Something Essential

Last night I lay awake in bed worrying about the election on Tuesday, and I bet that many of you did, too.  I’m afraid for my future, for the future of my children, for my friends and family and enemies.  

And the strange thing is that people on all sides of these vicious debates are scared.  That strikes me over and over again.  I have a strong opinion about something, and then I remember that someone believes the opposite just as strongly.  Who is right?  And why do we believe such different things?  Of course, I think I’m right and on the side of justice—but they do, too!  That seems like the biggest problem we are facing in a complicated world.

I can’t help but think about our personal identities and how they shape who we are.  I am a white, cisgender, middle-class woman with a disability and a liberal arts college education.  I come from a liberal hometown and was raised in a non-religious family.  I am temporarily employed and in serious debt.  

Every single one of those identities affects the way I vote and the way I think, and if you changed one of them, I would end up a different person.  Or would I?  It seems that we come together when we see an essential part of ourselves in someone else.  I’m not sure if that means that we have an essential self or that our social circumstances somehow overlap.

But we cannot see each other clearly unless something is the same.

There are a lot of concrete things to remedy this situation (diversify our media, try to meet people different from ourselves, get involved in causes that we’re passionate about, etc., etc.).  That is all so important.

But I think another thing that is absolutely fundamental is finding something essential within ourselves that is worth cultivating.  We need to figure out what it is that is worth connecting over.  If we try to connect based on things we don’t really care about, it doesn’t get us anywhere.  It reminds me of this quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

As I sit here googling whether or not my candidates are predicted to win, getting more and more anxious and overwhelmed, I am also trying to figure out why the hell people on the other side are googling their candidates and feeling anxious and overwhelmed.  I am trying to think about what essential part of myself is worth connecting over.  Is it fear that our country is slowly rotting from the inside?  Anger that other people are bonding over hate and greed?  

Is it that I am a white, cisgender, middle-class woman with a liberal arts education?  I don’t think so.  Bonding over what identities make us the same gets us doesn’t completely get us where we need to be.

I think it might be that I am a musician and a writer, a thinker and a doer, someone concerned by what is going on in the world and wants to make a difference.  These are the essential parts of myself worth bonding over.  I have to keep thinking and thinking and thinking about what else is inside me that others might share.

And I think that finding those things is the most important thing we can possibly do in a complicated, hateful, greedy, loving world.

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