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Archive for the ‘Social / Political’ Category

I grew up in a military family, normally living on Air Force bases with other military families. After high school, I joined the Navy, and for another decade lived/worked amongst people with differing backgrounds, diverse ethnicity, and varying belief systems.  The military made little allowance for our differences; once you donned the uniform you were expected to work together toward the greater mission.  I didn’t recognize it at the time, but this dramatically affected my understanding of community and family.  Even decades later, I still have many friends (and family) who don’t necessarily believe the things that I believe.  They grew up differently than I did, their life experience has led them to draw different conclusions than I have, and ultimately they view the world through a different lens than I do.  To me, this is not only how it’s always been, but also how it ought to be.  This doesn’t mean that we have nothing in common.  They love their families, value their communities, and hope to live in peace, just as I do.  I find my life is enriched, and my understanding is expanded, by remaining engaged with people who don’t necessarily think, act and live like I do.  Thus, I continue to seek the common ground that we all share.

 

When social media platforms like Facebook emerged, I found them to be a great way to stay connected, especially with friends and family who are literally spread all over the world. At its best, it has allowed us to remain connected in ways we couldn’t have otherwise.  No doubt, I want to celebrate their joys with them, and pray for them when they’re in a struggle, and to honor them when they’re gone.  But these days there seems to be a lot of pressure to use social media (and every other available platform) as a bully pulpit, where we exalt our preferences, ridicule those who have a differing point of view, and dare people to “Unfriend” us if they don’t like what we have to say.  People who refuse to participate in this battle of angry rhetoric are increasingly being criticized for not taking a side, accused of remaining “neutral” on the important issues of the day, and even being compared to those who stood by in Nazi Germany, doing nothing to stop the Holocaust.  As it goes with all the other points of view floating around cyberspace, they’re entitled to their opinion, and they’re also entitled to express it, but I don’t find their arguments compelling.

 

I believe that finding and cultivating the common ground that we share makes for stronger and more united communities. Building and strengthening these bonds of community is an essential first step in addressing the larger social issues we face.  Standing on opposite sides of the street, throwing rocks at each other isn’t going to achieve anything other than our eventual destruction.  I’m not sure what people think their vitriol achieves, but if posting an angry meme on social media is the extent of one’s activism, they’ve not done much.  Getting a bunch of folks, who already agreed with you, to “Like” your post doesn’t really effect change. If there is genuine oppression, it’s going to cost a lot more than some heated words to stand up to it.  If we are successful in alienating everyone who doesn’t look, think, and act like we do, we’ll have simply set the stage for civil war.  If we want to better understand the issues, we need to engage in meaningful dialogue with people of diverse viewpoints.  If we want to battle racism, we need to engage in meaningful relationships with people of other races.  If we want to battle poverty, we need to engage in the process of creating opportunities or providing aid to the underprivileged…  If we were that committed to change, we’d probably be too busy to spend so much time on Facebook.

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One of the more positive effects of the technology revolution has been the flexibility it affords us in handling information; but this free flow of data hasn’t been without it’s perils. Accessible from so many different sources, stored in countless locations, and available in such diverse formats, we’re seeing that information is highly susceptible to corruption and manipulation.  Indeed, the emerging generation has grown up in an era where those who don’t like the history of something, can easily edit it, or simply delete the file altogether.  You see this tendency in personal interactions, where “Friends” are unfriended, conversation chains are deleted, and any photographic evidence is scrubbed from the memory card.  On a larger scale, there is a growing trend toward expunging the names and memories of those historical figures that don’t measure up to current sensibilities in regard to what is acceptable.

 

To be sure, I can understand the desire to avoid the uglier aspects of our history, both personally, and as a culture. Yet, I’m concerned that the unwitting consequence of so effectively erasing these unpleasant chapters is the likelihood that we will fail to learn the lessons taught by them, thus dooming us to repeat them some time in the future.

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The proverbial “We” or “Us” (i.e. people who share our values/worldview) have a tendency to put our hate in a different category than the hate spread by the proverbial “Them” (i.e. people who don’t share our values/worldview). We see “Them” as haters, and view their hate as toxic. While we consider our brand of hate as being justified, and maybe even virtuous. Whether it is a hatred of Donald Trump, or Nancy Pelosi, of religion, or godlessness, of Socialism, or Capitalism, of Conservatives or Liberals or any one of the million other things we choose to hate, it all mixes together to create the same poisonous atmosphere. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. We won’t get better as a society by continuing to berate, mock, taunt, protest, boycott, slander, threaten and attack each other. As Dr. King rightly concluded, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”   

 

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A popularly held idea is that protests draw attention to an issue and create dialogue; but I’ve noticed that depending on the nature of the protest, it more often distracts us from the real issue and creates rhetoric. Dialogue is talking to each other, presumably with the intent of reaching some new level of agreement, while rhetoric is talking at each other, generally used to establish the superiority of our position.  One has the potential to move us forward together, while the other can become the basis for civil war.

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It is not wrong that institutions aspire to build a track record of effectiveness, thereby gaining a reputation for success.  But when protecting the brand becomes more important than protecting the people who inhabit the group, damage is inevitable.  It begins subtly, as a disparity develops between the picture presented in front of the stakeholders, and the reality of what goes on behind the scenes.  The longer that gap is allowed to exist and grow, the greater the depths to which an entity is bound to fall.  While we may rationalize that the prosperity of the brand benefits everyone, an organization’s legacy is ultimately rooted in how they treat their people.

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Our human nature tends to be drawn to the idea of being in control, while it is generally repulsed by the concept of being held accountable. Yet the inevitable consequence of gaining control is making ourselves accountable.

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Too often our pursuit of the spectacular causes us to miss the profound. Similarly, the cost of “having it all” is frequently everything that truly matters.

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