I want to be the kind of person who is more curious than judgmental, more inclined to challenge my own ideas than embrace unwarranted certitude.
I am grateful for those who have shown me kindness in my ignorance, who chose to be patient and empathetic instead of rude and demeaning. I appreciate the humility of those who acknowledge that being right about some things doesn’t mean they are right about all things. I am the most likely to challenge my ignorance when the wisdom and correction I need is given by people who value me more than they value being right.
Years ago, I was talking with a friend. We were lamenting together the news of the day and how some of our friends and loved ones refused to accept the truth of some basic facts. I was making the case to my friend that everyone’s opinion has value to them. I honestly believe most people truly believe what they believe. I am confident people are not deliberately employing malice or harm in their ignorance. I know I am often wrong and yet I am rarely, if ever, trying to purposely deceive or inflict harm with false information.
My friend simply said to me, “I get that, but you treat ignorance like a virtue.” It stung because it was true. In my attempt to understand others. I often overlooked false ideas, misconceptions or even alternative realities and failed to acknowledge the harm that causes. I have caused harm with my ignorant assumptions even when I didn’t mean to. I should not excuse the harm just because there was no ill will.
An innocuous example: When I was young I didn’t understand proper tire care. I assumed if you bought a 50,000 mile tire you could expect to get 50,000 miles out of it. I was ignorant of the need for rotation, tire pressure, alignment etc. I learned the hard way that even though my lack of tire knowledge had no malice it was causing harm and potentially putting myself and my family in danger.
As the late Senator Patrcik Moynihan was famous for saying, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no one is entitled to their own facts.” When we treat our opinions as facts we can cause harm whether we mean to or not.
In our age of instant communication and hyperbolic hyperpolarizing messages, the ability to consume and dispense false information is alarming. So, if our goal is to have and share the best information possible, what do we do? Here are some things that have helped me:
First: I can ensure that the things I share are vetted, fact-checked and have the best information available. I can do my part to be informed and humble enough to admit when I’m wrong or lack sufficient information.
Second: I can focus on fixing myself instead of you. I have written about this before. I am sympathetic to the desire to call out but I’m convinced we do better if we avoid calling out and instead spend our energy inviting in. We then can create communities where facts matter more than ego.
Third: I can embrace intellectual curiosity and humility and reject unwarranted certitude and the desire to be right.
I am committed to doing my best to not only relay the best, most accurate information, but also really try to understand where others are coming from. So, how do I do that and not ignore the harm that false, misleading and untruths cause? The only way I know is to try to treat others the way I would like to be treated. Again, I am most likely to challenge my ignorance than defend it when the wisdom and correction I need is given by people I know value me more than they value being right. The people I respect most are those who value truth more than their ego. As I continue to challenge my own assumptions, I find myself less inclined to find faults in others and more inclined to see my own.
If we are serious and sober about the need to preserve and enhance a fair, just and equitable society, we each have the duty to embrace truth and shun ignorance and deception.
“Saying you’re sorry is the first step, then how can I help.”
I loved Mr. Rogers as a child and still do now so it’s no wonder that I love his heir apparent Daniel Tiger. I was watching an episode with one of my granddaughters recently and loved the message: “Saying you’re sorry is the first step, then, how do I help?” I won’t spoil the episode for you, but, in short, Daniel learns the importance of empathy and doing more than apologizing. He learns that we all need to do our part to reconcile and bring about restoration.
Like much of the nation, I’ve been pondering more deeply the lasting legacy of systemic racism. The idea that we need to just move on from the past ignores the lasting consequences the past has had on the present. To adopt this narrative is to embrace a lie.
The lie goes like this: racism is individual, it is deliberate and it intends to do harm. This lie allows us to not only avoid talking about race, it also insulates us from acknowledging that as white people we have been and are now the beneficiaries of a system that has been based on racial injustice.
Let’s start with the bedrocks of western civilization: the Renaissance, colonization, the Enlightenment and even classical liberalism. All of these operated on the assumption that white people were superior to people of color. The Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution, and European colonization were all based on this assumption, too. The power brokers and thought leaders held this common belief and institutionalized it. Of course, there were those who decried racism but they did not wield enough power or influence to bring about lasting change.
This is particularly true in the United States. The Constitution overtly institutionalized slavery and only counted black people as 3/5 of a person. That was only a compromise so southern states would have greater representation. Nearly every institution in the United States was based on the assumption that people of color were inferior. Agriculture, education, industry, politics–etc. Fast forward to 1865, the Civil War and the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments ended slavery but certainly did not end the centuries’ old belief of white superiority. This is evident by the one hundred years after the Civil War that were filled with of racial oppression, segregation, Jim Crow and so many other forms of systemic, widespread, institutional racism.
Does anyone really think after centuries of white superiority that now, less than two generations from open, transparently racist Jim Crow, we have arrived at a post racial utopia? Of course not!
We know that we still suffer from racial inequality in employment economics, housing, education, criminal justice and almost every aspect of American life. Hundreds of years of racial inequality can not be overcome only by restoring voting rights and ending legal segregation. Those efforts were needed but insufficient, kind of like saying sorry without next offering to help.
If we view racism as individual, not institutional, and deliberate, not subconscious, we can easily dismiss it. Worse yet, we can protect ourselves from addressing it. Subsequently, we help maintain the systemtic racist status quo.
So how can we as white person do more than say sorry, how can we offer help?
For one, stop acting like if we acknowledge our own advantages from being white we somehow concede that we are categorically racist. Just because you never personally participated in what you might define as overt racism doesn’t mean that you have not been the beneficiary of centuries of institutionalized white superiority and privilege.
Likewise, just because the ugliest facets of racism, like slavery and legal segregation, are illegal doesn’t mean that their legacy is without deep, devastating, lingering effects on people of color today. We should really listen to people of color and be open to discovering our own biases.
We can’t fix what we don’t address. We can start admitting to ourselves that, at some level, we are the beneficiaries of a corrupt and racist system. We can do our part to correct the generations of inequality by opening our eyes, ears and hearts to understanding and change. We can do more than simply say sorry, we can do our part to offer help healing and reconciliation.
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.
If we spend our time in person and online building barricades instead of bridges, nothing will improve and it will get worse. We cannot afford as citizens, families, friends, co-workers and fellow travelers to let the cancer of division fester
If your social media feed looks like mine, you are seeing lots of outrage and very little listening. People are quick to call out hypocrisy, real or perceived, and slow to self reflection. I am guilty of this, too. There’s something cathartic about screaming into the wind, finally saying what “needed to be said.” I do question how much utility there is in it, though. What value do we get, other than affirming what we already believed? I, for one, I’m tired of calling people out. I’d rather invite people in. What do I mean?
Calling out: Starts from the assumption that I am right and you are wrong. That I have something to teach you, and you need to learn it! It assumes value in chastening. I have certainly been guilty of this kind of smug superiority. When I engage in it, I feel a rush of satisfaction by venting or “getting it off my chest.” It’s even more affirming when those who see the world the way I do validate my call out. The trouble with calling out is it rarely leads me to challenge my assumptions, engage in understanding or broaden my scope of influence. Instead of persuading those who don’t see the world the way I do, I end up with a smaller network of like-minded believers. If left unchecked, we create echo chambers of self affirmation, and begin to convince ourselves of our rightness and exclude ourselves from others and their ideas. We divide the world into us vs. them. It breeds hostility, kills empathy and makes us less likely to learn new things. We stop challenging our assumptions and instead just call out yours.
Invite in: Says it is my responsibility to invite you into my trust circle. My primary objective is to invite you to tell me why you feel and think the way you do. My primary objective is not to persuade you, but to understand you. When that happens, we learn to trust each other. Then, we can invite others to understand where we are coming from. If they don’t want to see our perspective, we still have the benefit of understanding theirs. We also will learn new things and challenge our own beliefs. I have never met someone who was unwilling to help me truly understand them. The objective of inviting in can’t be to listen with loaded ears only waiting to pounce once we’ve graced them with our patience. Instead, the most benefit I’ve seen personally is when the objective truly is to learn and understand, not correct and refute.
How do we invite in?
First, adopt this phrase: I would say you would say. Whenever I say “I just don’t understand how they could think that,” I stop and realize that’s on me. I have the burden of understanding others. Here’s where “I would say you would say” comes in. When someone tells us we’ve got it right, and we do understand their thinking, then we can invite them to do the same exercise with us. Only when we understand each other can we have a substantive discussion about how we might see things differently. After practicing this for a while, people come to trust you because they know your first motive is to hear them not attack them.
Second, embrace the idea that it’s ok to agree to disagree. You are not personally responsible for bringing your cranky conservative uncle, your fanatical left wing sister-in-law or your apostate child around to your position.
Finally, always value the relationship over the topic. This does not mean you have to yield on your position, but you should be able to communicate your position and keep the relationship intact. A good friend taught me this lesson years ago, if you don’t have a relationship, you don’t have influence.
Okay, I know what some of you are thinking: “You don’t get it, this issue is different. We can’t just agree to disagree and pretend it’s okay. If the idea they endorse prevails, the damage 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 this is true, what advantage will be gained by calling them out instead of inviting them in? What good will come by alienating, ostracizing, avoiding, belittling or shaming them? Do you think that will show them the perceived error of their ways? That your chastening will cause them to conform to your view? Is that how you respond when others call you out? If we spend our time in person and online building barricades instead of bridges, nothing will improve and it will get worse. We cannot afford as citizens, families, friends, co-workers and fellow travelers to let the cancer of division fester. We must be bold enough, and meek enough to have the hard conversations, to abandon calling outand embrace inviting in. If not you, who? If not now, when?
The simple soundbites from both parties fail to do justice to the complexities of the issue. It leads me personally to conclude that voting on this one issue alone is not sound reasoning or sound politics.
The first time I was called a baby killer was in 1998. I ran as a Democrat for the Idaho State House of Representatives. Against the advice of more seasoned politicians from my party, I agreed to participate on a local talk radio program. The hosts began by saying how curious they found me to be. “On the one hand, you are a Mormon, but on the other hand, you’re also a Democrat. So are you pro-life or pro-choice?” I refused both terms. I said that I found the terms too loaded and too ambiguous to detail my views on an issue as complex as abortion. Before I could explain my position, or how I had arrived at it, the host asked if I supported the current version of a parental consent bill being considered by the legislature. I told her I did not, and began to explain why. The same bill had been passed by neighboring states and had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend in court only to be struck down. Again, I was interrupted before I could articulate what I thought would be a wiser approach. The host said, “So you’re a baby killer then?” I was flummoxed! I couldn’t believe she had gone there without giving me any opportunity to respond. She had passed her judgment, found me unworthy, and moved on. That rush to judgment and pronouncement left me frustrated and resolved not to treat people that way. Few, if any, topics are more controversial or more complex than abortion. Hopefully I can communicate my thoughts on the issue in a way that is thoughtful and not sanctimonious.
My beliefs on the morality of the issue are that “human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God.” This quote comes from a brief statement on abortion from my Church and reflects my own feelings. I believe life is sacred. I am the father of five children, and the grandfather of two. I hoped for, prayed for, and rejoiced with each child’s birth. I cannot imagine my life without them. I think it is wrong to end a pregnancy for personal or social convenience. I believe the power to create life is a sacred trust from God. I would never want to abuse those powers. I believe those who do abuse those powers will stand accountable to God someday.
Here are the problems I have with both political parties on the issue. First, the Democrats as “pro-choice.” This is a party that believes the government can help people make better, more informed choices. The party who thinks it is important to regulate food, drugs, the environment, etc. For this party to say it has no place to tell a woman what to do with her body seems contrary to their core beliefs. Save the whales, forget about the unborn, is hard to make sense of. The party’s position has evolved in recent years. In the 90s, the party’s line was abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Even as late as 2012, the Obama administration was still trying to get traction for a policy that reduced the need for abortions. The new party line seems now more focused on the right to have access to abortion, treating it as a medical procedure only, with no moral or ethical consideration. To be sympathetic to the idea that Black lives matter and yet not the lives of the unborn is intellectually incongruent, to say the least. You should read David Brooks’ piece on this. I agree with him that Democrats have moved too far on this issue. If your fundamental goal as a Democrat is the health and well-being of individuals, ignoring the moral complexities of this issue is irresponsible and (I believe) inconsistent with your ideology.
If Democrats are inconsistent and hypocritical with their position, Republicans are sycophantic and scattered. “Pro-life” means sooo many different things to different people. Here are some of my questions: What would it look like to legally restrict abortion as a means of birth control? Would you arrest providers, or women themselves? Would it be a state ban or a federal one? Would women who left the country to have an abortion be subjected to prosecution upon their return to the US? Would the law view all termination of a pregnancy the same as premeditated murder? I have also known some conservatives to go so far as to think that birth control methods like IUDs were akin to murder. In twenty plus years of talking with my conservative friends and lawmakers about this issue I have never heard or seen a policy from them that answers those questions. “Pro-life” to them seems to mean only an idea of being anti-abortion, which I am sympathetic to, but it doesn’t seem to translate into a clear, working policy. If the goal is to decrease the number of abortions, the data is clear that legally restricting the procedure does not reduce the number of abortions. Additionally, there is fair criticism that the Republican Party is pro-birth not pro-life. By not supporting aid for poor people, their access to healthcare, or the quality of their education, Republicans’ seemingly don’t put equal value or emphasis on life after birth.
I am sympathetic to why people vote exclusively on this issue. The problem for me, however, is neither party has a position that completely coincides with my moral view. In addition, not every candidate from the major parties views the issue in the same way that their party does. Not to mention that I think the parties sometimes feel less interested in honestly doing the right thing for people and more interested in fundraising and maintaining their party line narrative as a way to encourage people to vote for them. I am frustrated by the unwarranted certitude from many on the right and the smug superiority from those on the left. As this PEW data suggests, the vast majority of Americans understand the complexity of this issue. They realize that universal application is unrealistic when considering individual circumstances. The simple soundbites from both parties fail to do justice to the complexities of the issue. It leads me personally to conclude that voting on this one issue alone is not sound reasoning or sound politics.
You can be anti-abortion and think it should be legal. You can oppose abortion and not be a misogynist. I often hear people who say “How can someone be a Democrat? They are for abortion!” Or, “How can someone be a Republican? They hate women!” These logical fallacies do not account for other possibilities. You can be opposed to the criminalization of abortion and also oppose it as a means of birth control. You can both respect the right of a woman to make her own medical choices and still think there are moral consequences for terminating a healthy pregnancy. Likewise, you can acknowledge the moral complexities of terminating a healthy pregnancy and not hate women.
Good news abortion rates are falling. This excellent article explains why abortion rates are lower than they have been in forty years. Turns out, decades of global research indicate that legally restricting abortion is not correlated with a decrease in global abortion rates. Legality has proven largely irrelevant. In fact, “in countries where laws permit abortion only to save the life of the mother, the abortion rate is higher at 37 per 1,000 women than the rate of 34 abortions per 1,000 in countries without such restrictions.” Moreover, countries throughout Latin America—where the most restrictive abortion laws exist—actually have ‘both the highest rate of unintended pregnancies, 96 per 1,000 women, and the highest rate of abortions, 44 per 1,000 women.’ The data is clear. Nations that help women avoid unwanted pregnancies have the lowest abortion rates. If your goal is reducing the number of abortions, focusing on unwanted pregnices is the best way to go about it. Criminalizing abortion is not.
Even if Roe went away abortions wouldn’t. If the United States Supreme Court did away with Roe vs Wade, abortion does not go away, it just moves the decision to the states. Learn more about this here. Doing all we can in a bipartisan way to reduce unintended pregnancies seems the wiser course.
Please stop calling people baby killers and women haters. When you make the claim that Democrats are baby killers and Republicans hate women you lose the credibility that an issue like this deserves. It’s provocative language that is untrue, hurtful and invites division not civility. Also, when we use graphic videos that depict abortions, or use loaded language of moral absolutism, we often do harm to those who have struggled with pregnancy and infertility and a host of other complicated circumstances surrounding this most personal issue. Jeannie Gaffigin, a lifelong Catholic and a conservative, does an excellent job of addressing this in this must read piece.
To single issue voters I have learned from my own experience that politics, public policy and governing are complex. There are hundreds of issues that governments face. Political parties offer an ideological approach more than detailed policy initiatives. That’s beneficial to everyone. It allows for compromise. When we base our entire vote on a single issue, we often do so because we don’t want to engage in the messy complexities and ambiguities that a healthy republic requires.
So now what? I believe both parties could work together to reduce the demand for abortions. However, it will take people breaking out of their polarized partisan views. As with most issues, the first step is being able to talk about the issue in a way that allows those who disagree with us to be heard.
Like you, I’ve spent the better part the last few weeks wearing a mask. At first I felt awkward and uncomfortable. As time went on, however, I became accustomed to wearing it. We wear these masks primarily to protect ourselves from unconsciously infecting others. It is an act of solidarity, our way of showing that we care about each other.
Traditionally, we associate masks with covering, changing or hiding our identity. They have a nefarious feel about them, not an altruistic one. We use the terms “unmasking someone or something” to mean we expose its identity or true purpose. So in a poignant, and somewhat ironic, way, we see our current season of mask-wearing as a much needed unmasking of America. This tiny bug that is causing such big problems is showing us who we really are. What we see should move us all to action.
We see that we live in a nation that undervalues its own citizens. A nation whose power and riches have been consolidated to the few, while the many have been left behind. We see a polarized, tribalistic, dysfunctional politics. Most troubling, we see, almost daily, the unmasked, naked racism that still exists in this country. So, this pandemic has caused us to wear masks but it has also unmasked us. Now unmasked it’s time to ask some serious questions:
Do we want to live in a country where millions live in fear daily because of the color of their skin?
What can we do? We can be more informed. We can vote, we can donate, we can stop blaming them and start fixing us. We can listen more and talk less. We can learn to engage and learn from those we disagree with. We can be honest with ourselves, and begin to make the changes necessary to build the nation we want. A nation that is committed to living up to its potential and its grand ideals. A nation that embraces the unmasking of itself. We can do our part to become a nation and a people who refuse to hide their sins and shortcomings behind the masks of indifference, fear, blame and ignorance.
What a challenging time we live in! We are simultaneously fighting two pandemics. COVID-19, and, the dangerous misinformation that has come with it. Both are deadly, and both spread very easily. Like you, I have been paying special attention to the news and am constantly praying for the sick, healthcare workers and everyone that has been affected by this global pandemic. Also, sadly, I’ve seen so much disinformation spread about this pandemic on social media. I really appreciate the insight in this great article from the PBS NewsHour. It helped me see why times like this are so fraught with misinformation.
“Uncertainty is inherent to the problem,” said Kate Starbird, an associate professor at the University of Washington and co-founder of the Center for an Informed Public. “We don’t know certain basic things about the virus, and we don’t know when certain treatments are going to be available”…For weeks, COVID-19 has dominated news coverage, inundating the public with near constant updates about the virus and its widespread impact as scientists’ understanding of it has changed in real-time…“We don’t have experts on COVID-19, because it literally just emerged four months ago,” said Dhavan Shah, the director of the Mass Communication Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The facts are shifting so quickly…With what Shah called the “unique challenge” for public health officials trying to stay up to date, it’s no surprise that people are seeking out any information to make sense out of the confusion, leading some to dubious sources or claims.”
I’m sympathetic to people’s worries and insecurities. It’s completely understandable that we all want to look for information that gives us understanding. However, just like being in large crowds makes it more likely to spread the COVID-19 virus, social media has made it easier to spread dangerous misinformation. According to this 2018 study, misinformation spreads on social media six times faster than the truth does!
We know we can help stop the spread of the virus by washing our hands, avoiding contact with others and exercising good hygiene and social distancing. What can we do to help stop the spread of misinformation on social media?
“… prioritize information coming directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and state and local officials about the spread and response to COVID-19. Both the CDC and WHO provide daily reports on the number of confirmed virus cases, as well as up-to-date resources and research on the disease. While it can be difficult to sift through information on social media, announcements coming directly from the social media accounts of your governor, for example, can likely be trusted.”
We have probably all seen the misinformation on social media. From bogus conspiracy theories on how the virus began, to faux cures, and even the comparison of government quarantine efforts to the holocaust. We each need to do our part to lessen the spread of both of these modern plagues.
There seems to be a national, and even international, solemnity and solidarity about the thing. As we all work to #flattenthecurve we are selflessly helping to not overwhelm hospitals, healthcare workers and those most vulnerable in our society.
What a week! The roller coaster ride of the stock market, the cancellation and closure of almost every major American institution, and the world wide focus on a tiny little bug. I, in no way, want to minimize the real consequences people are feeling as a result of this virus. My heart goes out to the people in China, Italy, Iran and others around the world who are sick or otherwise afflicted. The physical, social, emotional and economic toll on individuals and nations is real. However, I also can’t help but see something admirable in all of this.
There seems to be a national, and even international, solemnity and solidarity about the thing. So often when adversity strikes we naturally focus inward and are most concerned with how it will effect us personally. Surely there has been some of that with this as well. However, for the most part, I’ve seen people who will not ever be sick come to the conclusion that they should make the necessary sacrifices to isolate themselves throughout the community and the world to minimize the impact of the virus.
As we all work to #flattenthecurve we are selflessly helping to not overwhelm hospitals, healthcare workers and those most vulnerable in our society. I have also seen people turn their concern to those who will be the most adversely affected not only by the disease itself, but by the economic consequences. The hourly worker, those without healthcare, sick leave and the resources to manage a disruption like this. I have watched over the last few days my employer, my faith community, as well as local, state, national and international governments work swiftly to try to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and help those in most need. I’ve seen less blame and more honest inquiry on what this all means and what is the best way forward. Of course there are those who are prone to nativism, conspiracy theory and doomsday hand wringing, but for the most part I have seen a calm compassionate response, coupled with the desire to know more and do what we can to get through the situation. I’m certainly not happy about this virus, but I do think there are some things we will see going forward that will give us pause to reflect on the value of working together. ￼ So as we wait this out, wash your hands, keep your distance, stay informed and keep up the good work! See you on the other side!
We cannot change what others post. We cannot change others’ opinions. We can, however, contribute to the conversation. We can do our part to build a community. We can do our part to have an honest, open dialogue about issues we may agree or disagree on.
I had the opportunity to be interviewed on a friend’s podcast we discussed how to not be a jerk on the internet. We talked about the temptation to just give up on the idea that the internet can be a place where civil discourse could happen. However, we concluded, if we do that, then the haters win! We can’t just consider the internet as a place of either antagonism or a total withdrawal from the important issues of our time. What if it were different? What if it brought us together as a community of friends, family and colleagues working to create the best world possible? A place where you can express your opinion and ideas without it becoming a fight? So here my ideas for not being a jerk on the internet:
#5 Stop blaming others and start fixing you! I can’t blame you for what’s wrong with the government, society and the world in general, that’s weak! I’ve got to figure out my own contributions to the problems we face. I’ve spent a few years carefully reflecting on my own opinions, finding the flaws in my logic, learning to avoid either or thinking and trying to challenge my assumptions. What am I doing to contribute to tribalism misinformation, or contention with others online? How can I stop doing those things? I’ve written about a blog post about this previously: How do I stop calling you out and start fixing me.
#4 Stop preaching to the choir: The more I discuss the world with those who share my worldview, the more I begin to view the world as “us versus them.” Here is a piece I’ve written about why I have completely stopped sharing simple memes and snappy one liners online that confirm my opinions. They do nothing to broaden my understanding of complex issues and alienate those who do not share my opinions. Before I read or post something online I stop and ask myself. Am I doing this to confirm what I already believe? I’m I trying to persuade others to think like I do? Or am I trying to really learn, understand and help the world be a better place?
#3 Try to understand where people are coming from. Whenever I find myself saying, “I can’t understand why anyone thinks that,” I tell myself, “That’s your problem, not their problem.” I don’t have to agree with someone to understand why they think the way they do. If I don’t understand why someone holds an opinion, that’s an indictment of me not them. We should spend much of our online time trying to understand each other not just talk over each other.
#2 Act don’t react: When I see something online that makes me crazy and I’m tempted to lash out. I take a breather, relax, try to understand their perspective and challenge my own assumptions. Even when, and especially when, someone lashes out at me, I try to be chill. That doesn’t mean I just agree with everything, but we can disagree without being disagreeable
#1 Be Kind: Picture the face on the other side of the screen. These are real people just like you! With real feelings and real families, real problems and very real emotions! In other words treat people like you would like to be treated.
We cannot change what others post. We cannot change others’ opinions. We can, however, contribute to the conversation. We can do our part to build a community. We can do our part to have an honest, open dialogue about issues we may agree or disagree on.
We can resolve not to rant but to reason. To talk less and listen more–to build bridges not walls. We can engage in conversation with those we disagree with in a constructive manner. We can acknowledge the complexities of issues without being condescending. We can reject our own unwarranted certitude. We can learn and try to understand others perspectives instead of trying to persuade them to adopt our own.
We can reject sarcasm and embrace empathy. We can walk away from anger and embrace understanding. We can stop sharing over simplified, inflammatory content and instead pose our own thoughtful questions and ideas. Every person’s perspective has value and meaning to that person. We can admit when we are wrong. We can embrace conflict and shun contention. We can remain true to our ideals and be open to change. In short, we can all do our part to not be a jerk on the internet, or anywhere else for that matter.
I am writing to change the world! Well that feels like a bit much, eh? But, there it is, on my website, as the tag line. You see it on every page. I am putting it out to the world. So what troubles me about this claim? The scope! When I say I want to change the world the first thing that comes to mind is that what I do must have some kind of global impact. The earth knew I was here because of the seismic impression I left. Therein lies the rub. The scope of the ambition leaves you feeling small and hubris at the same time.
So what do I really mean when I say I want to change the world by what I write? I mean I hope to influence the world for good, I want to be among the contributors, not just the cynics. Of course, I would like my words to reach the masses, but that’s not the main motivation, not even close. If it was, it could taint what I write. I would find myself always chasing the popular new thing looking for more eyeballs and possibly lose sight of the goal. The goal is to impact the world around me for good. A forest is a mighty thing but so is a tree. To reach the one has value, to develop your skills has merit, even if only a dozen see it. I do want to change the world but I know that may never be on the scale it sounds like.
I’m so very grateful for those who have impacted me in my life, few of which are NYT bestsellers or have monetized their talents in grand ways. My widowed neighbor taught me at church and welcomed me into her home. She was, for me, a much needed surrogate grandparent. She was never interviewed by Oprah and didn’t “make it big” but she changed the world by changing me. School teachers, church mentors, friends, coworkers and of course family, have all blessed my life and almost without exception did those things in obscurity. But, make no mistake they changed the world by changing me.
So why do I write? Why not just be a nice guy? Well I am trying to be a nice guy. I’m trying to be a good citizen, a good neighbor, a good husband, a good father, a good Christian etc. Part of that for me means trying to push myself in new ways and develop my talents so that I can be of value to those around me. One risk we have when we pursue this course of action is comparing ourselves to others finding, ourselves lacking and then quitting. I am sympathetic to that, and I’ve written about it on at least two occasions ( Check out those posts here and here).
We can’t let whatever we aren’t yet stop us from becoming what we can be. We also can’t minimize what we are doing because we haven’t maximized the impact. Six years ago I had the distinct impression to spend more time on social media and be more purposeful about it. That journey has led me to write more, think more and be more brave. Since then I have, little by little, accomplished a lot! Here is a brief list:
Finished a 40k word middle grade book
Joined the Society Of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators
Joined a writing group
Learned how to query agents to represent my projects
Began my blog
Reached close to 10,000 views on the blog
Have had near 500,000K views on social media (this is an educated guess because FB analytics are tricky for personal accounts)
Finished (almost) with the first draft of my second book
Created a website
Learned how to better brand my work
Met new people
Made new friends
Improved my skills
Gained new skills
And in some small way have made a difference
Perhaps the most satisfying thing that has happened is the personal messages I get. So many times I have felt like a humbug, gotten discouraged, or have been ready to walk away from everything, when someone will reach out to me and thank me for something I have written. I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of kindness and support I have received and humbled by the impact it’s had on myself and others. So yes, I may never monetize my work, and yes, I may never reach the masses, but I am changing the world, one word at a time, and that’s okay by me.