Showing Up and Staying Soft
It's hard not to feel like gentle strength took a major hit in the last week.
It’s been a pretty brutal week for many of us, to say the very least.
This time last week, the Americans who showed up at the polls elected our next president: a man who constructed his campaign around the image of a tough guy. An in-your-face bully, a hyper-masculine aggressor, the loudest guy in the room. And now that he’s been elected, the numbers in the news suggest almost half of America is feeling relieved, celebratory, and hopeful in this moment. But in my universe, things feel more solemn.
Our president-elect and the campaign that got him here embody so much of what our culture tells us strength is made of: aggressive rhetoric, domineering behavior, and apathy.
There are so many thoughtful, articulate people on the internet who have already voiced many of my thoughts, feelings, frustrations, and fears about what this all means, and where we go from here. To be honest, I’m still processing a lot of it. But part of what felt so crushing and personal about this outcome was what it said about the particular version of strength this country appears to value.
An archaic representation of strength was just validated by millions of people, and as a highly sensitive person, it’s hard not to feel and understand that in a visceral way.
But the more I keep chewing on it and the more I learn about how this all went down, the more I start to fixate on the idea that this outcome is the product of deep divisions between people in this country, and an inability to understand each other leading up to this. And while that doesn’t erase the very real fears of what this administration could mean for so many disenfranchised populations, it does start to reframe the problem – and possibly, the remedy.
If what we lack as a people is understanding, collaboration, and connection, I can’t think of a single solution where gentle strength isn’t the cornerstone.
To move forward in pursuit of real connection and healing, we’ll have to search within ourselves for meaningful ways of staying soft while summoning the strength to show up – really show up. It’s not about turning a blind eye to our pain, or denying our anger. (I’m a huge proponent of feeling the feelings, as a means of moving through them.) But it’s that amazing combination of softness and strength that’s going to let us move forward and start building the kind of country we want to live in.
Forward progress demands an inner strength – and as the kind of people who feel deeply, our strength is not characterized by aggression or apathy, but by conscientiousness and empathy.
There is strength in acknowledging where we are, and looking it square in the eye without using blame to deflect. I know in moments I’m feeling terrified of an unknown future, I can feel desperate to find someone or something to pin that fear on. The ‘others.’ But if we’re willing to put that compulsion aside for even a moment, we’ll start to see that we can't start to bridge the divides until we're willing to look them in the face, ask how we got here, and be willing to sit with those answers.
There is strength in taking a thoughtful pause. With emotions running high around and within us, it can be tempting to jump straight to blame, or optimism, or another equally decisive position – but it takes a rich inner-strength to know when you need to pause first, and give it some space. It becomes so important to give ourselves time and patience to mourn the way we need to, or retreat to feel what we feel and sort through it all. We have to be gentle with ourselves if we expect to be good to others – and there’s no rush.
There is strength in sitting with questions that we don’t have the answers to. Living empathetically is living in a state of perpetual tension. There is value and beauty in the push-pull as we move between recommitting to our convictions, and wondering what it means when someone we know, or love, or respect stands in direct opposition. How is this possible? What is it that’s driving their decisions, that I’m clearly not understanding? The answers are likely complicated - but it takes humanity and resilience to keep asking and sitting with them anyway.
There is strength in engaging in important conversations, especially when they’re tense or uncomfortable. It has literally never been more important that we stretch to step outside our bubbles, and reach beyond our social media echo chambers full of people who think just like we do. We have to start talking to each other with respect and curiosity, even when it’s not a given that we’ll agree. Remember: it’s possible to fight like hell to ask, to listen, to consider, to contemplate, to turn towards rather than construct a wall between – all without betraying your core values.
There is strength in putting meaningful connection and conversation ahead of being ‘right,’ or ‘winning.’ After watching the triumph of abrasive ‘toughness’ following a campaign filled with uncompromising aggression, it’s easy to walk away believing the only way to show your strength is by yelling, interrupting, and tearing someone else down. And frankly, sometimes we might have to (metaphorically, or literally) yell to be heard – but when was the last time someone changed your mind by angrily yelling at you? Particularly in this climate where we feel so deeply divided and each side feels so strongly about where they stand, it becomes so important to understand the power of modeling an alternative brand of strength – the type that creates a safe space, invites meaningful conversation, and maybe even inspires others to rewrite their own definitions of ‘strength,’ too.
There is strength in squarely acknowledging our privilege, and owning the responsibility that comes with it. To quote someone on the internet who phrased this far better than I feel capable of right now, “There is nothing threatening about acknowledging your privilege. Being more empathetic to the experiences of others is not a sacrifice to anyone's politics.” And then there’s, “privilege is not a value judgment. It’s not meant to be hurled as an insult or use as something to invoke guilt. On the contrary, I think it’s guilt that often compels people to deny that discrimination exists.” There are many of us whose day-to-day lives may be more-or-less unchanged by the impending presidency, regardless of our very real pain or anger – but there are many for whom that luxury doesn’t exist, and it’s on us to find meaningful, creative, unprecedented ways of showing up for our fellow humans.
There is strength in constructing the kind of world we want to live in. For me, that has meant stepping up my monetary giving to organizations that align with my values (and will likely be greatly affected by the outcome of the election), and seeking out in-person events that further cause I care about. It can also mean volunteering your time, or working in a sector that affects the world in ways that matter to you. Whatever it means to you, I challenge you to play a purposeful role in creating the shift you’d like to see.
There is strength in connection, and in offering each other love and comfort. I know personally, I’m not feeling fully equipped to look toward the future through rose-tinted glasses, or settle into full-blown optimism, or even fully articulate all the things I’m thinking and feeling. But it’s such a relief to remember we don’t have to wait until we’ve emotionally ‘arrived’ before we can start giving and accepting love and comfort. Even when so much feels daunting or unresolved, human connection goes an immensely long way in helping us heal.
I can’t pretend this post feels like it’s captured everything I’m feeling or that I want to say, but it’s an important start. We don’t have to have all the answers to start making progress. So in that spirit, I’d encourage to you slowly, gently, start exploring what it means to tap into and use your inner strength to move forward in ways that may stretch you, but still feel true to who you are and what you need.