I started the day listening to Hillary, listening to Obama, and crying in the shower. Last night’s election results were crushing. Did they represent the supremacy of hate? Perhaps. Van Jones, the brilliant political activist and commentator, called Trump’s success a “whitelash.”

Earlier today I spoke with a client. This is the Pacific Northwest, so like myself, he leans left. We wrestled with bewilderment. He mentioned that last night, he responded to his wife’s despair with a surge of protectiveness. He tried to calm and quiet her. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the response she was looking for. Tension had risen. He stared at his own feelings of powerlessness. And inwardly, so did I. What now?

We are a divided nation. We cast daggers at each other. We fear those different from us. We see “other” as enemy. We falsely believe we are superior to those who have less, think less, possess less than ourselves. That’s what this election has revealed. We are guilty, too, of vilifying “other,” in this case the “other” who cast a different vote from ours. We, too, are caught up in this cycle of hate. It has to stop.

Understanding Our Differences

We have read Anatol Rapoport’s work on how nations make peace. He was very wise. He said, “Nations must first hear, understand, summarize, and validate each other’s points of view before persuasion can take place.”

Successful couples demonstrated the same principle in our research lab. Only by first listening and understanding did they later manage to reach compromise. We folded Rapoport’s insight into a blueprint for couples conflict resolution and tested it. So far, it looks like it works.

We face a bigger challenge now. Some of our neighbors are “other” for us, and we are “other” for them. How do we live together now, after all this?

We have to listen without jumping down each other’s throats. Really listen. What have they experienced? What have they suffered? Why are they so angry? And even more important, what is their greatest fear? For it is fear that has driven this election. Fear of job loss and poverty, fear of being out-paced, out-educated, out-smarted, out-tech-ed, out-majority-ed, out-numbered, out-classed, out-holy-ed, out-gendered, out-colored, out-powered. So many fears. Fear leads us to pull inwards. To duck our heads in ignorance and cover it all up with anger.

Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but I do believe the only way forward is to listen, and “listen good.” Listen to “other,” and not just the ones we resemble. Listen until it breaks our hearts. Listen to the pain, the fear, the drowning. Ask questions. Pay attention. And only when we’ve deeply understood the “other,” whoever he or she is, bring up our own ideas to consider.

We also need to reach out to those at risk – Muslims, Jews, Mormons, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, women, the disabled, any whose rights and very lives are in jeopardy, our proud rainbow of people. And look forward. Let’s go to work.

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The State of Our Union
Julie Gottman, Ph.D.

Julie Gottman, Ph.D. is the co-founder and President of The Gottman Institute, and Clinical Supervisor for the Couples Together Against Violence study. A highly respected clinical psychologist, she is sought internationally by media and organizations as an expert advisor on marriage, sexual harassment and rape, domestic violence, gay and lesbian adoption, same-sex marriage, and parenting issues.

  • Chris Perkins

    So your first prescription is “Don’t demonized people who don’t agree with you.” Your second prescription is “Understanding must precede advice.” Yet you remark glowingly about the brilliant Van Jones who called Trump’s election a “Whitelash.” The irony is too rich to swallow. The same country that elected Barack Obama twice elected Donald Trump. This includes a plurality of whites in states that now voted for Trump. Well, which is it?

    I cannot remember who said this, but your article reminds me of a great quote that goes something like this: “most people believe they are thinking when they are really re-arranging their own prejudices.”

    This nation will be fine. We are more complex, diverse, and resilient than one election. But I recommend you confront your own prejudices before you write a patronizing article that does nothing more than highlight your own bias and blindness.

    • FieldingBandolier

      If there’s a disease afflicting public discourse, it’s the compulsion to view conversations as a zero-sum game, in which one person will be “right” and the other must be “wrong.” We deliver pithy zingers and both covert and overt insults, as we pursue superiority at the expense of dialogue, and persuasion.

      That’s what we really need to have a public discussion about.

      • crashtx1

        Excellent post. I found both candidates woefully lacking and could not support either, so I was watching somewhat as an outsider(conservative leaning). It was my liberal friends who throughout the election were more likely to make hateful comments, unfriend those that did not walk lockstep. If we assume the nation is “divided” roughly 50/50 then we are going to have to try to understand each other because you can’t ignore 50% of the population very easily. Find out how a college educated mom, or a mixed race family, etc could vote for the other guy. Leave the bubble with an open mind.

    • Tori Byington

      Chris, help me understand why one cannot both admire the articulate statements made by Van Jones and encourage us to adopt a set of guidelines for discourse? Did you watch the statement Van made and the response of those who listened to him? They seemed to show empathy for him. The same traits Julie is suggesting.

      Second, I will take issue with your statement that this is the same country that elected Obama. Four years is a lot of time between these two point and even if it wasn’t I think the last year listening to the misogyny, racism, and hatred of this campaign has changed us all.

      I respect that you feel the country will be fine but please respect that some of us are afraid that the floodgates of hate gave been opened.

      • Chris Perkins

        Tori, her bias is book-ended in her first and last paragraphs. She begins her discussion quoting Van Jones incendiary comment about a “Whitelash.” She ends her discussion noting all the people who are now somehow “at-risk,”….are poor white men also not at risk? What about poor white women? And while I agree with Dr. Gottman’s excellent recommendations on how to behave, using Van Jones as an example strains credulity. Dr. Gottman’s article implicitly indites white america….which is exactly what the Liberal elite have been doing for years. This election was a response to such hate and vitriol.

        • Tori Byington

          Chris, first, thank you for your reply. Second, it is important to note that many in America are struggling and suffering. It is also important to recognize that many white Americans are angry about their current circumstances. Circumstances that, until now, they have not experienced. This is where the concept of white privilege comes from, right? We feel we “should” be heard and action taken on our behalf. This expectation is not held by most minority citizens.

          Trump is a horrible messenger. If you follow the news you know what his words have been and how they have lead to swastikas bring spray painted on walls in Philadelphia, women being assaulted by men claiming that they now have that right, children of color being told by other children that they will be deported, on and on…and it’s frightening. Van Jones words tapped into that. I think the use of the term “whitelash” accurately describes what many feel happened. While it may seem pejorative we have to accept that is how many people feel right now.

          In order to get past this we need to listen and validate strong feelings on both sides. Chris you are very articulate. Please add your voice to others asking that the rights of minorities be maintained and the violence end. If you are white, as I am, our voices must be in the mix in order for the message to be heard.

          • Chris Perkins

            Tori – excellent response. You are very gracious and composed. I wish more were like you. I do see nuggets of truth in Dr. Gottman’s article, as well as your response. However, I truly wish we could move past labels and categoricals. The problem with “white privilege” is it has no fixed definition. It is an empty bottle to be filled with whatever one thinks is white privilege.

            I am the youngest of 7 kids, raised by a single mom, the first to graduate high school in my family. I grew up in East Los Angeles where whites make up less than 1% of my neighborhood. We were poor and my mom worked multiple jobs without ever asking or accepting government support. My dad died homeless and addicted to heroin. I was homeless on two occasions and went to 12 schools from first to twelfth grade. My brother died of AIDS and my sister got pregnant at 16. I almost sound like a Bruce Springsteen song. 🙂

            My point is, just exactly where is my “white privilege?” And what about the millions of poor, uneducated whites in Appalachia or the Ozarks where I now live? Where is their white privilege? People across “the rainbow” are suffering…white, black, brown, yellow, red. And their suffering is real. Yet many in the political and elite class see them as tools to be used for political gain. It is truly sad.

  • ReapSowRepeat

    “We also need to reach out to those at risk – Muslims, Jews, Mormons,
    African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, members of the
    LGBTQ community, immigrants, women, the disabled, any whose rights and
    very lives are in jeopardy.”

    Is this posting click bait? I find it hard to believe that a respected
    clinical psychologist lacks awareness of her own catastrophic
    thinking. Maybe it’s that you surround yourself (literally and metaphysically) with catastrophic thinkers. What does Marsha Linehan say? Cope ahead. Skillfulness!

    I find crying in the shower to be self-soothing as well.

    The groups you listed above might find it invalidating that you think they are in jeopardy or at risk and require assistance.

    Take care.

    BTW, I think that John is struggling with unconscious negative bias towards horses and men. wink, wink, nudge, nudge

  • Bill Thomas

    “I did try and fuck her. She was married…and I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.” I took her out furniture — I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look…Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” — President-elect Donald Trump.

    In all honesty, The Donald’s words instill an abundance of inspiration in me. Actually, just the part at the end where he said, “You can do anything.” That was super inspirational outside of the context of trying to score with a married woman and sexual assault. Really wished he would have just left it at, “You can do anything” and skipped all of the other shit. With this president, you’re really going to have to carefully pick and choose the good from the turds to be inspired, or just not completely depressed. I’m pretty sure this is why Julia, and I’m sure a lot of women especially, have been crying in the shower.

  • Kathy R

    Dear Dr. Gottman, thank you for this posting. Can you offer advice for couples who are divided by politics in the same way our country is divided? Listening (and talking) seems to only magnify intractable differences in philosophies. Contempt has become a pitfall arising from strongly held convictions. How can couples navigate these deep differences? Thank you.