Much of the world was shocked when America elected Donald Trump as president. Many reacted with fury. How could a man who spews racist and misogynistic rhetoric be chosen to lead such a powerful country?
Not only did it happen, it happened less than six months after the United Kingdom voted to leave the multi-ethnic European Union, and at a time when anti-immigrant political parties are growing in popularity in many other countries.
Has humanity taken a step backward? Are we destined to live in a world of racism, sexism and isolationism?
Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu tells us, “The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.”
It’s easy to point to the fact that many Trump supporters were white men, and that most women and minorities voted against him. But if we scratch the surface, we see there were other factors at play.
Many Americans are clearly fed up with the political system. Keep in mind that Trump was ridiculed by many long-standing members of the Republican Party. But they still chose him as their candidate, while the Democrats chose a longtime party insider, Hillary Clinton.
The people who voted for Trump and for Brexit in the U.K., and those who support similar viewpoints elsewhere, clearly disagree with the liberal ideology that they have been hearing since the end of the Cold War.
The fact that we are shocked when the votes are counted shows we haven’t been listening to their voice of opposition.
Perhaps the problem is that in today’s politically correct world, there are too many taboo topics. People avoid expressing their opinions because they’re afraid of being labelled racist, sexist or closed-minded. This can be very dangerous in a democracy.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative and it was taught to me by a group of teenagers.
In my Grade 12 Social Justice class, I encourage students to do research and present a project on a genocide or human rights issue that interests them. One student approached me and said, “I would like to present on abortion as genocide.”
I panicked a bit and went to my principal. His response was, “You have to let her do it.” I took this to mean that freedom of thought is vital to our educational system. My job was to guide the student in doing credible research and presenting her findings in a way that was understandable.
The result was unbelievable. The students not only listened to the presenter, they replied with thoughtful alternative views. No one judged anyone and they agreed to disagree. They came away with an understanding of people on the other side of the issue and perhaps an openness to considering their point of view.
If we’re going to build a better world that’s not subject to extremism, we need to really listen to the hopes and fears of our neighbours. This applies not only to those who hold political office, but to all citizens, especially those of us in positions of influence.
When we really listen to others, we usually find they’re more open to our points of view as well. From there, we can work together to build a world that’s truly synergistic and democratic, a world where everyone wins.
The Trump victory is not a disaster for humanity, it’s simply a lesson that we needed to learn along the way.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.