It’s never as simple as “us v. them”


This last week has been eye-opening, challenging and depressing. Like many others, I’ve been trying to process and make sense of what happened.

I never realized how much I took for granted freedom in general . . . let alone freedom of speech, religion and the press until I started traveling overseas. Visiting countries where you can’t talk about news and certain topics without fear, threats or being punished.

Little did I realize that the country I was born in that prides itself on democracy would ever vote in a way that jeopardizes its very freedom and Constitution.

I didn’t expect it (admittedly being too naive), but the news hit me the same way as a bad breakup with a ex-boyfriend.

It was like getting rid of the “voice of reason” and security blanket that you have grown to love over 8 years. He has been replaced overnight by your drunk Uncle Joe who drinks way too much scotch and has a tendency to make inappropriate comments at the dinner table to your underage cousin.

When this happens, it is natural to want to curl up in a bubble and only gravitate towards people who feel and think the same way that you do. For example, I found myself on Facebook way more than normal and gravitating towards friends and acquaintances that were expressing similar emotions and thoughts.

I was trying to practice some self-care, as I desperately needed to make sense of everything that was unfolding.

You don’t need to be a psychologist to see that I was and still am very afraid. I was afraid for the direction of this country. For the safety and security of all my friends. And for myself – as a career-focused woman.

The more I scrolled through Facebook and through news sites, the more insecure, depressed, hopeless and unmotivated I was becoming. It was even impacting my energy levels, which is when I know something is really off. I’m usually quite energetic.

No blog post, status update or even offline conversations with friends could make me feel better.

I knew something was really wrong when I started to frequent CNN. Nothing good has ever come in my life from reading news articles on that site, especially when it is about hate crimes, the president-elect’s transition team or possible Cabinet appointments.

Every time I come away from that site I become either anxious, terrified or “OMG, the world is going to end . . . “ And sometimes all three at once. This time was no exception.

Side note: I realized a long time ago for my mental and emotional health it is best to treat CNN the same way I treat WebMD, which is I try to avoid going on that site at all costs or else I will go down a neurotic rabbit hole that leads me to believe that I have some terminal, rare illness that you can only get by literally fucking a chimpanzee.

I digress. No matter how much time I spent searching for answers to explain what had happened. The more frustrated, insecure and depressed I became. Nobody could say that it was 100% going to be okay.

Yes, it is painfully obvious that many of us learned this week that this country is fundamentally more fragmented than we ever could have imagined. And, that the next president is a narcissist fascist who is obsessed at winning at costs. Neither of those things were as terrifying as the plain old uncertainty (i.e. what’s going to happen next?), The uncertainty at least for me was the biggest fear.

What is fear and uncertainty really? But, about control or more specifically the lack of control. It’s human nature to want to know the outcome of things. When things get messy and things happen that we have little to no control over or simply cannot explain. It can rattle us to our core.

No one knows what is going to happen next. Change is the only constant. Reading status updates, recaps from protests and heaven forbid CNN or Fox News articles isn’t going to make any of those fears go away. It is just going to make us feel more anxious, depressed and “Like OMG – the world is going to end tomorrow.”

The only thing any of us can control are our own views and actions. You can’t control the world around you (even though we all so desperately want to).That’s a really, really, really tough pill to swallow.

So, we resort to coping mechanisms, which can be just as damaging if left unchecked for too long.

Our first coping mechanism is the primitive fight or flight instinct, which often leads us to retreat further into our comfort zones hoping to make some sense and order out of something so chaotic and senseless. That’s exactly what I was doing on Facebook.

Or, even more literally start researching visa and citizenship options abroad. That’s why the Canadian immigration site actually crashed on Tuesday night. Not making this one up.

Another coping mechanism that comes usually right after the initial “fight or flight instincts” is the “us v. them” mentality. My first thoughts were how could almost 50% of this county be racist, bigoted and sexist. All of these Americans’ didn’t see the country how I see it, so naturally I went to the “us v. them” mentality. That’s a really dangerous way to see an issue or the world in general because you are seeing the opposing side as a “threat.”

The reality is much more nuanced. The other side was so frustrated, let-down and disfranchised by the current system and way of doing things that the only way to be heard was to vote for the loudest candidate who gave them a voice for the first time in years. . . heck decades. That candidate just happened to be a fascist, who was endorsed by the freakin’ KKK.

Just let that sink in for a minute.

While I do think there are more racists, bigots and sexists in this country than I thought there were, I don’t think it is anywhere close to half of this country. Treating all of the people who voted for Trump as an “us v. them” mentality does nothing but create more animosity and ill will.

I’d argue that’s the exact opposite of what all of us should do. When fear settles in, instead of running from it or taking an “us v. them mentality”, have the courage to sit with and understand these fears. That’s where the real learning and growth opportunities lie.

The only way to make any progress is to understand the other side’s POVs. That’s not easy. There’s a lot of work to be done.

So, yes the direction of this country will be forever changed. I’m scared of the power our president-elect will inherit. But if I obsess over that I’ll just become a depressed, anxious and unmotivated mess for the next four years. I can’t control what the president-elect will do. Or, what Congress will do. Or even what my neighbors will do.

Instead, it is best to move forward and focus on my actions and the changes that I can make to bridge the gaps around me. Moving forward is after all the only way to make any real progress.

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About the author

Jessica Malnik

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