One Voter’s Shame

Dear Democracy,

 I was recently laid off from my job, as was my husband. In Tuesday’s election, I voted for Gary Johnson. It’s worth noting that I’m from a very blue state, and had far more confidence my vote would not go towards electing Donald Trump than those voting for Johnson or Stein in places like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. I can’t say how I would have voted if I lived in one of those states. I truly don’t know.

I could get into a justification of why I voted for Johnson here, but that’s not what I really want to talk to you about, Democracy.

 In the last few days, I’ve been called unintelligent for my vote. Ignorant. Sexist. By people who I count as friends. I’ve been told I don’t understand the plight of minorities, and that I’m a self-hating woman. It makes me angry. But I also feel ashamed, as if there is a fundamental part of me that is bad and wrong.

 These things hurt so much. I’m not sure what to do. My husband and I are very scared; our financial situation is precarious, and I didn’t have faith that electing Clinton would fix it, but I wasn’t sure about Trump, either. Now I am being told that I’m ignorant. I was just trying to do what was best for my family.

 How do I deal with interactions like this? How do I respond? Do I respond?

 Sincerely,

Ashamed and Angry

 

Dear Ashamed and Angry,

I am so sorry those things were said to you. You are a human, and no person deserves to be spoken to that way.

No one.

I’m going to repeat that again, darling.

No one.

I’m not sure who the people are that said these things to you. I can make some assumptions, though about what they were feeling.

Angry.

And afraid.

Just like you.

But I’ll come back to that point. Right now, I want to tell you a story.

When I was in middle and high school, I was an ardent Republican. I’ve talked about this previously here. I had what was probably an unnatural attachment to politics for a person my age. I can’t say for certain what drove this attachment. I’m sure my father had something to do with it. I adored him and still do. Today, he’s one of the most gloriously liberal people I know, but back then, he was conservative and Republican.

And when I say I was a Republican I mean all of it. Pro-“life.” Against gay marriage. I voted for a constitutional amendment in Michigan banning gays from the right to marry. I cast my ballot for George W. Bush in 2004 when I was 18.

I was ridiculed and shamed for these beliefs. And not in a productive way, but in a mocking way.

A way which assumed I was beyond repair and beyond hope.

My beliefs did eventually change.

I went to college. I moved away from a small, mostly homogeneous town to a big, diverse city. At college, I tried to continue on with this identity I had built for myself. This Republican, conservative identity. I joined the College Republicans. I attended a few meetings.

But something kept pulling me away.

After a while, I left the group. I took classes in political science and multicultural studies. I met people from all walks of life I could have scarcely imagined growing up.

And my politics changed.

My beliefs changed.

The point is, I grew and I changed–not through force and shame and humiliation–but through a gentle, tough love I received from my colleagues I met so many years ago when I moved from a small town to a big city.

A lot of it was uncomfortable. I felt a lot of guilt for holding views I now know are discriminatory and harmful. But in many ways, it’s a healthy guilt that reminds me of how far I’ve come and that I’ve always got more places to go.

This is not a story meant to tell you that you have growing and changing to do though, darling. We all do, but that’s not what I’m here for today.

This is a story meant to tell you that change does happen, but that we cannot be humiliated or shamed into changing. Given my own political inclinations, I’d love for you to change! I would have loved for you to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton, a woman for whom I have so much respect and who has had a tremendous career as a public servant.

That’s the stuff of politics, isn’t it?!

So let’s return to those people who told you that you were unintelligent, ignorant, and self-hating.

First, you have every right to move yourself out of the path of people who would humiliate and shame you. It’s not that I am trying to deny the fear and anger that drove them to humiliate and shame you, it’s just that humiliation and shame serve no good, and they’re not approaching you in a way that is creating the space for change.

Shame does not create change.

It stops change.

Second, you have to honor the feelings that drove you to vote the way you did. It sounds like your feelings and fears are grounded in reality.

Not all of ours are. When I sit next to someone on the train that makes me feel unsafe just because of the way they look, it’s always a fear that is not grounded in reality. And if they do intend to harm me, it is never because of the way that they look, but some deeper complexity that transcends appearances. That doesn’t mean I don’t protect myself should I be threatened, but it does mean I have to be mindful of assumptions I make about one’s intent to harm based on appearances alone.

But your pain and your fear are founded in real, awful things that have happened to you. You have every right to feel the way you feel.

Third, you have to take care of yourself. Self-preservation is so important. This is why I urge you to step away from people who are shaming and humiliating you. It’s not that they are bad people. But people do a lot of awful, awful things when they are hurting, and I’m sure they’re in a lot of pain.

Finally, when you’ve moved yourself out of the path of emotional and psychological harm, when you’ve honored your feelings, and when you’ve taken care of yourself, I encourage you to come back to the people who said those things to you. I want you to take a big, deep breath, and imagine what might have driven them to say such things. I want you to think about the times when you’ve been similarly humiliating and shaming of other people, because we all have, sweet pea. Every single one of us.

Can you put yourself in their shoes, love? Can you imagine the kind of pain that drove them to call you such terrible things, even though they supposedly love you?

I have a feeling you can. You seem strong. You were strong enough to reach out to me.

When you’re ready, I encourage you to reach out to the folks who called you these things and ask them why they did so. I’m betting they’re afraid. And I’m betting they are looking for allies. They’re just not certain of how to go about it.

I’ll close by saying this:

You are worthy, and you are enough. The very fact that you want to find a way to navigate these differences tells me you are a shining star of a human that we need to cultivate, not condemn.

Yours,

Democracy