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At long last, there is a projected winner of this year’s presidential election. Most voters I’ve talked to feel wrung out, exhausted from the suspense of an unusually drawn-out process. There’s an underlying tone of anxiety.

Many of my friends who voted Democratic feel the race isn’t firmly settled. Some of my Republican friends feel the vote counting was unfair, or they are fearful of what the next four years will bring policywise. Many Americans felt they had lost control over their destinies and well-being over the past four years. It seems many others feel that way now. I feel concern and sympathy for anyone living in this rattled, shell-shocked state.

Often, the feeling of a loss of control spills out in the form of disparaging language. In the months leading up to the election and afterward, I’ve seen members from both sides of the political spectrum dehumanize each other as they express their frustration with belittling and derogatory generalizations. It has stung to see people who voted differently from me reduce my values to straw man fallacies.

Am I completely innocent in this regard? No. There are certainly times when I’ve said or thought some insensitive things about people with different politics than mine. It’s been very hard not to get carried away in the lava flow of anxiety and anger that has characterized this election.

And as easy as that pattern is to fall into, it’s the thing we have to stand against. More often than not, I have felt angry at friends on both sides who have posted memes or shared fake news designed to denigrate and lower differing viewpoints. This behavior has become increasingly simple to pull off in the age of social media. I’d wager it’s a lot more tempting to press “return” on a keyboard than to approach someone in a parking lot with a verbal quiver full of political barbs.

I think we’re all capable of taking a moment to stop and think about the people we’re really criticizing, whether from behind our keyboards or in the privacy of our own minds. These are often our friends and neighbors. These are the people who have offered help with home improvement projects and who we trust to babysit our children. They’ve brought food over when there’s an illness in our families. In those moments, we’re not concerned about which box they checked on a ballot. We’re filled with gratitude and love for people who think enough of us to reach out and lend a hand. Even when we’re not addressing them specifically in political jousting sessions, we’re devaluing them by generalizing their values into caricatures.

Emotions in the aftermath of this election cycle are running the gamut. You might believe the current president bred chaos and leaves a divided country in his wake, or you might think the upcoming administration is going to be instrumental in making an already shaky economy shakier. You might feel the president-elect will sow unity as he promises, or maybe you believe your values will be lost in the shuffle as the political landscape changes. These are strong feelings, and I believe we all need to take them seriously.

As I travel down my rural road each day, I see campaign signs still tacked to barns and standing in front yards. It’s obvious that people still have strong preferences, and I don’t think any argument or disparagement is going to change that fact. I think the important thing now is to value our neighbors as if no policy or administration could change our feelings for them.

Am I saying we need to drop our own beliefs in order to support others? Certainly not. There’s a way to validate others’ fears and still keep our value systems intact. Respectful dialogue goes a long way in accomplishing that task. And in the end, we can only control ourselves, so if you feel someone else is disrespecting or paving over your viewpoint, there’s no law saying you have to continue conversing with them about a certain subject.

These are basic rules of civilized engagement, but in the heat of the moment, they’re easy to forget. Again, I don’t think viewpoints are likely to change much, but if we make a diligent effort to stick with respectful interactions, we might just see decency and respect carry the day.

Elizabeth Crumbly is a newspaper veteran and freelance writer. She lives in rural Northwest Georgia where she teaches riding lessons, writes and raises her family. She is a former editor of The Catoosa County News. You can correspond with her at www.collective-ink.com.

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