On November 9th, 7:20am, I woke my eight-year old daughter for school. I had spent hours the previous night first huddled on my couch, my stomach churning as the U.S. election results came in; then, far more hours awake, stunned, supine, shivering.
"Hillary didn't win," I told her, when she looked at me expectantly. Not daring to phrase the results the other way around.
She cried, head in hands. "But he's so mean," she finally said, tearfully. "How could people choose him?" I hugged her. I didn't really have an answer.
There are so many ways to frame and analyse the results of the U.S. presidential election last week. Here, I will stick to this one angle: for months, we watched a mean-spirited bully campaign to become the leader a proud, great country. Donald Trump was disrespectful, hostile, aggressive, antagonising and emanated hatred. While initially many of us were stuck on how ludicrous his bid was, in short order it became alarming and distressing to watch his character take shape. Now that he is president-elect, a malaise hangs in the air. The person who is on the precipice of becoming the world's most powerful leader is a hater. The shock may be subsiding, but the sadness and fear is unrelenting. Writing this, I do realise, of course, that half a nation is celebrating - so forgive me for the inherent bias of this post.
Alongside this chilling new era that was (seemingly) suddenly ushered in, I've noticed a curious phenomenon. In our collectively raw and fragile state, we seem to be unusually receptive to connection. One of my clients last week commented that, "we're all in this mess together. I feel like everyone who I encounter is struggling, like I am." One friend related a story about an angry exchange she experienced with an elderly man over a road incident late last week (a day or two after the vote). It shook her up. She spotted him, moments later, at a nearby Starbucks and felt a rush of warmth toward him. Immediately contrite, she rushed over to apologise. He returned the apology, and she bought him a cappuccino (much to his delight).
This should not be taken as a silver lining of Trump's win, but more a facet of our human condition. In the face of this chilling new era, we crave warmth. The headline in The Guardian in the early hours of November 9th read: "This is a terrifying moment for America. Hold your loved ones close." In this climate of shared fear and flailing spirits, we feel a new sort of tenderness. A friend posted on social media the day following the election, "What if Trump and his rhetoric are an invitation? An invitation to hold our children more lovingly, care for our friends more generously, extend hospitality to strangers more graciously, do our work in this human body with greater integrity, fight more peacefully and with greater determination for more sustainable ways of relating to this Earth?"
The abject contempt that was the ethos of this election was extreme, of course, but let's be honest - we all know that dark emotional edge that comes with rivalry and feelings of dislike for others. Whether it's office politics, a struggling marriage or a simmering oneupmanship, we know that lonely, unpleasant feeling when there are jagged edges in our relations with others. Be you combative or passive aggressive, you are undoubtedly familiar with the gross feeling of unproductive conflict. With the looming likelihood of being inundated with bad energy in the political landscape, is it possible that this craving for more harmony and connection within our communities will become more imperative?
While Trump's rise to the presidency will certainly not do away with age old social dynamics, the jolt of his win has been widely destabilising. I've heard the words "anxious," "despondent" and "insommnia" uttered multiple times a day by typically grounded and optimistic people since last week. The shakiness of this experience has left me, personally, steadying myself through contact with others. Lingering by my colleagues' doors. Cuddling my children a little longer. Chatting with strangers beside me in queues.
Crises and loss tend to heighten a need for connection to others, but the need has actually been there all along. Sometimes by default, we temper this need in order to avoid disappointment, or eschew dependence on others, or to protect ourselves from pain, or exposure. For various reasons, and in various ways, we turn away - through harshness, through silence, through bids for superiority, or even by sheer distractedness.
In these divisive times, when separateness and anxiety are hard baked into the global psyche, we owe ourselves and our fellow humans this call to action: to make these attempts to connect intentional and egalitarian. Simply, to be open in this moment, to this person. Perhaps, I will catch myself bristling and intentionally choose to soften. To lean in for connection, and be curious what might come. To offer up kindness, and witness its effect. To risk being vulnerable, because, well, aren't we all? This rupture in the faith of our systems can be a reminder that in this uncertain, unpredictable world, you and I are fellow travellers.