This weekend, I attended both the inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington. In other words, I spent Friday surrounded by staunch supporters of President Trump and Saturday surrounded by those who oppose him.
Both days, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with smart people who care passionately about this country and who answer the call to engage in the political process. It gave me a unique glimpse into the conversations we are having—and not having—in this country.
January 20th: Inauguration Day
I took President Obama’s farewell speech advice to heart: “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life.” So, wearing my ANA pin, I spoke to everyone around me.
Everyone I met cared about many of the same issues that I do, like providing health care for all, fostering a strong economy, and ensuring quality education for our children. The people I spoke with firmly believe that Donald Trump will deliver in all of these areas. After President Trump spoke, the man standing next to me even said: “I love this man!”
At every turn, I saw that supporters of the new president are reasonable and willing to listen. For example, when people booed Hillary Clinton, I couldn’t help but blurt out: “This is disrespectful.” Two women near me replied: “You’re right.” Together, we created a small clapping section for all of the Democrats coming to the stage to counter the booing. Of course, I also clapped as Speaker Ryan, Vice President Pence, and President Trump were announced. Respect is respect.
Here’s where respect was lacking. As my husband and I were standing in line to attend the Inaugural Ball, protesters screamed at us. This was after hearing all afternoon about protesters breaking windows and starting fires. One protestor jumped in front of my husband so aggressively that three police in riot gear intervened. People around us expressed their disgust the behavior of “those sore losers.”
January 21st: Women’s March on Washington
The next day, I joined the Women’s March on Washington. I was surrounded by throngs of women and men chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” Attendees were overjoyed that their voice was being heard after the inauguration the day before. It was a peaceful protest—not one person in the throng of 500,000 people was arrested. And yet, every time I saw a sign or heard someone shout Not my president!, the previous day’s discussion about “sore losers” rang in my ears.
The Unifying Message from Two Ends of the Spectrum
Both days taught me about the way we listen to those who oppose us. More than ever, I believe that we only let ourselves hear the most extreme fringes of the opposition. This, in turn, allows us to label the other side as “crazy” and more readily dismiss differing points of view. Instead, what we so desperately need is to generate conversations that begin and end with respect. To quote Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle: “In any controversy, the instant we feel angry, we have already ceased striving for Truth, and begun striving for Ourselves.”
I also learned that nurses are uniquely prepared to generate the important discussions we need to have as a nation. We are skilled, respectful, and trusted listeners and communicators—even when faced with people who have widely differing points of view.
My ANA pin opened the doors to discussion on both days. So, I urge you to use your voice, listen intently beyond the shouting, and generate your own powerful conversations.