A Bodey in Motion

Building momentum, one step at a time

Avoiding the Toxic Politics

The election is upon us. May God have mercy on us all.

Fortunately, it should all be over by Wednesday morning. Hopefully, by a week from tomorrow the factoids, talking points, and armchair punditry will have faded into a shadow of their former prominence, and I will be able to enjoy interacting with all of my friends again.

A couple of years back, on Election Day 2010, I wrote directly about politics. I promised then that it would be a rarity here, and I believe I’ve more or less stuck to that. However, as is often the case, when I’m faced with an issue repeatedly over a short period of time, I feel a pressing need to comment on and explore it, if only to sort out my own thoughts regarding the issue. So, back down the political road I go.

I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.

– Thomas Jefferson

By far, the biggest casualty of this campaign season has been the social part of my wheel. I’ve made a point to limit conversations with certain friends because any subject is a pretext to rant about the candidate or party they oppose. Online, I’ve had to hide some people on the social networks I use. (This all includes some people I agree with, too.) I feel badly about that, because usually I don’t mind exposing myself to the opinions and philosophies of others, but the content I was seeing and hearing from these individuals was so pervasive, and toxic, that I had to temporarily limit my exposure to them.

Shortly after the conventions were finished, Gene Healy wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Examiner about how politics affects us. (Have you ever experienced deja vu? This all seems eerily familiar.) I’ve gained a lot of respect for Healy’s writing over the last couple of years. His work on how we perceive the Presidency in the modern era is well regarded. Anyway, onto the article.

I’ve long found electoral politics seedy and dispiriting, but that sensibility has lately become a debilitating affliction: like being a sportswriter struck by the unhelpful epiphany that it’s silly for a grown man to write about other grown men playing a game for kids.

I’m a little worried that he’s lost his passion, but I can echo his sentiment. I think a lot of us can. It’s a chore to pay attention to the race, let alone go to the polls, when you’ve got no faith in the outcome. Heaven help you, however, if you encounter someone who does.

…Aaron Powell and Trevor Burrus argue that “Politics Makes Us Worse.”

Politics makes us dumb, they argue, crippling our ability to “[think] critically about the choices before us.” And politics makes us mean: “[A]ll too often, [it] makes us hate each other.” Partisan passions turn “modest differences of opinion” on policy into “an apocalyptic battle between virtue and vice.”

[emphasis added]

I’ve experienced some industrial strength dumb and mean in the last few months. Not much of it directed at me. (Some of it, though.)

Maybe political ideology and philosophy are a big deal, but I’m appalled by how we’re willing to act towards other human beings over a disagreement in this area. I am shocked at how appalled I am, honestly. As a man, I recognize that our similarities to one another are overwhelming, and our differences from one another are healthy. As a follower of Jesus, I know what the scripture has to say about “enemies” and love. I expect a certain amount of respect for the living. It’s hard for me watch all of that being tossed aside over which party you prefer.

Many conservatives are convinced that Barack Obama, who holds the policy positions of your median Prius driver, is bent on destroying the American way of life. Many liberals have convinced themselves that Mitt Romney, the very model of all-American Mormon niceness, is a vicious plutocratic thug who loved to beat up gay kids in high school.

Let’s face it, these two guys just aren’t that different from one another. I disagree with them both regarding a whole host of issues, from the declared and undeclared wars in the Middle-East to the War on Drugs, and from the PATRIOT Act to big business bailouts. Neither of them will be getting my vote tomorrow.

Still, neither of them is a monster. They love and are loved. They see pain in the world, and they want to help. Whoever wins will be the leader of this country. I will respect that and pray for them.

Am I foolish or weird for saying that? Maybe, but being normal isn’t that great.

Politics makes us worse because “politics is the mindkiller,” as intelligence theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky puts it. “Evolutionary psychology produces strange echoes in time,” he writes, “as adaptations continue to execute long after they cease to maximize fitness.” We gorge ourselves sick on sugar and fat, and we indulge our tribal hard-wiring by picking a political “team” and denouncing the “enemy.”

…our atavistic Red/Blue tribalism plays to the interests of “individual politicians in getting you to identify with them instead of judging them,” Yudkowsky writes.

Once they do that, they can get away with murder…

Once we buy into the idea that the vice of the one group equals the automatic virtue of the other, we’re on the path of being dumb and mean. We let reality and rational discourse fall by the wayside as we’re swept up in rants regarding evil machinations and vile plots by those among the others. We become toxic to be around, and our friends stop coming by for a chat until after the election is long over.

If we’re willing to accept that our choices are among capable, but flawed individuals, then we can shift our perspective. We can treat the leader, and their supporters, like human beings while honestly evaluating and disagreeing with their policies. We can love each other, build with each other, and pray with each other. We can spend time loving our similarities, while enjoying our differences.

Do you have friends that you see less during an election year? Are you avoiding them? If not, are they avoiding you?

Comments are moderated here.

November 5, 2012 Posted by | Politics and Other Insects | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Avoiding the Toxic Politics

Too afraid to be free

Alright, I’m not trying to flog my vacation. Really. I’ve already posted enough about the trip, but something interesting came up while we were away, and it triggered a bigger issue that I feel the need to address. After this week, we’ll have a California-free zone.

During the trip, I posted here that we would be out of town for the week.  I also made a few quick personal updates to Facebook* during the trip. After the third update, it happened.

Hey, are you sure you want to let everyone know that you’re not home?

You want the world to know that your house is vacant and ripe for break-in?

Now, they were just looking out for my family’s well being, and I’m not knocking them for showing concern. The media has issued warnings about this. There are stories on the Internet. I certainly don’t want our home to be robbed. That would suck.

Our house wasn’t vacant, though. We’d asked a friend to house-sit, because we didn’t want our house to be empty for a week. But we would have done that whether or not there were media warnings and Internet stories. It’s just common sense.

What really frustrated me about my friends’ comments wasn’t that they were concerned. It was that I had had the exact same conversation in my head before I’d finally forced myself to post. And again right before I had written each update. I was tired of fighting with the fear.

Blue? I thought yellow was the color of fear. That's what the Blackest Night crossover taught me, anyway.

Fear doesn’t prevent death. It prevents life.

– Unknown

As a private, introverted person, I don’t share as much of my life and my thoughts as I should. Convincing myself that I should let my guard down this one time, despite my fears, was a chore. It always is.

Fear is convenient. It’s easy. We are able to fall comfortably back on it when an opportunity presents itself that will require us to stretch and grow. When there’s risk involved, fear is an excuse always within reach.

We’ve been hurt before by friends or lovers, so we won’t allow another the chance to do the same. We put up walls, quickly find fault, and extend no grace when a new person enters our lives. We deny ourselves community, family, and love just to avoid the potential of pain. Out of fear.

We’ve been attacked for our beliefs before, so we remain silent and avoid the conflict. Our faith is hidden safely away, practiced behind closed doors so the world won’t be offended. Ideology suffers a similar fate, never to be challenged, confirmed, strengthened or softened. Out of fear.

Again and again, in circumstances too numerous to imagine, fear rises up and we instinctively respond with the safe, easy answer. That’s disappointing, because we need to take risks. We need conflict. We need to engage each other, do new things, challenge ourselves, and grow.I'm big Ben Franklin and this shant be pretty. Let me instruct you how we battle in the city of Philly.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

– Benjamin Franklin

The minuscule chance that my house might be robbed is a terrible reason not to share the amazing and mundane experiences that I get the privilege of living through, no matter what the medium.

The friends that I’ve lost in pain have saddened me. How much should I be saddened by those who I’ve never had the opportunity to know out of fear of pain?

And my faith touches every part of my life. Hiding it is an offense to my Lord and Creator.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:6-7

Stop living in fear!

(On a similar note, the very tiny risk that your child might be abducted by a nefarious stranger is a terrible reason to seclude them and deny them the opportunities of childhood. Stop spreading this paranoia to the next generation!)

Question: What experience are you denying yourself because you’re afraid of failure or pain? What have you done despite your fear that led to something awesome in your life?

*(As an aside, on Facebook I just friend people whom I’ve physically met with only a few exceptions. You can request, but please don’t be offended if I decline.)

[first image, modified from original, credit]
[second image, public domain]

October 22, 2012 Posted by | Marriage and Family, Past and Future, Politics and Other Insects, Work and Money | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Too afraid to be free

It Isn’t Really For Free

[image removed]

We use the words for free a lot in our society. Probably more than we should.

Restaurants give out free refills. Online stores offer free shipping. Churches offer free counseling. Free samples. Free delivery. Interest free for 12 months! There’s a free toy in every box!

Phew.

And I could also mention the roads we drive on, the schools we send our kids to, and all the other services that our local, state and federal governments provide to us for free.

But then I’d be in for it.

Many of you would quickly and vigorously explain to me that people do pay for those things. Taxes and fees are collected that are spent on those so-called free services.

I would humbly agree with you, but then I’d gently explain that that’s true of everything we think of as being for free.

Nothing is provided without a cost. Somebody always pays.

I think we fool ourselves into believing it’s not us. When our government provides something for free, we tell ourselves that they’re taxing those who can afford it. When a business does it, we might convince ourselves that they’re absorbing those costs as an incentive to get us to buy more. When a church gives things away for free…I don’t know, maybe we think God’s paying for it?

Still, the uncomfortable truths are that, when it comes to free stuff:

  1. We’re paying for more of it than we’d like to believe.
  2. In the rare case that we are able to get something without any cost, we’ve forced somebody else to pay. (Some of us don’t find that thought as uncomfortable, but we should. More on that in a second.)

That first point is really self-evident when you stop to think about it. Consider your local furniture store for a second. Doesn’t it seem like they’re having some sort of sale every weekend? The truth is that, even on sale, furniture has one of the highest margins in retail. The delivery costs are easily covered by the margin, and so is the cost of “No Interest for 12 Months”

(And, of course, if you fail to make a payment, or pay off on time, all that interest gets applied retroactively – which is a big bonus for the store).

The furniture stores aren’t alone. Almost every area where a business offers a free product or service, you will discover a tremendous margin involved, and you’re always the one who’ll be paying that initial cost.

I could go on similarly regarding free government services. I won’t, because I think this thought should suffice: If our government taxes those people that can afford it so they can provide services, but all of us pay taxes, who’s getting those services for free?

Enough of that, let’s get to the second point.

I know the word force can make people defensive, so let me get a disclaimer out of the way.

I’m not talking about charity. I’m not saying that people can’t be generous with their resources, and I’m not saying that we should never accept a gift when it’s offered. I’m certainly not saying that people who give are always doing so out of duty or that people who receive should feel guilty. None of that would be my point.

The second point above is really addressing entitlement.

Have you ever been in a restaurant that doesn’t provide free drink refills? They’re rare these days, but there are a few still out there. Maybe they don’t mark their drinks up as high, or they’ve decided to pour each drink from a fresh can or bottle. Whatever the reason, if you’re used to free refills, not getting one can irritate the crap out of you.

I mean, this is America. We get free refills here, dammit.

And if you raise a big enough stink, you might just force them to give you one.

They’ll pay the cost of one soda to make a customer happy. So what? That’s their choice.

It is, but it’s not about them. It’s about us.

Back when restaurants first started offering free drink refills, it was a big deal. Right or wrong, we were grateful for their apparent generosity. Today, though, that tune has changed. How long did that take? Maybe five years, if that.

A thing offered “for free” for too long quickly loses it’s value. The real cost of what’s been given becomes invisible to us. As a result, we begin to abuse that thing or service, and we start to believe that it’s our right to do so. Suddenly, we’re entitled to it.

(No, I’m not just talking about drink refills anymore.)

(No, I’m not going to name names.)

It gets worse. We’ve begun to develop an almost Pavlovian response to the word free. So, we might not even bother to learn the cost of a service, however generously offered, before we involuntarily start devaluing it in our minds.

For example, churches and ministries seldom want cost to be a barrier for people who need counseling. Several churches I know, and one I work with, offer financial counseling for free. One pastor I know provides marriage counseling and performs ceremonies without establishing a cost. You can guess how each of those cases can turn out, and more often than they should.

So, free stuff often isn’t, and too much free stuff is a bad thing. What can you do? How do you respond to a it in a healthy way? You should:

  1. Identify the actual cost of what’s being offered for free.
  2. Ask yourself (and them) how they can give that away. Who’s paying for it?
  3. Figure out what the value of what’s being offered is to you. How much do you gain by accepting it?
  4. Check your gratitude.

Question: Do you think churches should stop offering counseling for free? Even if they eventually waive the costs, should they be up front about what is necessary to provide these benefits?

February 27, 2012 Posted by | Christ and Church, Politics and Other Insects, Work and Money | , , , , , | 4 Comments

On Offers and Promises

There’s an eatery near where I work that advertises that it offers “Free WiFi.”

As a man with a cheap cell phone, I love discovering new places with WiFi service. I eagerly whipped out my iPod Touch.

“I can check my email, maybe do a quick browse of Facebook before we have lunch,” I thought as I selected the network and waited for it to connect.

[image removed]

…and waited…

…and waited…

…and all through lunch I would periodically check to see if the connection had established. It never did.

I’ve been back there several times over the past few months, and it hardly ever connects. If I went there today, I probably wouldn’t bother checking.

What’s the difference between no WiFi service and poor WiFi service? Functionally, there’s almost no difference. Expectationally, there is a world of difference.

Offering a service is the same as making a promise, even if it’s a “free” service. Our failure to provide that service has the same effect on our reputation as breaking a promise. Our word means a little less. Our name is a little less trusted.

And with every incident that goes unaddressed, it keeps getting worse.

Eventually, your customers will stop being your customers. Or your constituents will stop supporting you. Or your spouse will stop asking you to do things. Or…or…or. In every type of relationship, the results are fatal.

You can try to make excuses. You can try to spin. You can pretend nothing is wrong. That won’t heal the relationship, though, and it just barely delays the inevitable.

The only real cure is honesty.

No one faults the restaurant that doesn’t offer free WiFi. The owners know that they don’t want to expend the time, money or personnel to provide that service well, and they’re up front about it. If they focus at being a great restaurant, their customers will be happy.

So, it’s past time to get clear about what your time, your resources, and your vision will allow you (or your business) to commit to. If you’re saying “yes” to a commitment, you better be ready to answer how and when you will keep it. If you’re not able to keep it, then it’s past time to come clean and admit it.

Your reputation depends on it.

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Past and Future, Politics and Other Insects, Work and Money | , , , , , , | 1 Comment