all sorts of people who don’t look, think, pray, or talk like me. And it was amazing. And people are amazing. And learning from people is amazing.

I realized the week of the election that we need to talk to each other now more than ever before. We need to try to better understand each others’ truths so that we can have productive conversations about what people value and how we all can honor that. We don’t have to agree, but we have to be open to hearing what someone else thinks in order to find common ground.

During my travels, I was fortunate to spend a week at a spiritual retreat in Bali. This was the most Eat, Pray, Love part of my trip. I was immersed in this community of healers, and individuals deeply connected to the process of being healed. In this magical place, I met Peter, an acupuncturist from New Zealand. He came to teach our group Qigong, an ancient Chinese practice that incorporates movement to improve and enhance the body’s energy. Peter was incredible. Everyone at the retreat felt immediately vulnerable, yet cared for, in his presence. We all booked private sessions with him. To be honest, I was afraid of what he might say about me in front of others. I had a sense that he would disarm me in a way that I was not usually comfortable with, and I didn’t want this to be witnessed by the rest of the group. 

I booked his last session of the day so that I wouldn’t feel rushed. Everyone else left the retreat center for an energetic dance party. It was a bunch of yogis in Bali who come to have a big rave-like, but sober, dance party. It sounded fantastic, but I knew it was worth missing for time with Peter. I laid on the acupuncture table, for my first experience with the needle-pricking practice. We talked for nearly two hours in what may have been the most intimate conversation I’d ever experienced. It was as if Peter was connected to some higher message I was supposed to receive. 

“You need to put space around your opinions.” 

Mind you, this was over eight months in to my wisdom seeking global journey. I was supposed to have a pretty open mind by then. But as we spoke, he continued to challenge me on how firmly I held on to my beliefs. He told me that I am very sure of the way I see things, and do not allow room for my opinions to move, or grow, or change. 

I was a little defensive, thinking that I was more open minded than he was recognizing, but Peter was right. Even with my big question asking project, I went into the world with pre-determined hypotheses of what I would find. When it came to the personal issues I shared with him, I had my mind made up on what I thought. I had very little space around my opinions, and holding on to them was easy due to all the sources of confirmation bias in our world. Thanks to the way we Google, it is easier than ever to find articles and statistics that agree with us and help to strengthen our opinions. Even though I was asking the same open ended questions to everyone, I was hearing what I wanted from their answers. Luckily, I was writing their answers down word for word and could go back with an open mind and really hear what they had said. The more space around my own opinions, the more I was able to hear theirs.

The week after Trump was elected, and most every day since, I have had Peter’s voice in the back of my head. We all need to put space around our opinions. We all need to talk to people who voted differently than us, and try to understand their truth, and their motivating factors. 

We also need to know that a vote for one candidate does not mean that each person who voted for that candidate mirrors their every belief. I know this because I know my dad. He is nothing like Donald Trump. But he is a business owner, with Republican economic values, and he decided to continue voting the way he has for his entire adult life. I know from my conversations before, during, and after the election that my dad doesn’t agree with many of the things Donald Trump says, especially the ones that are derogatory. I think like many conservatives in the United States, he was a bit surprised by the fact that Trump was the candidate for his party. But I also know, that my dad is an extremely thoughtful man, and that he didn’t take his vote lightly. And he genuinely believes that President Trump will work hard to do a decent job in his new position. And while I hold a different opinion, I do respect my dad’s. And I hope he’s right. After watching Trump’s inauguration speech today, I do maintain my concerns.

Enough politics for one post. My point is that the election season was weird, and long, and very negative. And the time since the result has been shorter, but weird, and still very negative. Everybody is on edge, and the numbers show that people don’t feel very confident that what is ahead will be any better. 

I personally feel compelled to start getting out there more, talking to strangers, learning what other people think. This was what I set out to do over two years ago when I dreamed up Big Shared World. And what I learned through that journey is that whether or not we share any of the same opinions, we are all on this planet together, so we do share a lot of similar interests. We are connected, whether we like it or not. As a professor who studies poverty in South America told me, “When the United States sneezes, South America gets pneumonia.” The actions of the citizens in the United States are felt near and far. And it our responsibility to stay healthy and strong, so that those around us, and those impacted by us, can do the same.

I am going to use my voice and be heard just as President Obama called us to during his final address; to honor our citizenship and come together for the collective good. As he said, “Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere.”

So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll share more of the stories from my eye-opening journey around the world, talking to strangers, learning what they think. And I will be more vocal in my passionate belief that the world needs to focus on anything that will help us feel more empathy toward each other. And I hope you will join me, and I hope we will rise stronger because of our ability to come together in this fragile moment in our big, shared world’s history.

I’ll be walking in the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday. It’s an event put together to show support of inclusive rights for women, among many other issues represented by progressive values. While I thought of sitting it out, staying away from the action in DC this weekend, it was my dad who was happiest to hear that I had decided to be involved in a meaningful way. He knows I’ll be sitting in front of my tv during all the inauguration festivities, and am only in town to march the next day. He supports me using my voice to be part of the chorus.

From my days singing while growing up, I am reminded that a powerful choir drowns out the voice of even its most off key member. While Donald Trump is just one of us, he has been rewarded through his newly elected position with the opportunity to hold a microphone and sing a solo. My hope is that the choir around him, his fellow American citizens, start to sing their song of unity louder and louder. And maybe, if we sing our beautiful song loud enough, it’ll be impossible not to join in.

With that, I leave you with one of my favorite moments from the Obama presidency. It came as a response to yet another senseless tragedy, but it shows the power of a good song to bring people together.

No matter who you voted for or what motto your hat displayed, America is great, and we are stronger together.