A Not-So-Slow Descent Into Incivility

On Election Day 2016, just after casting my vote in the still-unrepresented District of Columbia, I was approached by a Canadian journalist who was asking voters what they hoped to have happen at the end of the night. It’s no secret that I preferred Hillary, and given that the journalist was asking people voting in the downtown heart of one of the bluest areas in the country, she probably knew that already.

When the discussion moved to why I cast my vote the way I did, I tried to articulate as best I could the feeling that this election, unlike almost any other, was not about policies, programs, or even politics. Instead, it was a referendum on civility and compassion.

My fear was mostly that empowering an open bigot by handing him the presidency would embolden otherwise closeted bigots, normalizing–and even rewarding–demonstrations of hatred towards the “other.” This fear seems to have been realized, judging by the uptick in acts of hate and open disdain.

I don’t have the time or energy to analyze why people feel the need to raise themselves up emotionally by stepping on the heads of people that are a little less like themselves. That is a task for a psychologist, sociologist, or anthropologist.

Instead, I am only going to add to the chorus of voices reminding everyone to be kind. Everyone is living a life much like yours–full of large roadblocks, small speed bumps, joys and sorrows. At the end of the day, they go to bed with similar stresses and hopes for the future.

Some have an excess of roadblocks and a dearth of joys. Some have no roof under which to sleep while they think of their stresses and fleeting hopes. But above all else, other people are still people, living their lives. Their existence isn’t a slight against you, and their successes don’t cause your failures.

I recognize that, to some degree, tribalism and “other-ing” of people is hardwired in our instincts. But that only means that it requires a conscious effort to override. And it’s an effort that’s incredibly important in our current climate, given that some of those highest up in our society are the least compassionate.

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