When Reality is Hard to Accept

I had a lot of realizations on Tuesday night, but one was particularly salient for me: whoever was going to win, half of the country would resist living in a reality that they could accept.

In fact, as the results came in, there were two ways we were all going to struggle with accepting the reality of this election, regardless of who won.

First, we didn’t see what reality was — the polling was way off from what the actual voting numbers were, especially in the Midwest. As someone who obsessively checked FiveThirtyEight, The Upshot and other data-driven sites, I kept seeing a clear message: Clinton was almost certainly going to win. The likelihood ranged from about 70% to even 99%, but either way, she was a clear favorite. Clearly, the polls were deeply, deeply wrong, and the reality of who supported who was very different from what the experts were expecting.

Second, and more importantly, even if we did see reality as it was, on the day after the election, a huge part of this country would believe that the President-Elect was going to destroy society. As the Pew Research Center noted, “More than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican Party makes them ‘afraid,’ while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party. Among those highly engaged in politics – those who say they vote regularly and either volunteer for or donate to campaigns – fully 70% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans say they are afraid of the other party.”

As a Clinton supporter and a life-long Democrat, I can identify with that fear of “the other.” But many Republicans would feel the same way about me. And fear begets fear, which prevents us from hearing each other or working together.

That’s where I find some solace from psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the book Full Catastrophe Living. He talks about how we waste so much time and energy fighting facts, and that prevents us from using that time and energy towards positive actions. Instead, as hard as might be when things don’t go the way we want, we need to accept reality.

Now, acceptance is throwing up our hands and saying, “I give up.” Instead, as he explains,

[a]cceptance does not mean that [we] have to like everything or that [we] have to take a passive attitude toward everything and abandon [our] principles and values. It does not mean that [we] are satisfied with things as they are or that [we] are resigned to tolerating things as they “have to be.” It does not mean that [we] have to…give up on [our] desire to change and grow…Acceptance…simply means that [we] have come around to a willingness to see things as they [actually] are. (38-39)

Indeed, the sooner we can accept reality as it is, the sooner we can work to improve it. Acceptance and change, in fact, go hand in hand. And while my emotions are still raw and I’m having trouble adjusting to the shock of Tuesday, once I accept reality, I can begin to work on the world as it is, rather than the world that I wanted.

Some of that work is understanding the pain and fear that half the country is feeling. Some of that is ensuring that I continue to fight for the values I hold dear. And some of that is realizing that, as all people created in the image of God, we have much more that unites us than divides us.

So, yes, on one level, we cannot change reality. It is what it is. But once we begin to accept reality as it is, and look for ways to work with people across the political spectrum to address the problems that we face individually, locally and nationally, we can end up creating a new reality.

It won’t be easy. And it won’t be fast. But, as Pirke Avot teaches, “It’s not upon you to complete the work. But neither are you free to desist from it.” So let’s begin to accept just how divided our country is. Let’s begin to accept that there is real fear and pain for almost all of us. Let’s begin to accept that we are entering into uncharted territory for the next four years.

And then let’s get to the work of creating a new and better reality, for all of us.

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