By Georgia Kelly
In 2017, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a report, “The Trump Effect,” which detailed the degrading and violent rhetoric that the Trump campaign had unleashed on the American public. The meanness and vitriol extended toward “the other” – that is, anyone who differs in ideas, beliefs, race, gender identification, etc. – makes them fair game for verbal and even physical abuse.
The SPLC survey received more than 25,000 responses from educators in K-12 classrooms across the country. Nine out of ten of those responders had reported an increase in negative behavior following the 2016 election. Some described specific incidents that could be tied directly to election rhetoric. Often, the exact same words Trump or his supporters uttered were repeated in classrooms. They also reported a noticeable uptick in bullying, assaults on students, property damage, racism, sexism, and graffiti that included swastikas.
Such behavior has filtered down to Americans throughout the country, even from those who detest everything about Trump and his more extreme supporters. Examples include increased road rage, more bullying in classrooms and in the workplace, more verbal lashing out among peers, more venom and intolerance in letters to the editor and on Facebook pages, and in general a meanness not seen in my lifetime before now.
When even elected members on the Sonoma City Council think it is OK to demean other council members – on Facebook no less! – or, when some citizens feel free to insult and even threaten council members when the vote doesn’t go their way, we can no longer ignore the toxic effect that this type of behavior is having on all segments of our society. Not one of us is immune to the constant permission this administration is giving for such behavior. The Trump Effect has given license for tantrum behavior, acting before thinking, lashing out without proof, and generally giving cover for angry and uncivilized behavior.
So, how about a New Year’s Resolution that puts this behavior to rest. Here are a few ways that we might be able to transform such behavior:
1) Think before you speak.
2) Don’t send that letter, and don’t post that barb on Facebook or Instagram without thinking it over first.
3) If you’re angry, cool off before responding. Acting out is immature, irrational, and indicates a lack of self-control.
4) Resolve to get more control over your emotions.
5) Assume you don’t have the whole truth – about almost anything.
In studying and now teaching conflict resolution, I have been deeply influenced by the work and writings of Jonan Fernandez, the Director of the Basque Parliament’s Department of Coexistence and Human Rights. As he makes clear, resolving conflicts is not about blaming others; it is about accepting responsibility to solve a problem. Sit with that idea for a few minutes. It takes an extraordinary amount of maturity and self-discipline to incorporate that idea. It means that a cause is never more important than respecting the people involved in a conflict. It does not mean respect for their beliefs but respect for the person.
In a culture of strongly-held beliefs and incredible doses of self-righteousness and self-entitlement, we are challenged to work against the toxic tide that would thoroughly poison our relationships and society. So, I’m proposing a New Year’s Resolution that will make the LOVE sculpture on our plaza stand for a transformation of our way of relating to each other. If we make that resolution, then the sculpture should remain as a testament to our resolve to show respect toward others before speaking and acting.