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Open-Minded

Are you open minded?  Hold on, don’t answer without pausing for a moment.  You might think that this is a simple question with a simple answer.  It is not.

an open mind
Image by Warrior Mind Coach

Sure, we all like to think that we are open minded; but before you declare that you are, consider the definition found in the Cambridge English Dictionary: “Willing to listen to other people and consider new ideas, suggestions, and opinions.”  Be honest.  Can you sign on to that?

For me, it is a struggle.  Every day I question my attitudes and opinions.  Regrettably, they might not be as “pure” as I would like.  Too often, I find myself dismissing opposing points of view without giving them fair consideration.  Admitting this flaw is particularly troubling because in my writings about personal responsibility I have urged others to be open-minded.  (See the letter “O” in the Young Adult version of my Responsibility Workbooks).  I fear that I might not be living up to my own standard.

But that is my problem, not yours.   I will work on my short-comings on my own time.  Instead, let’s look at the issue of open-mindedness in a broader context.

Are we, as a society, being open-minded?  Probably not.  If that is the case, we do have a problem, a serious problem.  Today, it is increasingly apparent that knee-jerk rejection vs. objective consideration is the norm, not the exception.  Worse, this response frequently entails attacking the messenger, not addressing the issue.

How have we come to this sorry state?  How have we turned away from civil discussion and adopted confrontational opposition?  How have we become so polarized?

Perhaps the answer lies in how we gather and absorb information.  What news resources do we access to learn about events unfolding around us?  What information guides our understanding of current events?

There are plenty of news sources to choose from: network and cable news, talk radio, social media.  The problem is not lack of information.  No, the problem is recognizing the difference between factual reporting and agenda driven opinion.  The line between the two is no longer clear.  All too often, newscasters will present the news in such a way as to reinforce their own preconceived position.  Their mission is no longer to inform but, rather, to bolster an opinion which supports their agenda.

The challenge of differentiating opinion from straight reporting is made more difficult because, all too often, we only listen to those news sources which reinforce the positions that we hold.

The current debate swirling around our national leadership illustrates how vexing this problem has become.  Should we support Donald Trump because he is our president?  Or should we seek his removal from office because we question his qualifications and the legitimacy of his election?  News sources on both sides offer persuasive arguments for either position.

A friend of mine is a rabid, right-wing conservative.  He is so invested in a particular outcome that he is totally unable to listen to, let alone consider, any liberal commentary.

Another friend of mine is a radical, left-wing progressive.  He is so invested in a particular outcome that he is totally unable to listen to, let alone consider, any conservative commentary.

Take your pick.  You get the picture.  We have a problem.  Is there a practical solution?  Yes, I believe there is.

This problem, as daunting as it may seem, can best be addressed if we learn to ask ourselves three, very basic, questions.

The first is, “do we want to be open-minded?” Asking this question is important.  If you say, “No, I am not interested in being open-minded,” that’s okay.  You are being honest.  Thank you.  But, if that is the case, the conversation stops here.  You no longer have credibility and your position, whatever it might have been, has little importance in our effort to engage in open-minded discussion.  On the other hand, if you say “Yes, being open-minded is important to me,” you are committing to honest debate and civil discussion.  Move on to the next two questions.

The second question is, “Are we being influenced by newscasters whose commentary is presenting opinion rather than reporting facts?”

This problem is not easily dealt with.  Today’s newscasters are skilled at reporting news-worthy events in such a way as to serve an unrelated agenda.

Consider this hypothetical example: a spectacular apartment fire takes the lives of a mother and her four children.  The newscaster reports the fire and its tragic consequences but also notes that the incumbent Mayor (of whichever political party happens to be in the network’s crosshairs) had blocked funding for union-supported emergency responder training.  Of course, our hearts go out to the victims.  But we also take on a decidedly negative attitude toward the Mayor and his political party, exactly the outcome sought by the network.

We need to make a concerted effort to recognize the difference between agenda driven commentary and straight news reporting.  When faced with outcome driven content, pick up your remote and change the channel.  It might drive your spouse crazy but keep hitting the remote until you find objective reporting.  You might end up on the Weather Channel but that is certainly more productive than listening to some pointy-headed pundit pushing his agenda.  Don’t accept anything less than intellectually objective content.

liberal vs conservative viewpoints
Image by Medium

The third question is, “do we have sufficient information to reach a well-informed conclusion?”

It is all too easy to adopt a position without taking time to dig into background and context.  Even professional newscasters occasionally stray into areas where they have only superficial knowledge.

This problem becomes intractable if one party to the conversation amps up the volume in an attempt to mask an ill-informed position.

Don’t let that happen.  If you do find yourself in a discussion where you are getting into unfamiliar territory, don’t be afraid to step back and say, “I really don’t know much about that.  Let me take some time to look into it and we can pick up the conversation later.”

Warning..,.Warning.  There is a potential danger in taking that approach.  What if we do the honest research and discover, horror-of-horrors, that our cherished position might, in fact, be wrong.  We could never let that happen, could we?  Yes, if we are truly open-minded, we could.  (See my essay, Three Powerful Words.

Given the power of today’s internet, there is little excuse for taking a position without knowing the basic information underlying the issue.

At the end of the day, most of us do want to be open-minded.  It will not be easy.  As much as we aspire to that ideal, it takes more than words.

Yes, it can be done.  It can be done if we make a personal commitment to be open-minded, if we are able to recognize opinion disguised as fact, if we go beyond news sources which might support an outcome which we desire, if we make the effort to be well-informed……then yes, we can reverse the trend toward polarized hostility and return to civil discussion of the issues.

I will try.  I hope you will, too.

Three Powerful Words

Three Powerful Words.  Have you ever found yourself in a heated discussion with a friend over some topical issue….global warming, gun control, entitlements?  There are plenty of controversial subjects to choose from today and most make for exciting debate.

(By the way, I hope you answered “yes” to that question.  I hope that you do engage in energetic discussion with friends.  Life is short.  Don’t be afraid to embrace honest debate with friends.  When you do, though, try to be open-minded1.  Avoid making it personal.)

What three powerful words?  The three powerful words are, “I don’t know.”

Most of my friends are intelligent and well meaning, even those who self-identify as conservative.  But sometimes, despite the best of intentions, our words start to be used as weapons designed to degrade and hurt, rather than to enlighten and inform.  If you sense the drift in that direction, step back and say, “I don’t know.  You could be right but please explain how that ….”

Doing this will achieve two things.

First, the tension of the moment will have been defused.  You will have pulled back from growing hostility and turned the conversation back to a more civil and constructive tone.

Second, you will have established a solid platform of intellectual objectivity from which you will be able to continue the discussion.  Anything you say from here on will be all the more credible having just calmly invited the other party to clarify his position.

Of course, none of this will do you any good if your underlying argument is based on pure rubbish.  If that is the case, good luck!

1 See the letter “O” in the Young Adult version of my Responsible Workbook Series.

Deadline

email with a deadlineYou get plenty of emails, right?  To manage the daily onslaught, you have identified many originators as frivolous producers of unwanted solicitation.  Those are sent to directly to your spam folder and are never seen by you.

You just received a new email with “Deadline” in the subject box.  You open this email and the text reads, “You will die next Wednesday at 1130.”  This one did not go to Spam because the originator was God.  What do you do?

Before you can answer that question, you go through a series of emotions.

Disbelief.  “This must be a mistake.  I am too young.  I go to church on Christmas and, usually, on Easter Sunday.  It must have been meant for someone else.  I am not ready.”

But you check the addressee.  Yup, that is your name.  No change.  It was, indeed, meant for you.

Next, sorrow and grief.  “Oh noooo.  I like it here.  What will my dog think?  Who will take him for walks and feed him.  He will miss me and I will not have been able to explain my absence.”

You cry.  Your grief is overwhelming.  But your tears change nothing.

Then the final emotion: anger.  “This is not fair.  I don’t deserve this.  This should be happening to someone else, not me.”

You kick the door, you pound the wall.  Your anger changes nothing.

Exhausted, you are forced to accept the veracity of God’s email.  You will die next Wednesday at 1130.

Back to the original question.  You have been given a deadline (pun intended).  What do you do?

First, you recognize that your time is limited.  There are dozens of things that you would like to do; but you are forced to identify the two or three most important, the things that absolutely must be done before Wednesday.  You prioritize.

As you do that, you realize how many meaningless things are on your list.  The reality of your deadline forces you shed those irrelevant and trivial things.  You focus on what matters.

There is a lesson here.  Just because we have not received God’s email, it doesn’t mean that our time is endless.  Our time is, in fact, limited.  We need to set goals and continually monitor our progress if we are to achieve our true potential.  (See the letters “G” and “V” in the Youth Version of my Responsibility Workbook Series).

Use your time wisely.  You never know when you will get that email.

New Year’s Resolutions

1) Leap out of bed each morning before 0600

Then, before breakfast:

2) Run five miles

3) Do 200 sit ups

4) Read the New York Times & Wall Street Journal from cover to cover

5) Solve Global Warming

6) Negotiate peace for at least one war or two regional conflicts

7-A) Raise $200K for President Trump’s re-election campaign

(or)

7-B) Raise $200K for the Sanders, Warren, or Clinton (2nd) campaign

(take your pick)

8) Loose ten pounds

9) Compose a symphony

10) Write another chapter in the Great American Novel

11) Leap a tall building in a single bound

Finally, at the end of the day:

12) Not feel guilty if I fail to fulfill my New Year’s Resolutions

Magic Wand

donkey vs elephantYou have just been given a Magic Wand.  Your mission is to heal the divisions that are plaguing this country.

Choose wisely.  This Magic Wand is a single shot wand.  You have only one chance to achieve your mission.  What do you do?

Do you waive your Magic Wand and make President Trump disappear, or maybe Senator Schumer?  Don’t waste your shot on Nancy Pelosi.  She has pretty much disappeared already.

Making either one of these two polarizing figures disappear might have a temporary effect, but all too soon a clone would emerge, and we would be back to where we are now:  a divided nation, incapable of acting for the common good.

Try this instead.  Waive you Magic Wand and make the words “democrat” and “republican” disappear.  Gone forever.  Neither word would ever be spoken again.  Neither word would appear in print or on screen.  Gone.

Do that and suddenly the conversation would be about policy, not personality.  Decisions would be made, not to embarrass or damage the opposition, but to improve the lives of all Americans.  Political parties would no longer be compelled to attack or degrade.  Political parties would not exist.  This would be the end of “Gotcha Politics.”  (See Lanny Davis, Scandal: How Gotcha Politics is Destroying America, St Martin’s Griffin, August 7, 2007)

By the way, this is not a new idea.  Our Founding Fathers warned of the perils of party politics.

In October of 1780, John Adams put it this way, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.  This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”  (Charles Francis Adams (ed.), The Works of John Adams, Vol. 9.  Boston, 1854, pp. 510-511).  (See also, Geroge Washington’s Farwell Address, September 19th, 1796 and James Madison, The Fedealist # 10, November 27th 1787).

No more Democrats, no more Republicans.  Just Americans.  Mission accomplished.

A Definition of Personal Responsibility

people being personally responsibleWhat is your definition of Personal Responsibility? Being responsible can mean many different things, depending on your circumstances and your world perspective. Is your world centered on a desperate street where more is spent on drugs than on food? Or, maybe, your world revolves around high finance, board room politics and country club society. Where you come from does not matter. What matters is how you see your world and what you want to achieve in that world. That will define your sense of Personal Responsibility.

Born in poverty with no family structure to guide you through your early years? Struggling to survive where gangs rule and violence is the norm? What you choose to do can mean the difference between escaping to a better place or drowning in the desperation that surrounds you. Your choices can send you in one direction or the other. Own your choices and you might, just might, make it to that better place. Taking Personal Responsibility for your choices will give you a decent shot at success.

Wealthy parents, elite education, surrounded by comfort and privilege? Sounds good on paper but what are you going to do with it? Make smart choices and a productive and fulfilling life can be yours. More important, you will have an opportunity to be of positive benefit to others, either by supporting programs that help the less fortunate or by being a role model for someone who has not yet developed positive habits. Did I say, “opportunity?” No, it is an “obligation.”

Make bad choices, however, and all that you have been given will melt away to nothing. The traps are out there. A heavy party scene and an indulgent life style, can lead to physical deterioration and decline. Even worse, it is easy to become complacent and let each day slide by without goals and direction (see the letter “G” in our Workbooks). This lack of motivation all but guarantees failure and mediocrity. Who wants that?

The details will differ but there is one common theme: your choices have consequences. If you live in a wealthy community and have all the security and comfort that comes with that life, your choices are no less consequential than those of someone living in back alleys, scratching for food every day.

A Lesson Learned – Or Not

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  (George Santayana (1905) Reason in Common Sense, p. 284, volume 1 of The Life of Reason).

In September of 2010, Christine O’Donnell stunned the political experts covering the Delaware State primaries by defeating Mike Castle to become the Republican Party’s nominee for special election to fill the Senate seat vacated when Joe Biden joined Barack Obama in the White House.

Castle had been hugely popular as Delaware’s Congressional Representative and former Governor.  O’Donnell was a virtual unknown and had no national political experience.  But she did have the support of Delaware’s Tea Party.  No one anticipated the impact that such support would have on the outcome: O’Donnell’s 53% to Castle’s 47%.

The outcome of the subsequent special election was less of a surprise.  After a chaotic and ineffectual campaign, O’Donnell was easily defeated by Chris Coons: 57% to 40%.

At the time, there was much hand wringing amongst the Republican establishment with vows to never let such a thing happen again.

Choices have consequences.  Today’s Republicans have made a choice and consequences will follow.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Bug Off —- “Plan A”

The dog days of summer are here but you are still a runner.  You have just set out for a relaxing recovery run (see my Blog “Hill Training For Runners,” posted 4-Dec-14).  It is late in the day and still hot; so you turn off the main road for the shade of a quiet side street.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, they attack.  Dozens of tiny black bugs swarm around your head.  You swat at them to no avail.  Then, ughh, you inhale one.  Swat again but another flies into your left eye.  Not good.

Then, miraculously, a breeze picks up.  The bugs disappear.  But your respite is only temporary.  The breeze fades and they are back with a vengeance, more annoying than ever.

Being the person that you are, you don’t accept defeat.  You are a problem solver.  You analyze the situation and come up with a plan: create your own breeze!

You crank it up, leaving your leisurely 8:00 minute per mile jog.  In a matter of six strides you hit a blazing 5:00 minute per mile sprint.  It works!  The bugs fall in your wake!

Only one problem: in the next four strides, your body totally rebels.  You fall on your face, unable to keep up that ridiculous pace.  The bugs swarm around you, sensing road kill.

Time for “Plan B.”  You do have a “plan B,” don’t you?  My plan “B” would be to limp back to my car, slam the door on any trailing bugs and crank up the ac.

Things do not always go as planned.  It pays to have a “Plan B.”

Identity II

Do you know who you are?

You are not what you say

Do you really know who you are?

You are what you do

Who are you?

Identity

I looked in the mirror

and saw myself

You looked at me

and saw someone else

You saw what you wanted to see

but what you saw wasn’t me

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