Lessons from the 2016 Election: The Power of Empathy

In the aftermath of a shocking election, the bitter taste of disappointment lingers.

The election day results shocked some people and mortified others. I learned what was happening while going from election site to election site as a roving troubleshooter. I heard a lot more while glued to the computer and the television when I got home.

A month later, I keep hearing from both disgruntled and pleased (gruntled) people everywhere I go. Thankfully, most of them would rather celebrate happy occasions than argue. Like it or not, the election is over with the recount probably going the way of the pregnant chads. Sadly, the bitterness continues.

Should well-educated, well-sheltered exurbanites be surprised that people in the rust belt, in rural America and in other not-so-well-sheltered places have different opinions than they do? Was it clear that people wanted drastic change when we first saw Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump get “yuge” numbers in the primaries? Were pundits upset about the results or just the fact that they got it wrong?

Perhaps the greatest lesson of the 2016 election is that we all have to start listening to one another. Our country is a spectrum, not a monolith. That goes for the Jewish people as well. There is anger, there is suffering, there is poverty, whether we choose to see it or not. Empathy – the ability to feel someone else’s pain – is hard. Nonetheless, indifference creates chasms between people.

We are all guilty. Most of us are just too busy to interact with people outside of our comfort zone. Even if we write checks or do some volunteering, we often fail to understand the plight of the people we are helping. We rarely get the chance – or make the effort – to talk to people in different socioeconomic circles or parts of the country. We are remiss in talking to our fellow Jews about the need to be vigilant about both Israel and domestic issues. We may be mainstream, and we may be well off, but we still have to be careful.

As we celebrate Chanukah, the great victory of a small group fighting for its principles, we should remember what they were fighting for and why they succeeded. We should also give everyone the gift of replacing anger with empathy.

Chag sameach from Kosher OC!

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