I Was A Stranger…

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Resisting comprehensive immigration reform goes against our Judeo-Christian values, American ideals, and common sense. The United States’ current immigration laws are outdated, cumbersome,inadequate,unjust and in desperate need of reform.

A moral principle 

Leviticus 19: 33-34 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. 

God’s people have often been “strangers in a strange land”, Jesus himself was a refugee. Every nation has the right to protect their borders, to welcome strangers in on their own terms, but those terms should be framed by our basic beliefs of right and wrong, compassion and human dignity. 

Matthew 25:35: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.

Luke 12:48 For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: 

I truly believe the United States has been blessed in unparalleled ways: economically, politically and intellectually; in many ways it truly has become what John Winthrop envisioned speaking of a “a city on a hill” Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush all have used this metaphor. Surely, if we are to be a beacon of hope to the world, we must have an immigration system that meets the demands of the 21st century, coupled with the compassion of the ages. 

Our American ideals

The United States is not a place, it’s an idea—if not so, we would have never grown past our 13 colonies. The audacious, and to many, blasphemous belief that citizens could govern themselves was revolutionary to say the least. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I am not so naive that I don’t know and appreciate that those words where constrained by the bigotries of the 18th century. I also am not so cynical as to not be moved by them, to see their potential and the inspiration they have been to the world. How perfect was France’s centennial gift: “Liberty Enlightening the World.” How fitting the poem that accompanies her:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We have always, always been a nation of refugees, pilgrims and opportunists seeking a better life. To resist that is to turn our back on our history and our future. 

Common sense

We resist immigrants at our own peril. They have always played a crucial role in our labor force, our infrastructure, growth and productivity. We damage our own economic growth by not fixing our broken immigration system. Opposition to immigration is as old as the republic: Franklin was worried about too many Germans, Adams and the Alien and Sedition Act, the Chinese Exclusionary Act, hostility and violence to Irish and Italian immigration, etc., etc., etc. It always makes the same false claims of safety, jobs, language acquisition, cultural fears, religious worries, the drain on resources and infrastructure–all not new claims, all not true, (see below), yet here we go again. We can and should fix our broken system. We should no longer stand at the border with both a ‘Help Wanted’ and ‘No Trespassing’ sign. We can and should offer a path to citizenship now for those who have over stayed their legal entry and for those who entered illegally. They should be fined, just like we do for those who speed or pay their taxes late, or don’t have proper permits for business, etc. Those who are a threat to society should be removed. No serious person thinks we can or should forcibly remove twelve million individuals. No fair-minded compassionate person would want to. We can do the right thing just as President Reagan and Democrats did thirty years ago: It will require us to revisit our past, be honest with our present, and look to the future. 

Immigration myths debunked

Of Resolutions and Regrets #Kindess2018

I believe in goals and resolutions. This year my resolution is simple. I want to be kinder. Volumes have been written about the need and practice, I doubt I can add much to the idea. I know I like me better when I am kinder. I know I like how I think and interact with the world when I chose to be kind. My outlook expands and my optimism grows when I try a little harder to be a little kinder. I love this thought from Mormon Church leader Thomas S. Monson

I have wept in the night

For the shortness of sight

That to somebody’s need made me blind;

But I never have yet

Felt a tinge of regret

For being a little too kind.

I don’t want to live with regret, I want to live with purpose.

My family was en route to a fourth of July reading of the Declaration of Independence in Boston when I noticed a woman’s “Make America Kind Again” button. I commented on how much I liked it and she gave me her last one. I love it! I keep it on my bag to remind me and everyone who sees it that we can be kind. I get comments on it all the time. I am convinced the vast majority of humanity are good and want basically the same thing: to live in a world where we look out for each other.

I was revisiting some of my social media posts from last year and found this Instagram post from the summer:

Recently I saw a business man stop what he was doing and help a homeless man get breakfast, watched a hurried commuter stop and give directions to an immigrant not familiar with the train, saw a young black man help an older white woman cross a busy street, watched as a stranger helped a blind man get on the bus and made sure the bus driver knew the man’s stop. People are good. The world is not so scary. I need to stop thinking about myself so much and start helping others more. #selfpeptalk #lifeisgood #peoplearegood

I am sure if I stop to notice, I’ll see much more of that around me all the time.

What if I just tried each day to be a little kinder? Pay attention to those around me a bit more? Serve more? What if we all did? What impact would it have on us and those around us? I don’t know exactly but I’m excited to try it! #kindness2018

The day I decided to give up snark.

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By November of 2015, I could already feel how tense the next year was going to be politically. My Facebook feed was turning into a war zone. I found myself getting more frustrated with those who just wouldn’t be reasonable. More than fatigued, I was growing hostile towards those whose views I found inferior to my own. I was starting to feel dismissive of them as people, not just their views. So, to work through my frustration, I made a series of very snarky, cynical memes, exploiting the logical flaws I felt I saw in their arguments.

As I was ready to post some of my witty, snarky memes the thought came to me, “How will this help anything?” I wrestled with the idea for some time and then just refrained from posting. It caused me deep reflection on my views of social media. Clearly this means of communication was not going away. What then was its purpose? What was my role in social media? How did I want to be seen by others? What was the purpose of what I shared? After some time, I developed the following ideas: (here is the entire elevatethedebate post)

 “I refuse to use a powerful tool like social media only to display the happy moments of my life. I further refuse to avoid anything that might engender thought, controversy or elevated discussion. If social media is the new gathering place of the 21st-century, let’s gather! Let’s talk about the things that are important to our world. Let’s talk about them as if we were face-to-face. Surely we can disagree without being disagreeable.”

In addition, I came up with my own rules for social media use:

  1. Talk about ideas not individuals.
  2. Seek for and build on common ground.
  3. Avoid sarcasm and personal attacks.
  4. Don’t try to only persuade someone to think like you do; instead do what you can to understand why they think the way they do.
  5. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, nobody is entitled to their own facts. Use trusted, refereed sources.
  6. Be open to changing your opinion on issues.
  7. Above all, be kind post/reply as if you were face-to-face. Filter it before you post it!

Here is what I hoped would happen: that myself and others would not only change the tone of what we produced on social media but also work to understand each other. For me that has happened. I am not perfect but I have tried to be respectful and understanding. In the process I’ve learned a lot, not just about others but about myself. I find that if I honestly try to learn why people feel the way they do, I am more inclined to see them as people not as foes. Even when I disagree with their views, if I understand them, I am strengthened myself. I have furthered my resolve that most people are good people. I have for years understood that issues were complex and resolutions to complex problems are challenging. I now have greater understanding that the reasons people think and feel the way they do is also complex. I still hold strong opinions but I am trying to convey them with less moral or intellectual certitude, one that places me on a perceived elevated plane from those who don’t see things the way I do–even when I think someone is wrong. There is no virtue or value in communication that shows bitterness or perceived superiority. 

Make no mistake, I think some views have and do cause real harm. I am not so naïve as to believe listening to each other will erase the evils of the world. However, even when dealing with fanaticism, we can take an approach that de-escalates conflict. Like David Brooks observes:“The temptation is simply to blast the neo-Nazis, the alt-right, the Trumpkins and the rest for being bigoted, vicious and hate-filled. And some of that is necessary. The boundaries of common decency have to be defined. But throughout history the wiser minds have understood that anger and moral posturing are not a good antidote to rage and fanaticism. Competing vitriols only build on each other. In fact, the most powerful answer to fanaticism is modesty. Modesty is an epistemology directly opposed to the conspiracy mongering mind-set. It means having the courage to understand that the world is too complicated to fit into one political belief system. It means understanding there are no easy answers or malevolent conspiracies that can explain the big political questions or the existential problems. Progress is not made by crushing some swarm of malevolent foes; it’s made by finding balance between competing truths — between freedom and security, diversity and solidarity. There’s always going to be counter-evidence and mystery. There is no final arrangement that will end conflict, just endless searching and adjustment. Modesty means having the courage to rest in anxiety and not try to quickly escape it. Modesty means being tough enough to endure the pain of uncertainty and coming to appreciate that pain. Uncertainty and anxiety throw you off the smug island of certainty and force you into the free waters of creativity and learning. As Kierkegaard put it, ‘The more original a human being is, the deeper is his anxiety’.”

Understanding why people feel the way they do and view the world the way they do helps us make more sense of the world we all live in together. There is much more of listening to do. Social media can be a place to talk to each other not just at each other. More than a digitized echo chamber of self-affirmation, it can be a powerful tool to bring diverse ideas together. A virtual community committed to a more perfect union. Let’s change the world one post at time! 

Like Yale Law professor Stephen L.Carter says in his book civility. “If, on the other hand, you fight your natural fight instinct, your natural tendency to use the rhetoric of silencing, and instead regard this person as one who is, in his twisted way, bringing you gifts, then you’ll defeat a dark passion and replace it with a better passion. You’ll teach the world something about you by the way you listen. You may even learn something; a person doesn’t have to be right to teach you some of the ways you are wrong.”

 

This process has helped me see more broadly the challenges we face from tribalism. It has helped challenge some of my own prejudices and assumptions. It has made me reflect more and react less, which in turn has made my views broader, more sophisticated and easier to articulate to others. Giving up snark and sarcasm has not been easy but it has been helpful.