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…”
************************************************

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.”

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.

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.

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.