My sister and I were chatting last week about how profoundly this election seems to be affecting us all. I realized that I’ve been walking around like I’m six weeks pregnant: slightly nauseous, eating too much sugar and salt, cranky, excited, terrified, generally out-to-lunch and distracted by this nebulous thing that seems to have overtaken my every waking thought. It seems like November 8th can’t come fast enough.
Right now, so many public conversations seem to be all about winning or losing. Presumably, this particular conversational thread will diminish after the election. But we all know that just as the end of a fight in a marriage might bring temporary relief, it’s not a sign that the issues are in any way closer to being resolved. In fact, if anything, the fight itself is a great sign for those on either side of an issue to buckle down and rededicate themselves toward finding a solution that respects and honors both parties.
Yet while this analogy might work for relationships, as a country we’re still not wildly fond of conversations that threaten to betray any emotions that might have got us killed on a frontier or ostracized in a colony. But it’s impossible to truly know bravery and brotherhood and success without acknowledging their darker sides: fear, anger, and suffering. And I think we’re paying the price for trying to pretend we can ignore or surpass or belittle them. They’re growing ever louder and more intolerable, and one might argue that they’re at the heart of most discussions about the economy, immigration, and education, to name just a few of the many deeply nuanced and complex issues that have resulted in so much ineffective mud-slinging. Frankly, most of us, no matter what our political affiliations, would rather shout or shoot than sit down and sweat out a decent conversation with someone on the other side of our pet viewpoints. But if we’re going to unite as a country, how well is shouting and shooting at each other going to work for us?
I grew up in a household where there was a lot of shouting and a good deal of smacking, too, usually by those who were so unwilling to face their fears, anger, and suffering that almost any way to deflect them was preferable to facing them head on. I think this is part of why I became a writer, because it was in books that I found the kind of conversations that brought life’s darker emotions and experiences into the light where we could all see them and all note how we shared them. And while books certainly don’t represent the only – or even the best – way for such conversations to get underway, they do continue to remind me how unexpectedly powerful clear lines of communication can be.
One of my favorite quotations is from Winston Churchill. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” You can’t turn around and try to find your way back, you can’t stop and freak out, you can’t blame someone else for hell, you just have to face the worst with a sense of humor and your wits about you. Maybe a rediscovery of the true potential that dialogue has in a free country won’t solve any of our major issues, but it might just help us to reunify enough to take that next step through hell together.