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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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Lately, I’ve pondered whether the mocking, taunting and belittling of those we consider to be hateful is the height of irony, or the height of hypocrisy.  I suppose it could be both.  Either way, disparaging people who don’t share our particular point of view seems to have become our new national pastime.  So much for all that pretentious rhetoric about tolerance, diversity, unity, and taking the “high road”.

 

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This weekend (January 1st, 2017) I heard many a person bid good riddance to the year that just passed (2016).  No doubt, it was one of the most contentious 12 month periods I’ve experienced in my fifty plus years.  But if we want 2017 to be markedly different, we’ll need to handle some things differently.  Here are some suggestions:

 

  • Spend more time and energy engaging the people in our community, and less time protesting the things we don’t like.
  • Recognize that hating on people that we consider to be “Haters” or “Hateful”, only promotes more hatred.
  • Look for things to be inspired by instead of focusing on things to be offended by.
  • Find new and better ways to express love and hope, and give less voice to fears and opinions.
  • Make a conscious effort to leave things better than we find them.

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The Greeks had a god for everything, and temples were erected all over their cities to facilitate the worship of them.  As time goes by, America is becoming much the same.  Here is a list of a few of the most popular gods within our culture.

 

  • Self– Certainly self absorption is nothing new for mankind, but previous generations didn’t have the amazing technology that we have to assist them.  American’s are completely consumed with making sure everyone knows their status (Facebook, Instagram), hears their opinions (Twitter, the Blogosphere), see’s their images (selfies, YouTube, Snapchat) and is appraised of their likes and/or dislikes (all social media).  The cumulative effect is that it keeps most people focused on themselves, and on what everyone else is thinking & saying about them.

 

  • Technology– Americans pay billions of dollars a year to be a part of the newest technological craze.  Whether it be the latest i-Phone, or a hover-board, or a GoPro, or self-driving cars… we can’t stand the idea that there is something newer, and possibly more advanced, than what we have already.  Sadly, the emerging generation has so much faith in the power of technology that they’ve become largely disconnected from the lessons of the past.

 

  • Humanism– We’ve become a society that willingly disparages the character of God in order to substantiate the inherent virtue of mankind.  We shun the “Holy Spirit” and celebrate the “human spirit”.  Collectively, we’ve decided that if God has a problem with us, He must not be as loving as we’ve been told, and thus we have every right to ignore Him.

 

  • Convenience– Our culture is absolutely obsessed with making everything fast, easy, and achievable with the touch of a button.  We have an “app” for just about anything you can think of, and a huge amount of an average person’s life is channeled through their electronic devices.  But with every advance in this direction, we become less tolerant of things that require any sort of sustained effort on our part, or things that take time.  We also become more dependent on the technology for even the most basic of functions.  Given the fact that life is a long journey, which requires genuine determination, perseverance and patience, this trend doesn’t bode well for our future.

 

  • Sensuality– Without a doubt, sex is meant to be one of life’s great pleasures, but just as doubtless, there is a context within which it was meant to fit in our lives.  In the decades since the “Sexual Revolution” began, our culture has found ways to inject sex into all sorts of settings, circumstances, and contexts where it doesn’t belong.  This has not only resulted in confusion and dysfunction, for many it has reduced sex to little more than a bodily function.  That’s sad, because it was intended to be so much more.

 

  • Voyeurism– My kids have no idea what a “Peeping Tom” is, and I would submit that this is due to the fact that (figuratively speaking) peeking into people’s windows has become a national pastime.  While it may have started with a litany of “Reality TV” shows, there are now surveillance cameras everywhere, a host of scammers combing the web for personal information, and millions of would-be photographers/reporters carrying portable electronic devices, and looking for that next viral sensation.  Indeed, there is little within our present culture that could accurately be characterized as “private”.

 

  • Celebrity– The insatiable craving for notoriety within our culture continues to fill our screens (both large and small) with images of people willing to eat bugs, wife swap, gender swap, submit themselves to dangerous circumstances, fix bad tattoos, torment their kids, wrestle alligators/snapping turtles/wolverines, bully their wedding planner, search for Bigfoot…  And all of this has created a new breed of celebrity that includes people like the “Reality TV Star”, and the “You-Tube Star”.  Many of these folks are not known for a specific talent, or some meaningful contribution to society, they’re simply famous for being famous (e.g. the Kardashians); which somehow manages to take the superficiality of “fame and fortune” to a whole new level.

 

  • Autonomy– In our culture, we don’t generally admire people who follow the rules.  More typically, we revere those who make up their own.  Increasingly, people don’t feel as though they should have to abide by a rule that they think is stupid, or unwarranted, or that they simply disagree with.  This trait is commonly reflected in the people our society raises to the level of “hero”, and in the characters popular entertainment presents as “super-heroes”.  While a life with “no boundaries” may sound appealing, it is by definition a state of lawlessness.

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