Since the lead up to the 2016 election and for the two years since, we have all been inundated with messages of hate, division, and fear. When our leaders show such callous regard for basic human decency, for honesty and integrity, we cannot be surprised when the rest of the country follows suit. This time in our country (and in the world) can feel frightening and disorienting—like we’re in an Alice in Wonderland kind of alternate reality; where what’s down is up, where what’s wrong is right, and where, what we assumed were common standards for behavior, no longer apply.
Here’s the thing though, when we point fingers, wring our hands, and mock our current leadership, we’re only making things worse. The Obamas have a phrase, “When they go low, we go high.” For them, this means that when their detractors spread lies or discord about them, they rise above it. Rather than defending themselves or attacking back, they keep to the high road of truth and decency.
As a country, it’s time for us all to go high. When we spread mean memes about the President or the Republican leadership, we’re also guilty of sending messages of hate. When we refuse to speak to those who still support this administration, we’re helping to build the wall. Our self-righteous indignation can be just as divisive as their biased views. Our refusal to see the commonalities we share with people whose beliefs differ from our own makes us guilty of the same kind of judgments that are threatening some of our civil liberties.
In this time of so much hate and fear, we need to respond with more empathy and kindness. This is not to say that we should stop voicing our concerns. We must continue to fight to protect the rights of all who live in the United States—to ensure that people from all races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and countries of origin have equal rights and equitable access to opportunity. I’m not advocating for passivity. I am saying that part of the action we take must include making a conscious effort not to mimic the same hate speech, isolationism, and bias that is being exhibited by many of our leaders.
Van Jones, author, speaker, and CNN commentator does a beautiful job describing what I mean. Check out this clip of a recent speech he gave on empathy. Going high isn't easy—at least not for me. I am angry and frightened, and like a wounded animal, my impulse is to isolate and defend myself. As much as I'd like to stay in my corner and prepare for battle, however, I need to remember that the people I am most upset with share that same impulse. When we attack one another, we become more entrenched and the divide between us widens. To heal our country, we must remember our common humanity and seek to understand one another--to disagree with love and to enter into debate about the issues with curiosity. Energy is catching. While the president and many of our leaders hold sway over the country, we hold sway too. Compassion can spread just as effectively as hate.