Feeling shit? Me too. Don’t worry.
Everything is going to be okay, I promise.
Donald Trump himself is meaningless, as is any demagogic hate preacher. What matters is to examine the society that voted for him and allowed him into power. The majority of Americans voted against him, but due to the electoral system, he won. Therefore I cannot condemn all Americans, although it would be very easy to do so.
That’s something that I believe is at the very core of so much of the hate we have seen growing in the world recently. You can point the finger anywhere you like: at the media, at politicians on the left and right, at immigrants, at angry white men. Go wild, throw blame around. It won’t change a thing. The thing that will change the world is learning to look at ourselves. To self-assess.
I live in Berlin, and to cheer myself up on the day of the election results, I went on a walking tour of the city. To my dismay, I found this was largely a tour of Second Word War and Cold War relics, along with terrible stories of the time. I saw Bebelplatz square, where the Nazis burned 20,000 books in 1933. You will never see or feel such strong anti-Nazi sentiment as you will in Berlin. They do not shy from their history; it pours out of every building and poster. No one here will ever forget what happened, and will never let it happen again. They remind themselves every day. They have learned.
If we are going to improve the world around us and ensure our path is always forward, never back, we have to apply the same learning process to society. All of this, all the hatred and malice being flung around like hot oil by all sides, has already happened before, a thousand times. A dissatisfied population being led astray is nothing new. My frustration today is that we should be better than this. We are in the age of unlimited access to knowledge. Why are we making the same mistakes as our ancestors? Why do we carry the same vitriolic opinions?
The answer to hate is a combination of patience, tolerance, understanding, and education. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It sounds like a long, uphill struggle- and it is. That’s why hate is winning in today’s climate. It’s easy to hate. Hating requires no effort, no research, no soul searching, and no learning.
When you try a new food, it takes a while to get used to the taste. You might screw your face up when you bite into a foreign fruit, declare it disgusting, and never eat it again, because it’s easier than spending time to understand why the locals like it. The first time you drink beer or try a cigarette, it’s horrible. People are universally prepared, however, to invest time and effort into repeatedly ingesting alcohol and nicotine until they acquire a liking for them. Imagine a world where people are prepared to invest the same effort into understanding different cultures, different sexual orientations, other classes and demographics.
It’s scary to take the long road, and hard. Harbouring compassion, empathy and tolerance will get you hurt. When I hear of more bad news in the world, of another country that’s attempted to block LGBT rights or demonised Muslims or slandered the idea of equality for women, I get upset. I cry. I’ve seen a lot of spiteful rhetoric both after Brexit and the US election mocking ‘cry baby’ liberals and left wingers. It’s true, I cry. I’m not ashamed, because they’re not tears of weakness. They are tears of passion, frustration, and anger.
Time and time again, if equality and compassion are your goals, your spirits will be dashed to pieces. Every hateful newspaper headline is a slap in the face. After Brexit and after the US election, I have had to spend days, weeks, and months reflecting on what I thought the world was, and what I have been shown, forcefully, that it really is. I have had to pick the pieces of myself off the floor after each shattering blow, reassemble myself, and find my spirit again; reassure myself that there is still something in our world worth believing in.
Compassion, empathy and tolerance are three personality traits that can tear you apart in the midst of this dark, fearful world. And that’s why the true way forward is to have courage. Courage not to close up and hide away, but to extend a hand to someone you are hateful or fearful of, and to tell them you want to understand.
I want to be part of a society where your worth is not measured by the amount of friends you have or what you have in your bank account, but by the amount of light you project into the world. To care is to show true courage. To expose your heart to all in the world, and all the pain that that brings, is to be brave and brilliant. Don’t wall yourself in. Human beings are social animals. We are wired to help one another. That’s how we thrive. We were never meant to build walls.
I would rather be overruled and humiliated and torn apart a thousand times on the road to compassion than cower in safety, build my wall, and give in to hatred. Despite everything, I can’t help but feel optimistic about the world. This was the tipping point. This is the moment that makes everyone sit up and listen, politicises the youth for the first time in generations, and plants the seeds of real, positive change. Better times are coming, I can feel it.