Just before the election, I was chatting with one of my students ( a white woman) about her life. She said that although she already has a bachelors degree in Biology and a two year nursing degree, the hospital where she works has now made a rule that all nurses must have a four year bachelors in nursing. Because her credentials are now no longer good enough for her workplace, she is going back to school in her spare time.
She was not a young woman, yet after years in the workplace, her position was still precarious. Although she was a nurse, which in my area is considered a high paying job, she said that she was not paid much and thus she was annoyed when her patients would make comments about how comfortable her salary must be. She said that she would have switched salaries with any of them in an instant.
It seemed unfair that this woman should be working so hard and not have security in her current job, or in her future. While trying to figure out what was causing the problem. She told me of another woman, a friend of hers from work. She was getting a full scholarship to go to the local university for her nursing degree. That woman was foreign born. Lots of foreign born doctors were coming into the hospital and being paid large amounts to work there, she said. The hospitals were preferring them over local doctors. But the doctors that she worked with were not making much money either. She said that an emergency room doctor was paid only $28 for a patient visit. Far too little money to pay off their student loans. When asked why it might be that way, she blamed Obamacare. It set limits on how much hospitals can charge for a procedure. I asked about the insurance companies, and she said that they are benefiting from the low costs by not paying more for services but still keeping their high insurance premiums.
I nodded my head. Corporate greed was something I understood. It was only later that I realized how different our perceptions of her situation were.
The student saw her job, which she had thought secure, threatened. She blamed foreigners getting special breaks that she never got, and Obamacare. I had blamed the hospitals and the insurance companies who were being greedy by stealing from both the patients and the hospital employees while the owners basked in record profits. Both of us were looking for someone to blame. Both of us likely voted opposite ways in the election even though we agreed that her situation was unfair.
This is how I see America now. As a place divided on who to blame. That woman blamed foreigners. She was jealous of the woman on a full scholarship, but if asked, she would not have called herself prejudiced. She said that the woman was her friend. No, what she is afraid of is a world where the rules seem to be changing and she is coming off the worse for it. The false dichotomy comes from thinking that her friend’s success is the cause of her own failure. Whether her reasoning is flawed or not, her feelings of uncertainty about the future are real, and she is not the only one afraid. Millions of people fear that life for them is going to get worse, and so they listen to whoever tells them who to blame.
Now that the election has been decided, the voices of who to blame have only become louder. There is unrest, anger, and resentment on both sides. What can we do to defuse a situation which threatens to make everything much worse for us?
1. Question your own assumptions about who is to blame.
Both she and I were quick to guess who to blame for her situation. Neither guess is the whole story. We have been force fed opinions for years. It is time to start looking ourselves for the causes and reasons why the world is the way it is so that we can start to fix it.
2. Look to the people who are most in jeopardy of falling through the cracks, and help them.
People who feel that they have no future are the ones who become terrorists. People who can’t feed their children are most likely to want to burn the world to the ground in order to get their own back. We need safety nets for the most endangered among us. We need people to know that we are there for them when they need help. That we will keep their kids from starving. That we will not abandon them when they are at their most vulnerable.
3. Forget partisanship. Don’t waste time on who was right or wrong. Just fix the problem in front of you.
I can’t directly stop corporate greed, but I can find out more about hiring policies in my area. I can help my students find scholarships that fit them. I can try to make sure that my student gets access to the education that she needs to keep her job and to advance to a better paying one. If she loses her job, I can get in touch with charities to help her through the transition, and I can donate what I can to her and others in need.
The way to combat fear is through dialog and understanding. The way to weaken hate is with love, not blame. We are, for the most part, good people. Stop looking for who is at fault. Open your eyes, and look at your neighbor as a person in need. What can you do to help them have a brighter future? What can you do to make them less afraid? We must work together in understanding and compassion if we truly plan to make America great.