Thursday Threads – freedoms do require accountability

Since I am headed out the door for a day trip to garner fresh produce at a place called The Peach Stand, I thought I would pull out a few threads to twirl around our fingers as we contemplate issues.

The US Supreme Court has just ruled that freedom of speech does give you license to be an asshole (sorry folks, the real word is needed), provided you do not hurt anyone. A person now known as the “profane cheerleader” won her case, but missed the message. Just because you can be an asshole, does not mean you should. We must be accountable to each other and for our actions and words.

If the profane cheerleader never learns that lesson, she will be like a certain former president in his 70s, that remains an enfant terrible, even at his age. I mention him as the other court story is people involved with the January 6 insurrection are starting to get sentenced. Some will get light sentences, as they did not harm people or property, but others will likely receive more. As these sentences start to pile up, they will stand right in front of those Republican elected officials holding white paint brushes trying to paint over the insurrection as if it did not happen.

That accountability stuff is important, especially with folks who feel entitled to do anything they want. In their minds, it is OK to treat airplane attendants with disdain and threaten them. It is OK to show road rage which has been a growing problem even before the pandemic. It is OK to rage at slow service in restaurants, who are understaffed as they build back up their business. But, it is not OK. You can disagree without being disagreeable. You can share disappointment, without being uncivil.

Yes, the freedom of speech gives Americans the right to be assholes. But, there must be accountability along with that. That Jesus guy speaks of treating others like we want to be treated. If someone chooses to be an asshole, the offender needs to know it gives others the right to ignore you and not consider your raged filled or threatening words and actions. We need leaders to lead in this area, being representative of our better angels not or worst demons. Emulating a deceitful and bullying former president is not the example to follow.

There is an old saying that is more true than not. Those folks who are the least tolerant of others tend to elicit more tolerance from others with their own actions and words. What the intolerant ones do not realize, is people will eventually vote with their feet and not want to be around you or lessen their time with you, if that cannot totally avoid you. In other words, people tend not to want to suffer fools. So, at least be accountable for your own sake.

Unaccountability

Parents have tended to emphasize to our children that they need to be accountable for their actions. When I see a child or adult accept accountability, it impresses me, probably because it should be more commonplace than it is. “It is my fault, I messed up, and I will take care of it,” are words that need to be said more often.

Sadly, one of the worst examples of the lack of accountability is the former president. He has long avoided accountability which has contributed to his blaming others or avoiding blame for his mistakes. This is a key reason he remains an “enfant terrible” even into his 70s and is well known for his deceitful bent.

The latest example is the sycophants in Congress who are rationalizing his autocratic-like spying on people he perceives as his enemies – Democrats and the mainstream media. This is on top of only seventeen Republicans who voted to impeach or convict him for his role in the insurrection on the Capitol. Plus, there are way too many elected Republicans who continue to support his bogus claims of widespread election fraud.

To be frank, the spineless sycophants unnerve me the most, as they pretend to like the former president, so as not to anger him or his vindictive extreme base, yet they know what he is like and speak of it privately. They privately worry what they will have to defend next. And, next up may be things beyond their control, as he faces more than several civil and criminal court cases.

So, moms and dads, please tell your children not to emulate the former president. When you ask what would Jesus do (WWJD), the answer will not come from a list of things the former president does, unless he slipped up and did the right thing by accident.

Good faith dealings

The passing of former President George H.W. Bush has highlighted the many positive attributes of the imperfect 41st President. Of course, we are all “fixer uppers,” and our willingness to know this about ourselves keeps us humble and in a constant state of self-improvement.

Many positive things have been highlighted about the elder Bush this past week, with many of us nostalgic to how we all should conduct ourselves, especially our leaders. Here are a few things I took away:

– a communication advisor to an early campaign noted he made a big mistake from which he could not hide. Thinking he would be fired, he recalled Bush telling him “I know you will knock the next opportunity out of the park.”

– a friend noted he played golf often with Bush when he was President. He noted the clubs Bush played would invariably try to “comp” his green and cart fees. Bush insisted that he pay for his and his friends fees. He noted it would not be right for a golf club to not expect him to pay.

– a Democrat Senator noted that it was not unusual for Bush to invite a handful of Senators or Congressional representatives to the White House on late Friday afternoons for martinis, which Bush made. He would also give them a tour of the White House, if any had not seen it before.

– many noted that Bush was a voracious note writer and they took pride in words of encouragement, support, sympathy or thanks; these notes were received by media, foreign and domestic leaders, public servants, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.

– after he retired, the son of one of his secret service guards was struggling with Leukemia and losing in his hair due to the Chemotherapy. Bush shaved his head in solidarity with the son to lift his spirits,

– many leaders and public servants noted that Bush had many relationships around the world and here in the states, which benefited him and our country in troubling or challenging times. His ability to tap these resources to build coalitions to do things is paramount to several successful endeavors.

– relationships matter at home too, with a lovely marriage to Barbara for 73 years and a beautiful family of children and grandchildren. Marriage is hard work – this speaks volumes about the Bushes.

– Finally, in today’s times it is hard to convince some that perception is not reality. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time polishing our own apple or thinking those that do it well rate more highly as a result. One magazine defined Bush as a wimp when he ran for President, primarily because he was an obsequious Vice-President. Here was a man who flew 58 combat missions in WWII and was shot down. He was not raised to brag on himself. It would not have been false bravado for him to do so. False bravado seems to be mistaken for actually bravery these days. But, the reason he was called a wimp due to being obsequious is while he offered criticism to ¬†President Reagan in private, it would have been detrimental to call him out in public.

Each of us could be better people. Our leaders should be among our better angels. Character matters. Dealing with people in a good faith manner matters. Telling the truth to the media, colleagues and the American people matter. Being accountable matters. Real courage is usual quietly borne and not bragged about. We should remember these truths. We should do our best to emulate them.

 

It is my fault

These may be the four hardest words to say in the English language. I would be curious how they are worded in other languages. A mea culpa, which is means my great fault, makes it sound nicer, but actually increases the burden. We are human. We screw up. To be accountable is to say “mea culpa” or “it is my fault.”

When I have said these four words, it gets an unusual reaction. It is my fault. One place I worked, after I said it to someone, he asked “Are you going to admit that ?”

“Yes, I screwed up,” I responded. “But, I will fix it.” This knocked him for a loop. Apparently, in his view it was the kiss of death to say mea culpa in the organization. His confusion was so obvious it left a lasting impression.

One reason for admitting fault can be traced to playing sports. When you screw up, everyone can see it. Plus, you let your teammates down. In the heat of the action, the four words are often shortened to two Рmy bad. The key is to make up for  your mistake. It is not uncommon for a chance at redemption to come by soon.

Another reason is being in a relationship. Trust me, you will screw up, especially if you are a guy. Not to generalize, but women tend to be more in tune with interactions, where we guys tend to be less subtle in our communications. So, when you screw up, be accountable. If you have dug yourself a hole, stop digging. It is my fault.

Accountability. I have screwed up many times and will again. Yet, I must be accountable for my mistakes. I read once that when mistakes have been made that end up in the tragic loss of life, the families left behind need some solace. They actually appreciate greatly a sincere apology. This does not erase the pain, but acknowledgement of the mistake helps.

So, let’s be accountable to each other. Let’s demand this from our leaders.