Who Do You Think We Are?

“When we don’t know who we are, we act like someone else”

(Tiffany Sankofa)

Yes, I am STILL on that…

If you’ve worked with me or read my blogs, you know that this is a frequent and repeated theme for me. I want to revisit again today, however, thinking about it all from a national perspective.  A national election is powerful statement about who we are, and who our neighbors are, in a way that’s really hard to miss.

Living in the pockets of our communities and sub-communities, it can be easy to think that more people think like us than differently from us. Then elections happen, and we get smacked in the head with astonishment at just how diverse the ideology of our country really is.

And the winner is…

Many people in the US are feeling like we are just starting to tick into the gate after a wild rollercoaster ride.  The swirl of emotions and information is astounding. Some are pleased at the ultimate results, but very disturbed by the numbers. Others are not so pleased about the results and disturbed by the numbers. And apparently, some don’t believe we actually have results yet.

It is easy to look at the election numbers and assume that “half” of the county feels one way and the other “half” feels another.  It can make one feel extremely uncomfortable in public spaces, thinking that every other person you see believes…. That. Fortunately, that’s not actually what those numbers mean.

1 + 2 = 3… but does it really?

If you know me at all you know this:  I am allergic to Math. It makes me break out in attitude.  The demand it makes on working memory just seems to short circuit me at times. That said, the idea that numbers could be a source of comfort seems as bizarre as the election that prompted my conclusion.  And yet…

Chaneling my inner Steve Kornacki

Ok, no, I won’t go that far.  Fortunately, I don’t have to, and, my much more Math-savvy daughter checked my work on this one: The total population of the US was 331,002,651 at mid-year in 2020.  At this writing, (and the final numbers won’t move the needle much on the percentages here,) 74,575,812 votes were cast for Joe Biden, and 70,399,780 for Trump.  That means only 23% of your fellow Americans voted for Biden, and 21% voted for Trump.  That’s not half. 

There were a total of 147,572,343 votes cast in the Presidential election as of Sunday morning, November 8, 2020. Voter turnout is estimated to be at an all-time high of around 70%.  This isn’t an exact number, but that means that there were (very) roughly 210,817,633 registered voters.  So of all registered voters, 35% voted for Biden and 33% for Trump. (Still not half.)

Let’s get local

If you are standing at the grocery store counting off every third or third and a half person thinking they voted for someone you have serious problems with, guess again! Most of you reading this are in the state of Maryland, so I will use us for case study. In Maryland:

Of MD’s 4,141,498 registered voters

38% (1,557,743) voted for Biden

21% (857,843) voted for Trump

Of registered voters who voted, (68% of registered voters)

55% voted for Biden

30% voted for Trump

Our total population (all ages) is about 6,083,120.  This means that

22% of all Marylanders voted for Biden

12% of all Marylanders voted for Trump

That might be good news-bad news depending on your sensitivities, but it is the more accurate data for doing grocery store count offs. If you really want to know who “we” are, this is one starting point. But let’s keep in mind, the simple fact of who we voted for may or may not say much about who we are, what we believe and what we want to see happen in our country.

We have been played!

One of the oldest political strategies in the world for gaining advantage over powerful groups of people, is to divide them.  If there’s one US President who understood the threat of national division, it’s Abraham Lincoln. As he put it, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” There are many subtle ways that we have been divided against each other and inflamed to align with irreconcilable political camps. We’ve lost track of each other and we’ve lost track of ourselves. Worse, we didn’t even know we were being played.

One stark example is the “Blue Lives Matter” movement. Malcolm Nance spent 30 years as a high-level counterintelligence officer, ultimately specializing in cyber-intelligence as that field grew into being. In his book, The Plot to Hack America, he gives stark evidence showing that the entire Blue Lives Matter movement was started by --- I kid you not --- a bot.

It wasn’t even a real person. It was a bot. Not only does a bot have “no skin in the game,” it doesn’t even have SKIN. Using technology that can pinpoint down to an absurd number of datapoints revealing what we will click on and what we will push us to action without fact-checking first, we have been targeted to react to increasingly polarized content. It plays intentionally to our worst instincts, leaving us divided, vulnerable, and very unclear on who we are as well as who we want to be. (And you thought commercials for things like children’s hospitals and dish soap were manipulative. Ha!  A bot just tweeted out, “Hold my bytes…”)

Who do you think you are, Big Stuff?

Our manipulated polarization has fostered an environment where we can’t even talk any more. More than one client has told me that they find themselves oddly grateful for the pandemic because it means they won’t be stuck around a holiday table with people whose political opinions terrify and infuriate them.

Grateful… For. A. Pandemic.  That’s some deep division.

Fear and humanness

Our fear has been leveraged against us. As long as we remain in the fear space, we commit to bomb-like fragility. We are dangerous to one another and even to ourselves. If we are going to think clearly and act in healing ways, we have got to get out of the fear space.

This is exceptionally hard to do given the carefully constructed threats that push us to skip fact-checking before we respond.  If we are going to do these next years well, we are going to have to get much, much more facile at checking the sources of our information.  We are also going to have to get much better at holding our noses and seeing/hearing/reading the sources that people who have come to opposite conclusions have used.

Hopefully our intel community will also have all they need to help address the invasive manipulations that have persuaded us at the source. Whether they do or don’t, we have work to do as individuals.

Compassion replaces compromise

In the current era, as our national leadership moves away from a singular cultural set of assumptions and begins to embrace the strength in our diversity, (click here for more,) we have the opportunity to employ empathy and compassion to get to a better outcome.  As we learn to use all three brains, as we embrace collaboration over fear-driven competition, we will have the capacity to understand and work constructively through our dramatic differences.

I can almost guarantee that when someone comes at you all teeth and claws over a political issue, there is a frightened child lighting the fire within. The same is true when we fly off in fury ourselves. I can hear you now: “But the threat is real!!” Yes. Yes, it very likely is. Do you want to be effective for change? You might want to focus that anger and use it more effectively instead of just trying to prove how wrong it is. (Click here for more information.)

When I was a younger adult, compromise was all the rage. The entire movement of “political correctness” emerged out of this demand that we all “get along.” But we weren’t getting along. Apparently far too many of us were avoiding explosions and shoving the conflicts deep down within. At the slightest inkling of permission, those suppressed conflicts came streaming out in violent acts that have furthered the divide rather than helping us heal.

Can we please try something else?

So, we proved that didn’t work.  Now what? Now, we learn to listen for the fears that underlie the issues. We learn to vet our information. We learn how to have mutually respectful, constructive conflicts with people who hold different convictions from our own. Those of you who have worked with me in couples and/or family have all of the tools you need! You are poised to become leaders for change in this area.  For those who haven’t, many of the crucial tools can be found here.

Please pardon the mess…

The coming years will be messy. Untangling what got us here and putting it all back together in a way that works better for everyone will take work, patience and endurance. It will also require that we constantly take our bodies back and get centered in order to become effective in creating the country, the communities and lives we really want.

Don’t be intimidated by the mess.  Don’t be surprised if you lose your bearings here and there. It’s ok!  Come back to yourself, back to your center, connect with others who remind you of who you are and get back to it. Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Instead of being COVID-contagious, be contagious with care, thoughtfulness, justice, consideration, stark candor, respect.  That contagion all by itself will generate more mess. Don’t be alarmed when things have to fall apart in order to come back together better.

Trust yourselves.  Use your skills.  Be patient.  Be persistent. Let’s make something amazing, together.


If you’d like help figuring out your path forward, contact me here.  I’m happy to help anyway I can.