On election night, Canada’s immigration page crashed due to massive server activity. My Facebook feed was flooded with threats from friends who were going to pick up and move out of the country. While the sentiment is understandable if the election did not go your way, it is also deeply troubling in its implications. Are you really going to cut and run when your country needs you more than ever?
And, FYI, the shadow of the American president follows you wherever you may try to hide.
As I struggled to sleep last night, my mind turned to my two daughters and the scores of teenagers I counsel. It is very hard not to feel an overwhelming sense of dread, especially when I think about our standing on the world stage. But as an eternal optimist, it is also the thought of my strong girls and idealistic students that gives me hope.
It is hard to know what the next several years will bring, but the world will keep turning. It is incumbent on everyone who holds the values of equality, social justice, environmental stewardship and peace to get to work. We can all keep moving the needle in a positive direction and project a positive image of America, but it will be on a smaller scale.
I spent my college years under the George W. Bush presidency. While studying abroad in London, strangers would hear my accent on the tube and ask me what I thought about Bush. I acted as an ambassador of sorts, allaying the fears of the asker (and the people within earshot) as best I could. Later, when I traveled to Tanzania to volunteer, one of the first conversations I had with my homestay mother was about politics. “I don’t like war,” she explained. “Tanzania is a peaceful country. I don’t like Bush because he makes war.”
It was hard to travel as an American during those years, but it was also immensely important to dispel the idea that the messaging the world was hearing from one man was representative of all Americans. I have a feeling that creating good will on a personal scale and in the private sector is going to be more important than ever in the coming years. And we will need to prepare to answer the hard questions from friends of other cultures who simply can’t comprehend why things happen the way they do in America (even though you also may be at a loss).
I am a firm believer in cross-cultural exchange, service and global citizenry. We will have to take it upon ourselves to promote a positive vision of the country and the peaceful world that we all desire. My call to action is simple: Reach out to a new culture. This could be the folks with an opposing political sign in your neighborhood or the villagers of a remote community in Fiji. We grow and connect by tearing down walls, not building them.
It is easy to joke about moving to Canada, but the truth is we need you here, there and everywhere. So take a gap year, study abroad, travel to a foreign land, volunteer in your community. Answer the hard questions and fight for good. We need an army of ambassadors to show the world that we, as Americans, are open in our hearts and minds in working towards a better world for all.
Originally written for Huffington Post