Posted on: January 21 2019 / Written by: Brett Lunger
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Posted on: January 19 2019 / Written by: Brett Lunger
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
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
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.
Posted on: August 19 2018 / Written by: Brett Lunger
In my early years I was taught a memorable rhyme. It went like this: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”
What a joyful refrain! From these words we gained the confidence to deal with whatever petty verbal aggression might confront us on the playground or in our school’s hallways.
Many from my generation will fondly remember the “Sticks and Stones” rhyme. Many benefited from the attitude implicit in those words, not just as children, but as adults later in life. Hurtful words? Ignore them. They are too trivial to warrant response.
So where are we today? Unfortunately, the notion that words cannot hurt us has been pushed aside in favor of a kind of self-victimization. We no longer rely on a natural confidence in our own identity to shield us from harsh or hurtful words. No, just the opposite. Today, we are being told that we are victims, that we should be offended by hurtful words. Being a victim is preferable to being a secure and confident individual. Poor baby!
More troubling, individual victimhood has morphed to include collective victimhood. This is rapidly becoming a problem of national proportions.
Look at me, for example. The hypothetical pain that I might have suffered could easily be adopted by a whole class of individuals. How so? I am an Average White Man. As such, it is conceivable that I ought to be offended by the rock band called Average White Band. Oh, woe is me! Will there be a class action lawsuit to compensation me and other average white men for the devastating hurt that we have collectively suffered?
What about sports teams? Many have names that are said to have caused irreparable damage to certain groups of people.
Statues commemorating long departed American figures are said to offend. Streets named for historic icons somehow cause emotional harm.
How did this happen? How did we move from a jovial sense of self-reliance and pride to a culture of victimhood? How did we get to this place where mere words cause so much pain?
For answers, look closely at instances where victimhood has flourished. Two trends emerge. First, in today’s world, victimhood is easy. We are encouraged to seek offense from a long list of supposedly hurtful words or phrases. The message is clear. It is cool to be a victim. Furthermore, social media allow us to broadcast our pain to friends and to the world beyond.
Second, being a victim can be profitable. In a lawsuit filed against the Central Lee Community School District, the parents of a student alleged that “The threats of C.M. (the alleged bully) to H.S. (their child, the alleged victim) have become so severe and ongoing that H.S. is [in] fear of [their] safety every day. This includes riding the bus as well as while at school. The threats and harm perpetrated upon H.S. have begun to affect ability to concentrate at school and properly complete [their] school work. The threats and harm perpetrated upon H.S. now affect H.S’s ability to obtain an education.” The parents are asking the court “to permanently prohibit the two students from having any contact with each other as wellas any other relief the court might deem just and equitable” (emphasis added).
Go ahead, tally the dollars skimmed by Trial Lawyers. That total would probably exceed the national debt.
The profit motive could easily be applied to non-monetary interests, as well.
Want to discredit a politician or a political appointee? All you need to do is dig into his past,
select a few words or phrases out of context and broadcast them to the world. Doesn’t even have to be factual. Once it is out there, it’s out there.
We were once impervious to trivial slights. We did not feel compelled to tweet every time someone had a bad word to say about us. We could ignore meaningless jabs and not get sucked into retaliatory name calling. Are those days gone forever?
Do we just totter off into the sunset and accept these damaging trends, asking other generations to deal with them? Or do we re-assert ourselves and reject the notion that mere words can hurt us? Which would you choose? It is within your power to set a positive example for others who might be inclined to choose victimhood. Next time you hear that so-and-so’s words are offensive, laugh and say, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”
(As much as I would like to claim credit, I am not the one who originated this rhyme. In fact, they first appeared in The Christian Recorder, a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. That happened in March of 1862. Yeah, I am old but not that old.)
Posted on: January 5 2018 / Written by: Brett Lunger
You 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.
Posted on: January 10 2017 / Written by: Brett Lunger
What 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.
Posted on: March 24 2015 / Written by: Brett Lunger
Am I going to tell you what ideals to live by? No ….. not my job. It is your life; so you pick the ideals.
What I can do, however, is suggest how to use your chosen ideals to guide you throughout your day. After all, what good are ideals if you don’t live them?
This is not complicated. Try these four simple steps.
First, pick two or three ideals that have meaning to you. There are many to choose from. Think of things that you might want to be known for: honesty, integrity, kindness, trustworthiness … the list is very long, indeed.
Second, tag each of your ideals with a person or a character. This could be a relative, a celebrity, an heroic figure, or even an animal that in some way has inspired you. For example, if you had chosen “Compassion” as an ideal, you might tag that ideal to Mother Theresa. Or, if you felt that “Determination” was an important ideal, you might tag that one to Winston Churchill
Third, identify something that you do at the start of your day. It can be a simple act that you perform every day …. stretching when you first get out of bed, brushing your teeth, pouring your first cup of coffee. The act itself does not matter, as long as you do it consistently at the start of each day. This will be your trigger point to activate the process.
The fourth, and final, step is where you bring it all together. Let’s say that you have decided to use the moment when you pour your first cup of coffee as your trigger point. As you pour that first cup, say the words, “Mother Theresa is Compassion. Winston Churchill is Determination.” This will bring your ideals to the forefront of your mind.
Follow these four steps and there is a good chance that your chosen ideals will be there to guide you throughout your day.
Responsible Publishing would be happy to put you in touch with customers that have used our workbooks in their prison or halfway house facilities, clubs, schools or adult groups. Just let us know how we can help.