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In nine days, Donald Trump will move into the White House. And most of us still don’t understand how this happened.
Let’s get real: we’re embarking on some challenging times. An ongoing battle of prejudice and bigotry. Louder discrimination against the amount of melanin in our skin, who we love and how we want to look when naked. Weakening climate change policies. Harmful trade disputes with foreign countries. A new universal health care plan (or lack thereof). The continued war on Syria. Barring immigration from countries labeled “high-risk”. January 20, 2017, and everything following that date.
Most of these issues aren’t new and shouldn’t come as a shock. We’ve been living in a messed up world for a long time. Yet many of us didn’t see these events coming — including myself.
At some point in my life, I became all consumed in my bubble here in downtown Seattle — where I live and work. Why? Maybe it was the way I was raised. The mindset that I’m accustomed to. My life’s dramatic changes from four years ago to today.
My family and I moved to Seattle from Tampa, Florida a few years ago. At that time, we started making more money than we ever thought we would. And that’s when my problems noticeably became first-world ones.
“You want to charge me WHAT for rent?!”
“I have to get a nanny because all the daycares are full.”
“You use plastic bags? Sorry, only reusable bags for me.”
I am a black female in one of the most homogeneous cities in the United States. And I have become privileged in ways that many have not experienced.
That’s not to say that I lost sight of who I am. I worked my ass off to get where I am today. I held down two jobs from the age of 16 to afford my $600 apartment, put myself through school, and take care of my cats. I’ve experienced and fought sexism, racism, and inappropriate behavior in the corporate world. I’ve negotiated for myself and leaned all the way in. I battled bible-thumping comments against my interracial marriage and my mixed baby. And I’m painfully aware that when walking through the streets of South Lake Union, I’m often the only one who looks like me.
Yet, I was consumed in my bubble. My worries extended to whether I should rent or buy in this market. Whether I should keep my son in a nanny-share or put him back into daycare. Or how I can help more women and people of color feel as valued at work as their peers. My daily news consisted of GeekWire, TechCrunch, LinkedIn and my Twitter feed. I surrounded myself with conversations on inclusion and went to events on women in tech and diversity in tech. I held events to push for equality in the workplace.
And yes, people are becoming more aware of the issues we face in many industries around the country. And, hell yes — I’m proud of the knowledge I’ve gained, the work that I’ve done, and the work I‘ll continue to do.
But I was becoming less aware of the issues that affected other people across the nation — even my family and friends back home.
So when Trump won, I was sick to my stomach. I cried. I held my son tight, watching words and actions of hate on the news. I thanked God that I could shield him from that nonsense, for now. I took the next day off work and had lunch and drinks with a friend, and we mourned. When my Facebook and Twitter feed filled with cheers and words of hate toward non-supporters, I cut myself off from social media.
Then the next day, I realized how wrong I’d been. Not just the day before. But how wrong I’d been for years. I saw what I wanted to see. I saw the issues that I could deal with, the issues that intrigued me, and the issues I knew I could help solve. I didn’t pay attention to growing residential economic segregation. Or the unequal education system. Or even the fact that we still have thousands of Americans still fighting in the Afghan war.
Yes, I read the news I saw a decent amount of issues that the world faced.
But I didn’t let the words sink in. I stopped seeing outside of my bubble and blocked the ugly from my mind and from my life. I didn’t see how many Americans were still hurting. I didn’t notice how many needed their voices to be heard and prayed for drastic change. I didn’t realize how many people needed a Donald Trump. To hear the words, like rays of sunshine breaking through dark clouds on their faces, that said, “I hear you. I support you. And I want to help you.”
Now, let’s be clear… those were just words. Words mean nothing without action. Ones that won’t and can’t be taken. But I digress…
I was creating my own suffering. I tailored what I wanted to hear and see when it came to the media. And technology created that possibility for me. The chance to hide behind my screen, my phone, my keyboard, and read what I wanted to read. See what I wanted to see. And block what I wanted to block.
In The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama states:
“There’s no doubt that with growing technology, the general level of physical comfort has improved for many in Western society. It is at this point that a critical shift in perception takes place; as suffering becomes less visible, it is no longer seen as part of the fundamental nature of human beings — but rather as an anomaly, a sign that something has gone terribly wrong, a sign of “failure” of some system, an infringement on our guaranteed right to happiness!”
When that ugly truth or suffering occurs, we see it as an unnatural occurrence. We think: “How could this have happened?” “Where is this coming from?” “The world is worse today than it’s been in a long time!” And then we start looking for someone to blame. Most of the time, that’s our peers. Our government. The education system. Our bosses.
That’s what I was doing. And what I believe many others are doing as well. The fact that someone who I found to be so insulting, degrading and WRONG could end up as our president was just unnatural. Who did this?! It wasn’t my state, my friends, my leaders, my neighbors. Something had gone terribly wrong.
But things had been going terribly wrong for a while for many others. And I didn’t realize this until after election day – until I sat back and thought about what I was missing, and reflected on how I handled the situation and who I was blaming. Lucky for me, at that time I had just started the “Art of Happiness”. I was at a point in my life where I was focused on reflection and shaping myself to prepare for a new journey. But I couldn’t just prepare myself to be open for my own personal journey ahead. I had to be open to my surroundings, to how other’s journeys could change my path, and how I could help shape the world around me.
And to do this, I had to change my perception of the world. Realize that it really is a messed up, beautiful place. Realize that there was suffering all around me that I wasn’t seeing. It wasn’t just on the corners asking me for spare change. It wasn’t only in the tears and cries for help from the man sitting on that park bench. And it wasn’t only told through career experience stories from women and people of color. The suffering was behind closed doors, in truths that I’ve been blessed to not have to experience. And in truths that, God forbid, could happen to me at any point in my life.
Once I accepted that suffering is everywhere and is a natural fact of human existence, I knew that future events as drastic as Trump becoming America’s next president wouldn’t be as shocking to me. I knew that I had to stop placing myself at the center of the universe. Because I am just one loud, determined, way too cheerful piece of hay in a haystack. Realizing the problem is the first step, right?
Of course, it doesn’t stop there.
Whether I continue to suffer depends on how I react to situations. I learned to let the words of hate and violence come, but not respond with hate and violence in my mind or out loud.
Instead, I learned to respond with love and compassion. And try to understand other’s point of view and where their anger is coming from. A world of hurt? Unacknowledged pain? Jealousy? Or just straight up rudeness? Whatever it is, it doesn’t mean I have to stoop to that level of anger. It means that I have to acknowledge the fact that there’s more suffering out there than I’m aware of. And I have to be compassionate, understanding, and take action to help in any way that I can.
Because change starts with awareness. I’ve grown my personal awareness. I no longer read just GeekWire and TechCrunch. I add in a little CNN and Huffington Post. I attend more events that make me uncomfortable, that challenge my beliefs or make me see events in a different light. I practice active listening. I started Medley, to help share stories of inclusion and exclusion. I interview people getting it right, looking outside of their lives, and giving back to others. I also started volunteering at an organization that helps those who are disadvantaged get back on their feet.
And I know these are baby steps. I have a long way to go. (Don’t we all?) But I’ll keep seeking out and approaching situations with a wider perspective on others’ opinions and desires.
And I will no longer create my own suffering.
Jessica Eggert is a diversity and inclusion advocate and the co-creator of Medley, a social journalism aggregator that promotes transparency and helps people share their experiences of inclusion and exclusion in the workplace. She and her family have lived in Seattle for almost 3 years, are very active in the community, and don’t believe in the Seattle freeze.
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