For the past week it has been impossible to turn on the television, to pick up a newspaper, or to visit social media without encountering another response to the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. There are many voices raised in protest. And there are many analyses as to how this happened. What I have not seen is an analysis that looks at the election and its outcome through the lens of change, so that is what I am offering here. How is what we know about the psychology of change reflected in the election? What lessons does that teach–or re-teach–us?
Lesson 1: All Change is Personal
Donald Trump’s election is expected to result in societal change across the country, and perhaps around the world. Those who voted for him, those who voted against him, those who voted for another candidate, and those who didn’t vote each had an impact on the outcome, and each will feel the impact of some of those changes. Social change, like organizational change, occurs at the personal level.
Lesson 2: People Resist Change
Yes, we are seeing protests and petitions against Mr. Trump’s election. But let’s look back to those who he appealed to, who voted for him.
There are those who resist equal rights for people of color, and for the LGBTQ community. There are those who resist abortion rights. There are those who resist changes to gun rights. There are those who resist believing in climate change. There are those who resist the evolution of manufacturing. There are those who resist globalization of the economy. There are those who resist immigration. There are those who resist regulation.
While it is unlikely that many of Mr. Trump’s supporters fall into all of these categories, most can be found in at least one of them. While some have been visible in their resistance over the years, many have held it inside. “Checking out” of change should not be confused with accepting it, but that is what we as a society too often have assumed. We have let “majority rule” end the needed dialogue, exploration, and inclusion that are needed to create a truly united nation. Too many became complacent when their cause was resolved to their own comfort. Too many pushed resistance underground. And Mr. Trump gave it a voice.
Whether your change is personal, organizational, or you are involved in social change, remember that people resist change. (If you haven’t already, the time will come when you resist even your own change. It is going to be more difficult and more uncertain than you imagined.) Give voice to that resistance. See it as a resource to help move the change forward, not as a barrier to be overtaken and driven down.
Lesson 3: Our Beliefs Shape What We See and What We Do
I can’t believe it.
Nobody saw this coming.
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
These words, and others with the same sentiment, have been said millions upon millions of times in the last seven days. They echo the truth that we see things based on what we believe. The world was flat (ignore the curving of the horizon), until it was proven round. The universe revolved around the world, until it didn’t. It was unbelievable that Donald Trump would be elected President of the United States, until he was.
Not everyone sees the world in the same way. Intellectually we know that. But all too often we act as if our view of the world is the reality, the truth. It is our reality; it is our truth. But it is not the only reality, the only truth.
As you look at your own changes, what are the beliefs that shape them? What are the “truths” that limit them? What are the beliefs, the truths that you can reshape to remove the limitations, to open the possibilities? Donald Trump offered a belief that shaped his world, and that is now shaping the world for all of us.
Lesson 4: The Power of Story
Over and over, the media and the opposition decried Donald Trump’s lack of policy and position papers. Hillary Clinton was credited with citing statistics and detailed positions in her speeches and during the debates. Meanwhile, even many of Secretary Clinton’s supporters spoke of her as a “flawed candidate.” While her supporters said the same even more often of Mr. Trump, few of his supporters went there publicly.
Donald Trump used the power of story. He appealed, virtually every time he appeared, to the hearts and the guts of those who felt left out and downtrodden and ignored by the changes going on in our society. He didn’t speak in policy terms; in fact, he often didn’t even speak in truthful terms. But, in his speaking, he captured people’s imaginations, their yearnings; he re-ignited their hopes and dreams.
Hilary Clinton did capture the hearts and guts of some. But for the masses, her appeal was intellectual. “The first female President,” or “the better alternative than Trump” just doesn’t land with the same power as “build the wall” or “ban all Muslims.” Secretary Clinton certainly had powerful stories to tell, and sometimes she told them. But even her campaign acknowledged that she was better at “connecting with people” in cafes and small gatherings, that she was better in town halls than in debates. Whether that was a limiting belief on her part, I don’t know…But it certainly was a belief that shaped how she showed up.
What drives your change? Is it the facts and figures? Is it the data? Is it the market analysis and the future projections? Is it the unease you are feeling now? If your change is relatively minor, it is likely that these are enough to allow you success. But if it is a really big change, you need the story. You need to know what it will be like, not just in your head, but in your heart and your gut, when you actually achieve the full purpose of your change.
5. The Importance of Anchors
When a change like the 2016 Presidential election occurs, it has a significant impact on our personal (as well as societal) anchors. Calls to crisis and suicide hotlines have surged. While some are raising their voices in protest, others find themselves in a deep malaise; I have spoken with several people who “just didn’t have the will to get out of bed the next day.” As a gay man in a major urban area, I have become comfortable walking on the streets in recent years; the day after the election that comfort was shattered as the driver of a passing car slowed down next to me to shout, “Trump hates faggots!” I suddenly find myself once again having to be much more aware of my surroundings as I walk, feeling a bit less safe and secure because of who I am.
Those who are celebrating Donald Trump’s win–including President-elect Trump himself–also face significant changes in their anchors. They are no longer the “outsiders” who can freely decry all they see that is wrong. Some have been suddenly elevated to a position of responsibility and accountability. Some have shifted from “outsider” to “insider” status. Anchors are cut loose, or are dramatically changed.
Major changes call for paying careful attention to our anchors, yet most of us fail to do so in any intentional way. There are four sets of questions you should ask yourself as a result of this election, and as you prepare for any major change in your life.
- What are the anchors that I have to hold onto, without making any change? Which ones keep me facing into my “true north?” Which ones provide me with the continuing foundation for moving forward with my life? For some this may be a religious or spiritual practice. It may be a job, a community, family and/or friends. The tendency can be to focus on the disruption; identifying and attending to these anchors can help to restore some of your sense of balance and stability.
- What are the anchors I have to continue to hold onto, but that I have to change my relationship with? Are there anchors that I have to hold onto more tightly? Are there others that I have to hold onto more loosely? For some people, again, it may be that it is important to deepen a spiritual or religious practice during times of turbulent change. It may be less important to focus on being liked or accepted, and more important to be more publicly authentic about your stand on issues.
- What are the anchors that I have to let go of? How and when do I do so? It may be as basic as letting go of Facebook friends, or stepping off of social media altogether. I know of families that have torn apart as a result of the election results. In any big change, remember, if anchors are what hold you where you are, it is likely that you will have to let go of some of them in order to move to a different place in your life.
- What are the anchors that I need to add? How and when do I do so? It is likely that people on both sides of this election’s results are adding a commitment to having a more public voice. Just as we have to let go of some anchors during major change, we need to add others. During your own change, don’t forget to attend to identifying, and adding, critical new anchors.
Please feel free to join the conversation. What other change lessons can we learn from the results of this election?