Name calling doesn’t help win arguments

My local newsaper published my recent letter to the editor. They also placed it following another letter who used name-calling. If you concur, please feel free to use the following letter, making changes to meet your style and circumstances.

“As an independent voter, I find the use of labels and name-calling as shortcuts for people who do not have a good argument. When I see or hear terms like “conservative” or “liberal,” used like weapons, I tend to discount the message. When I see “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” I see someone trying to say you are crazy to feel the President is being untruthful or unwise with a particular path. When I see the terms “Nazism” or “Apartheid” used to define disagreement with a policy, they better be talking about heinous acts. Facts matter. Let’s civilly discuss the facts to resolve matters. Governance is hard enough, but even more so when people use over-simplified or inappropriate shortcuts.”

Sadly, one of the most prolific name callers happens to be the current US President. What does that say about our country, and what message does that send to our children?

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Hate speech must be spotlighted and condemned

Our blogging friend Jill has written two excellent, but very troubling posts about the existence and danger of hate speech (see links below). Our leaders are too silent on calling out this extreme bigotry and hate. But, more rational heads must put a spotlight on this hate speech and condemn it in the strongest terms. It matters not what your political, religious or demographic group might be. This represents the ugly side of America.

Let me start with the immature and poor judgment of actor Jessie Smollett, who took advantage of the racism that has been associated with a small, but extremely strident group who are tolerated by those who wear MAGA caps. More on this below. The police feel he staged an assault to garner a higher level of income on his TV show. Not only is the idea without merit, it is shameful that he has made a mockery of real racism that is occurring in our country. He has been asked to leave his show and may go to jail.

Unfortunately, this story overshadows two very concerning stories. First, an Alabama newspaper editor named Goodloe Sutton wrote an article calling on the KKK to ride again and take care of what he called liberal socialist Democrats. Here is an excerpt of his hate speech.

“Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again. Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama… This socialist-communist ideology sounds good to the ignorant, the uneducated, and the simple-minded people. Seems like the Klan would be welcome to raid the gated communities up there.”

When asked to explain, he said far worse things. This akin to calling fire in a crowded theater. It need only inflame one person to act, which makes the next story even more troubling. The same day I learned of the above article, a Coast Guard Lieutenant named Christopher Paul Hasson, was uncovered as a skin head who was plotting attacks on a list of Democrat leaders and media people. He had an arsenal to conduct such an attack. Here is some of his hate speech:

“Liberalist/globalist ideology is destroying traditional peoples esp white. No way to counteract without violence. It should push for more crack down bringing more people to our side. Much blood will have to be spilled to get whitey off the couch. Looking to Russia with hopeful eyes or any land that despises the west’s liberalism. Excluding of course the muslim scum. Who rightfully despise the west’s liberal degeneracy.”

We should not lose sight of the bombs sent to over a dozen Democrat leaders last fall from a man in Florida. These people are already wound too tight. They don’t need much to instigate hateful action. And, it should be noted those who feel they must fight hate speech with violence are not doing their argument any favors. The Antifa crowd needs to cease any violence. I recognize there is a difference between those who say your rights don’t matter and those who are defending that their rights do, but the latter must not resort to violence.

It is also unfair to paint the Trump base of supporters with a broad brush. Setting aside that all of us are prejudiced to a small extent, Trump supporters should not be labeled racist. With that said, people who are classified as white supremacists, neo-Nazis, skin heads are empowered by the President’s rhetoric and support his efforts. So, to ignore their existence as such is unfair as well.

Right now, there are over 1,000 hate groups in America, the significant majority of which are white supremacists groups. A report on PBS Newshour last night noted that hate crimes have increased over 500% the last two years. By not condemning these groups, they are emboldened to act.

We live in a country where we have freedom of speech. Yet, hate speech is a bridge too far. We cannot condone violence, nor can we can condone inflammatory writing or speech that promotes such. This is well beyond name-calling and labeling.

We must demand our leaders to be our better angels. This is one of my key frustrations with the US President, as his base instinct is to do the opposite of what a real leader would do. But, he is not alone. We need people in leadership roles to spotlight and condemn hate speech and actions. They need to do this loudly and consistently. The President needs to tell some of his extremely strident base to cool their jets. In so doing, he can ask others to do the same.

We must do our part as well. Do not be afraid to call out such hateful behavior. You need not name call or even raise your voice. Just say that kind of verbiage or action is inappropriate, not welcome or does not serve their argument. Civil discourse over issues is our goal and is essential. As an independent voter, I can say without question both political sides have some good ideas and both have bad ideas. Hate speech is mob discourse as it takes those labels and puts violence behind it.

A Renewed Call For Hate???

Dodging Bullets …

Civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive

I find it interesting when I get push back as folks ask why should we be civil when the other side is not? Often I respond with the simple retort – civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive. One can push back without taking the other person’a head off.

I am reminded of the story of a black man who has been able to change the mindset of more than 200 KKK members. In so doing, he collects their robes. Now, the KKK is as extreme a white supremacist group as there is. How did he do it? He spoke civilly toward them asking a few questions. He listened to their answers. Then, he asked pertinent follow-up questions. Eventually, the KKK members saw the logic of his argument. He says people just want to be heard.

Diplomacy is an art. It is a way of understanding people, but being forthright with what you believe and want. In essence, it is precisely what this black man did in speaking with the KKK members. He did not shout. He did not tell them they were wrong or bad people. He started conversations and listened to them. Then, he asked questions in follow-up. He heard them which allowed them to hear him.

A few diplomatic phrases might be beneficial. You might ask, “Help me understand why you would say that?” Or, you could use a more unnerving statement like, “I understand your points, but I do not find them to be entirely true.” Or, you could say, “I have not heard that before; tell me where did you read that?” Or, you might say, “that used to be true, but is no longer.”

Tone matters. The more measured you are, the better chance your points will be heeded. If you raise your voice, expect it in return. Avoid the use of labels and name-calling. When I hear labels, it means the other person’s arguments are not as well-grounded. Labels are short cuts to convey a derogatory meaning to less informed people. As with shouting, name-calling begets name-calling.

In today’s America, we are less civil. The current President did not invent uncivil behavior nor did he invent stretching the truth. A way to convey a position without attacking one of his fans might be “I wish the President would not tweet as much as he is hurting his message.” Another is “I wish the President would not demean people when they are critical of his efforts.” I wish the President would reconsider the tariffs he placed on our allies.” Or, “I wish he would not stretch the truth like he does.”

I am far from perfect and my poor wife hears the more unvarnished version of what I type and say. But, I will leave with one final thought I have noted before. If you want your children to really hear you, whisper.

Name-calling weakens any argument

I am an imperfect person with many faults. As an independent voter who has been a member of both parties, each party has good and bad ideas. Yet, what I find problematic are people (especially leaders) who name-call and demean others who disagree with them.

Name-calling weakens any argument and is used as a short-cut by someone whose position needs more scrutiny. Demeaning others throws water on civil discourse.

If you hear or read name-calling, dig further. Question more. Why do you say that? If you see or read where someone demeans another, dig further. Again, ask why do you use that tone or language? It diminishes your argument.

Listen more. Listen to hear, not just retort. People want to be heard. An old boss would say “we have two ears and one mouth – use them in that proportion.” After you listen, then you can question someone. “Help me understand your point,” you might say. Or, “I understand what you are saying, but I do not fully agree with your point.”

Give them the same courtesy you would want in return. Returning the name-calling gets you nowhere. Returning demeaning behavior does likewise. I am reminded of the old comment, if you want your children to hear you, whisper.

It is time to govern

Now that the elections are over, it is time to put away the rhetoric and focus on governance. This used to be how it was done, until we segmented the news into various markets. The past twenty years or so, we seem to govern off the campaign rhetoric rather than facts and collaboration has become a dirty word.

As an Independent voter, who has been a member of both parties, the governing off rhetoric and lack of collaboration need to stop. Neither side owns all the good ideas and both sides have some bad ones. And, we need to focus on the underlying truths and facts rather than tweets and who wins a public relations battle over an issue. Process matters – when politicians deviate from process, it is for political reasons.

In this spirit, here are the issues that this voter thinks we should focus on. Many voters have voiced agreement on some of these, but some issues just don’t get due attention.

– we should stabilize and shore up the ACA which most Americans favor: funding commitments to insurers will stabilize premiums, as will expanding Medicaid and considering the expansion of Medicare down to age 55, 60 or 62.

– we should ditch the harmful tariffs and work with our allies and the WTO to pressure China to stop the intellectual capital theft. Tariffs hurt consumers and producers, especially our farmers.

– we should address infrastructure needs which are many, doing so as we have done in the past with a blend of business, venture capital and federal, state and local government funding.

– we should recognize that the two biggest threats to our planet per the World Economic Forum are our water crisis and climate change, which exacerbates the first issue: strides have been made, but we need to reassume our global leadership role on climate change and focus on measures to address both.

– we should add more governance around gun control issues: Gun-owners and non-gun owners have voiced agreement on measures that would help. It should be noted most gun-owners do not belong to the NRA, so the NRA’s political activism against reasonable change should be noted, but not over-emphasized.

– The deficit and debt are building to a point of huge reckoning. It has been eight years since the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Resuction Committee report was shelved. It was shelved because it recommended $2 in expense cuts to every $1 in revenue increases. It was shelved because neither party had the political courage to roll up their sleeves and make tough decisions – we cannot get there with only expense cuts or revenue increases, needing both.

– We should stop the lack of civil discourse and beating up on the media. The media’s role is vital to our democracy. Pay attention to where your news comes from. Be wary of opinion disguised as news. Tweets are not long enough to show context or subtlety and are an easy way to misinform, as a result. To this end, it is vital for our democracy to return to appropriate Congressional oversight. We are not a kingdom.

If anything, we must have our politicians work together. The crime bill the President is pushing and that passed the House is not perfect, but is a bipartisan effort. It makes steps forward. Let’s make needed improvements and get something done. And, that is what Americans want most from our politicians – stop the grandstanding and get stuff done.

 

 

Two hopeful stories

Jeff Jackson and Nora Trotman are both running for the same State Senate seat in North Carolina, currently held by Jackson. By itself, that is not newsworthy. What is newsworthy is the civility that both are exhibiting during the campaign. It is a much needed breath of fresh air,

As reported last Sunday in The Charlotte Observer in an article entitled “Running a ‘positive’ campaign for state Senate,” the Democrat Jackson tweeted praise for Trotman, his GOP opponent. Per the Observer, he noted, “It feels like our divisions are growing deeper each day. So, let me just take a moment and commend my opponent on running an honest, positive campaign. She’s a good person and deserves your consideration.” He also included her photo and a link to her website encouraging people to find out more.

After some national attention, which brought a positive tweet from Rachel Maddow, Trotman responded with “A lot of people are running against each other rather than to represent their district…Happy our race is an exception. We need representatives not politicians!” In an interview with the Observer, she added “It’s important to have two people who really want a positive campaign and not attack each other.”

We need more stories and attitudes like Jackson and Trotman exhibited. Let me layer on one more story I heard on NPR this weekend. A piece of advice was shared from an old interview of Mister Rogers when we are facing a terrible tragedy.

The advice was being shared after the horrific shooting at the Pittsburgh temple which killed eleven people last week. Mister Rogers said in the old interview what his mother had taught him. She said “Always look for the helpers” during times of tragedy. Look for the emergency technicians, doctors, police, firefighters, and citizens as they do their best to help others during the tragedy. These people will give you hope when we need it most.

I heard these words while I was driving my car. They made me want to pull over and listen with more intent. To illustrate his point even more, the Pittsburgh shooter was taken to the nearest hospital and was nursed back to care. The hospital CEO and many of the staff are Jewish.

One of my mantras is “kindness is not a weakness.” It reveals an inner strength which is foreign to some who feel they must run roughshod over others to prove their mettle. Let’s celebrate the words and actions of Rogers, Jackson and Trotman.

 

 

That Jesus saying

That Jesus saying. You know the one I am talking about. In my bible it says something about “do unto others.” What I told my kids quite often is the paraphrase “treat others like you want to be treated.”

We should aspire to be like this, but we are human and fall short of this goal. Often, we recognize this and make amends or feel poorly about ourselves for offensive behavior.

Even when we vehemently disagree with someone, we should approach them the same way we want to be approached. The best way to discuss differences is through reasonable dialogue. Facts help. Listening helps even more. A colleague used to ask “help me understand,” as a way of starting dialogue when he had a hard time understanding where someone was coming from.

We must not emulate the coarse behaviors exhibited by the President of the United States. When we do, truth and civil discourse suffer. This kind of behavior sows seeds of division. It also harms our country damaging our reputation and trustworthiness around the world.

We must not follow the suggestions of Congresswoman Maxine Walters to harass members of the President’s team. That is not how she would want to be treated and is a very slippery slope. And, unless a patron is causing an uproar, service providers should not decline service because they disagree with a patron’s politics. That is also a slippery slope.

As an Independent voter and former member of both parties, neither party has all the good ideas and both have some bad ones. We must listen to each other and work toward solving real problems. We must reach out to our politicians, but do so in a civil way. People can be strident in their opinions without being a jerk. I reach out to leaders often with this modus operandi in mind.

My blogging friends Jill and Gronda published excellent posts on this subject yesterday. I would encourage you to read them. Let me leave with this thought to remember along with Jesus’ powerful words courtesy of an old boss. “You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.”