Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Power of Purple

Dear America,

As we’ve jerked and swerved through the drama of this election season, a map of the United States chopped into red and blue bits has come to define our national state of being. It would appear that this house is impossibly divided. 

Our social media feeds only further corroborate this idea. The echo chamber created by Facebook’s algorithms help create a feeling of us versus them. Inflammatory articles populate our walls, angry posts rile us up, our preferred news sites spin us around and around.

I read an article on CNN today examining results of a recent poll. 85% of Americans feel the nation is sharply divided. I agree with the feeling. However, I disagree with the severity or with the apocalyptic gravitas applied to the divide. Here’s why. 

Recently, a map floated across my Facebook that floored me. It was not a patchwork of antagonizing red and blue counties set starkly against each other in perpetual battle. Are you a red state or a blue state? Are you Democrat or Republican? Are you Conservative or Liberal? It is none of these because it is mostly purple. (The creator of this map has a great blog article on it).

I live in a purple house. My wife Samantha and I stand on opposite ends of some issues. Most of the time our votes cancel each other out. But, we, like most of America, live in harmony. Unlike our Facebook feeds, where one group just lambasts the other, we have dialogue. Sure, there are issues we don’t agree on, but we seek to understand each other and understand the why behind our positions. 

Our Purple Thanksgiving.
We engage, which is the most important part of this process. Facebook allows us to disengage, or semi-anonymously attack. We unfriend or unfollow people with different positions than ours. Instead, we should seek to get out there, find people who stand on the opposite side of the aisle, and make some purple. 

Game theory defines the outcome of any competition as being either Zero-Sum (one winner and one loser, or a 1 or a 0) or Non-Zero-Sum (aggregate gains across all parties can be positive or minus). Our current feelings on this election can be summed up in the Zero-Sum category. Red won, blue lost. 

I think this simplification is as far from the truth as we can get. In fact, that kind of thinking is dangerous and goes precisely to the heart of the concept that a house divided can not stand. If we continue to see ourselves as Zero-Sum, only winners or losers, than we risk destroying this American experiment.

A better solution is to abandon the strictly partisan rhetoric we’ve been forced to swallow through news media and social media. Do not look at your friends, family, and work associates as only Red or Blue. In conglomerate, they are purple. Most likely, if you delved into the issues with them, you would find most people are purple

Proceed with the idea that our population is Non-Zero-Sum. We have common ground: find it. Our differences are opportunities to learn about each other. Try to understand how someone came to the decisions they’ve made. They are more than their ideas, they are the experiences that led to them. Android's "Be Together. Not the Same" ad campaign captures this idea perfectly. Personally, I've always had a soft spot for this commercial because it sums up my thoughts.

This country is a spectrum, a sliding scale, it is not binary. Of course we feel like everything is us versus them when that is how we perceive the world. Shift your thinking. Shift your perspective. Only then will you discover the power of purple.



p.s. As always, if you like my blog, I invite you to share it. Thanks!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

It Takes a Village

Dear America,

As many of you have probably noticed this week, social media has become a wasteland of emotional discord. I think we all assumed the conclusion of the election would bring about an age of polite happiness and proliferated cat memes. While my feed continues to be rife with felines, very few people have been holding hands and singing Kumbaya. One of the most disturbing elements we’ve seen this week are the news stories on the increase in hate speech. The most heartbreaking are when it is perpetuated by children. 

Now, before you stop reading, deciding that this is one of THOSE blogs, I implore you to continue. This blog is not about Hillary or Trump. It is not about politics. It is about our future.

Children are sponges. They absorb what they see and hear and then they repeat it. When young, they are immensely trusting and so assume what they hear from people in their community must be okay. They have not yet developed the means to filter, sort, and evaluate. It is ultimately our responsibility to expose them to the right elements (and again I am not talking politics).

The aphorism “It Takes a Village” is a true one. Parents are not the only people influencing their children. Extended family plays a part. Church, school, athletic organizations, Boy and Girl scouts, etc. all fill a role. So to does exposure to television, books, radio, and media in any form. All of these elements combine to form their belief structure, and much of it happens unintentionally. The news is on in the background while a child is playing in their room but loud enough for them to hear. Adult discussion conducted when children are nearby contribute (think about this as Thanksgiving approaches). They hear and absorb all of it.

Wrong Bastard. He knows nothing.
I remember the first time I used the word “bastard.” I was nine or ten and some older kids down the street wouldn’t let me play basketball with them. I was not happy. I went in the house and complained to my mom, who was making dinner in the kitchen. My summation of the entire experience: “They are bastards.”

You can imagine my mom's shock. She quickly explained why it was inappropriate for me to use a word like that. I remember not using it again until I was out of earshot of an adult. 

A more poignant example might be the time I asked my mom about oral sex. I was about the same age and heard a news report regarding sexual assault. I didn’t understand why kissing was a bad thing so I asked. She quickly put me straight on all elements of the story and I learned both that kissing and oral sex did not equate, and what sexual assault was.

On a side note--it was always my poor mom when it came to this stuff, although I have a zinger of a story when at four years old I announced to a dinner party in clinical detail how my mom and dad had come to make me; it's a miracle I made it out alive.

So, all of this to say, we don’t know what the children around us pick up. We don’t know what they hear on the TV playing in the restaurant when we are out to lunch. We don’t know what they overhear the neighbors say when playing in the yard. We don’t know what some other kid tells them during the endless hours they are away from home and involved in their own life.

But, we are responsible for it all the same, and I am not just speaking to parents. Yes, parents have the greatest influence over their children’s lives, but we are the village. We have a responsibility to shape these children in a way that brings a positive impact into the lives of others. We have a responsibility to alter their course when they begin to drift. If we don’t, we are just as responsible for the village idiot as we are for the village angel.

It’s like the song 'Carefully Taught' from South Pacific says (click here for a great article on the song):

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

First, we have to accept responsibility. We should step into the void when we see a lack of direction in a kid’s moral compass. Nudge them in the right direction. Show them why chanting “Build a Wall” at every brown person is not right. Show them why the n-word has no place in their mouth or their thoughts. Show them that tearing down a member of the LGBT community only demeans themselves as a person. 

A great example.
If they are only shown at home that someone who looks different than they do is less than they are, then show them different. Be the model for empathy and teach them to see people as people. Teach them that differences between people and cultures are beautiful. And be willing to stand up and fight for it.

Our village can be a place where everyone is welcomed and celebrated for who they are and what they look like. Or it can be a place of distrust and hate. Our actions and words around those who are the most susceptible are the brick and mortar that build our village. Ultimately, it falls on our shoulders to decide where we want to live. 



Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Dear America,

On this first day of Transition, please remember a few things. The sun comes up. The wind still blows. Our world spins and revolves and we ride with it. 

While to many it feels as if everything has changed for the worse, and to others for the better, change in America has always come slow. This is the beauty of our Constitution. The Framers constructed the document in such a way that wild swings of emotional discord would not tear the country apart in a day. The march toward the Civil War began the moment the Constitution was ratified and took seven long decades of fermentation before exploding. We will not explode tomorrow unless we allow it.

To those struggling to understand why people chose to vote for the candidate with whom you disagree, my suggestion is to look at it from their perspective. If you’ve only ever chosen to believe the smear pieces rooted in false propaganda and perpetuated on social media, then you are the root of our divisiveness. People who outright supported either candidate without any qualms are few. This nation will only move forward if we are able to see the ‘why’ of someone’s vote. Then, together, we can find a middle ground on which to rebuild the crumbling facade of our Republic’s social construct. 

To those wondering how someone who looks like they do can fit into this kind of America, I say this: be strong, stand proud. Move the nation with your words and with your peaceful actions. There are those who would argue with this sentiment, and all I have to say to them is that violence begets violence. That cycle never ends. There is power in looking your antagonizer in the face and knowing your presence in numbers and in faith and in courage are enough to overcome him. Jesus knew this as he was scourged. Ghandi knew this as he was beaten and jailed. Congressman John Lewis knew this as he was nearly killed in Selma. Stand strong enough and like minded individuals will join and stand with you. Be the example that stands against everything they falsely believe about you.

To those still yearning for change, it begins at the local level. Do not be passive and expect others to do the work for you, otherwise you will long be disappointed. Reach out within your community: volunteer, connect, and teach others your beliefs through your actions. Read and discover the mechanism for change. Find your voice. Use it to positively motivate others. Change is good, but do not resort to the biting rhetoric of our current political climate to achieve it. Do not lose the heart of your movement, for even if you succeed, the body will soon wither and die.

Our nation will survive the turmoil of the 2016 election. Since our founding, we always have. There have been dark times, but we always climb from the muck stronger, more inclusive, and renewed in our faith in this American Experiment. 

Do not give up. Be refreshed and reinvigorated. We are now a nation in Transition. What transition will you make in order to serve the better Good?