Posting Topics

Topic: Personal Reflection

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.

Sticks and Stones

sticks and stonesIn 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 well as 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.)

 

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

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.

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

Personal Fulfillment

ideals to live byAm 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.

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