How Do We Move forward Together after the Election of Donald Trump?

There has been a tremendous amount of anxiety in the nation since Donald Trump became President-Elect of the United States. Many people are worried about the future of this country and whether their basic rights will be supported. There is considerable tension between those who voted for Trump and those who did not.

Since the election, I have been counseling both Trump and Clinton supporters who are distressed about the tension this election has created. I thought it may be helpful to share the perspective I’ve gained from working with both sides. I have presented these thoughts in two separate letters, one for Clinton supporters, and the other for those who voted for Trump. Both offer concrete suggestions for how people in our nation can move forward together.

Dear Clinton Supporter,

You voted for Hillary Clinton, hoping she would win and that you would be celebrating our first woman president. Instead, election night turned into a nightmare you’re still trying to understand. You can’t believe someone as despicable as Donald Trump could win. How could so many Americans vote for such a horrible person and put him in one of the most powerful positions in the world–President of the United States of America?

You may be finding yourself feeling angry at anyone who supported Trump. Perhaps you feel tearful every time you think about what this means for the next few years. You may be extremely worried for your children, close friends, or neighbors, especially those who belong to the groups Trump targeted during his campaign. You may be deeply concerned about what his election means to our democracy as we know it.

It can feel like life will never be the same. How do we move forward when you’re not sure who you can trust anymore and when some of the people closest to you feel like strangers now?

This election was extremely contentious and so many inappropriate and outrageous things were said. What can you do to actually move forward?

1. Remember that you are not alone. Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote, so there are many people who feel the same way as you. Talking with them will probably bring you some comfort.

2. Realize that many people who voted for Trump didn’t necessarily seek to incite hate. Yes, they did vote for a candidate who clearly said many awful things, but they may have been genuinely conflicted about another issue important to them. For example, someone whose religious beliefs oppose abortion of any kind, may have felt they were choosing between the better of two evils. Others who voted for Trump were so angry at the establishment that their vote was an act of desperation aimed at shaking up the system they feel is rigged against them. Remember that it’s okay to be upset, but be careful about writing off half the country.

3. Let yourself grieve and deal with other emotional reactions you may be having. Especially if this election has opened up old wounds from previous sexual assault or discrimination, realize that you will need some time to heal before you can stand up against hate. Sometimes when life knocks us down, we need a little time or help from others to get back up. Please seek that support if you need it.

4. As angry as you may be at Trump supporters, remember that our power to fight hate is much stronger when we are united as a nation. If someone says they don’t support hate, believe them, and stand together.

5. Remember that even though seeing all this hate out in the open is painful, that openness is necessary for deeper change. You cannot change what you cannot see or acknowledge. Everyone can now see that America still has much work to do on basic civil rights.

6. Remember that social change often takes decades to achieve. We are not moving backward. We are moving forward to deal with issues that are still unresolved.

7. Join forces with anyone who is willing to fight against hate, even if they voted for Trump, voted third party, or did not vote at all.

8. Support organizations that have already been fighting for the rights of so many different groups: the ACLU, The Center for Reproductive Rights, The Trevor Project, etc.

9. Refuse to disconnect from your fellow Americans. A sure sign that hate has won is when we are all clearly separated from one another. Reach out to your neighbors, friends, family members, and coworkers. None of us will truly feel safe all by ourselves. Do not let this election isolate you. That will only feed fear. Look around and you will see many, many goodhearted Americans who want to help make this country a better place, just like you.

10. Never give up on America! Exercise your right to speak up and protest, but do so peacefully. Otherwise you are no different from those inciting hate and violence in the aftermath of this election. As Martin Luther King so eloquently said,

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Dear Clinton Supporter Letter (download the pdf)

Dear Trump Supporter,

You cast your vote, but now so many people are angry with anyone who voted for Donald Trump. They are saying you’re racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic, anti-immigrant, don’t care about people with disabilities, and generally are worried more about yourself than this country. You feel that’s absolutely not true.

You may have voted for Trump because of your personal concerns about the economy, abortion rights, Hillary Clinton’s trustworthiness, or any number of reasons. Perhaps you were angry at  the entire political system because no matter how hard you work or how much you play by the rules, you can’t seem to get ahead. You wanted your vote to show that you’re angry with the system and need change.

You may feel offended that you’re being accused of being someone you’re not. Don’t people see that this election was hard for you too? You really didn’t like Trump either, but felt caught in a no-win situation.

Yes, this election was extremely difficult and you may feel that people are overreacting and just need to accept that Trump was elected. But, how do we move forward?

1. Realize that although you may have voted based on issues that are important to you, others felt so strongly about the hateful rhetoric during the campaign, that they were willing to abandon normal party affiliation to keep Trump out of the Oval Office. They may be disappointed and confused that you didn’t make the same choice.

2. Remember that hate affects the lives of some people more than others. Throughout the campaign, racial minorities, Muslims, LGBT individuals, immigrants, and women heard so many awful things being said about them. Trump said many inappropriate things and did not stop his followers from doing the same. His lack of willingness to take a clear stand against hate left many people afraid of what he would do if he had more power. Now, that reality has come true, and many who belong to these groups truly feel frightened that they will be targeted. Cabinet appointments since the election continue to feed this alarm.

3. Remember that many people in this country are grieving. They feel like what has been lost is the America that they love. For those who have experienced discrimination or been sexually assaulted, Trump’s election may have opened up old wounds and led them to feel traumatized by this election.  They may have a genuine feeling of despair about whether their concerns will ever really be acknowledged by their fellow Americans. Give them time to heal. When you tell hurt individuals to move on, it makes them feel even more invalidated.

4. Although you may feel you had good reasons for voting for Trump, if you truly are anti-hate, it is critical that you make that stance clearly known to others and unite with their efforts to combat hate.

5. Remember that even though seeing all this hate out in the open is painful, that openness is necessary for deeper change. You cannot change what you cannot see or acknowledge. Everyone can now see that America still has much work to do on basic civil rights.

6. Remember that social change often takes decades to achieve. We are not moving backward. We are moving forward to deal with issues that are still unresolved.

7. Join forces with anyone who is willing to fight against hate, even if they voted for Trump, voted third party, or did not vote at all.

8. Support organizations that have already been fighting for the rights of so many different groups: the ACLU, The Center for Reproductive Rights, The Trevor Project, etc.

9. Refuse to disconnect from your fellow Americans. A sure sign that hate has won is when we are all clearly separated from one another. Reach out to your neighbors, friends, family members, and coworkers. None of us will truly feel safe all by ourselves. Do not let this election isolate you. That will only feed fear. Look around and you will see many, many goodhearted Americans who want to help make this country a better place, just like you.

10. Never give up on America! Exercise your right to speak up and protest, but do so peacefully. Otherwise you are no different from those inciting hate and violence in the aftermath of this election. As Martin Luther King so eloquently said,

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Dear Trump Supporter letter (download the pdf)

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Connected, but Alone?

As we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other? Sherry Turkle studies how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication — and asks us to think deeply about the new kinds of connection we want to have.

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The Link between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and Health in Adulthood

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest public health studies to examine the relationship between exposure to trauma and neglect in childhood and health across the lifespan. The study began in the mid-1990’s as a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s HMO.

ACE SCORES
Approximately 17, 500 patients were recruited for the study and asked whether they had experienced any of the following events in childhood:

1. Abuse: 

  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Sexual

2. Neglect

  • Emotional
  • Physical

3. Household dysfunction

  • Mother treated violently
  • Household substance abuse
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated family member

For each of  these experiences a participant reported, they were given an ACE score of one. Over two-thirds of participants had an ACE score of one or more, and 87% of this group had actually experienced two or more adverse events (ACE score > 2). Apparently, exposure to childhood adversity of this nature is common.

LINK TO HEALTH PROBLEMS
The study found a direct link between experiencing these adverse events in childhood and being at risk for serious health and social problems later in life. In fact, compared to an ACE score of zero, an ACE score of four or more was linked to higher rates of heart disease and diabetes, as well as a:

  • 240% increased risk of hepatitis
  • 390% increased risk of chronic lung disease
  • 460% increased risk of depression
  • 1,220% increased risk of suicide

An ACE score above six was associated with a 30-fold increase in attempted suicide and a reduced life expectancy by 20 years compared to those with an ACE score of zero.

WHY?
Why the increased health risks? In a nutshell, high levels of stress activate the body’s hardwired fight or flight response system. When fight or flight is activated, the body is washed in adrenaline and cortisol, hormones designed to help us fight the threat or escape it.

The body’s emergency response system is designed for short-term use. When someone is in a situation of chronically high stress, these hormones are released frequently, negatively affecting both nervous system development and long-term physical health. Social, cognitive and emotional development can also be disrupted, and a child or adolescent may turn to coping mechanisms such as substance use. Over time, all this can add up to poor health, social problems, and possible premature mortality:

The_ACE_Pyramid

It is important to remember that a high ACE score does not doom you to poor health outcomes. A person with a rough childhood may also develop resilience by exposure to people (helpful teachers, caring grandparents, an attentive physician) or experiences (counseling, financial help, education) that help mitigate stress.

FINANCIAL COSTS OF MALTREATMENT
The CDC estimates that the lifetime financial cost for each confirmed childhood maltreatment case is $210,012, comparable to serious health conditions such as stroke ($159,846) or type 2 diabetes ($181,000 to $253,000).  This breaks down into:

  • $32,648 in childhood health care costs
  • $10,530 in adult medical costs
  • $144,360 in productivity losses
  • $7,728 in child welfare costs
  • $6,747 in criminal justice costs
  • $7,999 in special education costs

Of course, these numbers in no way measure the very real human suffering experienced by people who have faced significant adversity in childhood.

LEARN MORE
To learn more about this important study, follow these links:

 

 

 

 

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What it Means to “Hold Space” for People, Plus Eight Tips on How to Do it Well

Here’s a beautiful, touching article by Heather Plett about what it means to “hold space” for someone in your life. These lessons can be applied to all of the relationships we hold dearly.

me-and-mom

When my mom was dying, my siblings and I gathered to be with her in her final days. None of us knew anything about supporting someone in her transition out of this life into the next, but we were pretty sure we wanted to keep her at home, so we did.

While we supported mom, we were, in turn, supported by a gifted palliative care nurse, Ann, who came every few days to care for mom and to talk to us about what we could expect in the coming days. She taught us how to inject Mom with morphine when she became restless, she offered to do the difficult tasks (like giving Mom a bath), and she gave us only as much information as we needed about what to do with Mom’s body after her spirit had passed.

“Take your time,” she said. “You don’t need to call the funeral home until you’re ready. Gather the people who will want to say their final farewells. Sit with your mom as long as you need to. When you’re ready, call and they will come to pick her up.”

Ann gave us an incredible gift in those final days. Though it was an excruciating week, we knew that we were being held by someone who was only a phone call away.

In the two years since then, I’ve often thought about Ann and the important role she played in our lives. She was much more than what can fit in the title of “palliative care nurse”. She was facilitator, coach, Sherpa, and guide. By offering gentle, nonjudgmental support and guidance, she helped us walk one of the most difficult journeys of our lives.

The work that Ann did can be defined by a term that’s become common in some of the circles in which I work. She was holding space for us.

What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.

Sometimes we find ourselves holding space for people while they hold space for others. In our situation, for example, Ann was holding space for us while we held space for Mom. Though I know nothing about her support system, I suspect that there are others holding space for Ann as she does this challenging and meaningful work. It’s virtually impossible to be a strong space holder unless we have others who will hold space for us. Even the strongest leaders, coaches, nurses, etc., need to know that there are some people with whom they can be vulnerable and weak without fear of being judged.

In my own roles as teacher, facilitator, coach, mother, wife, and friend, etc., I do my best to hold space for other people in the same way that Ann modeled it for me and my siblings. It’s not always easy, because I have a very human tendency to want to fix people, give them advice, or judge them for not being further along the path than they are, but I keep trying because I know that it’s important. At the same time, there are people in my life that I trust to hold space for me.

To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.

Holding space is not something that’s exclusive to facilitators, coaches, or palliative care nurses. It is something that ALL of us can do for each other – for our partners, children, friends, neighbours, and even strangers who strike up conversations as we’re riding the bus to work.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned from Ann and others who have held space for me.

  1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom. When we were supporting Mom in her final days, we had no experience to rely on, and yet, intuitively, we knew what was needed. We knew how to carry her shrinking body to the washroom, we knew how to sit and sing hymns to her, and we knew how to love her. We even knew when it was time to inject the medication that would help ease her pain. In a very gentle way, Ann let us know that we didn’t need to do things according to some arbitrary health care protocol – we simply needed to trust our intuition and accumulated wisdom from the many years we’d loved Mom.

Continue reading this article at: http://heatherplett.com/2015/03/hold-space

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Warning: “Hanging in There” is Destroying Your Health

Many people suffer from stress-related illness. Here’s a great article on the long-term effects of pushing forward, even when your body is screaming for you to stop.

warning

Sucking it up is highly overrated.

We operate in a society where it seems as if there is some secret committee that hands out awards for people who work through any sickness, embrace sleep deprivation or race through the work day without eating. It took me over 36 years to be able to admit to myself that no one was going to give me a gold star for constantly pushing myself forward.

I started asking others why they felt compelled to soldier on, and there seemed to be a few common themes: parents’ expectations growing up, needing to prove oneself and fear of rejection or loss. Regardless of the cause, most people who struggle with easing up on themselves also wrestle with admitting weakness. Fair enough.

When I look back on the years that I refused to admit weakness of any kind, I don’t think anyone could have convinced me to ease up. There were no magic words that would have made me pause and make some drastic changes.

The only reason I finally changed my pace was a health issue that brought me to a grinding halt.  Doctor-ordered time off of work followed and I started to learn the first of a series of very hard lessons. I have several friends and acquaintances who have undergone a similar experience, where they were completely fine—until they were suddenly not. If we could see the brick wall we were about to collide with, we would have stopped.

The problem is that no one sees it coming.

To read more, go to: http://bit.ly/17GUHNr

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Was Robin Williams a Coward?

Robin Williams Like everyone else, I was stunned to hear the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. Although I had known of his struggle with depression for many years, I was deeply saddened to learn that his suffering was so intense, that he actually took his own life.

As I read the reactions to the news of Williams’ death, I was dismayed by some of the harsh comments along the lines of: “How could he do something so selfish and leave his family to suffer? What a coward!” Although I became very angry reading these responses, I thought about it for a while and realized that the average person has no idea what severe depression is like, and certainly has even less understanding of suicide.

So, here’s my attempt to educate those of you who think Robin Williams “took the easy way out” and should be loathed for doing so. Yes, suicide ends suffering for the person who is depressed and leaves others with emotional pain. Sure, we wish he had not done this. Yes, we are all experiencing a loss. But please understand this: the decision to end your life does not come from a place of rational decision-making. A person who decides to end their life is not making a list of their options and then casually choosing “suicide” like some selection off a menu. The choice to end your life comes from a place of extremely deep pain, the kind that is so dark that you literally can’t see any other way out in that moment.

We can all judge Robin Williams and say that he was a “coward” or “should have gotten more help” or “should have thought about his wife and kids,” but that isn’t what this story is about. It’s not about courage or treatment options or how much you love your kids. It’s about vulnerability, suffering, deep despair, hopelessness, and being truly convinced that you will never find your way out of the pain.

No matter how well we think we know someone, none of us can ever fully understand another person’s experience. Everybody keeps parts of themselves hidden, sometimes out of fear of how others will react, and sometimes to protect loved ones. As we walk around our lives, there are always people in our midst that carry invisible emotional pain. In fact, you might be one of them. So, I urge you to be more compassionate and do as the quote says: “Be kind,” understanding fully that, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

RIP Robin Williams. Wishing peace to your loved ones.

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Make the Ordinary Come Alive

boy hugging puppy quote

Do not ask your children

to strive for extraordinary lives.

Such striving may seem admirable,

but it is a way of foolishness.

Help them instead to find wonder

and the marvel of an ordinary life.

Show them the joy of tasting

tomatoes, apples, and pears.

Show them how to cry

when pets and people die.

Show them the infinite pleasure

in the touch of a hand.

And make the ordinary come alive for them.

The extraordinary will take care of itself.

William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching

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