I walked home, my shoulders tense and my eyes downcast as I tried to figure out why I have been so short-tempered lately. Why have I been unusually stressed and exhausted, even though my somewhat chaotic workloads have been consistent? It feels like a seasonal flu has taken hold of my well-being for days, weeks, months even. In an attempt to mindlessly disconnect for a moment, I get on my phone. I check my email. Every day for the past six months, my inbox has been flooded with campaign emails, urging me to contribute, asking me if I’ve read the most recent series of trending Trump hashtags or seen the latest Hillary scandal. I wonder if today will be different as I simultaneously realize that the seemingly never-ending election season is precisely what has altered my engagement with life lately.
This election has been one for the history books, for all the wrong reasons. It brought to the surface the racism, sexism, intolerance, homophobia and violence of our dark realities, that as a society we have been actively trying to pretend away for decades. We were ambushed with hateful dialogue daily for over a year. We listened to our presidential candidates and their respective supporters tear each other down in our own homes and then we carried those interactions into every part of our lives. We talked about it over breakfast, in the staff break room, at happy hour with friends. We even carried it into our bedrooms, and our subconscious carried it into our nightly dreams. It poisoned our conversations with our spouses, children and friends. We got into fierce arguments with people we love and we found ourselves, loudly or silently, pitted against each other. We aggressively defended our muddled values in the exact ways that we would teach our children not to do.
What did our children learn from us during this turbulent election mess? They heard the hate boiling all around them. Despite your best efforts to lower your voice and talk after they had gone to bed at night, they still felt the tension in your voice and saw how your body language changed whenever someone mentioned Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. They watched their teachers awkwardly or forcefully try to avoid the subject. They repeated, without truly comprehending, what they heard at home or saw on the TV, to their peers. They spread the uneasiness you were trying to protect them from and they modeled the draining and circling way our presidential candidates practiced conflict resolution. Or, like me, they listened, observed and absorbed, all while staying silent. They tuned into every argument and took a screenshot of every campaign sign. They recalled every time someone slammed their fist down in protest with Hillary and internalized every pointless insult made about Trump’s physical appearance.
As an adult, I was barely able to recognize what this constant dialogue of hostility was doing to me. What has it done to you, to our kids and to our collective understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the United States? This election season has traumatized us and the effects will be seen and felt long after the results are in.
Now that it’s over, what can we do to combat this lurking election sickness? First, pat yourself on the back for exercising your right to vote. Second, take some time to pinpoint exactly how the election has affected you. Lastly, and this is crucial, just be nice.
The campaign is over but deep down we all know that the tumultuous war of words is not. Hate breeds hate and fear breeds fear. Likewise, love breeds love and kindness breeds kindness. As we move past the election and stumble into the next chapter of our history, let’s work to actively model the characteristics (problem solving, empathy, fairness and understanding, to name a few) that we strive to instill in the next generation. Let’s find a way to live in love, undeterred by living in a time when it’s become nearly acceptable to mock and tear down others based on their beliefs, opinions and appearances. Maybe you think that this is a naïve approach, but at least it’s a step toward healing. Because, let’s face it, we are all aching for more positivity and compassion in our lives these days.
Faith Eakin is a teacher who is determined to empower youth through education, travel and kindness.