"We have met the enemy and he is us."
Although Pogo uttered these words in l970 as a commentary on environmental concerns, almost 20 years ago, I woke with these words tumbling in my head during the early hours after news of the Dallas killings. For, the issue of terrorism aside (not to discount it, but to stop focusing on it for awhile) we seem to be doing an effective job of attacking ourselves from within. And from my vantage point, as an aging moderate committed to developing and applying critical thinking skills to my own thinking and to what I hear and see coming from others, I am more concerned about what we are doing to each other than what some terrorist might do to me.
Today, I ask that you consider what I am observing and if you do, too. let me know. Let me know how else and what else you think. Let's start an on-line conversation that leads to something better in our communities Invite others to discuss these issues, not just lament or defend, but discuss. We need to talk, to think together. Or we will surely end up in the direction we are headed.
This is some of what I see, too often, contributing to the distrust, anger, fear, polarity and ultimately to the growing proclivity for violence:
- Either/or - in its many permutations, right/wrong, good/bad; all/nothing; black/white. No room for a third alternative nor even the possibility that both views could contain valid points,
- Gross generalizations - even if challenging it when aimed at oneself, an unwillingness to challenge it in one's own thinking. Consider pro-police representatives who, rightly, say most police are to be respected and the few "bad apples" don't represent the majority who then say Black Lives Matter is a racist group because of the behavior of a few. Or vice versa. All (fill in the blank) are racist, stupid, naive, the enemy., etc., etc.
- Name-calling and labeling to a degree I can't recall since a youngster on the playground. Or a teacher of elementary students. Outrageous accusations, belittling, demeaning, crude labels. The resurgence of pejorative terms in public discourse we thought we had eradicated. When did their use become a badge of honesty?
- Emotions used to justify behavior, rather than even considering the underlying thinking that fosters the emotions.
- A demand for rights while disregarding the rights of others.
- A defense of one amendment to the exclusion of others.
- Belief trumping reason. Assumptions unchecked by data.
- The declaration of faith, better yet, the "right" faith as a test for decency or leadership, rather than character or experience. As though no one of faith could be a liar nor anyone who doesn't proclaim a faith could be truthful.
- The constant search for one person to blame rather than consider shared responsibility. Data and facts dismissed as irrelevant or the domain of elitist intellectuals.
- The demand for immediate, simple solutions to complex problems.
- A media that provides a platform for the above and too rarely challenges it.
- News as entertainment. If it weren't for local news, PBS and NPR, and an occasional Sunday or holiday program, we would rarely see positive stories, stories of true heroism and compassion on the airways.
- The explosion of social media that allows for outrageous, even fallacious things to be said and spread with full anonymity. At least we knew who our bullies were. And while stories can be checked for authenticity, I have to wonder what % of people who pass something on have checked it first.
- What feels at times as the marginalization of moderate voices, while demanding that moderate Muslim voices come forward. When moderate voices do step up, what degree of media coverage do they receive? What % of time did Gov. Kasich receive I wonder.
- Compromise too often perceived as losing; the critical thinking and communication skills required to bridge gaps not only not valued, but distrusted, demeaned and dismissed.
- The alarming proliferation of guns. Those of us who remember the 60's and the wrenching apart of families, communities and the nation can only wonder how much worse that would have been were there access to the weaponry on our streets today.
- A growing sense that we are like the frog, who in a pot of water that gradually gets hotter and hotter, remains until he is boiled, unaware that he can and should get out before it's too late.
I do know this is not true of everyone. I talk to folks who are aware of these issues, some who try to present a question or distinction to challenge any of the above whenever and wherever they can in the hopes of at least interrupting the escalation. I see people across the spectrum of opinion who are trying to interject a voice of reason, to try to calm the alarming volatility. I know whites are standing beside blacks in peaceful demonstration and blacks are shielding police. It is what keeps me from hiding in my bedroom with a blanket over my head.
It is also what has given me pause to consider what else I can do to speak out for a more civil discourse and a more collaborative effort to solve problems. This is what I am doing and what I am committed to do.
- I challenge overgeneralizations when I hear them.
- I ask for evidence when I hear or receive information that feels questionable or especially incendiary.
- I offer an alternative point of view when asked for an either/or opinion - and one of my favorite responses, is "it depends."
- I try to listen to another point of view thoroughly and acknowledge that I've heard it, before offering my own. Admittedly, this is the hardest thing for me when I deeply disagree and especially, when I suspect or even have evidence that the other person will not grant me the same consideration.
- I am commenting more frequently on Facebook, something I thought I would never do.
- I am writing to my Congressional representatives to remind them that they are (or most often are not) representing my views and values.
- I am going to write to certain channels and moderators to support those who are calling out irresponsible, disrespectful behavior of interviewees and panel members and to let those who do not know why I will not watch them. Turning off the TV may help my personal morale, but it doesn't let anyone else know why. That could help my morale even more!
- I volunteer time and energy to two local non-profits that are making a difference in my community.
- I will be on the campus of our local university this fall to help register new voters.
- Above all, I listen to myself and examine my thinking. I try to remain alert to my biases and prejudices and defenses. And I apologize when I have forgotten.
And finally, I thank you for whatever you are doing to insert some sanity into this insane state of affairs, and to encourage those of you who feel it wouldn't make a difference anyway to reconsider. I particularly encourage those of us who are retired, who have more time and memories of how dangerous this rage and irresponsibility can be to step up and let our voices be heard.