Joseph Biden wins the American presidency. Donald Trump has lost. Many people are rejoicing.
But the election results were close. Very close. So close that one cannot discount that nearly half of the American electorate voted for either candidate. While President-elect Biden garnered more votes overall, soon-to-be former President Trump won as many as 2,500 out of 3,143 counties in the United States favoured Trump.
President-elect Biden has called for unity and healing. I wish him the best. I’m not optimistic but neither I am pessimistic. As much as there is hope, it’s going to be really hard for his new administration to do what he said.
I worked in a factory at West Virginia for a brief year in 1984. Before that, I studied at the University of Wisonsin-Milwaukee. Bridgeport was and is the American epitome of small-town America, an apt model for the American folk artist, Grandma Moses.
I worked well with the people at the factory and they became good friends. Managers, foremen, and workers on the floor were a mix of young and old, and predominantly white.
None looked at me as different or inferior. I was treated the same as everyone else.
American media got it right when they said that the country needed soul-searching after Trump shockingly won the 2016 elections. America voted for Trump and many who voted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton, wondered why people would vote for a man who was belligerent and crass in his speeches and social media posts.
Four (4) years later, Trump again almost won. The majority of rural America, making up most of the geography of the country, favoured Trump. Some are asking why, but many just shrug their shoulders.
I agree with President-elect Biden that America needs to unite and heal. And it should start with finding out why rural America still liked an incumbent president who seemed to fan flames of racism and conflict. It starts with listening.
Listening is not easy. It requires time and empathy. It is a skill that is honed. One has to be patient and be willing to take in the information and views of the other, and painstakingly digest the details.
Listening’s result is understanding. We see what the other is saying, thinking, and feeling. We don’t filter; we mirror; we absorb; we identify.
Listening requires the setting aside of mindsets and first impressions. That makes it hard. But if we reproach people before we even know what they’re thinking and feeling, we’d have an impossible mission to influence them, at least heal any wounds we might have with them.
The American election experience exposed wide rifts within its society. It’s a lesson for not only Americans but also for everyone to embrace listening as a first step to healing and unity.
I learned to listen at that factory in Bridgeport, West Virginia. I had to. The projects I undertook as a new engineer required the enrolment of employees to my ideas. But as I got to know them, saw their situation, and understood their jobs a little, their views instead shaped my ideas. My project solutions became more of theirs. Many turned out simple and successful.
America is divided. A newly elected president calls for healing. Realistically, it will be a challenge. It starts with listening. Listening won’t be easy. But when one invests in it, even a little, it will be well worth it.