We spent last week at Westmoreland State Park. This spacious park on the edge of the Potomac River has trails that wind through the woods and a small beach where you can find fossilized shark teeth. I was going to tell you all about how we ended up here after our first choice campground was closed due to deer hunting and our second choice was slated to close early because of budget cuts. But then something happened that made all of that seem trivial. Yes, I’m talking about the presidential election.
I normally stay away from politics here. I prefer this to be a space where I share our travels and related experiences, not a platform to express my political or religious views. However, as this is also a personal blog where I try very hard to share a realistic representation of our travels, it seems disingenuous to ignore something this big.
The short of it is that we spent election night in shock and disbelief. Like so many Americans we stayed up late into the night watching as things unraveled. I’m not going to write a long rant about division, hate speech, fear for basic rights, or how dysfunctional our political system has become. All of that has already been written about to the point where it’s practically meaningless. I do, however, want to share some of the personal vows Tim and I made in the early hours of Wednesday morning when it felt like all we believe in had just been thrown out the window and set on fire.
First of all, we vow to continue expanding our world through travel. We love the tiny liberal-leaning community where we lived in Vermont but it seems that living in a place where everyone thinks the same as you leads to division and misunderstanding. Since we started traveling around the U.S. so many of our preconceived notions about other cultures and regions have gone out the window. While it’s true that we might not have the same views on Syrian refugees as someone living in the mountains of Tennessee, it only takes a few minutes of conversation to discover all the things we do have in common. Yes, we want to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals, but we also want to open the pathway to understanding differing views.
Second, we vow to spend less time on social media and consume less news. I’ll be the first to admit that I became borderline obsessed with the election coverage over the past few months. I immersed myself in online news stories and endless hours of political podcasts. In the end, all that did was leave me feeling confused and angry at the “other side”. Also, in the end, the media got it so very, very wrong. And apparently so did we. I now have to ask myself, was I trying to be informed, or was I simply seeking out information that confirmed my own biases? It’s a sobering thought.
In the days following the election, we imposed a news and social media boycott. Instead, we went outside and hiked in the woods. We visited the birthplace of our very first president. We had dinner and played marbles with my dad who was passing through on his yearly journey south to Florida. We spent an evening at a tiny brewery run by a local husband and wife team. We took our kayaks out to a small sandy island where we hunted for (and found!) fossilized sharks teeth.
What we didn’t do was write lengthy posts on Facebook about how everyone who voted for Trump is a bigot and everyone who voted for Clinton is a “libtard”. We didn’t share impeachment petitions, non-factual memes or articles from fake or real news sites.
I’m not saying any of these things is the wrong way to react. But honestly, I wonder if any of it does any good? I have checked in on Facebook a few times in the last week and aside from the things mentioned above what bothers me the most are people trying to start genuine conversations that immediately get taken over by accusations, blame shifting, and hurtful comments. Is the keyboard a barrier that causes us to be rude online? Would we feel okay saying these things to someone if we were face-to-face? I still believe that we are capable of having civilized discussions with those of differing opinions, but I don’t think social media is an effective way to do this.
I don’t pretend to have any of the answers. I don’t know how to stay informed while shifting through all the lies and inflated rhetoric. I don’t know how to help people listen to each other instead of yell and place blame. What I do know is that what feels best for our tiny household right now is to take a step back. Retreat a little into nature, spend time with family, ignore the news for a bit longer, and keep on living the best way we know how.
*By the way, if you want to know more about Westmoreland State Park you can read my Campendium review.