So, Dear Reader, when we left off, I was angry. Maybe you remember.
To continue, the day after the election, after I dropped Miss L off, I cried on the way into work. My eyes watered spontaneously all morning and despite keeping myself locked in my office, I eventually had to slink out to go to the copy machine. My CEO was standing there, looking a bit perplexed and jabbing at some blinking buttons, and asked me somewhat absently what I thought about the outcome – the question I was dreading.
I told him I couldn’t talk about it yet.
He and I go way back, and since the backbone of our discussions is usually a shared sense of humor, I’m sure he thought I was kidding. He laughed and then saw by the tears trickling down my face that I was serious. I said to him, “I don’t know how to be anything other than sick that we just elected someone that gave the United States free rein to grab my pussy.” (Yes, I said “pussy” to my CEO.) He stopped laughing and then horrified, I apologized.Welp, I thought, now I am fired and have a president that is a pussy grabber. That’s just GREAT.
However, he just laughed again and said that I never needed to apologize to him, that we were friends, and I said, “I’m apologizing because I would never speak to anyone like that, much less a friend,” and he acknowledged my apology. He said somberly, “I owe you an apology, too. I should have seen how upset you were, and not laughed.”
“You didn’t know. It’s okay. Being upset is no excuse to use language that I don’t condone. But I am upset,” I said. “I feel so sad, and I feel unsafe, and I feel as though we now have a president that disrespects and abandons huge portions of the population that are already disenfranchised. I can’t believe that so many people think his rhetoric is okay, or even no big deal. If he even had a plan as to how to go about accomplishing the grandiose things he says he’s going to do, then maybe – JUST MAYBE- I could understand. I know you probably voted for him,” and he interrupted me.
“I didn’t vote for him,” he said, startled. “Why would you think that?”
“Because you’re a Republican, and very conservative, and you are in a very elite position,” I told him. He shook his head and told me that in fact, he had not voted for him, and had never in his wildest dreams thought that he could win. “I gave a speech in Japan last month, ” he told me, “and I was asked to give my opinion on the US election. I said then that there was no chance that he could be elected.”
“I guess we were both wrong,” I said. “I’m sorry again, for jumping to conclusions.”
My CEO is a working class man who was raised in the Rust Belt by religious, blue collar parents. He started out working in an auto shop when he was thirteen and paid his own way through a second-tier college, where he got an engineering degree. He worked for some major automotive suppliers, both in manufacturing facilities as well as in engineering departments, and is as tough as they come.
I spent years working directly for him in my last position with Widget Central, and he is as tough, disciplined and thorough as they come. If he gave us a task, he would leave us alone to do the work, but he would want to know how we did it, how we got to every number. He would tape slides and charts around his office and pace for hours, absorbing, going over them and over them. He is dogged and unremitting in his work ethic and his expectations not just of himself, but his employees.
And he’s conservative. We debated about a lot of things in the days before his promotion to the C-suite and usually ended up laughing and agreeing to disagree. He called me Lisbeth Salander more than once (which, if you know me, is ridiculous because I’m bland – no mohawk or piercings – maybe he saw through my conservative costume.) But he is also exceptionally courteous, calm, and thoughtful. I’ve never seen him speak out of anger or bully, abuse, or disparage anyone, no matter how angry he is. He weighs his words and treats others with a deep, gracious kindness that is completely unforced – it radiates from him. I remember once having to go into his office to tell him that I had screwed something up. It was a big something. It made him look bad. I was miserable and apologized. And he said to me, “Stop apologizing. You told me up front that you didn’t know how to do it, and I had no choice, I had no one else to do it. I saw you slave over that for hours and yeah, it didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. But you know what? You tried. You might not know this, but it means something to have an employee that will try their guts out. Sometimes you will fail, but you don’t know how rare it is to have the will to keep trying. I can take a few mistakes, if that’s the case.”
After we parted ways at the copy machine, I realized that I had unfairly judged him out of the anger and the grief in my heart. I’d assumed that I knew him, his values, and his reasoning, and I used those assumptions to lash out using words that I would never advocate. And then, I reflected, even if he *had* voted for Trump, wouldn’t he still be the same person that has been my friend and excellent, trusted boss for all of these years? He is still the same person. How could I hate him or think that he would deliberately put someone in office that he thought would hurt people? He wouldn’t. He would have his reasons, but they would not be those reasons. And if he did vote for Trump, wouldn’t he still be worthy of being treated with the same respect and kindness that he has always shown me? And if I can’t treat him as such, how am I any better than the people I blame for supporting Trump and getting us into this mess?
It’s difficult to explain the fall of the dominoes that gave me a change of heart, except to say that I am the kind of person that has to know what I can do to fix something. I have to know what work I have to do to get the outcome I want. And then – I’ll do the damn work. Right now, I’m tired of being angry. I’m not tired of being angry with Trump – I hate him and all he stands for – but this week there has been an escalating tone of rage and hatred, in the violence in the streets as well as in the press and, more personally, on my social media and in my workplace. I’ve gotten in arguments and debates with people I like and respect because they won’t see my viewpoint and I can’t see theirs. Personally, I feel that the Trump campaign is responsible for it, and I want to opt out of the conversation. I want to fight everyone and be full of rage at people who voted for him. I want to blame them. But violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering, as Parker Palmer so wisely said, and there is no blame that can be laid without equal shares of responsibility and accountability. None of us can opt out of this conversation. We own it. We are living it. And if all I can do to fix this is work on myself, then, motherfucker, I will work on my own damn self. I have to find a way to turn my tone from rage and hatred, from lashing out at people based on my assumption of their situation, to reaching out and trying to understand. I have to find a way to respond to reports of violence, racism, sexism, hatred, not with my own lightning rage, finger-pointing and screams of “It’s YOUR FAULT” (as I am so prone to do) but maybe as Bernie Sanders did. He said, “To the degree that Mr Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment practices, we will vigorously oppose him.” I can get behind that. I can look down this dark street and see that light in the black and follow it. Support the good. Vigorously oppose the bad. Stand up for the rights of all and be unfailingly courteous, kind, and protective of those who need my protection until I’m too old to protect anyone anymore. When Dan Rather says “don’t opt out,” maybe that’s what he’s asking me to do and if that’s my work, I will do it.
I don’t want to do it.
It’s easier to be pissed and hateful.
I want to lay down and cry instead of doing it.
But that’s life and that’s the work and maybe I’ll find a lot of people like my CEO, who surprise me.