I have never felt more of a tangible, collective anxiety than I did watching the election play out Tuesday night. I didn’t think I cared much about American politics. Sure, it was amusing to see Trumps antics on my news feed but being a journalist-in-training with a somewhat naïve faith in the people, I didn’t for a second believe he had a chance of winning. How wrong I was.

But let’s not blame this on naivety. From skimming through articles the past few days, it is apparent that many things led to this outcome. American media’s huge disconnect from half its people and the loose threads of the electoral system, just to name a few.

When you immerse yourself in an uplifting and progressive culture, it’s easy to forget those that views differ. The media, the intellectuals, the “woke” people weren’t aware of how deep American alienation ran. Trump did a spectacular job at exposing the racism we don’t witness with our own eyes. And when confronted with close-minded, nationalistic views and xenophobia, the response was a hard-boiled anger.

We’ve created this huge divide. One of my Facebook friends illustrates it perfectly in the following post:

“I have grown comfortable surrounding myself with fairly liberal and radical social groups. When I step outside them, I get exhausted finding myself explaining ‘basic’ concepts. Like: “Non-binary people are real, and here and some examples of what that means”. Or “this is why ‘gay’ and ‘fag’ should not be used in derogatory ways”. Or “Queer means a lot of things. LGBTQQ2SIA doesn’t actually encompass everything. & yes, I can explain and define that acronym”. I often find myself playing radical liberal encyclopedia when I step outside my circles.

Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate those conversations. I am blessed that the people in my life, be it family, friends, friends of friends, classmates, coworkers, etc.. are more often then not willing to engage with me. The truth is: I get exhausted. I don’t engage that much. As I explain my view on ‘political correctness’ I am often met with the sentiment: “I see what you’re saying. I’ll try harder. We should hang soon. Also: you probably wouldn’t like my friends”.

It’s true. I probably won’t like your very conservative friends. I will not like people who defend gay slurs, or deny the existence of non-binary people. I will not like those who think calling out microaggressions is overreaction. I will not like when slut shaming is the punchline.

We get so comfortable in our orange, reds and blues. It’s so easy to believe those that don’t agree with us are less educated, or less moral. And that is not fair. When we stop reaching each other, we grow more afraid. We become ‘other’. We become punchlines. My friends joke about people who support Trump and Harper. My family jokes about supporting NPD candidates. No one is dumb, or crazy, or hateful.

We develop interests with our friends. We grow so comfortable. What happens is a more divided country. I’m not saying we should spend all our energy getting uncomfortable. I’m not saying it’s bad to hold moral stances. I’m saying, this comfort creates a wider divide. I’m asking: how do we fix it without exhausting and hurting ourselves?” -Shawna Dimitry

While I don’t have all the answers, I know one thing- we can’t allow anger to get the best of us. That’s what brought upon this situation in the first place. Yelling at and shaming racist comments does nothing to eradicate them. It just shoves them under the carpet for a while, allowing them to churn so they can rise to action when the opportune moment arrives (in this case, the election).

You don’t have to respect bigoted opinions. But if you ever hope to change a person, you must respect them when engaging in dialogue about so called opinions. As Shawna said above, nobody is stupid. Their prejudices stem from their small but truthful lived experiences.

Trump tapped into their anger, which was in some ways, totally legit. American citizens were tired of working long hours for low wages, having jobs go overseas, billionaires not paying income taxes, and not being able to afford a college education for their kids. Millions of people felt disenfranchised from the rise of globalization and technology. People began seeking safety in their immediate communities, in “their own people”. They hinged onto national identity and that extended to the point of demonizing the other. The notion of change became a tantalizing thought and Trump sedated and entertained everyone to the point where they thought that any change he’d enact would actually benefit them.

When people wholeheartedly begin to believe in heretics, what are we to do? I can’t imagine what it feels like to wake up and feel like you don’t belong in a country you were born and raised in, a place you could confidently call home a few hours ago. Looking at your neighbor and wondering if their cheery good mornings were fake all along. Right now, hate has so much power and it is disheartening.

To my fellow millennials: let’s not allow this old cheeto to make a mess we’re going to inevitably have to clean up. We must work to actively diversify our daily lives and choose curiosity over judgement, aim to educate instead of shaming and make sure to always come play from a place of compassion and understanding.

Pay attention to current issues and movements. Actively practice diversity and empathy by talking about oppression with  people who experience it. Take that plunge into positivity no matter how futile it may seem. We have to CHOOSE to look at the brighter side or we’re going to fall right in line with what Trump want and become a divided, fear induced world. Be aware of what matters and what doesn’t. Get involved in politics and the communities you live in. Use your voice. Express yourself through social media, photography, poetry, protesting, through art.  Empower yourselves.

Keep the conversation going. Keep fighting. Never take progress for granted. There is always work to be done.