I felt a bit queasy for the first time when I read an article by Michael Moore in the German weekly Die Zeit. The Oscar winning filmmaker and champion of left-wingers around the globe listed five reasons why he believed Donald Trump would be elected President. I swallowed my queasiness and turned to my rational mind. My mind assured me: This isn’t really going to happen. Like what seemed about 90 percent of the people world wide I assumed that “reason” would retain the upper hand and Hillary Clinton would win the White House.
When the worst-case scenario became reality in the early morning hours of November 9th (what is it with this date?) I had to admit: the bleak prophecies of Michael Moore had in fact come true. Had we all really been so blind? With the Brexit we had seen it before, just a few months ago: Something just happened that “wasn’t going to happen anyway”. But Trump’s being elected President felt even more absurd. The whole election campaign had seemed quite surreal.
Now I am sitting here trying to make sense of everything. I’m feeling a bit baffled: How to deal with Trump’s victory from a perspective of Nonviolent Communication? Because it’s not that I don’t have those voices in my head screaming: Fascist! Racist! Misogynist! Idiot! Or: How can the Americans be so stupid!
At the same time I know that this point of view falls short of reality and simply doesn’t help anyone. Nobody ever changed his opinion simply for being told long enough how foolish/stupid/uneducated he is. People have tried to fight fire with fire from the beginning of human existence. They don’t get tired of it, even though the attempt keeps on failing miserably.
When I am looking at how I am feeling just now, taking my focus away from my thoughts and judgments just like Nonviolent Communication suggests, I am sensing a deep uncertainty and helplessness. I am scared of how the world is going to go on and my needs for security, hope and trust in the future are not met.
And this is where I see the overlap with many Americans who voted for Donald Trump, the overlap with the Brexiteers as well as the people voting rightwing extremist AfD in Germany. I sense that most of them are longing for security, hope, and trust in a better future as well and hope to meet these needs through their votes. Unfortunately their decisions cause even more fear in myself and many others.
Nonviolent Communication tries to direct our view to what all humans have in common: our feelings and needs. When I only look at people’s strategies for meeting those needs – for example the strategy of building a wall along the US-Mexican border to feel more secure – that which connects me with these people is reduced to a bare minimum.
But I know how it feels to be scared and insecure and I do also wish for security, hope, and trust in the future. So I say yes to the feelings and needs of Trump- (and Brexit- and AfD-) voters. At the same time and at least with the same fervour I say no to most of their notions and strategies in attempting to get their needs met. When I empathize with another person who has a different opinion from mine it does not mean that I agree with their actions.
Mahatma Gandhi never lost the respect for his opponent, the British government, in his struggle for India’s independence. He never let himself get carried away and never resorted to violence even though he was opposed most violently time and again. And most important: He never gave up fighting for what he believed in even though the struggle lasted for decades.
Being a news junkie I have read just about everything that’s been published online about Trump’s victory in Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, the Guardian, and the New York Times. There are those voices painting a dystopian future: a ruthless and brutal America seeking to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with despots all over the planet, erasing all traces of Obama’s presidency within no time. On the other side you find those writers calling for sobriety, reminding people that nothing is as bad as it looks.
Those articles have in common that for me as a reader it seems like we – i.e. those who haven’t or wouldn’t have voted for Trump – were sent to the bench. Now we have to wait out the remainder of the game as passive spectators and hope our team will somehow last through the next four years.
Another genre of Trump-articles calls upon “us” to hold up and defend our values now. I agree with them. But what I find important is the inner attitude underlying everything. I believe you can be convinced of your conceptions and ideas without becoming self-righteous. Without blowing it out of proportion to a battle of good versus evil, smart versus stupid, “us” against “them”. The twentieth century saw enough social movements who did so. Very progressive on the onset they transformed themselves over time into ugly caricatures of their original ideals.
So all who are feeling desperate, disheartened, or angry can ask themselves: What’s missing? What do I need? And what might “the others” need, those who voted for Trump or for the Brexit? Is this really so different? Let’s not forget that “the others” are humans, too, with feelings and needs of their own. Even though some of what they are doing or saying makes us want to cry or scream. Asking oneself quietly what other people might need instead of what’s wrong with them already creates a more relaxed and positive mindset. The good news is: This is a step we have in our own hands completely. From there we can think and carry on from a perspective looking at the needs of everyone. Succeeding to meet on these grounds as fellow humans then creates a base for concrete solutions on the level of strategies.
On the website of the Center for Nonviolent Communication there is an article written by founder Marshall Rosenberg after September 11 when the world was in even greater turmoil than today. He writes how he and his team witnessed time and again how former enemies in conflict areas such as Rwanda, Burundi, Israel-Palestine, and Ex-Yugoslavia were able to see their opponents as humans again with the help of Nonviolent Communication. They began working together for the first time creating plans to repair the damage that had been done and ensure the safety of generations to come. This gives me hope that there are always ways beyond resignation and attacking as a means of defending oneself, be it verbally or physically. For lasting security, freedom, and peace it pays to choose the path of connection and respect over the shortcut, which fuels the eternal cycle of violence and violence in return.