Where were you on the day of the 2016 election? I woke up in Denmark. Something felt rotten but it wasn’t Shakespearean, even if there are some stark similarities.
It felt like one of those famous days people will be talking about for the rest of my life. Where were you when Princess Diana died? Where were you on 9/11? Where were you when Trump won the American presidency?
When I saw it on my phone in the wee hours of the morning I was actually getting up to go into Danish schools to talk about the election. What would I say? Most people in Denmark are pretty vocally anti-Trump. How could I explain to children who learn empathy from the time they are in pre-school what it means to be a Trump supporter in the wake of all we have seen and heard?
My parents voted for Trump. Most of my family voted Trump. I didn’t, but that is only because I have lived abroad for so long that I have come to see being American in a different way. I have come to know what it means to be a stranger in a strange land, a foreigner, an immigrant. I know what it means to not speak the language or to know my way. I know what it means to be treated poorly because I am a woman and I have come to appreciate free health care with all of its flaws.
Above all, I have learned to be so grateful for the slightest bit of kindness and empathy shown to me as I navigated these worlds.
I feel I understand both sides of our great American divide so well and yet I am at a loss at how to create a bridge between them.
“Are you still talking to your parents?” one of my outraged colleagues asked me in a fury.
That question, with that tone, shook me to my core and urged me to write about what I think is important to remember in the aftermath of the election.
In the wake of this Trump hangover (whether you woke up with the person you wanted to go home with or not) let’s not chew our arms off to get away just yet. The bed is made, and we are all in it (whether we like it or not) together. Let’s refocus on a few things we can all do to try to stay united rather than divided.
Empathy. Now more than ever we need be the example and teach empathy to our children. We have to protect them from becoming hateful and prejudiced and intolerant. We ourselves should not fall into that trap. For all those people who believe in compassion, and the good in people, this is what we must create. We can’t always control what is seen on TV or read on social media, but we can control what we talk about at our own dinner table and what kind of values we model in our homes. These are values that will shape our children, who will ultimately shape our future. Words and actions matter now. Please choose them well.
Reframe. There is a lot we may not like in the world at the moment but we can still focus on what is good (there still is a lot) and build on that. We don’t need to deny that negativity exists but we also don’t need to be too fatalistic. It takes practise to build a more positive story line, but by doing it our children will grow up to do it naturally which will make them more resilient.
Hygge. Let’s put aside our political controversy and strife for special times with our families and friends where we can be together in the moment. Where we can connect and not argue or be negative about others. These times are recharging and special and important for our social connectedness. You can read more about how to create hygge here.
This election is a global phenomenon. But let’s try to use understanding, empathy and kindness rather than hate and judgement. If we can keep believing that people are fundamentally good then maybe the hangover won’t be all it’s trumped up to be.
Jessica Alexander is an American author who co-wrote 'The Danish Way of Parenting: A Guide to Raising the Happiest Kids in the World'. She has been married to a Dane for over 13 years and has always been fascinated by cultural differences. She speaks four languages and currently lives in Rome with her husband and two children. Her book can be purchased via Amazon.