20.10.17

The political necessity of perseverance



For those of you looking for hope in a seemingly hopeless world, I strongly recommend one watch Bryan Stevenson’s, the President of the Equal Justice Initiative, TED Talk. In it, Mr. Stevenson recounts a conversation he once had with Rosa Parks. As the social activist explains his organization’s mission, Mrs. Parks exhales, gathers her thoughts and responds, “Oh boy… that’s going to make you tired, tired, and tired.”

The lack of political statesmanship, escalating nuclear tensions, non-stop climate disasters, and our country’s largest mass murder have certainly made many of us tired, tired, and tired.

Despite these trying times, I hope we don’t find solace in political solitude. We instead, march on and understand the fundamentally important psychological and political reasons for persevering.

In these stressful moments, it is understandable to give up and retreat to our ideological echo chambers or simply disengage from politics all together. The perpetual state of outrage and agony wrecks an emotional toll on our mental health. Having to continually keep up with the political mishaps hampers our urge to be civically active, and worse, our ability to be empathetic to others suffering.

President John F. Kennedy once virtuously remarked, “Don’t pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.”

And Psychologist Angela Duckworth explained, “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”

Both are right. We must pray to be strong, but also endure. Because there is not the time to succumb to the cacophony of the current Presidential political rhetoric or wave the white flag to dangerous policy changes.

Justifying repugnant rhetoric only invites more repugnance in the future. When our country’s moral compass is out of sync, it is paramount to stand up and fight to properly adjust it and set it on its right course. Moreover, apart from extraordinary exceptional events, creating a silent majority that withdraws from the Democratic process rarely leads to noteworthy progress.

As wearisome as the status quo may be, they are even more cumbersome for others. More than four in ten U.S. children are living close to the poverty line, suicide rates for adolescent boys and girls have been steadily rising since 2007, 25% of incoming freshman will fail to graduate from high school, the United States houses 22% of the world’s prisoners, and we haven’t even touched the topics of race, Appalachia, or climate change.

But history shows, if we continue to persevere we can achieve tangible positive results. On June 20, 1979, the Carter administration installed 32 panels designed to harvest the sun's rays and use them to heat water. He was mocked and ridiculed by both parties. Almost thirty years later we are witnessing the rising rapid adoption of solar energy. Three times as many workers are employed by the solar industry than the entire coal mining industry.

In November 19, 1945 President Truman called for universal healthcare. Granted, the current system is far from optimal, but today 11% of Americans lack health insurance – down from the 35% when America’s 33rd President called for complete coverage.

Around the same time, a young female from Tuskegee, Alabama joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. One morning in 1943, a young bus driver by the name of James Blake ejected this lady from the bus after she refused to re-enter the vehicle through the back door after paying her fare at the front. Over the next decade, she continued to be involved in the Civil Rights movement.

Almost 12 years later, on the afternoon of December 1, 1955, returning home from her job as an assistant tailor at a Montgomery, Alabama, department store, she boarded bus 2857 on the Cleveland Avenue line. When told to give up her seat for a white man, she refused and was arrested for violating the city’s racial segregation laws. Her act of civil disobedience precipitated the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was led by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Her name was Rosa Parks.

It’s difficult to imagine or pinpoint the grit or inspiration behind the perseverance for these noble and brave acts. It’s probably even more difficult to fathom that such societal improvements can occur today. We, however, must believe that our young Democracy will continue to experience a graceful evolution that we are unable to currently envision. If we do, I am (somewhat) optimistic that we can persevere and make some progress that decades from now we can look to as a symbol of hope.

6.4.17

See No Evil

                Sometimes there are no words to be said, none that make sense anyway.  Sometimes there’s no way to reconcile or explain what happened.  It’s times like these that hurt the most, and it’s times like these that may take years before we’re able to find the right words to put it all in perspective. 

                My friend died this week.  I miss him.  I don’t know what else to say.  It hurts.  It’s one of those emotional pains deep enough that it manifests itself in a physical way.  The voices in my head want me to scream that it’s not fair, it’s not just… this isn’t how life was supposed to happen; but I don’t have the energy to utter a single word.

                I wish I could go back and fix this and fix so many things.  I wish I could go back and talk to him one more time, ten more times, a hundred more times.  I wish I could go back and help him, through this and everything.  I know though, that he would be the first to tell me how useless it is to wish.

                Life happens.  Sometimes it’s short, other times it’s long.  Sometimes it’s ugly, but every so often it’s beautiful.  I believe that overall the beauty outweighs the ugliness, but sometimes I wonder.

                I don’t know what else to say.  I’m hurt, I’m angry, I’m sad.  I don’t know.  I don’t know.  All I do know is that I will use this pain and this anger.  I’m not sure what for, but they’ll be put to good use; maybe in that book I keep promising myself but never deliver.  Or maybe not.  That’s what he would have done, I think.  For now, I just don’t know… the world doesn’t seem right.

                Goodbye my friend, you will be missed.

   Tom Durham – 1987 to 2017



“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.” 
 
Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

4.3.17

A Message in a Bottle

This is a post that I’ve been struggling with for a while now… I don’t know everyone that reads my blog, but I know a good number of you, and I know that all of you have very different views of the world.  I’m proud of that fact.  It makes me happy when someone who is either a staunch Republican or a diehard Democrat, approaches me and lets me know that they look forward to reading my posts.  It makes me particularly happy when people from both sides of this divide let me know that they really enjoyed the same post.

That being said, I typically do what I can to avoid having too many partisan viewpoints in my writing.  I don’t like sites or “news” that state opinion as fact and imply that anyone who disagrees is automatically the enemy, no matter which viewpoint they promote. 

This brings me to one small point, before I dive into the deep end of this post.  I know I have readers that are Trump supporters.  I appreciate you, and the fact that you read my blog, I hope you continue to do so.  Nonetheless, for the sake of context, I’ll preface the rest of this post by making it clear that I don’t support Donald Trump.  I don’t trust him or his motives and I don’t believe that his actions will directly contribute to the betterment of this country.  I hope he proves me wrong; but so far he certainly hasn’t.

Despite my personal views, I see so many liberal people; friends of mine, other bloggers, reporters, etc. repeatedly state that Trump doesn’t represent the America that they know.  They still show shock that he won, they argue that he lost the popular vote, they point fingers at Russia for interfering… I’ll admit, I was confused on election night, surprised that it was actually happening.  Then again, I live in a bubble, most of us do; and it takes an event such as this to make us realize that there is more to the world than that which we allow ourselves to see every day.

This brings me to my main point… there is something very wrong in this country and other countries around the world.  We all know it.  The fact that there is something wrong has been a narrative in our society for over a decade now.  It’s a sickness that has dug itself into the bones of our society, where it’s thriving and growing.  Donald Trump, Brexit, Le Pen, and various other unprecedented movements and political actions across the world are NOT that disease, they’re just a symptom.

Let’s look at America as an example: First we have to accept the fact that Donald Trump wasn’t elected because of some accident or a fluke.  He won the election because a massive amount of people voted for him.  Did Russia interfere?  Probably.  Looking at the evidence, there’s so much smoke, chances are there’s a fire there somewhere… But that doesn’t change the fact that he developed a massive following with or without outside help.  He did it by speaking to and identifying with an immense group of people who had felt as if they had been ignored and like they didn’t have a voice in their own governing.  He gave them that voice.

Throughout the election, and now, in Trump’s America, I have seen so many blog posts, television shows, news articles, etc. from the perspective of the political left that belittle Trump’s supporters.  They look at those people and lump every single one of them together in one group and assume that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist, xenophobic, sexist, hate-filled, uneducated, hypocritical bigot.  Despite the rallying cries of “Love trumps hate” and the all-inclusive image of the political left (extended primarily to minorities and the disenfranchised in large, coastal cities), their posts and news and ideological views are still coated in hate. 

So many times I’ve seen people on Facebook post something promoting that all-inclusive nature, imploring people to stand together, to lend a helping hand, to love one another, etc.  Then I read the comments, and the first person to post a comment that is even slightly dissenting (or sometimes extremely dissenting) is immediately demeaned, belittled, and insulted.  The teeth come out and that person, no matter their point of view or their stance on various issues, is immediately dismissed and they are thrown in the same “basket of deplorables” as the most extreme Trump supporter.

Meanwhile, I see posts, videos, and news from the other side, from people who support Trump.  In fact I spend a lot of time talking to Trump supporters, face to face.  A year ago, those same people were complaining non-stop about political and social stances being forced upon them no matter whether they agreed with them or not.  They complained about a president that they felt was illegitimate and a government that didn’t represent them.  But now that Trump has won, all I hear them saying is that the “special snowflakes” of the left need to suck it up, accept that they lost, and stop complaining.  They criticize a political left that is oblivious to their own, American grass-roots values, claiming that people on the left are out of touch with reality… then they turn around and dismiss and ignore facts that challenge their perception of the world around them.

These two political ideologies are standing on opposite sides of a massive canyon, hurling rocks at each other.  The few people that remain speaking out in the middle are on tightropes and trying to dodge rocks from both sides.  Most of the voices in the middle of this argument seem to have given up and either joined one extreme or the other or simply fallen silent.

The problem in our society isn’t the far right OR the far left, it’s the divide between the two.  Donald Trump’s presidency is a product of that divide, as was Bernie Sanders’ candidacy.  The truly scary part is that the divide doesn’t only exist in our politics, it has spread to our news, our social lives, the products marketed toward us, and even the filters through which we see the world around us.  We have inadvertently created these bubbles that we live in, where we are able to shape the world into the image that we wish to see, and to largely shut out everything else.

Think back, when is the last time that you, voluntarily, sought out an article, a video, or a viewpoint that challenged your world view, and did it not for the sole purpose of wanting to tear it down, but because you wanted to understand it, for your own sake?  When is the last time that you approached a differing opinion while acknowledging the possibility, however slim, that your preconceived notions may be dead wrong?

We don’t challenge ourselves anymore.  We shy away from points of view that we don’t like, we block people that don’t agree with us, we surround ourselves with news and noise that agrees with and informs our worldview.  I’m not sure why we are doing this, why we’re unwittingly allowing this divide to grow… Maybe seeing the world the way we want to see it is just pleasant enough that we’ve become the land of the lotus eaters.  Maybe it’s the rapid advancement of technology and the decline of face to face conversations, because it’s a lot easier to be angry at a screen than it is a person who’s looking you in the eye.  Or maybe it’s cultural backlash from the speed with which our society became globalized and we’re struggling with the concept of a world that is somehow too small and too large at the same time.

Whatever the cause is, I leave that to wiser minds than mine to discover.  I can see the divide growing though, in fact I believe that most of us can see it, we just choose to ignore it or to blame it on “Them”.  The day to day people that I hear from on social media, or television, or even the people that I talk to on a regular basis, don’t tend to take any part of the blame for the divide.    I wouldn’t expect them to either, that’s a large burden to take on.  Still, at some point, we’ll have to do the unexpected, as individuals and as a society, we’ll have to stop blaming each other, take some responsibility, and strive to understand one another. 

(A brief Sir Terry Pratchett interlude):

"It was because he wanted there to be conspirators. It was much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power, plotting over the brandy. You had to cling to this sort of image, because if you didn't then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of then going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was Us, then what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things." ~ Terry Pratchett


Back in November, I went to Austin, TX to go to a wedding of a couple friends of mine.  One night, at a bar, a friend and I were approached by a complete stranger.  The guy who stopped us had dark-ish skin, implying some sort of non-European background.  My friend and I on the other hand are a couple of big, white guys.  This stranger asked us if we saw him as “different” than ourselves, and if we viewed him as “lesser than”.  He seemed vulnerable, almost scared; as if he were shocked that he asked the question, which he’d been working up the courage to ask someone for a while.  We both of course let him know that we didn’t view him as any different than we would view anyone else.  Still, our answer isn’t important.  What is important is that he was worried enough that he felt the need to ask.

No matter what you believe, no matter which side you support, and no matter which lens you choose to view the world through; we live in a country that was founded on the simple idea that “all men are created equal”.  That idea is fundamental to our country, and to our identity.  The fact that anyone in this country is being made to feel as though that phrase doesn’t include them, nearly 241 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, is shameful.  And that shame belongs to every one of us. 

For a country built upon the ideal of equality, we have a pretty poor track record.  If we ever want to truly live up to that standard set for us 241 years ago, then the first step would be to stop pointing fingers and to share the blame for this mess equally. 

On that note, I’m begging anyone who reads this to do one thing.  Challenge yourself, break the bubble you’re living in, and embrace the diversity that surrounds you.  Take the time to really talk to someone who disagrees with you.  Don’t dismiss them, don’t insult them, don’t demean them.  Instead, show respect, take an interest, and listen to what they have to say.  Maybe you’ll learn something, and maybe just maybe, we can start to heal this divide…


In closing, I’ll go back to a method that I’ve used in a few posts now, and remind myself and my readers of a lesson that we all should have learned as children, “two wrongs don’t make a right”.  Just because someone is a jackass and doesn’t show you or your viewpoint the respect you deserve, doesn’t mean that you’re free and clear to be a jackass to them.  We can’t move forward as a society unless we can learn to not hate each other.  I know it’s not an easy task, but it’s better than the alternative.