Life lessons About Winning Losing and Bagels

We have all been disappointed when we lose the job, the scholarship, the game or some other opportunity to someone else. It’s painful! Because of these losses, we can become resentful when anything happens for good for someone else. It’s as if we believe joy has a limited supply.

My faith tradition has a beautiful scripture that explains some of promises we, as members of my faith, make to each other at baptism. 

Mosiah 18:8-9 (From the Book Of Mormon Another Testament of Jesus Christ)

 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

I love the idea and practice of comforting and caring for each other. I am not perfect at this yet but I have seen improvement over the years. 

As I have been pondering this scripture and my own efforts lately, I’ve come to recognize another important thing I need much more improvement on. It is something Paul mentions in Romans 12:15: Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. I need to be much better at rejoicing with those who rejoice. 

It is too easy for me to get caught up in the idea that life is a zero-sum game. Because often times it is. If I wait in line all morning for a bagel and you get the last oat and wheat with rosemary and honey schmear, I’m stuck with the sticky raisin bagel and plain boring cream cheese. You win, I lose. 

Life is filled with situations like this that are much more impactful than breakfast (in fairness if you’ve ever had a bagel from Bagelsaurus you’d know it’s no small matter). We have all been disappointed when we lose the job, the scholarship, the game or some other opportunity to someone else. It’s painful! Because of these losses, we can become resentful when anything happens for good for someone else. It’s as if we believe joy has a limited supply. The more someone else gets means less for us. This dangerous and damning mindset has not only made me bitter and resentful of others, it cripples my own ability to see what blessings I now enjoy. Instead focusing on my own blessings, I’m fixated on what I’m missing out on. When I shift the mindset and rejoice with you, I find my own blessings come to mind more often and my joy is magnified not diminished. 

It also helps me see people in a more positive light and in turn reminds me of the love God has for each of us. Also, when I really turn my heart to rejoicing with those who rejoice, I find my ability to mourn with those who mourn enhanced. It becomes easier to see them as a whole person, much more than the sum total of their wins and losses. I can also see their pain for what it is instead of hoping somehow I can be spared from the same pain. 

I still have a long way to go with this. Luckily, I get a chance to practice it every day. Even while waiting in line at the bagel shop.

What Yesterday’s Irish Immigrants Tell Us About Today’s Refugees

This week everything around us turns green. We are all proud to be Irish. It is hard to imagine that just over 150 years ago the Irish were refugees disdained for their poverty and their religion. If slavery is the United States’ original sin, the treatment of the Irish is the British’s. Truly past is prologue. Swift’s ‘modest proposal’ could be written today with equal parts sarcasm and horror. We would merely need to insert Muslim refugees or Refugees from our southern border as the main object of the piece. How ironic that now we celebrate the Irish who came here as desperate refugees and we turn our back on our modern plight, which is every bit as real as the ‘great hunger’ as it was called in the 19th century. The same old tired fear-mongering, religious bigotry and xenophobia used to justify punishing the Irish is used today to deny and demonize those in most need.

Approximately 1.5 million Irish immigrated to the United States between 1845 and 1855 forever changing the landscape of this country. Who now looks back on history and thinks we should have denied them from coming? But that’s exactly what we’re doing now to those who need us most. History will look back on this moment as a failure. A failure of morality, courage and human decency. Of the nearly 80 million refugees in the world, half are children. So, for those of us who will wear green and celebrate the Irish, let’s stop a moment and think about what we owe to those impoverished refugees from more than 150 years ago, and what we stand to lose if we don’t live up to our moral obligation to help those that are in such desperation today.

What Do We Say to Each Other After the Election?

No matter who wins the election millions of our fellow citizens, our family, our loved ones will be sad, distraught and perhaps angry. How we react to that will make all the difference. No matter what we feel we would do well to recognize and show empathy for what others are feeling too. We should look beyond our own emotions and use the moment to see others. 

I often hear people say “I just can’t understand why anyone would vote for that person.” That, to me, may be the greatest trouble we face. That declaration shows we don’t understand those we share the country with. The divide we feel is real. It’s damaging to human relationships. It tears apart families, communities and it’s weakening our republic. 

No matter the outcome of the election we should all resolve to do our part to understand where those who disagree with us are coming from. We simply cannot afford to avoid everyone who disagrees with us, even if we find their beliefs damaging, immoral or unconscionable.  Surely they don’t view it that way.  I’ve rarely met a person who thought they were doing the wrong thing and reveled in it. Every person’s point of view makes sense to them. We do ourselves a disservice if we don’t learn how to learn from each other.  We must do all we can to see each other, hear each other, and understand each other. This will require grace, humility and a commitment to community. 

Okay, I know what some of you were thinking: “You don’t get it, this election is different. We can’t just agree to disagree and pretend it’s okay. If the candidate I oppose wins the damage to the republic may be irreversible. Their policies, character and morals will ensure irrevocable harm. To not denounce them and their followers is in essence complicit to the harm.” 

Let’s assume that the candidate you oppose lives up to that dire assessment. What advantage will be gained by not talking to those who support them? What good will come by alienating ostracizing, avoiding, belittling or shaming them? Do you think an election defeat will show them the error of their ways? That the  morning after the election, somehow, they will be chastened and conform to your view of morality and good government? Is that how you will respond if the election goes differently than you had hoped?

We cannot afford as citizens, families, friends, co-workers and fellow travelers to let the cancer of division fester. If we are not brave enough, bold enough, and meek enough to have the hard conversations who is? 

Here are three suggestions that have helped me have these kinds of delicate conversations. In the coming days and weeks after the election they may be a value to you too.  

First: Reaffirm to those you disagree with that your relationship and their opinion matter to you. Affirm and reestablish your connection with them. I like this definition of connection from Brenè Brown, “Connection is energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued-when they can give and receive without judgment.” 

Second: Ensure your goal is to understand their perspective not to persuade them. Simply try to understand why they view things the way they do. I often have found myself saying “I just don’t understand why someone would think that.”  Now whenever I say that I realize it is an indictment of me. Instead when I can say “I would say you would say…” and they agree with me then I know I understand. Then, when it’s appropriate, I can articulate where we may disagree. Again, not with the intent to persuade but with the clear intent that they understand why I view things the  way I do. Often we come to realize we agree on much more than we thought we did. 

Third: You are not personally responsible for saving the republic, ensuring democracy and salvaging every relationship. Some people will not be able to have a conversation with you without being aggressive, frustrated, angry or manipulative. That’s on them not you. There are times we all need to walk away from certain exchanges. We can only do what we can do. But I do think it’s incumbent on each of us to try to do all that we can do.

Will this change the nation overnight? No. Of course not. Neither will one election. Will it change you? Yes! 

The Truth About Joe Biden

“Joe Biden is a lecherous, bumbling, basement dwelling loser who hasn’t accomplished anything over the last 50 years!” Welcome to election 2020! Let the multi-million dollar smear campaign begin. Of course, none of those characterizations of Mr. Biden is fair or true.  This, sadly, is the state of politics in America. Instead of a campaign about ideas we are engaged in a frenzied food fight of ad hominem attacks, hasty generalizations and insults. This is not new. The Jefferson vs. Adams campaign was brutal as this pithy youtube clip demonstrates. Our hope is that we learn from the past, not repeat it.  

I’m sympathetic to how easy it is to assassinate character. It requires hard work to be informed and cognitive dissonance to navigate the complexity of our time. The easier path weakens the republic, absolves us of our responsibilities, and perpetuates hyper-partisanship. The truth is most politicians are regular people. People who had the audacity to believe that democracy isn’t a spectator sport. We see the most character assaults at the presidential level because it has the highest stakes and the most visibility. 

I’ve followed every presidential race since 1992. In 28 years, there have been two candidates who I actually thought had bad motives: Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. It was clear to me that even though the impeachment of President Clinton was motivated by political opportunism not love of country, his conduct and the cover up were unacceptable. I thought he should have resigned. I was grateful for those in his own party who had the courage and patriotism to condemn his behavior. Likewise, I am proud of Republicans who have decried Mr. Trump. I have written often about Mr. Trump. His motives are very clear and show, time and time again, he is not to be trusted and is a threat to the republic.

I have learned over the years that elections are more like public transportation than weddings. We are not committing ourselves to a soulmate. We are looking for someone who can get us as closer to our destination. So what’s this got to do with Joe Biden? Everything! The contrast between him and his opponent is stark–not just subtle differences in policy but wide chasms of moral character. Yes, I basically share Mr. Biden’s political worldview. More importantly, I believe he has the moral fortitude to help steady the ship of state that has been so badly beaten by the storms of egotism, nationalism, fear and self interest–the guiding stars of the current occupant of the White House. Joe Biden’s years of public service, and faith in God, country and his fellow citizens are even more important than his policy platforms. The truth about Joe Biden is that this election will be more about us than him. A test to see if we have the courage to choose hope over fear and patriotism over polarizing disfunction. I’m not just voting for Joe Biden (which I am proud to do). I’m voting for the future of a republic worth fighting for.