The Right Path

Changing the culture through counter culture

My social media feeds explode with political themes even now — after the election and just days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. The eruptions I’m seeing are not only from those who opposed Mr. Trump and oppose him still. The majority of outbursts I am seeing are from the side of the victor. Should any one venture to express concern over anything remotely connected to the incoming administration or the legislation it supports, immediate taunts ring out along with veiled and, sometimes, open threats. With such attempts to demean and devalue, the true nature of the person bubbles closer to the surface. This should be a time of finding the right path, the one that leads to common ground and reconciliation.

These angry and irrational voices from both sides are not those of patriots. Patriots are those who have searched their souls and, after serious contemplation, taken a stand for what is just and right. Justice and righteousness moves well beyond what is good for just one individual. The refusal of these angered individuals to seek understanding and their insistence on following blindly is frightening and bear no resemblance to patriotism.

On this day, January 16, 2017, we pause as a nation to honor the memory of a man who, above all else, pursued the right path. Not a perfect man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood as a blessed and blemished child of God to speak out with dignity against sin and social wrong.

Through the years, Dr. King’s detractors have attempted to distract the world from his message by parading his human failings. He had some. However, for those of us who are truly honest, we recognize that we are no different. Our challenges may or may not be a little different from his. The power of the message from Dr. King comes from the fact that he was broken like all of us. And from the lips of those who have been with us on the journey comes the most helpful of all advice.

In this time of heightened emotion and political activism, we stand at the brink of disturbing thought and behavior. With that as a backdrop, please consider these words from Dr. King, delivered in a sermon in Montgomery, Alabama on November 6, 1956, one week before the Supreme Court of the United States would declare Alabama’s bus segregation laws unconstitutional.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

Although Dr. King delivered those words to his congregation, the importance and implication are apparent regardless of the political posturing you exhibit. We must learn to talk together without the violence of words and action. What will your chief legacy be? We must choose the right path.

The Sum of Our Experience: Math Cannot Explain the Results

I have always been fascinated with math. I’ve never been good at it, but I have been fascinated. In fact, in an effort to exercise my mental muscles, I’m thinking about taking up the study of math. I get a little tingly thinking about the possibilities. The ability to look at a set of data and to derive some truth from it is a very inviting challenge.

math

photo credit: Roman Mager/unsplash.com

I’m a little intimidated by the proposed path ahead. I’ve been thinking that I would return to the level of arithmetic and geometry that I mastered in school as my baseline. Upward and onward from there. Yet, a little research has caused me to step back and reconsider. The plateaus I once traveled have dramatically changed. Language is different. Processes are different. I’m coming to realize that the concepts my granddaughter mastered in middle school may be far beyond my ability of comprehension.

Humankind has progressed so far and learned so much, in math and in so many other arenas, how can I ever come to even basic understanding of the world around me? Here’s a list of things that I am woefully under-prepared to fathom:

  • Math — see above
  • Things related to math, like physics and computers — I benefit from the principles of physics and computers, but I don’t really know why
  • Politics — or at least why people support some candidates and platforms over others
  • Sports — since the early 1980s, when I simply didn’t have time to watch games or sports networks, I have been totally incapable of being excited about sports at any level (I’ve tried. Please don’t see this as an invitation to try to enlighten me or make me a fan. Yes, I will sit with friends and watch the Super Bowl or the World Series. But that’s my weak attempt to be seen as normal.)
  • Disease and health-related issues — I grasp the concept of aging, accident, injury, infection, and the changes we should expect over time, but I don’t understand cancer or addiction or unexplained takings of the young
  • The systems at work that track budgets and people and productivity — I’m confused constantly (However, I am blessed by the opportunities for friendship with those who do understand these things.)
  • God — I get the concept of a higher authority, I struggle with concepts of justice and mercy and unending love

You may have gathered that I see myself as one who is cast adrift in a sea of ideas and concepts and experts and problems and opportunities. Cast adrift.

But before you feel sorry for me — or yourself if you share some of these same thoughts and feelings — please consider the great gift I (we) have been given.

Every moment of every day is like an exciting novel that I can lean into expectantly, anticipating the next turn in plot. I recently sat in a meeting where a friend talked about the unique possibilities of reading fiction, where a stream of events are strung together to form a plot line. We have no need to know everything that happens between those events. In truth, the great gift of fiction is seeing the pieces of the story that our imaginations provide.

Our imaginations, our resources for creativity, reside in the gaps between what we know and what we desire to know. The tragedy in our existence comes when we demand to know everything and accept nothing less. For in that quest, we assert ourselves as the know-all-and-end-all — the ultimate authority.

I have come to recognize the people in my life who I view as having true authority are those who live in a constant wash of humility. They share what they have learned and they constantly express their wonder at what they have yet to learn.

As I listen to people talk about a variety of subjects, including those on my list above, I am saddened by those who have ceased to live in that wonder. When we determine that we know all there is to know about anything and refuse to promote further exploration and curiosity, we begin to die.

I hope that I will never be the sum of all my experiences — that there will constantly be an unknown in my equations. I want to be blessed by the opportunity to gaze at the void, to wonder about the stretches of what it represents, and to experience the joy of discovery that God promises us.

And just because I can, I’m going to pick up a textbook in geometry.

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!

Too Attached to the Election

but it doesn't mean that everything will 'be all right'

This is a political post. It was written after a lot of thought. There are a lot of words here and I already know that it might not be the best written work I’ve ever done. It might not ‘flow.’ And it may not seem logical to you. Or you just might disagree. But it’s the only way I can move on. I became too attached to the election.

I’m a conflict resolution guy. It’s what I do. Conflict resolution comes in many forms. When I was a full-time lawyer, we practiced conflict resolution through the courtroom. Most people I know practice conflict resolution by simply avoiding it. Once, while I was speaking to the command group at an air force base about conflict management, the base commander reminded me that his supersonic bomber crews and maintenance personnel were all in conflict resolution. My line of conflict resolution, while direct, has an ultimate goal of restoring relationships and building a better future. And that’s why I became too attached to the presidential election.

Everyone had their reasons for voting for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton.

Some were substantive. You really studied and were in favor of one political platform over another.

Others were relational reasons. You come from a long line of Republicans or Democrats and you find comfort in supporting that continuity of direction and honoring your heritage or your close group of friends — even though we know that neither party has been overwhelmingly consistent through history AND that the collective judgment of most social groups is suspect.

Some of you voted one way or the other because of religious motivations. Many of you told me how one candidate was the devil while the other one was the instrument of God. I think that those of you who voted out of religious conscience, for the most part, did so because of your genuine desire to build a society on godly values. That is a good thing.

However, for some of you, it gave you license to act in ungodly, menacing ways. And it hurt me, it hurt others, and it hurt God’s cause when you decided that any means would justify the ends. Jesus’ consistent story line was that the means were the most important thing. In fact, his promise was that if we line up our lives to do good, to speak well, and to love all, the ends would be taken care of — by God’s mercy and love. At this intersection you can follow all sorts of side trails to topics like faith, hope, and love. I’m just leaving this here.

Some of you voted to satisfy symbolic interests. Mr. Trump is going to shake up the establishment. Mrs. Clinton is going to be the first woman President. Mr. Trump is going to show the rest of the world that the United States is a dominating force. Mrs. Clinton acts more presidential. Symbolic interests are important. However, they prove to be a destabilizing factor if there is no foundational support.

So, we all had our reasons for voting the way we did. And we voted. And our system allowed us to make a decision. The decision was made. Yes, Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote. More voters wanted her as President. But remember that’s happened before. Mr. Trump won the electoral votes needed to be President.

I’m not going to get into the arguments over the Electoral College. But go back and look at the history of that process. It highlights the voice of the people with the interests of the states in balancing power between high-population and low-population states. (We would be remiss in failing to recognize that one of the most prominent interests of the states at the time had to do with whether they were abolitionist or pro-slavery.) So if you want to move to direct election of a president by popular vote, there’s a process for that. Pursue it.

Some people know that I never supported Mr. Trump during the election. In fact, I never liked him as a celebrity. He is a bully who has made his fortune and set his reputation through meanness, deceit, and, in my opinion, illegal means. I fear that he will continue to act in the same manner, even as the “leader of the free world.”

On the other hand, I would never have thought that I would vote for Mrs. Clinton. While her list of qualifications for President is long and she has shown moments of greatness, her past is littered with the wreckage of scandal. I’m not talking here about the multitude of, often preposterous, conspiracy theories and email controversies. I’m talking about the way that she and former President Bill Clinton built a machine to trade influence for dollars. Their hands are dirty.

But I did vote for her, because I felt the need to keep Mr. Trump from soiling the White House and the reputation of our country. That didn’t work out. This portion of my post will most likely result in many people unsubscribing from my email list and unfriending me on social media. I really regret that. But therein lies my point. Please read to the end before you unsubscribe or unfriend me. And, if you have any sense of fairness, I listened to and read a lot of ill-conceived rhetoric that some of you wrote or passed on — and I didn’t unfriend you.

I accept that Mr. Trump is the President-Elect of the United States of America. I will continue to honor the office even when I disagree with the individual who holds that office. I’ve done that in the past and I will continue to do that.

However, the positions that Mr. Trump has taken in regard to women, minorities, immigrants, and anyone who differs with him are untenable and, in most cases, abhorrent. We should not simply say that ‘everything will be all right.’ When we demean people, rob them of their dignity, and make simplistic policy decisions that ignore the underlying interests — interests that are woven into the fabric of our Constitution and our society — it is not all right. We must speak up.

I have to confess that when past presidential elections have not reflected my vote, I have simply shrugged and said, “It will be all right. Four more years. We’ll survive.” I still believe that God has all of this. I still believe that we will survive.

I believe even more strongly that we cannot just shrug and remain silent. It’s not what peacemakers do. It’s not the appropriate way to resolve conflict and to build better relationships.

Washington is broken. The Democratic Party is broken. The Republican Party is broken. Let’s not mourn that. Let’s build something better. Mr. Trump’s rejection of the Washington machinery might play into that. But only if Mr. Trump sets his personal self-interest aside and truly desires to serve this country.

A Call to Personal Action

Something different has to start with some personal action. Here’s my list:

  1. I acknowledge that I could be wrong about some things.
  2. I will do my best to know the issues, to understand the issues, and to communicate my stance in a way that helps others understand where I stand.
  3. I will continue to listen and explore when others differ with me.
  4. I will never demean another person, even when I believe they are wrong, stubborn, and disrespectful to me.
  5. I will never stand by when others demean someone else. My voice will be heard.
  6. If I discover I’m wrong, I will change my position and make amends if necessary.
  7. I will pray for our leaders and for all people — both within and without the United States.
  8. I will pray specifically for Mr. Trump.
  9. I will not tolerate bullying by anyone. While I may have no other power or authority, I have a voice. I will firmly oppose those who seek to control others for their own gain.
  10. I will encourage and work for a system that seeks the common good of all people.

That’s what I’m going to do. It’s too little too late for this election. But it’s there for the future.

So, do whatever you will. I hope you will join me even if you don’t agree with my positions on all things. That’s the wonder of America. It was built to reflect the beauty of diversity. We are better together.