I was invited to a party this week. A gathering of like-minded folks intending to celebrate our winning presidential pick, or to mute our disappointment with wine and cheese. I didn’t go.
This election…let’s just say, I knew I would feel more strongly about it than any other in which I’ve cast my vote to date, and I wanted the luxury of freely expressing those emotions in private.
Election night I watched the state tallies roll in one by one, and after a while, I went to sleep. I woke at 4 am, checked my phone, and well, the rest is history. I sent my sister a text. She replied instantly. She was also up, and we talked for a good long while.
Actually, it wasn’t so much talking. The conversation alternated between talking, hollering and crying out in that hands-to-the-ceiling type way that goes beyond plebian tears. I wanted to get it out of my system, or as much as I could, before I got to work. We talked about what to expect, how did it happen, how would it affect us, our families and friends, what should we do now?
I told my sister one thing, the same thing I told my mother and any and everyone else who’s asked me similar questions or expressed even a hint of vulnerability or fear: Tighten up. Take that how you like, but I mean: build good money habits, accustom yourself to discipline, and enjoy life for this too shall pass.
Honestly, what shocked and surprised me the most was not the outcome of the election – my gut told me how things would play out before they actually did – it was how my workplace reacted to the election outcome. I spent almost two hours hollering into the phone at my sister early in the morning on Nov. 9th because I wanted to be composed and professional when I got to my office.
I suspect more than one person had the same idea because my commute was eerily quiet. Even when people spoke, they whispered rather than talk in normal tones. The people I passed in my building, the mood was somber, just a little too quiet, if you know what I mean. It was as though everyone had a tight rein on themselves. That or there was some sort of informal gag order at play, muzzling the inhabitants of various offices lest they burst with emotion of one type or another.
But my boss shocked me. In our weekly editorial staff meeting he opened the floor to a conversation about the election. He literally gave us that forum in which to safely air our feelings about what’s happening – or what may happen – in the country, and it was surprising. Welcome, but surprising. I don’t recall ever having such a conversation before, nor feeling the need for one. This time around? Let’s face it – there’s little to no way a working American won’t feel some type of way about the outcome of the 2016 presidential election
So, we sat around the table, with the door closed, and we talked. We shared general impressions, debated implications for our work as journalists and how we planned to cover various aspects of related content for our readers. We shared personal ondits on how things might go for us, and we were fervently appreciative for the opportunity to speak freely. It was refreshing, it was a relief, and it was completely unexpected.
There are backgrounds and beliefs that we don’t bring to work because they just aren’t part of our jobs. Political beliefs are a prime example. They are often too unexpected, too judgmental, too personal, or too potentially explosive if the mantle of professionalism that most of us wear should grow thin or brittle. Employers don’t encourage political discussion – many actively forbid it – for this reason.
Whatever side of the political fence you may be on, once the election hubbub has died down, we still have to work together. Anything said in the heat of the moment, political passions expressed, unusual or unexpected beliefs aired, these things won’t be forgotten, and an otherwise valuable working relationship could be damaged. That my employer should voluntarily open this particular Pandora’s box, and invite us all to unpack its contents, said much for our welcoming stance on diversity of thought.
It spoke volumes about our culture and how inherently generous, collaborative and respectful our workplace is. It also cast a bright new shine on the phrase freedom of speech, and not just because as journalists we live and die by those weighty words. For some this activity might not work as well. For instance, if your organization depends on customers. Grubhub CEO Matt Maloney found himself on fire after he sent out a memo clearly weighing in on one side of the presidential coin vs. the other.
That likely didn’t happen at my company because no one explicitly said, pro this, con that. There was no debate over right or wrong. We just talked, and we did so privately. There was no outward or public declaration.
I can only hope in the months and years ahead that other employers, that other people, adopt that same generosity of spirit and action as we navigate this new political landscape. I think they will. I can already see it. For some, right now it’s colored with resignation, muddied by disbelief, disappointment and even anger. But the sentiment seems widespread: with open hearts, minds and mouths, we will overcome and advance together.