The response to an inane remark

Having been in consulting for over thirty years before I retired, clients would on occasion say things that were not the most vetted of ideas. Sometimes the ideas would be too costly, sometimes too administratively burdensome, sometimes too hard to communicate and sometimes the idea may be stretching or breaking the law.

I had a colleague who had a disarming way of digging deeper, putting the onus on himself. This would prevent the client from being too offended by questioning. They may not be right, but they are still the client. My colleague would say “Help me understand….” as he asked why the client thought this was a good idea.

I mention this today as people have been writing about how to push back on people who are parroting untruthful information or conspiracy stories. Depending on the audience, one action is to simply vote with your feet and walk away. Or some version of “I do not believe that to be true” might suffice. Yet, those do not qualify as good rebuttal.

If you choose to rebut, you must get into a dialogue. This is the reason for my recent post on the Chicago song of that name. You do not want a shouting match, if you want to get heard. So, take my friend’s suggestion as a lead in – “Help me understand.” This will allow further conversation to delve further without being too offensive. Remember, people just want to be heard. So, hear them out and maybe they will do the same. This is how Daryl Davis talked over 200 members of the KKK into quitting.

Our blogging friend Clay used as an example yesterday about the North Carolina man who went to jail for four years for believing the conspiracy story that Hillary Clinton was running a child pornography ring from a pizza parlor in Washington, DC and acting on it, by storming the place armed with a weapon. Clinton is not perfect and has been made out to be a bogeyman, but really, a child pornography ring?

If he told a friend this plan in advance, the friend might have said, “help me understand…” and saved this person from himself. After hearing the story, a few simple questions may have diffused the situation. The friend could have said something like “I don’t like her either, but c’mon, a child pornography ring? There is no way that can be true.”

I am not naive to think that this will solve our problems and it may be less effective with the most strident. Yet, if Davis can get KKK members to shed their robes, then it must have some validity. One thing is for certain, returning fire with fire by yelling and name calling, will not get you heard. Just watch any talk show with people of divergent opinions. Those folks are not listening to each other, because you cannot listen when shouting.

Let me leave one final thought. As a father of three adult children now, if you really want your children to listen to you, do one key thing. Lower your voice, even to a whisper. That will get their attention.

Are we really that far apart?

Too many people are arguing points of view that seem to be antagonistically created by Public Relations (PR) folks to divide us. Fear sells. It always has. So, to win elections and sway opinion, certain PR folks and candidates create a we/ they mentality. The other tribe is painted as evil.

But, are we really that far apart? I feel we too often are arguing the points of view of the most extreme among us. I feel most people are closer together if we only talk about it. If we could only discuss what we agree on as much as what we don’t, then civil disourse could occur. If we do that, those areas where we don’t agree may not seem such a high hurdle to overcome.

A good example is before the last former president, Republican leaders would not attend CPAC conferences. Why? Because CPAC represented the extreme side of their party. Republican leaders knew this and stayed away. Now, CPAC is reported as a main stream part of the party, which has taken the Republicans down a narrow path into the woods. To me, that is unfortunate, because I believe most Republicans would not favor some of the extremism of this wing of the party.

On the Democrat side, what is reported online is the more progressive thoughts of the party. To me, they are interesting points of view to consider, but don’t represent fully what more moderate Democrats might believe, at least in tone. I am not dismissing these thoughts at all, but what we lose sight of in this country on both ends of the spectrum is at some point we have to step up and pay for things.

Here are a few common themes that many of us may hold, but it is worth the discussion to confirm agreement.

-elected officials do not work very hard to serve the needs of the people; they focus on helping their major funders and marketing for more funding.

-collaboration to solve problems long term should not be such a foreign concept.

-freedom to do things is important, provided we are not hurting other people and we understand that freedom has a price tag of responsibility.

-name calling is not civil discourse; it is an intended short cut by someone who has not thought through an argument.

-shouting over comments by someone who does not agree with your comment is not an argument, it is playground taunt.

-opinion hosts online, on TV or on radio are most often not sharing facts, they are sharing opinion. The old saying is true, opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one.

-finally, people who name call, who shout and who share opinions as fact (such as “everyone knows this”) have earned the right that what they say should be taken with a grain of salt. This is especially true, if their track record indicates a highly untruthful nature.

Thinking of the above, the one comment that I can make in conversation that will resonate with even the more strident fans of the former president is “Donald Trump is his own worst enemy. He would serve himself better if he did not tweet so much.” That simple comment conveys an awful lot.

Issues. Let’s discuss issues, not personalities. What is the problem and the underlying reasons? What are the possible solutions? Who benefits, how long does it take, how can it be implemented, what is the cost and will it solve or help solve the problem? I could care less what teams wins or loses with a decision. Plus, it must stand the test of time and be monitored and improved or eliminated if it is not working well.

A little bit of this and that for 2022

Happy New Year everyone. May your resolutions last longer than your hangover. I have celebrated New Year’s in a number of ways, but this old soul is less inclined to stay up until midnight these days. Living on the east coast of the US, we have resorted to celebrating the New Year’s on Greewich time, so we are done early.

I learned yesterday the legendary actress Betty White left us just shy of her 100th birthday. She has always been a character and has played many different types of roles over the years. She played nice girl roles for the longest time, so when she played the back-stabbing Sue Ann Niven in the 1970s on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” it was a shock. Yet, she went onto many other roles in the 1980s and 1990s on the “Golden Girls” and “Hot in Cleveland.”. And, she was a terrific humanitarian and friend to animals. May she RIP.

Going in to 2022 and its insane campaign season which started about eleven months ago, we must try to regain some level of civil discourse in our society. Since changing politicians and opinion entertainers seems nigh impossible. we will have to make this a ground up change and force them to notice.

Here a few rules of the road that might help:

-if someone speaks or writes with name calling, labelling and cursing as their modus operandi, do what I often do and stop reading and do not respond. If this is the how the person wishes to argue, then his or her argument is poor.

-cease watching opinion entertainers who are dressed-up spin-doctors at best and disinformation peddlers at worst. Some do their homework more than others, but you are being told an opinion, often times not a well-supported one.

-if you are getting your news from someone on social media who you like because you agree with them, please do not consider that news and refer to the first two items above.

-if you are getting your news from a politician, check other sources; some have more veritas than others, but too many are just spouting BS without doing much homework. I used to think elected officials knew more than we do (and some did), but I stopped thinking that long ago. They also expect us to have short memories.

-you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion. Ask more questions of people and listen to their answers. Listen to understand, not to respond. Only then can you follow-up with comments, but make sure you give like you want to get. Calling a person an idiot is not a good sales pitch.

-be civil to each other. Sometimes the best thing to say, is not to say it. Look for common ground, by doing that listening thing noted above. You may disagree on five points, but agree on two. That is a start.

One final thought to drum in your head. An old friend used to say “you can never have enough cups of coffee with people.” Engage. Converse. Catch-up. And, thank the other person for their time and interest. Time and interest are the best gifts someone can give you.

Be safe in 2022. Be well and be wise.

Two emails – civil discourse

The following is an email response (to my earlier email) from a friend who I would say is a reasonable person and who has served his community helping folks in need. Following his response to me, I share my response with him.

What I want people to note is the civil tone we both tried to convey, even though there are areas of disagreement. My thrust is not to say what could have been said by each, but to say we can disagree without taking each other’s head off.

My friend’s response to an earlier email

“To say Donald Trump is different is to make an understatement. He’s not conservative, he’s a populist. He doesn’t believe in fiscal constraint, and that’s why he loves tax cuts AND fiscal stimulus as needed this past spring to address the pandemic. Just watch, we will have another fiscal stimulus package (even if it is Speaker Pelosi’s moderate wing that has signed a discharge petition to move forward narrow stimulus items forcing the issue before the election).

Donald Trump has many flaws (which is why I don’t feel the need to list them), but I think he really does care about regular people. I see this in his commitment to fixing the VA, even if stepping on toes. I listened to his caddy of thirty years ago turned personal assistant in his remarks at the RNC convention, and you know he’s not just self-immersed, even if he always talks thru that lens.

He doesn’t pull blue collar voters because he doesn’t listen. And similar with black and Latino voters. For a guy who’s had economic comfort his whole life, he oddly has an ear for their complaints. (A similar wealth comparison is Great Britain’s Prime Minister Clement Attlee; very rich, who after learning of British slums, became a populist Democratic Socialist who advocated for national health care, nationalized businesses, etc.)

Trump’s not different in that way. Just different in the timing of what’s been tried and what’s likely to work now. You see this in his making Obamacare less expensive so more people can afford it. This is where he’s within the fold to repeal Obamacare movement, but also for its streamlining. This is also evidenced in his desire for health care pricing transparency. And his instincts are right here. Any time one is able to price shop, it changes your behavior.

On Joe Biden, I wish he were the Joe Biden I recall from the late 80’s and early 90’s. The way he got his nomination with a consolidation of liberal endorsements doesn’t reinforce his moderation. It underscores it is at risk.

That said, there is much to be thoughtful about. And I do see the election process forcing both sides to moderate…”
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The following is my response.

“Many thanks for your thoughtful response, which is not a surprise. While he has accomplished some good things (the reduced sentencing, the first COVID-19 stimulus, eg.), I could argue policy decisions on several fronts, but I won’t. What frustrates me most is the divisive rhetoric he uses on a daily basis and the name calling as a substitute for civil discourse. I hold a lot of conservative writers and public servants in high regard and their concerns about the incumbent president are worth noting.

General James Mattis, whose departure as Secretary of Defense was of great concern to Republicans and Democrats, noted a few months ago the president does not even try to unite us. To me, that is mission one, which is a key reason I gravitate to Joe Biden, whose career is one of bipartisanship. He is getting killed by the far left for not being progressive enough and killed by the right for being too progressive. He is a moderate. You are correct, he will get pressure to be more left than he wants, but so did Obama. We should not lose sight that the two most successful Democrat presidents of late have been moderates.

David Brooks, George Will and Michael Gerson are three of my favorite conservative pundits and each are advocating for Biden to win, as are Republicans for the Rule of Law, Republican Voters against Trump and The Lincoln Project. While you were watching the Trump convention, these folks held another Republican convention also from Charlotte. I also find of interest Cindy McCain is on Biden’s transition team, should he win. That speaks volumes.

I recognize Biden is imperfect, but we need a galvanizing influence, not a divisive one. Per a Pew survey, trust in America from abroad has fallen significantly, to the extent, Putin and Xi are more trusted than the US president. This concerns me as our allied relationships have been a strength. As for socialism, many in our country do not realize our economy is one of fettered capitalism with socialist underpinnings. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment, Workers Comp, eg. are socialistic programs. As Brooks touts, we need a healthy discussion on what is the proper balance of all of these programs and how do we monitor them.

Thanks again for your thoughtful remarks.”

Let’s follow the example John Lewis lived

The following is necessarily short, as my local newspaper was kind enough to print it in its “Letters to the Editor” section this morning.

Watching the memorial service for Congressman John Lewis, I noticed the words kind, caring and courageous were used often. A staff member noted he was a great boss with several people working with him for over 10 years (a few over 20).

Lewis embodied the words spoken about him. Civil and nonviolent protest will be his lasting legacy. His example is followed by a significant majority who participate in the multiracial Black Lives Matter protests.

Those few who choose violence may make the news, but they dilute the message. Steadfast resolve is a much greater weapon. It galvanizes people.

Let’s honor Lewis for the person he was and how he conducted himself. Black lives do matter.

We are all fixer uppers

In the age of the rise in social media and decline in truth, an underlying theme is overlooked. We are all fixer uppers. There are no perfect people, leaders, institutions, organizations, or companies.

Yet, being critical of other people and entities is increasing. I am not saying being critical is not warranted, but the volume and venom seemed to be turned higher than it should be.

When I see or hear hyper-critical commentary, I have a few thoughta running through my mind.

– The person doing the criticism is not perfect either. A good retort is “you are no day at the beach either.”

– The venom sometimes is mismatched with the accusation. The venom equates with someone who has killed your mother, when the accused transgression is much milder.

– The accusation sometimes is based on spurious information. The claim is so outlandish, people think where did you get that? Fake news permeates social media because it is like shooting fish in a barrel. This is a key reason the president deploys it so often.

– Even more reputable sources write evocative things. A retired editor once said the media is biased toward conflict. This is a key reason bad news gets far more airplay, when the frequency is by far reversed.

Yet, if you take away only one thing, please take away the following – give like you want to get. It is OK to say I do not agree with those points or find that criticism unfair. But, we do not need to take someone’s head off in so doing.

Be careful of what you read, even if comments in your own blog

As an independent voter who tries to stay well read from legitimate sources, I continue to get puzzled by the level of vitriol and zeal in some comments on various blogs. I do not mind if someone is more conservative than me on some issues or more progressive. Tell me what you think without telling me I must be insane for believing the way I do or someone else does.

I read in the news Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is dropping out of the race and supporting Joe Biden, even though she does not agree with all of his positions. Of course not, there is not a candidate running that anyone can rightfully claim they agree with every position he or she has taken or is taking. If they do, then they are not being truthful with themselves.

I don’t agree with everything Biden or Bernie Sanders posit, but I would vote for either one over the incumbent president who I view as corrupt, untruthful and bullying. Both Biden and Sanders are decent people. I cannot say the same for the current president, who will only do something decent if it helps his image.

But, my main thrust is be mindful of your sources. There is one progressive blog I follow where I am convinced a frequent and lengthy contributor is not what he or she seems. I actually think the person is a Trump or Russian troll doing very zealous and heavy lifting to garner victory for the incumbent. I may be wrong, but the zeal and frequency of comments far exceed that of the blog’s host who welcomes other opinions.

One of my other blogging friends was visited by a Russian troll to the point the blogger had to block the commenter. How can one tell? You really can’t. I may be dead wrong, but I worry how blogs can be taken over by someone who tries to own your blog. I have had a few bizarre commenters in the many years, one where the theme of the post is hijacked for other messaging.

So, please be careful of what you read and where you read it. Misinformation abounds. So, does disinformation. Do I worry that this is or may happen to my blog? Of course. I do not mind passion or zeal. But neither give someone permission to take someone’s head off. I fortunately follow some very good bloggers who welcome push back, provided it is done civilly. I am fortunate many of these bloggers follow mine in return.

So, let’s just be civil. Let’s remember that Golden Rule which can be found in most religious texts. Just like politicians, there are no perfect bloggers or commenters. This one included.