By Phoebe Farag Mikhail
Today is inauguration day in the United States of America. Millions of Americans are certainly jubilant. Millions are also understandably skeptical, and millions are justifiably angry, worried, concerned, and afraid. There is one thing, however, that all Americans need to be: hopeful.
I am not talking about blind optimism. More than a few of those who are jubilant today are blindly optimistic. They will be in for a rude awakening when they realize, as many others have, that putting all faith in one human being or one political party to solve their and the world’s problems will lead to great disappointment, no matter who that human being is. When that rude awakening happens, they too will need to stay hopeful.
And so for the jubilant, the skeptical, for the angry, worried, concerned, and afraid, here are a few ways we can stay hopeful during uncertain times:
1. Open our doors. Do you have a new neighbor on your floor, in your building, on your block? Is there a new family or individual at your school, church, temple, or mosque? Invite them to your home for a meal, or for coffee and dessert. They may or may not share your politics, but they definitely share your neighborhood and your community. Help them feel welcome, and you’ll find you have much more in common than you think. I will never forget the kindness of the people I barely knew opening their homes to me when I first moved to a new state for work. I have been unspeakably blessed when I have opened my home to others. I have made new friends and gained new perspectives, and most importantly, I have made an authentic human connection, had a real conversation, and shared life, not statuses.
2. Open our minds. During this election season, I opened almost every article posted by every one of my friends who were voting differently than I planned to. I read opinion pieces that infuriated me and others that were eye-opening. I even read “fake news” from clearly questionable websites. I needed to know what my friends were reading, what was shaping their viewpoints. Between this and face to face conversations with friends on all parts of the political spectrum, I could not only wrap my head around what people were thinking and feeling, but I could empathize with them.
The information revolution has allowed us access to news and information that is no longer controlled by a few major sources. It has allowed us access to news media from all over the world and from different perspectives. In some parts of the world, it has allowed us to hear alternative stories that we don’t hear due to state (or corporate) controlled media. But it has also reduced our ability to have conversations based on a common groundwork of information and assumptions. We get the information we want, and consume more of the opinions that we agree with and that do not challenge our way of thinking. And as a result, especially on topics we disagree with, we can’t talk to each other without either offending each other or wondering how on earth the other could think that way and still be a human being. To combat this and keep my mind open, I maintain diverse friendships and force myself to read news, essays, and books written from different perspectives to understand the “other side” rather than live in an echo chamber. This article on the “Seven Habits of Highly Depolarizing People” provides especially helpful advice.
3. Open our hearts. What would happen if we were all more honest with each other about our stories, the joys we experience, the struggles we face? What would happen if, when we opened our doors (see number 1), we didn’t hide the toys strewn on the floor, the dishes piled in the sink, the laundry yet to be folded? I think we might experience understanding, commiseration, forgiveness, and love. We might find the people start reconsidering their realities when they start to understand our realities. For example, after a recent spate of police brutality towards African Americans that included several fatalities, one of my Black friends broke her silence and shared the terrible tension and anxiety she had been feeling. Many of her friends rallied around her in support. I greatly appreciated the vulnerability she expressed and got her permission to quote some of her words:
All of you who love me, trust me, will ‘ride’ with me, hold me dear and call me your friend. Don’t sit on the sidelines on this issue. When you see or read about a Black man being shot dead, don’t change the channel or skim the read; instead I EXPECT you to think of [my husband]. When you hear of a Black person being killed in front of their child, I EXPECT you to think of [my daughter]. When a Black woman goes missing, I EXPECT you to think of me. I expect you to be outraged, to be engaged and to fight on my side… the way that you know in your heart I would fight for you.
My friend’s words opened the window to me of her reality, one that I don’t live on a daily basis. Her vulnerability was a gift that moved me not just to reach out to her, but to everyone I knew what is affected by this issue on a regular basis.
4. Get involved. There is nothing that makes me more hopeful than to see the sheer number of people who have decided to get involved in their communities, to march, to make their voices heard, to advocate in many different ways for the causes they believe in. I have never seen so much enthusiasm and energy. Friends have thrown their hats in local political races. A friend, after losing her first run for common pleas court judge two years ago, was sworn in yesterday. Another friend didn’t get her party’s nomination for her local assembly, but she is trying again next year. I have focused my US-based activism on supporting those friends who are running and by participating in the campaigns of the advocacy organization Momsrising.org. There are plenty of other worthy groups, as well as local groups that are organizing using the Indivisible Guide.
Before we knew the outcome of the 2016 election, I had committed praying for the new president, whoever he or she would be, and to advocating for the causes I believe in, because no matter who won the election, there is no individual or political party whose values and platform completely align with mine. I am praying for President Trump, and praying, opening my doors, opening my mind, opening my heart, and getting involved are what have kept hope alive and despair at bay. “Why are you cast down, O my soul,” the Psalms ask, “and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” (42:11, NRSV). Whether you are jubilant, skeptical, angry, worried, concerned, or fearful, stay hopeful. We have God, and we have each other.
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(c) Phoebe Farag 2016