A path forward

As we end one decade and start a new one, there are plenty of posts and articles telling us what is wrong with the world. I agree we have numerous challenges, but please remember this one truism – negative news has a higher bounce than positive news.

Since the many good things happening don’t get reported with the appropriate frequency, it is hard to avoid getting despondent. Our friend Jill has a weekly summary of about three to five good news stories (see link below to a recent one). These folks are the “points of light” the elder George Bush spoke of. We must shine a spotlight on these exemplars.

Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof wrote a year-end column (see link below) called “2019 has been the best year in human history – here’s why.” He largely makes the above point, but cites the following observations:

“The bad things that you fret about are true. But it’s also true that since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.

Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time, every single day.

Perhaps the greatest calamity for anyone is to lose a child. That used to be common: Historically, almost half of all humans died in childhood. As recently as 1950, 27% of all children still died by age 15. Now that figure has dropped to about 4%.”

But, what do we do about those negative stories with a higher bounce. They are real and concerning. Here are few thoughts, some of which may be Pollyanna-ish:

– engage in thoughtful discussion asking probing questions and listening – only then will you be permitted to offer your thoughts that may be heeded (“Help me understand,” “That is an interesting view, why do you believe that to be true?”, etc.).
– advocate your beliefs, focusing on the issues, not the people are parties; often one party is not 100% wrong and the other is not 100% right.
– write and call legislators – they may not be listening, but we need to let them know where we stand; calling is better, but don’t chew the head off a staff member – give it like you want to get it.
– write to the news paper, publications or other blogs, again focusing on the issues and not just wanting to disrupt.
– avoid name calling, labeling, denigration, smugness and raised voices – all of these are masking poor arguments; when I hear name calling or labeling, it raises a red flag (unfortunately, a certain global country head does this often).
– avoid less than credible sources – be a truth seeker; if they do not print or post errata when they get it wrong, it is not credible; fact check claims made by various sources, especially those who have a habit of sensationalism or conspiracy BS.
– finally, understand that almost every issue is more complex than portrayed, so solutions are less black and white; be wary of easy fixes and panaceas.

Happy New Year to all. Happy decade to all. Let’s be civil and active truth seekers.

Good People Doing Good Things — Little Things Mean A Lot

https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/2019-has-been-the-best-year-in-human-history-heres-why-39896456

Don’t give your power away

An old friend who passed away far too early was a high school counselor. She would counsel kids who were in stress over real or perceived slights with the following two tandem pieces of advice:

– Do not give your power away. Things happen. You are the only person who can control how you respond.

– If you choose not to take offense, you are not offended.

Putting these two together let’s you control your reaction. People try to get your goat. People try to lure you into a fight. Some folks are even malevolent about this process. These folks take delight in watching you blow up.

Being able to laugh it off or make a jocular reference to a piece of teasing or taunting is an art form. Self-deprecating or deflecting humor is a good tactic. If you are uncomfortable about using humor, changing the subject, walking away and not responding are also good strategies. If it is your blog, you can simply saying “Thank you for sharing your opinion.” And, move on.

This can be difficult, but if you let your pride or temper get the best of you, then you have ceded your power. I must confess I have ceded my power more times than I care to admit. Invariably, self-reflection will occur as to why I bit the bait.

These are simple words. If you don’t take offense, you are not offended. I am not saying to forget the slight, but you need not give the author your power. People can vote with their feet. If someone relishes in doing this, minimize or eliminate contact with that person.

Finally, I am not saying people should not push back. My advice is pick your battles. Don’t argue with a street preacher is a good analogy. And, push back the way you want to receive it. Civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive.

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?

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.