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.

Happy New Your Resolutions

my recommendations for what you can do to make my 2017 better

I’m a big believer that the only significant changes I can make in this world are the things under my control. Thus, the only change I can guarantee is the change I bring to my own life. I have dutifully reflected on this past year and selected a number of areas where I can bring about change . . . with me. Thus, I have new year’s resolutions.

However, during a moment of irritation, I also began working on my list of things that  others could do. Please note, it was during a time of irritation. So this isn’t a path to world peace or anything so noble. These are simply things that would make my life better.

New Your Resolutions

10. Use your turn signals.

I’m doing a lot of big city driving these days. I will go out of my way to make a space for another driver who politely asks to come into my lane by moving his or her hand ever so slightly to activate the turn signal. I’ve noticed that many, many others react the same way.

But a good number of drivers out there ignore this courtesy — and legal requirement. I’ve also noticed that the more expensive the vehicle is the more likely that the signals will not be used. I checked with a friend who sells fine cars. He has assured me that all vehicles, regardless of price, are equipped with turn signals. And I personally checked the window stickers on a number of cars and SUVs — there is no special surtax leveed that would excuse you from signaling.

Please, signal. It’s just one of those forms of communication that makes life better — and safer.

9. Stop using crude and foul language.

I’m fully aware of the First Amendment. I know it’s your right to say things that are vile and distasteful to me. But stop it. Regardless of how much sophistication you believe the f-bomb brings to your cell phone conversation, just know, it doesn’t. What those words say to others, regardless of their context, is that you: (a) are stupid, (b) received your entire training in linguistics watching R movies that target the basest desires and cravings of our society, (c) are rebelling against society and you say these things to show your disrespect, (d) are rebelling against your upbringing,  and/or (e) were brought up in an environment where others were influenced by (a) through (d), above.

The number one excuse for using profanity is that it allows us to communicate our emotional well-being at any given moment.  Let me suggest here that there are other words you could use:

  • I’m angry.
  • I’m frustrated.
  • I’m sad.
  • I’m happy.

That’s just a starter list. Saying those kinds of things allows your listener to understand where you are coming from instantly and is far more likely to lead to bringing their empathy to the surface. Hearing one of those expressions doesn’t cause us to think, “Hmmm, I wonder if he just hit his thumb with a hammer?” We have a pretty good clue about what you are experiencing.

Please, clean up your language.

8. Carry poop bags and use them.

If you walk your dog — and there are millions of you out there who do — pick up those packages, large and small, created on your adventures. Yes, it’s a natural occurrence. But you can’t blame your dog.

Please, pick it up and dispose of it.

7. Recycle.

We all use disposable containers. Many of them are recyclable and some, if not appropriately disposed of, are safety hazards for humans, animals, and plant life. And no, you can’t blame your local municipality if they have no recycling program. They should, but that will be on my mid-year list of “responsible things society should do.”

Please, recycle.

6. Adopt and embrace the Oxford Comma.

Miscommunication abounds. Do your part to contain it by appropriately using the comma — and other forms of punctuation. If I have to read what you’ve written more than once to decipher it, 8 times out of 10 it’s because you didn’t punctuate properly. And if you’re one of my students and I’m grading your paper, I really don’t care that your writing and grammar teacher told you it was okay to drop off commas. If you’re unclear and a comma would have helped, I’m subtracting points on technical writing.

Please, punctuate safely.

5. Don’t make up facts.

For example, in #6 above, I have no idea if punctuation is the culprit in 8 out of 10 written communications errors. It would have helped if I had prefaced it with, “In my opinion . . .” or IMHO (although my personal experience is that my opinions are rarely offered humbly).

Making stuff up to strengthen your position is a pretty good indicator that your position is lacking.

Please, don’t add to all the falsity that is circulating out there.

4. Don’t use the word “actually” unless it is actually necessary.

Sadly, when I find  myself listening to a speech or a sermon or a lecture or I’m eavesdropping on someone at the next table in a restaurant, I often count the number of times the word “actually” is used.

Using “actually” as a seasoning for your conversation is like telling your companions that most of what you say is suspect. It ranks right up there with such phrases like “to be honest” or “if the truth be known.” Those are simply signals that you are a person who might not be delivering credible information. For some of you who use this word with reckless abandon, I am learning that I must wait to hear a morsel of relative and factual information until you introduce it with “actually.”

Please, use the word “actually” sparingly.

3. Accept that you don’t know everything and that you are not always right.

I have personal experience with this one. I don’t know everything and I should not be seen as someone with impeccable judgment. (I know that’s ironic, given the fact I’m posting about the stuff that others should do to improve.) I do accept this. And I balance my impulse to push my beliefs and opinions on others with some temperance. I often wait. Before I speak. Before I act. Before I vote. Before I judge — at least publicly.

Please, wait. (I’ve actually waited a long time before publishing this post. [See what I did there? I reinforced this resolution by violating #4.])

2. Give others the benefit of the doubt — but don’t abandon accountability.

A good number of you immediately began thinking of our current political situation when you read this. I have to admit that it was foremost in my mind when I added it to the list. This is a hard one, especially when it comes to enforcing accountability. How much margin can we give others?

My leading response in my law practice was, “It depends.” And so it is appropriate that it be prominent in this conversation. Some things matter more than others. For you to locate and enforce the line of accountability, you must reflect on your values, on accurate information, and on what is at stake. Don’t let others make this decision for you.

Please, listen for understanding, be curious, and stand up for your values.

1. Finally, once and for all, accept the fact that it’s not just about you.

When you are making decisions or investing your time and resources, pause a few seconds to ask whether you are simply acting out of selfishness and personal ambition. In the book of James, we are told that the root of all conflict in the world is our focus on self above others.

Don’t hear me say that you shouldn’t act wisely and responsibly in regard to your own earthly affairs. In an essay on charity, John Wesley once penned that we should address our finances to take care of ourselves, our families, and, only then, on addressing the needs of others. His prioritization was not based on selfishness, however. His point was that we should be good stewards in regard to our own needs so we don’t become a burden to those around us.

Perhaps our problem has more to do with our perception of what our true needs are.

We are all faced with decisions that will impact our own well-being over others. Sometimes those decisions will bring us a small gain while costing others greatly. Our most appropriate consideration should be that which benefits the most people.

Please, do your best for all.

 

That’s my list for you. And each one of them, from the most silly to the most profound, is on my personal list of new year’s resolutions, too — along with an assortment of alterations to exercise, diet, and general demeanor.

Happy New Year!

Why is negativity so seductive?

In random tweets rolling across my phone this morning came this quote “Distance yourself from negativity and great things will happen.” Those words immediately captured me and my impulse was copy and share that idea repeatedly. After all, it’s a great, wise thought.

Overcoming Negativity

photo credit: Gabriel Pangilinan, unsplash.com

And, it’s true.

Yet, as I thought over it, I started to question why it resounded so strongly with me. Was I in quest of great things? Or did I just covet the distance from negative people, negative talk, and negative reaction?

Granted, there’s nothing bad about wanting either. But I think I would seek the distance above the greatness. Negativity makes me tired. It makes me tired when I roll in it. It makes me tired when you do. I totally understand that negativity is sometimes necessary as part of our decision-making process.

The irony of this line of reasoning is that much of the negativity I see in others is a direct byproduct of my own negative ways. When we hear a criticism — particularly if it rings true with our own experience — we jump on the bandwagon. Negativity begets negativity.

So, when I go back to look at the quote, I feel pulled to like it on the greatness side.

If you and I do great things, negativity doesn’t disappear. But it loses its power.

Be powerful today. Help someone else. Give a compliment. Step to the side and give others the time they need. Be joyful in the work you’ve been given to do. Rejoice in recreation. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Do it on your own and with others.

Experience greatness.

New Voices

dealing with change

This is a personal post. Turn back now if you don’t want to go there. However, I’m talking with many people — at all stages of life — who share my experience. Perhaps this will strike a chord. You see, I once had a plan for my life. Or should I say, my life has been a notebook full of plans. At each turn in my existence, I had a clear idea of what I would be and where I would go and when I would reach certain milestones. Now I’m hearing new voices.

new voices

(photo credit: Kalen Emsley/unsplash.com)

My latest life plan, the one that is now stuffed in a back pocket of that notebook, was to finish out my career in place and continue to serve in those comfortable spots I had already found. By that I mean, I would just do what I’ve been doing for the past 16 years, slowing slightly, and then quietly exiting. But then I heard new voices in vocation.

Those new voices have planted a challenge to do exciting things with a renewed purpose, as well as the elements needed to make those things happen. The new voices I’m hearing about my vocation are strong, encouraging, and clear.

My life plan is missing, though.

There is a chilling quietness from the voices that speak to the rest of my life. I’m not lost. I’m not without direction. I just haven’t begun to listen for or hear the new voices — the voices about personal things and spiritual things. Because of the emerging plans at work, personal and spiritual life has been disrupted. Not shattered, but disrupted.

How about you? Do you long for new voices? Do you feel you’ve become mired in what has been and do you long for what will be? Are you drifting just a bit?

From some good mentors, I believe I am beginning to hear the whispers of what will be strong new voices. Let me share what they’re saying — just in case you’re straining to hear as I am.

  1. Spend most of your energy listening.
    Although I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to be quiet over the past six decades, I’m confident that I have rarely taken that advice to heart. Be quiet. Experience the peace that comes when you watch the river calmly flow past.
  2. Dwell on good things . . . about people, about your position in life, about your future.
    There’s more than enough of these to keep you occupied and thankful.
  3. Fill your time with meaningful and valuable activities.
    Whenever possible, be with family and friends — listening and sharing. (For my fellow introverts, spend a little time scheduling your alone-times. There’s time enough for everything. We often use the excuse of our introversion to avoid what we may need the most.) Read good books. Watch worthwhile media. Sing along with uplifting songs. Take walks. Pray . . . a lot.
  4. Don’t despair over what you don’t know.
    Anxiety is simply the fear of what hasn’t happened yet. Let go. Find the next best step for you to take and joy in knowing it’s there.
  5. Be hesitant to give advice.
    (I hope you smile a bit as you think about the irony here.) Instead, ask questions. Not as cross-examination, but as a curious friend. What will you do next? How are feeling? Why do you think that (whatever “that” is) happened?
  6. Wait.
    Let time, let God, do what time and God do.

I am confident that a new life plan is emerging — both for me and for you. And I’m blessed that your life plan will make mine better.

Political Uncertainty

polling the masses

On social media several months back, I made a post that was, by all counts, neutral. (By the way, “by all counts” is code for “in my opinion.”) Some of my readers understood my message to be one of uncertainty and proceeded to try to persuade me to line up behind her or his candidate. So, in a comment, I stated that I would not vote for either.  There was no political uncertainty in my mind because I was aware of what I did not want as a leader.

I still don’t want those things in a leader. Yet, I will vote and, after looking at the third and fourth candidates and their platforms, I will vote for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. But my political uncertainty is back.

The subject of politics comes up in almost any context I find myself. Three times yesterday. Two times the day before. I even had a discussion with a kind Swiss anthropologist somewhere in the air between Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Zurich, Switzerland last month.

It  has surprised me that I have learned something new in almost every conversation.

First, I’ve learned that a good number of those participating in my unscientific and stealth poll have not spent a lot of time studying the major issues. Among this group are those people who support Mr. Trump and base that support on how funny it is when he says something . . . Trumpish. Also in this group are those who have ignored Mrs. Clinton’s platform with the lofty belief that all-things-Republican are stupid. I wouldn’t classify these people — on either side of the aisle — as deplorable. But they do seem to be woefully uninformed. And, I’m not making a statistical study here, but there appear to be a lot of them.

Second, I’ve discovered that there is a substantial group of voters who will make their decision based on a single policy or issue. They truly understand what is at stake for that particular issue and they stand strongly with their candidate on that basis. Their focus on that single issue justifies their choice — and their decision to ignore all else.

Third, I have had the opportunity to talk with a very few individuals who are making a broader analysis of the candidates and basing their decision on a careful weighing of the impact of the election on multiple issues. I specifically selected some of these people because I had hope that I could gain direction from them — and perhaps I wouldn’t have to do the hard work of discerning all those things on my own. The problem is that I have different priorities and, in some cases, beliefs.

Frankly, I’m frightened by the choices we have — and have been in every presidential election in recent years. We have to reboot our political system. The tried and true party system is largely failing us. We have been sitting back and letting others think for us.

As painful as it has been, political uncertainty has been a tremendous blessing for me. For the first time in years, I’ve been forced to think. It’s not always comfortable. But it’s one of the highest plateaus of freedom.