This year’s elections were full of surprises. A woman (Hillary Clinton) and an African-American (Barack Obama) were the strongest candidates vying for the Democratic ticket. After Sen. Obama won, Sen. John McCain surprised everyone with his choice of a woman, Gov. Sarah Palin, to become his vice presidential running mate.
I began receiving deluges of e-mails from both sides of the political camp. After several months, I became genuinely surprised by some of the contents. There was an air of fear, extremist thought and even hatred in some of them.
As I watched the media, often flipping between the major networks and cable news channels, I was amazed at the bias from every side. It was clear that if one wanted to know the truth, the best bet was to ask lots of questions and pray.
Group think seemed to be the way of the day. According to an online encyclopedia, “Groupthink occurs when groups are highly cohesive and when they are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision … Groups experiencing groupthink do not consider all alternatives and they desire unanimity at the expense of quality decisions.”
Some other signs of groupthink are rationalizing poor decisions; believing in your own group’s morality; sharing stereotypes about people outside the group as immoral, evil, or plain stupid; and using mind-guards to protect insiders from negative information about the group. We can all fall prey if we don’t continue to engage our minds and keep our awareness sharp by challenging even our own thinking and viewpoints.
The last surprise is the most obvious. It is the election of an African-American — a bi-racial man, to be exact — to the White House. A friend of mine told me that her son awoke on November 5th and asked, “Did that really happen?” She assured him it had. Many blacks weren’t convinced it could be done in our lifetimes. They said, America’s not ready. The truth of the matter is that racial progress has advanced past the vision of what most of us thought possible. As Americans, we surprised ourselves.
Though there is still great diversity of social and political viewpoints, in more ways than ever, we have moved closer to the ideals we as a people originally espoused. For all the economic possibility, political and religious freedoms, and spiritual insights our forefathers had in mind when they created this great nation, we still had our issues. There was a time when we as a nation fought against each other — a portion despising the encroachment of the union and eager for separation. We killed whole nations of indigenous people without legal repercussion. We enslaved one another, forbid rights to particular racial and gender groups.
Admitting our faults does not make us unpatriotic, it makes us truthful. The rest of the truth is that America has changed in many ways, held steady in others and has much to be proud of. I am proud of our president, even though I don’t share all of his political views.
I am proud of our political parties, even though I am an independent, planted firmly on neither side of the political camp. It keeps me thinking. I am proud of what African-Americans have accomplished, while humbly appreciating the fact that without the passionate support of whites, Hispanics, Asians, and countless others, the strides toward greater racial unity could not have happened.
I am proud of American women who rose to the occasion during this race, changing it forever. I am proud of the men: strong, intelligent, and worthy of respect. Let’s keep surprising ourselves in positive and productive ways.
Tabi Upton, MA-LPC, is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.