For roughly 60 million American voters, what happened on November 8, 2016 is what you wanted to see happen. The emotions felt were mostly good.
For roughly 60 million American voters, what happened on November 8, 2016 was not what you wanted nor expected to happen. For those people, they’re also feeling lots of feelings but most of them don’t feel so good.
But all emotions are good, even the ones that feel unpleasant. They are healthy. They are human. They are purposeful and helpful, especially in times like these – because they get you to do what you need to do.
When Things Don’t Go the Way You Expected
Here’s a guide to make sense of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that many are having. For those that are feeling them, here’s some encouragement for what you can do with these emotions. For those that aren’t feeling these feelings because things turned out they way you wanted, I encourage you to read on anyway, to build empathy for your friends and family that you’ve been sparring with or avoiding for the past year or so.
Sadness – the emotion we feel when we experience loss. Other feelings connected to this emotion may be despair, disappointment, emptiness, feeling lost, hopeless, and “I can’t believe this is happening.”
- The purpose of this emotion is to compel us to accept that what is already gone in the outer world is real, and to integrate the reality of that loss into our inner world as well – so that we are fully equipped to move forward successfully.
- The value of this emotion is that once the reality of loss is integrated, it helps us to move on in our lives with insight and purpose.
- Not allowing ourselves to feel sad reinforces inauthenticity and denial because our beliefs are at odds with what is happening around us, especially in regards to things that we no longer have.
- A healthy experience with sadness gives us the necessary insights to understand the very personal meaning of what is lost and to take stock of what still remains (what was not lost). In this way, when we are ready to move forward we can appreciate what we have, can accept what is irreplaceable, be motivated to find other ways to fulfill what we still need, and consider ways to prevent losses in the future.
So it’s good and important to feel sad right now.
Anxiety – the emotion we feel when we are threatened. Same as afraid, fearful, scared, worried, panicked. It’s our “fight” or “flight” response.
- The purpose of this emotion is to compel us to problem-solve those things in our lives that we believe may harm us or those we care about.
- The value of this emotion is that it helps us reconcile these potential threats. One option is to get away, the “flight” part of our anxiety response. Boycott. Move to Canada. Secede. Ignore. It’s one solution. However, when we choose “flight” it means that those same potential dangers still exist in the world, we’re just distancing ourselves from them. It’s important to thoroughly consider these options, because it might actually make us more seriously consider option #2, which is to deal directly with what we fear. When we choose “fight” we’re deciding that we are going to stay and it’s the threats that are going to leave.
- When we do this in unhealthy ways, like when we choose to literally fight, we also become threats to others which creates a cycle of more fear, confrontation, and violence. If this can be avoided, then we should.
- When we “fight” in healthy ways, we look for solutions and resolutions through greater self-awareness, empathy, complex problem solving, patience, persistence, effective communication, and collaboration. We rely on our strengths, the best parts of what we have to contribute.
So it’s good and important to be anxious right now.
Anger – the emotion we feel when we believe that something is wrong and others are responsible to make it right. At first, it feels like frustration, exasperation, irritation, being flustered. Over time, it feels like assertiveness, purposefulness, passion, and advocacy.
- The purpose of this emotion, believe it or not, is to compel us to problem solve with others. We don’t usually think of anger as a pro-social emotion, but it is.
- The value of this emotion is that it helps us to share our perspectives with others and to compel in them a mutual discomfort that they too might be motivated to become part of the solution in partnership.
- An unhealthy manifestation of this emotion is when we are too forceful and aggressive in our attempts to “make people understand” with intimidation and threats.
- A healthy manifestation of this emotion is when it creates mutual insight and collaboration, as well as a persistence and patience over time if the cause is seen as worthwhile. It seeks to communicate for the edification of others (because we already know what’s wrong). It evokes an intentional discomfort, making all parties internally motivated to become more active and assertive in contributing to the solution. All powerful movements of societal progress have started with anger. Their success in making change has been built around creating shared insights, partnership, community, motivation, and resolving action.
So it’s good and important to be angry right now. We all benefit from seeing the world from different perspectives. It is in our human nature to make progress. It is our human preference to make progress with others.
Surprise – the emotion we feel when our existing beliefs incorrectly predicted real world outcomes. It’s the same as feeling shock, horror, being stunned, confusion, WTF, and “I don’t get what is happening!?!?!?”
- The purpose of this emotion is to compel us to reconsider our beliefs so that what we expect to be true in our minds aligns with what is likely to be true in the real world.
- The value of this emotion is that it challenges us to be open-minded, to be life-long learners, to hold onto a growth mindset, and to become aware of our implicit biases and vulnerabilities.
- There is a temptation when we are surprised to quickly dismiss what just happened as an exception to our rules or to blame others for what we believe “shouldn’t have happened.”
- It is better if we started instead by looking inward. It’s important to struggle to reconcile why we didn’t see something coming because: 1) we want to avoid being unprepared and blindsided in the future, and 2) we want to better understand what the realities of our lives entail so that we can be more engaged, prepared, and competent. Confusion is the mental tension that motivates us to find a sense of mental equilibrium and harmony. It’s useful to be confused. We should ask questions. Be curious. Do research. Take the opportunity to have conversations with people that weren’t surprised, that have different beliefs than you do. The end result will be that you’ll be more insightful, more aware, more accurate, and therefore more authentic in your beliefs.
So it’s good to be shocked, disturbed, confused and surprised right now. It’ll help us learn.
For All 120 Million and the Ones That Sat This One Out
A healthy human being has a fully developed sense of “me” and a fully developed sense of “we.” Optimally, these two parts of our identity are balanced, complementary, and integrated into what Interpersonal Neurobiologist Daniel Seigel describes as a cohesive “mwe.”
In politics, conservative beliefs tend to represent the “me” part of our identity in valid and important ways – my self-worth, my autonomy, my choices, my opportunities, my values. I believe rural, white, non-college educated citizens identify more with these values in part because they have a basic need to be seen in the context of being remembered, but have felt that they have been forgotten at the expense of urban, diverse, college-educated citizens who tend to dominate policy. Their voice says “Hey, remember me? I’m still here.”
Liberal beliefs tend to represent the equally important and valid part of our “we” identity that is built around our relationships with others – the way we share our resources, the way that we share our environment, the way that we live collaboratively with others. People of color tend to identify more with these values because they too have a basic need to be seen but in the context of being included, feeling that they’re still labeled as Adjective Americans and not just Americans. Their voice says “Hey, I’m here too. I want to feel that I belong.”
Still okay right? No disagreements yet?
The problem is that somewhere along the way, we’ve come to believe that one is more important than the other – that a “me” platform is superior to a “we” platform or vice versa. Or even worse, that one is right and that the other is wrong. This is not true.
Back to our personal identities, when we are too “me” oriented, we are selfish, inconsiderate, and short-sighted. When we are too “we” oriented, we lose our voice, experience less personal fulfillment, and sacrifice too much. An unbalanced and disconnected political system is no different.
Being healthy is fully developing our “me” values and our “we” values simultaneously and finding ways to balance those needs and ideally having them support each other. The more I value my own self-worth, the more I’m likely to want to contribute to the wellbeing of others. The more time that I spend with people with perspectives different than mine, I become more knowledgeable, experienced, and competent. It’s not that Republicans are wrong or Democrats are wrong. They both represent important values that mirror essential parts of our individual human identity. It’s that the two sides don’t collaborate nor value and support each other.
I believe that as a reflection of our normal human diversity, we tend to gravitate towards political parties or candidates that align with our own natural inclinations in the “me” to “we” ratio. Some of us are more autonomous, introspective, internally-oriented people. Some of us are more relational, social, and empathetic. I also believe that we intuitively understand that all of the values I listed above, the “me” and the “we” ones, are important to be a well-rounded, good, and healthy person. We are actually better off in groups when specialized tasks are assigned to people that are able to do what they do best, what they are more naturally passionate about, what they are internally motivated to prioritize. A more perfect Union should also let the right-leaning do what they are better inclined to do, and let the left-leaning do what they are better inclined to do, while also finding our common shared values to work on together, in a cohesive and balanced system.
With your sadness, don’t check out. Instead, grieve the losses, hold onto what remains, and press on.
With your anxiety, don’t run away. Instead, understand the problem, get help, and work on the solutions.
With your anger, don’t punish. Instead, share your convictions, recruit equally inspired partners, and make progress.
With your surprise, don’t blame others. Instead, learn about your vulnerabilities, grow your insight, prepare yourself better, and try again.
With those that don’t see the world according to your me/we ratio, listen to their perspectives and values before sharing your own. Because no candidate or elected official ever perfectly represents our beliefs and values, it is very likely that you will find that there is common ground with others. It’s the election cycle that creates an artificial simplicity in our belief systems because we are only given two choices. In reality, we are complex beings with complex beliefs. Encourage your friends and family that don’t vote like you do to keep doing what they are passionate about because their work is important too and chances are, you’re not going to want to do it anyway. If we remove conflict, fear, and anger, all people will be better able to use their best resources to find complex solutions to complex problems.
It was a very, very close election and that’s not by accident. It is reflective of the natural balance between the equally important parts of our human identity. Half the country voted “me” and half the country voted “we.” Those values, that passion, these emotions don’t go away just because the other person won. We should support our friends and family that share our priorities. We should also reach out and encourage our friends and family that are passionate about the values that we are less inclined towards and be grateful that someone is doing that important work too.
Come on America, “mwe” can do better.