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Change Ahead for a Conflicted America

Published November 15, 2016 - Updated November 7, 2018

Last week, in the aftermath of our Presidential election, we weren't quite sure what we should say in our weekly newsletter. Did we address the elephant in the room, or did we avoid starting or contributing to an already difficult, devolving conversation? We wrestled with our message that week--with how or if our newsletter was the right place to talk about what's going on in our country and the changes we will face together as a nation. As it turns out, our thoughts and feelings in this time of change are relevant to the thoughts and feelings many of us experience when facing other changes in our lives, and we wanted to make a humble attempt to help our readers make sense of the opinions and feelings we've encountered in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, and the impacts they'll have on the transition ahead.

If there's anything we know about change, it's that not everyone goes through transition the same way, and that we need to hear different messages throughout the process. 

In any effort, big or small, it's critical to understand your stakeholders so you can give them the messages and communication they need. Well, our country has a lot of individual stakeholders, and a lot of impacted stakeholder groups.

If you find yourself baffled by your fellow American stakeholders, and perplexed by the perspectives and opinions you're hearing and reading in the aftermath of last week's election, here's a place to start to help you understand where your fellow Americans are coming from, how they're feeling, and what we need from each other right now and during the days ahead. 

Keep in mind that not everyone is just one thing. We know you can't put people into boxes, and we've intentionally not called out "winners" or "losers." You might find yourself in a couple different camps below. So where are you? Where is someone you love? What do you need for yourself, and what can you give to or do for someone else?


If You Find You Are Hopeful for a New Era

You are genuinely looking forward to what the future holds, and optimistic that the next administration will champion progress and change for the benefit of Americans. You're excited, and ready to welcome our nation's new leaders. You are hopeful that the next four years will be good and prosperous for our country. You will be a critical change agent and champion throughout the transition process. Thank you, and we need you, but not everyone is ready for you right now.

Things you can do: Be compassionate to those who are uncomfortable with the outcome of the election and uncertain about the future, and be ready to step in to lead the charge for change when called upon. Your hope and your optimism are valuable, but they are not as well-placed in some conversations as a listening ear. Close your mouth. Open your ears. Share a hug or a kind word. Show someone else you care about them.


If You Find You Are Asking For Unity

The outcome of this election might have been what you wanted, or perhaps it wasn't. Either way, you're ready to accept it and move on. Not everyone is there yet. Your cry for unity is important, and you will also serve as a change agent and champion for the transition ahead. Thank you for your willingness to take steps onto common ground together. The things you're asking for--the unification of a very divided country--will take time, patience, and understanding. Many Americans have been told that there is not a safe place for them under the new administration. Whether you agree or disagree, that is what certain communities and populations are hearing, seeing, and feeling.

Things you can do: As you urge others to take steps toward acceptance and unity, please don't discount or marginalize the fear that this election has inspired in a lot of our nation's citizens. Many will eventually share your hope and desire to come together and unite as a nation; but first, those who are afraid, those who are hurting, must be allowed to acknowledge their fear, to grieve, and to empathize with one another. It would mean a lot to them if you listened to their stories, if you tried to understand, and empathized with them.


If You Find You Are Grieving and/or Scared

You are fearful for the future of our nation, and maybe even for your and your family's safety. You are disappointed in the choice your fellow Americans have made, and that what is important to you was not as important to them in that voting booth. You might even feel disillusioned or disempowered. Those are all perfectly valid things to feel. Your fears will help us shape good answers for our future. Your concerns will help us identify and respond to the things that need to be repaired or restored, as well as the risks that need to be anticipated and prevented.

Things you can do: Take the time and space you need to process. Reach out to people who share your fear and grief; reach out to friends, families, and allies. With your passion and your emotions, create something beautiful, build something useful, write something meaningful. Give yourself time for quiet reflection. Allow yourself to slow down, or take an afternoon off. Go for a walk or head to a place of nature or a place of worship that soothes your soul and gives you comfort. When you are ready, begin to prepare yourselves for the change ahead. Start looking for solid, common ground to stand on, and the resources to help you climb when the time comes.


If You Find Yourself Disagreeing or Angry

Your disagreement is valid, and your anger is real.  The campaigning process was ugly; as a nation, we were brought to almost fever-pitch throughout the process. It is okay to be angry when expectations are not met. Your anger will help others hear things they may not have heard before, and your disagreement will help others see things from a different view and consider different perspectives. But destructive anger is not productive. Tearing down will not help us heal, it will only deepen a divide that is already deeper than we'd previously imagined.

Things you can do:  Use your active energy to create something, to tackle a hard project or take control of something you can control. Use this moment to get started on your own plan to engage more actively involved in public service. Disagree with dignity. Count to 10 and take a deep breath so that you do not behave out of your character in anger.Take a moment to consider your purpose before you speak or post; if you don't have a positive purpose for an interaction, for a social media post, for a comment--if it is not seeking to make the world a better place, or a genuine, respectful effort to help others understand a specific perspective--walk away.


For All of Us

Whatever we're feeling, at any given moment, we should seek to...

  • Avoid labels and assumptions about the mindset or character of individuals who did not choose what you chose, or who are not like you.
  • Listen to the other side in an effort to understand instead of listening in an effort to respond.
  • Be compassionate and try on a little empathy.
  • Be respectful. The person you're talking to is a valuable human being.
  • Find things we can agree on.
  • Be kind.

There have been a lot of shameful, painful things in the the days leading to and in the aftermath of this election.

Let's commit to doing better in an effort to bring out the best in each other.


This article was a collaborative effort by Sinikka Waugh and Anna Lehocz. Check out the original newsletter message, and sign up to receive future newsletters here.

Sinikka Waugh - Your Clear Next Step

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day.

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