Feels like a long week. We all either went to bed Tuesday night or woke up on Wednesday morning with our personal reactions and thoughts on the presidential election. News sources shared their perspectives and certainly social media was and still is abuzz.
Observing the election cycle and returns with my family was an important experience. We talked as a family about how we speak about others, about how we treat other people, about differences and how they enhance us, not divide us. We discussed the use of language and how words matter – they can hurt or heal. Even if you mean one thing, when you say it people may hear it differently or you may say it in a way that is offensive to others.
The question now is how we follow up on the conversations all of us have had during this charged election and work to unify our country.
More than this, I hope we all recognize how truly fortunate we are to live in a democracy. Democracy tells its own story -- one we do not always know in advance. Winston Churchill noted democracy is truly the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. It is something we as Americans can never take for granted.
One of the finest analyses I read immediately following the election was from Steven Windmueller, Ph.D., the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He wrote a wonderful article titled The Substitute Storyline: What a Trump Victory Means for American Jewry. I encourage you to read this “poli sci” view of the election and important issues going forward for the Jewish community.
I believe we can also take lessons from this election and apply them to the nonprofit world. Nonprofits are inherently “learning organizations.” One key to learning is not to be isolated nor afraid to listen. We need to take the pulse of our constituencies regularly and periodically get insight through interviews, focus groups and surveys. One of the most dangerous things is for us to think “I know what my board/donors/constituents think/want/will do.” We saw with this election cycle that a lot of people just did not understand the perceptions and views of many voters.
No matter your politics, one thing is clear: The role of philanthropy in education, social services, health care and nonprofits across the board will be greater than ever. It will take years to see where government is headed and if that direction is effective. And, in the meantime, there remain significant challenges and issues to address. So, while there is some uncertainty over what the next few years will bring, and our country appears to be politically divided, we can unite to support nonprofit missions that serve the common good.
Over 3,000 years ago our Sages wrote, “A healing tongue is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 15:4) In the days ahead we will need to find words that heal the divide between people with different backgrounds, fears, and beliefs. We will need to hold up for ourselves and the next generation words that are a “tree of life” – that nourish and protect all who stand underneath their branches.
In the days ahead, let us work together to find these words AND actions within the Jewish community and beyond. As one person wrote on Facebook, “The future is ours to determine. How we behave and what we choose to do will determine the future of our country and our world. Not somebody else who was or was not elected. Us. It is our responsibility to take action to make the world better.”