How Do We Move Forward as a Nation?

By Dr. Michele Nealon-Woods, President of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post 11/16/2016 

While many of us need time to absorb the cacophony of messages that emanated from our recent general election cycle, as psychologists and behavioral health specialists, it is incumbent upon us to remain focused, help to heal the divide, and create a positive dialogue among our families, friends and communities.

Those of us who are also leaders have an enormous responsibility, as well as the potential to set a tone of acceptance, mutual understanding, and emotional resilience in our respective organizations, all of which are microcosms of society as a whole. We must make certain that we provide a safe environment for dialogue among people whose individual circumstances have led to viewpoints that differ widely. We must be prepared to listen, and to encourage others to listen, to one another. We must understand who we are—individually and collectively—and how we got to where we are today. We must encourage the honest exercise of our first amendment rights, including the right to peacefully protest, but adamantly discourage rhetoric that either directly or indirectly smacks of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, intolerance and hatred.

Fear can do irreparable damage to our national psyche and to the emotional well-being of each of us. It is contagious, eating away at our sense of security and engendering a pervasive uncertainty about what tomorrow will bring. It takes a toll on our health and our relationships, and it affects us—sometimes more than we realize—at home and at work.

Each of us must play a role in guiding the conversation that will inevitably surround us in the months and years ahead. We can open our minds to the diverse perspectives that have led us to where we are now. We can choose our words carefully, even when our cautious rhetoric does not completely reflect our own thoughts and anxieties.

Those of us who have the privilege to serve in leadership positions have a special responsibility to create environments that are supportive and respectful. We must make certain that everyone in our organizations feels valued and respected for who they are, and that all groups are given equal opportunity in the workplace, allowing them to attain their highest achievements.

As President of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology—a university committed to ensuring the mental health and emotional resilience of individuals everywhere—I have boundless faith in our nation and in each other. There are times—and this is one of them—when we need to work harder to ensure that we remain united. We can do it by keeping our minds open and helping one another as we work together to bridge the gaps that divide us.