Tears of joy and relief have been running down my face for two hours. After four long days and four long years, the words I longed to hear were finally said across all the major media networks: “Joe Biden will become the 46th president of the United States of America.”
I am exhaling. Until today, I didn’t realize how much I was holding it all in this week, this month, this most abnormal of years, or these past four years. I am relieved at what this means for my family and our children. I am excited about what this means for Black people and other people of color, for women, for LGBTQ+ people, for the poor among us, and for people who just want opportunities to create better lives for their families.
Four years ago, it was rough. Rough, rough, rough. Since then, I’ve tried to take the high road as much as possible and be as gracious and empathetic as much as I could, even though I did not want or approve of the president, his behavior or his leadership. I’ve tried to remember that many others in our country feel so differently than I do. And I’ve also tried to speak out when I thought it was necessary to shine a light on things that were more than just differences of opinion, but represented hate, injustice and inequality.
I will try to remember that today feels just as rough to those whose candidate lost today, as four years ago felt to me. And while I will continue to assert that the last four years have divided us further than we already were, I will also continue to realize that many of the people who voted differently than I did voted not only because of their hopes, but also because of their fears — just like I and many others like me did. And I have empathy for people who are afraid, even if I don’t understand their fear, because I know what it feels like to be afraid.
I know some people don’t like to talk about things like empathy and unity in moments like this, but I believe it’s precisely in times like this, when even greater division threatens, that we must find ways to show empathy to others, and find ways to unite. I am not looking for fake unity that acts like nothing happened, as if we can all just hold hands and skip off into the sunset. I am talking about the kind of unity that is really, really hard to achieve, but holds so much promise for healing and progress. And I will always seek unity because I believe in my heart it is one of the things that we possess as humans that allow us to overcome our greatest challenges and fulfill our destinies. Without unity, we stay divided. If we stay divided, our hope for a better way of life for all of us dies. I don’t want that, do you? But in the face of such division, how do we find a path to unity? What does a bridge even look like?
We have been fighting for and against so many things in the present, with very little shared understanding of how we got here in the first place, or concern about what the potential outcomes of these conflicts might be. To me, understanding how to unite depends on understanding why are divided, to look at the root causes of our enmity. And I believe there are at least three key divisions that we have not fully reckoned with.
I believe our division exists because many people in this country have yet to come to terms with our 400-year long original sins as a nation: the enslavement and oppression of Black people; the treatment of women as second-class citizens; and the literal decimation of Indigenous people who were here before European colonists arrived. Despite the founding fathers’ aspirations for justice and liberty, these are our founding systems of injustice and bondage. This is how our country was formed. And other people resent the fact that our nation still struggles to acknowledge these past inequities are now present inequities.
I believe our division exists because some people in this country have been born into opportunity and haven’t had to overcome as many obstacles to achieve and obtain the things they want in their lives and in their families’ lives. This is privilege. And other people resent the fact that opportunity is unequal in this country, and it has little to do with how hard one works; instead it is often based on who a person was born to, where they were born, the color of their skin, or their gender.
I believe our division exists because some people in this country demand that everyone else see it the way they see it: love the same things, criticize the same things, and share the same beliefs. Anything less than total adherence to the same set of beliefs and values is not just “other,” it is also evil. And other people resent the fact that so many people struggle to accept that both of these things are true: we have much in common, and there are also many things that make us different.
We love different things about America. Some of us love what America is supposed to be, and some of us love what America used to be. And we resist different things about America. Some of us are resisting what America is becoming. Some of us are resisting what America has been. We are constantly fighting with another, but what’s more, we are fighting with time, in the form of both the past and the future. As a result, we are actually missing this present moment and what it offers. And this present moment, right now, holds a unique opportunity to understand our past, and to find hope for our future, for all who would seize it.
How to do this? We already know the answer. We see it in the youngest, most precious, least spoiled among us: our children. Before they are taught to hate, they expect to love and be loved in return. Before they are taught to judge, they instinctively have grace for one another. And when they wrong others, they are typically quick to apologize, and often even faster to forgive.
They possess the seeds of curiosity, empathy, compassion, and companionship. Some of those seeds are watered and given light, while others die of thirst in the darkness. If each of us could remember five words that came so easily to us as children, we might set the emotional preconditions for reconciliation and unity: “I’m sorry.” “I forgive you.” These are the words of love.
Reconciliation and unity depend on more than love, however. They require truth — and a deep desire for it. And this truth requires individual and collective reflection and accountability by those who have caused harm to others. And in response, individual and collective forgiveness by those who have been wronged.
I have no space for hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, injustice, religious intolerance, attacking difference, or ideological extremism.
I have tons of space and time for unity based in truth and reconciliation, for justice, love, healing, faith, seeking to understand our differences and find meaningful commonalities.
And I have all the space and time in the world for people who want to reconcile and unite and are willing to do the hard work and take the tough journey there, based on accountability and forgiveness. I’m not aware of any relationship between two humans that was once broken and has since been healed, without both of those things taking place, so that seems like a good place to start.
As I said recently, we still have the opportunity to become a better version of ourselves, to fulfill our original promise, even though we haven’t seen it yet and can barely imagine it.
So, as I continue to celebrate the result of this important election, I recognize that we all have work to do. I am ready and willing to do what I can to help us unite and reconcile, because I believe it really is that important. I hope you are ready and willing, too.
If so, meet me in the middle and let’s get to work.