Comparatively Speaking, Why Does Your ‘But’ Have to be Bigger Than Mine?

the lesser of two evils is, by definition, still evil

I read an article yesterday about an intellectual, liberal-thinking writer who had published a number of articles in support of Mr. Trump as President. The writer does not support many, if any, of Mr. Trump’s positions. Yet, he was voicing his endorsement for one sole reason: Mr. Trump is refusing to play any of the political games of Washington. Speaking of the contrast, the writer lauds the disruption that Mr. Trump is injecting into practically every moment. Comparatively speaking, past presidential transitions have been calm at the top — the President and the President-Elect are portraits of cooperation and the turbulent waters are at the bottom. This year is marked by turbulence throughout the Reflecting Pool.

Just after reading that article, I was cruising through Facebook and I saw a post from a friend lamenting Mr. Trump’s choice of words for one of his New Year’s Day tweets. His point was, to some extent, about content. Primarily, however, it was about tone and demeanor. As you would expect, a number of readers responded with like feelings. And then, in crept somebody’s ‘but.’

I read, with fascination, as entry after entry sprung to the screen. At one point, the responses gave way to an attack against an individual. As it turned out, the two individuals involved didn’t know each other at all. The root of the conflict? The attacker feared that her ‘but’ was bigger than his.

In order to move forward in the political world — or any any human interaction — we have to stop comparing bad as a justification for our allegiances. Instead, we must seek out good and reward it.

A Place to Start
Conflict is resolved effectively only when the parties involved agree to leave the battlefields and join forces on the construction site. The true path to peace is in building something better, not in demolition.

Don’t you think it’s a little juvenile to be investing so much time in comparing the size of our ‘buts?’ Instead, why don’t we begin identifying leaders and language that point to a better future for all people? For too long, the vast majority have believed that we have been voting for the lesser of two evils. I pray that in 2020, we will be voting for the greater of two goods.

The Thin Line

The vanishing point between war and rumors of war

This holiday season revealed a terrifying scene. A world leader threatened a nuclear attack against a neighboring country because of a fake news story. Pakistan versus Israel. Nothing for us to worry about, right? Tragically, the thin line that weaves its way between truth and lie, honesty and dishonesty, accountability and absence of accountability is losing weight. The real tragedy is that irresponsibility in communication is now being recognized as a skill.

As a society we have long-revered the art of manipulation and deception. We have even honored it in times of war, sports, and day-to-day negotiation. Yet, those of us who have studied negotiation know that things spiral out of control when the players in war or games or daily transactions begin to worship the thrill of deception or, at least, ignore the immorality that is inherent to it.

In public and community matters, what is most concerning is to have the public pounded with information that is simply untrue. Some of this information is false and purposefully constructed to wreak havoc and upend normalcy. Personally, I think that our law-making bodies should intensify targeted efforts to prosecute such intentional lies. Although asking our social media purveyors to police that is a positive move, I don’t believe that their solitary efforts will be enough.

Another false-news type is doing damage at the same time. Unverified statements, made as fact, are psychologically hardening positions across our political spectrum. For example, it was very easy for President-Elect Trump to recently tweet that his election has resulted in a 10% gain in financial markets. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Trump nor his organization has responded to requests for credible sources for that claim. Meanwhile, at the time the statement was made, a look at leading market indicators showed that the gains were below that margin — some far below.

Look, I was clear during and following the election that I did not support Mr. Trump in his bid for president. However, I did say that I would respect his office and give him an opportunity to be successful. In order for me to do that, I’m just asking that he make an effort to be accurate in what he says or writes. He would have been perfectly correct to simply say that the financial markets have made significant gains since the election. That is true and I have no problem admitting that. And, I think it is within the realm of acceptable behavior for him to claim his impending presidency as the factor that made that happen.

I’m not just pointing to Mr. Trump.

We all realize that, although Mr. Trump seems to have a huge capacity for distributing misinformation and making statements that he or his aides must later “walk back,” this lack of accuracy is not limited to Mr. Trump and has infected almost every crevice and pore of our public lives in a negative way.

Another example from Mr. Trump’s Twitter account. (To those of you who are willing supporters of Mr. Trump, please keep reading. Until someone gets him off Twitter, he just provides too many examples. Spoiler: I’m actually going to give him the benefit of the doubt here.)

The early reactions I heard only quoted the first eleven words. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capacity.” Given Putin’s rants at about the same time, it certainly sounded as if Mr. Trump was putting us back on the front row of a cold war — with glowing nuclear armaments displayed all around. However, the second part of that tweet does show that Mr. Trump recognized boundaries.

I have to admit, I don’t follow @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. At my age, I just haven’t needed that constant anxiety. But had I accepted the reports of his statement at face value, I could have only concluded that he had every intention of rescinding all progress that ‘s been made toward nuclear disarmament. That is not what he said and we can all hope and pray that was never his intention.

The problem, of course, is that Mr. Trump’s communication is vague and no one can determine its face value. Even though there have been additional statements issued about this, we still aren’t exactly sure of what he intended. This is one of those moments where it is our responsibility and duty to ask — even demand — clarification. And insist on accountability. But be fair, he didn’t say that he was going to pursue a cold war. This is when we ask questions and seek clarification.

So, if you’ve been waiting for my big point, here it is . . .

Given the world of misinformation we live in, shaped from social media, cable news, and the major news media organizations, we must be vigilant and we must demand accountability. As the American people, we have a long history of following leaders we are unwilling to listen closely to. Close enough has been good enough. If a policy sounds like it benefits us personally, then we’re supporters. We have ceased being people of thought and inquiry. We have voted “us versus them” and it is coming back to bite us — and them.

We are them. They are us. We’re in this together.

So, a call to our leaders, our news sources, and to each of us personally:

Invest time in getting and communicating good information from multiple sources. Then, act on it responsibly. Don’t simply stir discord. Have friendly conversations. Commit to beginning and ending your discussions as friends. And set aside time for the next visit.

This call was to me, as well. I’m dangerously close to following @realDonaldTrump. Maybe right after my next physical.

NEAT Communication – Timely

In this series of posts on NEAT Communication, we have looked at essential elements in seeking true understanding and promoting dialog. Necessary – Effective – Accurate – and now Timely.*

As a young boy, I was fascinated with performance. For a good number of years, I regularly prayed that God would bring me talent — singing, playing an instrument, sports. It really didn’t matter what, I simply wanted to be recognized for something. In answer to my prayers, God wiped out my singing voice (I was a remarkable soprano until puberty), provided me with a notable void in musical ability (although I did do a little drumming over the years), and made me short, slow, and generally uncoordinated. Seriously, I couldn’t have had a richer blessing.

As I dealt with the disappointments of non-achievement in those areas I felt certain would bring me fame, I was allowed to stretch and exercise some other gifts. Reading, writing, speaking. I still longed to be a performer, however. And, I believed that my niche would be humor. Back in the day, many of the main-line comedians produced clean acts that were recorded on long-playing (LP) records (that’s vinyl, for those of you who are just now discovering the ways of the past). I would sit and listen to these folks for hours and memorize their routines.

I did realize that I would go nowhere simply by doing their routines. The gift of the comedian was her or his ability to see life and see the humor that naturally bubbles up and to tell their personal stories. It was this experience that propelled me into the world of storytelling.

I never really became a master of storytelling. But, I did discover something important as I made the attempt.

Timing is everything.

memes-009Basically, to be a strong communicator, you have to balance the attributes of patience and assertiveness. You have to know when to say something — not too soon and not too late. In conflict management, we talk about the importance of timeliness in terms of “ripeness.” If a conflict is not ripe — if it’s green, no one wants to deal with it. If it’s over-ripe, there’s not much you can do with it.

Communication is like that. How often have you heard it said that a warning was given, but it went unheeded because it wasn’t timely? And we all know that a warning given after the fact, has no value.

For communication to be valuable, it must be timely. And that timeliness requires us to be vigilant, patient, and assertive.

* Just in case you wondered, yes, I find it ironic — and humorous —  that this post on timeliness is appearing over 5 months after the previous one in the series. Hardly a timely thing, this.

End the Fear

I am fortunate because I have friends from diverse cultural backgrounds. However, I am remiss for my failures to consistently seek understanding of the life experiences — the trials and the celebrations — of those who are different from me. I don’t see such things as race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation as a barrier to prevent me from loving them. But perhaps the problem is that I just don’t see. I just don’t fully understand. That is a symptom of my privilege. On numerous occasions I have had to ask for patience and forgiveness as I’ve stumbled from a lack of sensitivity. Sensitivity is only a starting point. Each one of us must take action. That action should begin with a deepening of our relationships. And we must address our fear.
We have had too many tragedies triggered because of our “differences.” Whether it be skin color, religion, gender, or political persuasion, we need to understand that all of this is God’s creation. All the differences are part of God’s creativeness and are meant to bring us joy. Instead of joy, we are bringing fear to God’s party.
Terrible things have been happening. Some have been addressed. Some answers have come very slowly. Some answers seem impossible to find.
Violence is not one of those answers. Sadly, violence is part of the cycle that demands law and order. And law and order can go astray quickly in the face of fear. Those steps backward do not justify the end of law and order. That fear does not justify unequal treatment.
Today is a sad day in Dallas, Texas. Our hearts and our prayers are with that city, with the families who have empty chairs at their tables this morning, with the citizens who are enduring a time when fear seems to be the safest place because of the vigilance it brings.
But remember that yesterday was a sad day somewhere else — in Louisiana, in Minnesota, in Istanbul . . .
If we are to fully accept our roles as God’s children, we have to stop taking sides. We must seek relationship with those who see things differently and even those who adamantly disagree with us. If we don’t, we are left only with fear. No understanding. No blessed intimacy with others who can teach us so much about what God truly wants.
Please end the fear. Talk to people. All people. Pray for people. All people. Perhaps while we are praying, God will provide a holy space where we can make better decisions, choose better words, take a different course of action.
To those among my friends who this post offends or disturbs. I will not ask that you unfriend me or obliterate my blogsite from your internet, although that is your choice. It has become all too easy in this world to press that “unfriend” button. I would ask that you be respectful of me, however. I will be glad to talk with you about anything. Social media can be a wonderful place to bring understanding. However, it often lacks the context of that blessed moment when two people come together. Remember, Jesus specifically identified that space as a place he’ll join us.  Thanks in advance for listening to me, even if you disagree.

NEAT Communication – Accurate

“Almost” is easier than “Correct.” “Approximately” is quicker than “Exactly.” “Accurate” takes more effort and time. Yet, “Accurate” builds credibility, relationship, and trust. And if you have all of that, you’ll be included in what is really important in life.

In some ways, being accurate would seem to be the least taxing of all of our NEAT elements — Necessary, Effective, Accurate, and Timely. However, like most other essentials of personal relationship, accuracy — that which “is what it is” — gets sloppy in a fast-paced world that focuses on winning and changing others to our way of thinking.

Have you ever wondered, while watching the evening television news, how every pickup made by every automobile manufacturer can be the “#1 selling truck in America?” A logical person would conclude that can’t be possible. Somebody’s marketing spin must be inaccurate. But no one is really complaining. Why?

Memes.008Because “accurate” has been made dependent on winning. Marketers spend inordinate amounts of money in search of the one thing they do better than anyone else. Then they market it to death. So, every pickup in America is the #1 seller in some particular niche. Political hopefuls pound on the things that make them seem superior and the policies that are winners for the voters. And we’ve been conditioned to accept pinpoint accuracy at the loss of overall accuracy and trust.

So, what can be done to restore accuracy and trust?

We must begin by reasserting our concern for accuracy. That begins with a number of “I” statements.

  • “I don’t know.”
  • “I’ll find out.”
  • “I have personal, first-hand knowledge of this (beyond that, I do not know).”
  • “I want you to know what I know.”
  • “I want you to know what I do not know.”
  • “I want to be transparent.”
  • “I want to be fair.”

The difficulty with those “I” statements is the same one that got us into all the problems in the first place. Those open, context-neutral, curiosity-driven statements are not what we associate with winning. But they are the bedrock of personal accuracy.

Stop taking shortcuts with your communication. NEAT Communication requires significant investment. Be truly accurate. Create trust.