A Low Judgment Area

My youngest son uttered the above title that tickled all of us. A relative was visiting us the other day and she has habit (like many of us) of apologizing for things she need not do so.

As she was uttering an unnecessary apology for something, my son said “Don’t worry, we are a low judgment area.” It tickled all of us, including the apologist. But, it is also true. We do our darnedest to try to be less judgmental.

One of our blogging friends likes to say it is OK to judge things, but it behooves us to base our judgments on facts rather than biases. So, when I use the term “judgment” I am referencing an effort to not be unfairly judgmental.

Getting back to my son, his statement was marvelous as it was a nice way to invite someone to speak. It was “inclusive” rather than “exclusive.” I like that very much.

Let’s all try to be in low judgment areas. It will do us an awful lot of good.

US is in serious need for a Peace Train (a reprise)

This post was written five years ago, yet it still resonates today as conditions have deteriorated here in the US and some places abroad. Fear mongering and finger pointing by wanna-be leaders have taken us further down a dark path. We must demand more from people in leadership positions and we must do our part to be civil and keep the peace.

One of my favorite Yusuf/ Cat Stevens’ songs is called “Peace Train.” It is also one of his more memorable hits. Here are few lyrics:

I’ve been crying lately
Thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating?
Why can’t we live in bliss?

For out on the edge of darkness
There rides the peace train
Peace train take this country
Come take me home again

We should heed its words around the globe, but especially here in the US. It did not come as a shock to me in the annual Global Peace Index, the US ranks fairly low coming in 103rd out of 163 countries. Per the  attached article:

“The index, put together by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an international think tank, defines peace as ‘the absence of violence or the fear of violence.’ It covers three ‘domains’: the level of ongoing domestic and international conflict; the level of ‘societal safety and security’ (things such as murders, terrorism, and riots); and the level of militarization, both domestic and international.”

The US scores poorly on the amount of money we spend on incarceration and militarization, both domestically and abroad. Plus, we have more gun deaths than in the other 23 wealthiest nations combined. The highest scoring and most peaceful countries are Iceland, Denmark and Austria. The least peaceful were Libya, Sudan and Ukraine.

The article notes the world is a less safer place than in the previous year. So, we all have our work cut out for us. But, we could start at home by being more civil to one another, shining spotlights on bigotry, reducing incarcerations for petty crimes and having better governance over gun access. At least that is my opinion.

http://www.fastcoexist.com/3060968/in-case-it-wasnt-obvious-the-us-ranks-very-low-on-the-global-peace-index

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.

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?

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.

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.

 

 

Good words, now let’s walk the talk

I have now seen South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy interviewed twice on their book released this week called “Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country.” Scott who is Black and Gowdy who is White speak openly of their friendship.

I think it is excellent the two legislators are speaking of their relationship. I am delighted they are getting along well and feel their relationship can serve as a guide to better discussions. Yet, when asked if the same guide could help Congress, Gowdy spoke of the desire to win and the other side lose getting in the way of better relationships.

Frankly, I don’t buy that. I think they need to walk the talk in Congress. When anyone on their team is being uncivil, untruthful or callous, they need to call them out. I actually called each leaving a message with one and speaking with a staffer on the other.

I complimented their efforts and wished them well with their book. But, I said Americans want members of Congress to work together to solve problems. It matters not who wins or loses – it matters if we the people benefit. And, when someone denigrates another, which happens too often from the White House, they need to act like their fellow SC legislator Lindsey Graham did when he called the President on the carpet for his infamous remark about sh**hole countries.

Gowdy is retiring from office as still a young man saying he is tired of this zero-sum game of politics. To be frank, he played that game to the hilt, even as late as January with his role in the Congressman Devin Nunes’ memo which was highly political and sloppy work. On the flip side, while he does not believe the Presidenf colluded (see previous reference to political and sloppy work), he did say if the President is innocent, he should act like he is. Then there is his role in the endless Benghazi hearings, which was referred to by fellow Republicans Condaleeza Rice and Colin Powell as a “witch hunt.”

So, seeing his name with this book was a little surprising. Yet, I will treat his intentions as a sincere effort and applaud both of their mission. They just have to be more than words. Words are cheap – we must walk the talk. We need them and their fellow legislators to walk the talk, as well.