Voting is over. Go home and come back in four years, read the sign at a voting station on November 9th. Something about those seemingly innocent words made my blood boil. Over the past few weeks we have been bombarded with discouraging articles about the election’s outcome. We have seen people take to the streets in protest, and extreme voices from the right and left continue to attack one another.
This was a hard election for everyone. But it’s far from over. Anyone who thinks we can vote only once every four years is dangerously wrong.
What has become strikingly clear to me over the past few weeks is that we put so much thought into who we will elect for president. Yet, we do not put enough thought into the simple acts that we perform each day that create the norms for more engaged citizenship in our community, state, country, and even the world.
Voting, and being satisfied or angry at the results, is the easy part. Accepting the outcome and working toward a more tolerant, respectful, and understanding society is the difficult part. This is our civic duty, and no president alone is going to do this for us.
Most people vote for the candidate that they feel will make this country better, the candidate who they believe can bring order, justice, unity, freedom, and progress without creating irreparable divisiveness among citizens who hold different beliefs.
So how can it be that this election has brought more divisiveness among fellow Americans, family members, friends, and political party brethren than I have seen in my lifetime? And how do we get back to the diverse but unified, respectful but passionate society I was raised in?
To me, the answer is simple. We must stop outsourcing “change” to the government and take the responsibility upon ourselves. It is our job now to repair the divisions among us and work toward a kinder, more tolerant, and inclusive society.
We need to stop placing blame on each other, and rid ourselves of the “us vs. them” mentality of the extremists. Moderates across the board need to unite, to communicate openly and with respect, and change the tone of the conversation.
In his book Lessons in Leadership, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out in Parashat Toledot, the Torah portion we read last week, Rebecca’s lack of communication with Isaac concerning G-d’s message to her before Esau and Jacob were born. This led to misunderstanding and great tragedy for the entire family. “Parents and leaders must establish a culture in which honest, open, respectful communication takes place, one that involves not just speaking, but listening. Without it, tragedy is waiting in the wings,” writes Rabbi Sacks.
In the media, in our communities, in our schools, on college campuses, at work, and at home we must stop demonizing the other, and reach out to bring people together. This means listening to what others have to say without judging or labeling. It means engaging in mindful conversation in which understanding and willingness to acknowledge different viewpoints are key.
We need to open our minds to opposing views, while together we fight bigotry, hatred, and extremism.
We need to volunteer at social service organizations and understand what it is to be in need. Our children should see what it means to give back to society and care about those who may be different from them.
In the heated and divisive world of politics where every news station has an agenda and the information we receive is more biased than balanced, we the citizens cannot afford to forget that the greatest tools of all are unity, compromise, critical thinking, and respect.
I remember being a young girl in Chicago when the Oslo Accords were being signed. I was too young to understand the details of this controversial agreement, but it made a strong impact on me. For weeks I heard family members on different sides of the political spectrum debating this agreement. What’s amazing is that I don’t remember one mean word or blow up. Rather, each side gave level-headed, legitimate reasons why they were for or against the agreement, and the other side listened with an open heart and respect.
Did either side change the other’s view? Probably not. But did they walk away realizing that those with opposing views were not terrible people? Definitely.
Government is a representation of a large portion of its population. This is why many people are scared about the election outcome. Their fear is that the new government will foster separation instead of unity. But it’s time we stop relying only on the government to unify the people. Instead, the people must unify the government. Once we practice, meet, and demand respect for the “other,” the government will surely follow.
Voting is not only done once every four years. It’s done every single day, by every single one of us, in every action we take.