The other day, a friend asked me to join a conversation group to discuss ” how to reach out” to those with opposing political views. I confess we are both liberals and those to whom we might reach out are radical conservatives – the far right. As the following cartoon satirically depicts, post-election, some liberals express a desire to “heal the divide” in our drastically polarized country.
This aspiration sinks right down to the personal level where friends and families, neighbors, and co-workers hold opinions on opposite ends of the spectrum. Four years of the Trump presidency and the vitriol of the 2020 election have split apart some close relationships. Many, mostly liberals, believe it is time to mend our families, communities, and the country’s torn fabric.
The issue is not a burning one for me personally. I do not know many ultra-conservatives, and I do not plan to plow into the company of Alt-right strangers waving an olive branch in my hand. With the two to four I do know I have an amicable relationship, which does not include talking about our political views.
I have erected some barriers to protect myself from those whose political, social and economic views differ from and oppose my own. Frankly, many of them scare me. I am afraid of everything from awkwardness to physical harm. But, I feel, given the opportunity in a setting that feels safe, it would be closed-minded and rude not to engage with those who differ.
Why? On a microcosmic level, I acknowledge the interconnectedness and interdependence of us all. I know we are more alike than different. I know we all suffer; we all want to have enough, be happy, and be free.
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, nominated for the Noble Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., suggests an uncomplicated approach He encourages responding to those we might consider enemies or opponents, because they have the potential to cause us harm, by listening deeply and compassionately:
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less.”
Listening deeply involves letting go of my need to be heard and of my preferred outcome. One must have no other agenda than listening to understand. Deep listening eschews judgment, labeling, denigration or mockery. The listener is patient, calm, open-hearted, receptive, and compassionate.
I do not deny this is a tall order, but I tell myself I must begin somewhere with someone. If I do not, the healthy unity of differences, the tolerance and respect we desperately need in relationships, communities and nations will be an empty and vain hope.
37 thoughts on “Deep Listening”
thank you for sharing this post with me Moriah. I haven’t managed to subscribe to With All Due Respect despite trying. I feel the same as you do, and Thay’s quotes have been on my mind especially when I am standing at the Friday vigil with the Black Lives Matter cardboard sign which elicits many supportive honks from cars passing by but also angry, Trump flag waving pickup trucks that scream curses and rev up their motors to show their anger…. If I didn’t have both my arms up in the air to hold the sign high, so it could be seen by all cars at the intersection, I would wave kindly to those so angry at us because of our positive signs for peace and human caring. The quarantine and suffering due to the pandemic makes it difficult to be in contact with those Republicans and Conservatives who rant and rave many still without facemasks…. I can’t imagine what the teachers of their children must be going through with distance or in person learning, and how they broach even teaching the constitution that their parents don’t respect or observe (but which immigrants who have had to memorize and explain on the test to become citizens).
On Sat, Dec 19, 2020 at 2:34 PM With All Due Respect wrote:
> respectful.com posted: ” The other day, a friend asked me to join a > conversation group to discuss ” how to reach out” to those with opposing > political views. I confess we are both liberals and those to whom we might > reach out are radical conservatives – the far right. As the fol” >
Moriah, this opens up so, so much. I wish we were sitting across from each other in live conversation right now! I will try to be succinct here: I have a lifelong, sister-like friend who is quite far to the right. I’ve made it a practice to listen, and to ask questions over the years since her values shifted so drastically…however, I’ve never been comfortable sharing what and how *I* think, specifically. Nor does she ever ask directly. After an upsetting confrontation this summer about mask wearing, I did, recently, share my thoughts in a fairly blunt way. In a way that said, “I say this with no offense to anyone–simply in acknowledgement that we have different ideas and I’d like to share mine instead of hide them…” (I’ve had no response yet. We’ll see.) One thing I’ve done is gather a small group originally ‘designed’ to be a conversation about race. Not surprisingly, the politics you describe also comes up when talking about ‘hard conversations.’ We’ve recently started role playing (on Zoom)–where we each bring a difficult exchange we want to practice with a partner. Whoa. What a lens that is. I hate doing it, I’m terrible at it–AND, it’s critical for me. Because if I don’t practice, I’ll never speak up, I’ll never engage. For me, it’s not so much listening to the ‘other side’–I’ve done that, however uncomfortably (subsequent stomach pains). It’s the speaking up when it comes, for example, to a far right friend who does not believe in the BLM movement, who feels Trump is misunderstood, and who’s ‘tired of hearing about White Privilege. It doesn’t exist.’ (This is a chaplain in a Buffalo City Mission!) Sigh. I can’t *just* listen. One member of our group taught be the term ‘neutral curiosity.’ That came to mind immediately when I read your post. Showing up in hard conversations with neutral curiosity instead of knee-jerk judgement. An excellent term to keep top of mind. And hard! Enter…the role playing. And again, not fun–but so helpful. Even if you don’t have to manage the awkwardness yourself much (what a relief!), it could be a really effective way for you to support others in the group!
Carolyn, the role-playing sounds like an excellent idea. I might suggest it to the Racial Justice group here. Good for you for speaking up with your conservative friend. I hope she will want to find out more about what you think and believe. Many very conservative people are, I think, like the fundamentalist Christian I was in my twenties. I wanted everything to fit into neat little boxes, be clear, black or white, and settled once and for all. As I aged, the complex shades of the world and the beings in it became so apparent that I had to abandon my comfortable and self-righteous little boxes, tolerate the discomfort and open my heart and mind. I’m still on that journey and deep listening is a goal, not where I have arrived. As SF said when I asked her to proof my post, “Well, it’s a perspective…”
p.s. I LOVE that border at the top of your blog!!! That’s your coloring, isn’t it?! I want it as wallpaper. As in–on my walls, not my computer background!
Very much where Darcie and I are at right now. She is planning to start some deep listening groups in the coming year.
Thanks for following me, Lorian. I’d like to hear how the deep listening groups go. I had not heard of anything like that. Hi to Darcie, Ruth, and Rose.
Hi Moriah, I’ve left comments here before in your EA posts. I came back to your site today to refresh myself on some of your EA wisdom and came across this post. If you wanted to engage in a thoughtful, written back and forth with someone who considers themself deeply conservative on most economic and social issues, I’d be happy to oblige. It’s easy to point out lowest common denominators on both sides (we both have them) and I find that most liberals are genuinely surprised to meet a thoughtful Trump supporter, which I’ve been told I am (though I’m not by any means rabid: I rate his Presidency a C+ overall). I wouldn’t support him again, but probably for different reasons that you might imagine, but I would be glad to articulate some thoughts for you if you think it might help you and/or your community better understand the Right. We don’t all bite! 🙂
Ryan, I apologize for leaving you hanging with this comment. I did not see it until today, March 15, though it somehow got approved and presumably posted for others to see. Thank you for offering to dialogue. I am certainly open to hearing your political, social, and economic opinions. I have appreciated your previous comments on my EA series, which I am in the process of publishing as a small book. You have, indeed, been thoughtful in your reactions to my posts. So, to start, why do you rate Trump’s presidency as a C+ overall? Why would you not support him if he ran again? May I ask you to respond as succinctly as possible and I will reply in the same way. I look forward to hearing from you.
I’d be happy to! First, I think it’s important to point out that I hold most politicians in the lowest regard, believing them to be inept, knaves, liars, and backstabbers. I suspect most conservatives would agree with me here. I’m deeply cynical having been lied to many times over important matters over the years while we have watched the country go from center-right to center-left over the last few generations. I mention this because a lot of the flak Trump took from the left was personality/character based. To many of us, we shrugged this off because we’ve trained ourselves to look past what a politician says to what he or she does. Acta non verba. Just a difference in orientation I’ve noticed when discussing Trump that I think it’s important to point out as we’re often evaluating from completely different perspectives.
Secondly, let me briefly state why I supported him and why I wouldn’t support him again. There were 3 issues that led me to support Trump in 2016: non-interventionism (war fatigue), trade policy, and immigration policy. Everything else was noise to me. I also figured that after 16 years of what I viewed as inept leadership (Bush/Obama), it couldn’t get much worse with Trump who ostensibly had far more managerial/executive experience than either of these predecessors. (I will make a quick sidebar comment that I’m tired of people with zero executive experience but a great made-for-TV persona thinking they will have the chops to be President as the position is basically CEO of the nation. This includes people on the Right and Left.)
Fast-forward 4 years and I see now that Trump, while he did some good things such as tax cuts, better trade deals, de-regulation, SCOTUS picks, no new foreign wars, and many other things (keep in mind I’m a traditional Republican, you probably think this list is horrible! 🙂 he ultimately was a terrible manager and did not rise to the challenge of healing the national divide. To me, this is one of POTUS’s chief responsibilities and he failed miserably. So while I’m sympathetic to some of his policy prescriptions, I got the experience to know that another term would not be a good thing for the country.
The interesting part to me is that policywise, he governed as a moderate or even liberal Republican. But ultimately, his distasteful approach and his inability to lead and manage cost him reelection (along with a whole host of other things I’m oversimplifying for the purpose of brevity). The buck stops at the top and I would be lacking in integrity if I refused to acknowledge his failings.
Let me say one more thing here. I’m continually astounded by the lack of nuance in discussion and the seeming inability of people to hold two truths that bear no relation to one another (Donald Trump is a terrible person AND Donald Trump did some good things as POTUS) in mind at the same time from BOTH sides of the aisle. As you know, having served in an EA role, performance evals are a mixture of good and bad and very rarely is someone a pure saint or a pure sinner. We’re all broken, enormously complex, and deserving of grace from one another.
I could keep going but I’ll stop there and see if can make a fruitful exchange out of all this.
P.S. I can’t wait to see your EA book.
Thank you, Ryan. I appreciate your directness and clarity as well as your identification of one of your underlying assumptions (e.g., that you hold most politicians in the lowest regard, believing them to be inept, knaves, liars, and backstabbers.) On the assumption that you and I will have a fruitful exchange, may I suggest some ground rules for this dialogue? 1) Whenever we are aware of our underlying assumptions we will state them.2) We will each ask the other one genuinely curious question about his or her views in each post. 3) We will acknowledge things that we agree on. 4) We will not feel compelled to respond to every point the other makes. And lastly, we agree that we are starting from a basis of respect for one another. What do you say?
I agree that Trump is neither a good manager/chief executive nor capable of healing the national divide. And I agree that both of those are crucial skills for a president at this time. I too am very disturbed by the lack of nuance in political discussions and the painting of parties and individuals as all bad or all good. I feel, among other things, that this insults my intelligence as a voter and a citizen. However, I do find it frustrating that Republicans most often “seem” to put aside their personal convictions to vote as a unified block, and that Democrats fail to do so when it is most crucial for the liberal agenda.
Some of my underlying assumptions are:
* the poor are not necessarily poor because they are bad, lazy, stupid, or dishonest
* black lives do matter, all lives matter
* systemic racism has fostered the inhumane treatment of people of color in America since the early colonists arrived here and though some progress has been made to address this, not nearly enough has been accomplished
* socialism is not essentially evil (all bad)
* intellectuals do not necessarily hold those with less education in contempt
* immigrants and asylum-seekers as a group are not ruining American society or the economy
* combatting climate change is of supreme importance for the survival of all living beings
Those are not all of my underlying assumptions but they’re a start. Do we agree on any of them?
Please tell me what you believe is good about Trump’s trade, immigration and deregulation policies. I think I have asked you at least two questions on which I am genuinely curious to hear your views.
Please don’t think, if I do not respond as quickly as you do, that I am not interested in pursuing this dialogue. I am very interested in this experiment – can a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican have a civil, respectful, and fruitful dialogue. I look forward to your response.
P.S. I’ll let you know when the EA book is published.
Yes, Moriah, I can certainly agree to your terms and I look forward to this exchange as it will force me to clarify some long held assumptions and learn more about your beliefs. I can guarantee you that it will be civil, at least, for my own part :). I would like to propose one more ground rule and that is we provide ample time to respond to each other’s posts. I have had some very busy weeks and sadly have not had time to collect my thoughts on this and write a response. Thank you and I look forward to this!
Absolutely, Ryan, take as much time as you like. Though retired, I have busy weeks too, sometimes. I’m looking forward to it too.
Moriah, here we go!
First, a confession. I laughed out loud when I read your sentence about how liberals fail to vote as a unified block as I would say the same thing about the (worthless) GOP. Remember John McCain’s famous thumbdown to ending the Obamacare debate? There’s just one example, I could provide plenty more!
OK, now for the fun. Let me address your assumptions one-by-one and then I will state some of my own for you to respond. I can’t do colors so I will respond after a hard return. I tried doing capital letters but it looked like I was yelling at you so I quickly abandoned that approach.
“the poor are not necessarily poor because they are bad, lazy, stupid, or dishonest.”
“black lives do matter, all lives matter”
“systemic racism has fostered the inhumane treatment of people of color in America since the early colonists arrived here and though some progress has been made to address this, not nearly enough has been accomplished.”
I would of course agree that mistreatment of any person on the basis of skin color is wrong, but I feel like systemic racism has a lot of meaning that I don’t understand yet. Can you unpack that term for me?
“socialism is not essentially evil (all bad)”
100% agree, though I do think that the public needs to revisit our definition of this word. It used to mean state-ownership of the means of production which has a very 19th century flavor to it and not at all what most people mean when they use it nowadays. In my speech, I have come to identify socialism as wealth transfers, which I generally dislike greatly. How would you define socialism for our age?
“intellectuals do not necessarily hold those with less education in contempt”
100% agree, people hold contempt for others no matter their pedigree.
“immigrants and asylum-seekers as a group are not ruining American society or the economy”
“combatting climate change is of supreme importance for the survival of all living beings”
Insufficient information to agree or disagree. I’m admittedly skeptical of this one, but of course open to the evidence and where it leads. What leads you to believe the situation is so dire? And what, if anything, would falsify this belief for you?
I will get to your questions of me in a follow-up post as I want to spent some time articulating why I favor less immigration and regulation.
But I did assemble a list of underlying assumptions that I thought you might wish to respond to in the same fashion that I did to yours:
*In general, problems should be dealt with at the lowest level of authority competent enough to deal with the problem at hand. You don’t move a pebble with an excavator, you save it for the boulders. This is also known as the principle of subsidiarity.
*Most political ideas are not bad in themselves, just bad in their application. I often tell people the following to help them understand what I mean by this: at the federal level, I’m libertarian, at the state level I’m a Republican, at the county level I’m a moderate, at the neighborhood level I’m a Democrat, and at the household level I’m a socialist. My overarching problem with the modern Democrat party is they want national solutions to just about everything. Which is also bad because…
*Government programs, once installed, rarely change at their core. This is why I tend to favor smaller, local interventions because if there is anything we know is that govt can’t anticipate all the problems and if we locate a solution in it, it DOES NOT do a good job adapting. Too much bureaucracy and red tape!
*If you want to truly understand something, first follow the money. Most news media that American consume is designed for clicks and ratings, not delivery of hard-hitting news that may be unpleasant for their respective customer bases to hear. Please understand I’m not discriminating against the Left here, the Right does it too.
*Too big to fail is too big to exist. The reasons conservatives are rightly concerned with concentration of power in government (diminishing of freedoms and the individual) apply equally to mega-corporations. It’s time for conservatives to stop worshiping at the altar of capitalism and start wielding some antitrust hammers!
I fear this might be too long to be easily digested, so I’ll pause here and await your commentary!
As you say, now for the fun!
Regarding McCain’s, Murkowski’s, and Collin’s tanking of the Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act without replacing it, well, those were the good old days. McCain knew he was dying and had nothing to lose, so he was emboldened to vote his conscience. But Collins and Murkowski had a great deal to lose and still acted on principle. Collins, at least, became much more risk-averse as the Trump/McConnell era rolled on. Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme court is a case in point. But your point is taken. I guess I tend to notice, and find far more annoying, Democratic defections from party-line votes than Republican ones.
I was encouraged by how many times you wrote 100% agree next to my underlying assumptions. You confirmed my belief that we human beings have more and more essential things in common than our differences; we just tend to focus on the differences and then rank one another as “better” or “worse” accordingly. Keeping in mind that we agree on many things makes it easier and safer to talk about our disagreements.
I certainly don’t have the expertise to unpack systemic racism for you. When I use that term, I mean that society has been organized systematically through customs, beliefs, and laws. Our system and its institutions judge, discriminate against, and abuse individuals because of their physical characteristics and ancestral lineage. I am a relative newcomer to understanding a tiny bit about systemic racism. I’m currently reading “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson. She relates systemic racism in the US to India’s caste system and the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. It’s a horrific and enlightening book.
Regarding socialism, I can see that you will teach me not to be sloppy in my use of words. I looked up “socialism,” and, of course, you are right; in its classic sense, it involves state ownership of the means of production and wealth transfers. I meant “democratic socialism.” I can’t improve on this description of it from a Time Magazine Article:
“American politicians today who are associated with democratic socialism generally favor New Deal-style programs, believing that government is a force for good in people’s lives and that a large European-style welfare state can exist in a capitalist society. They generally support ideas such as labor reform and pro-union policies, tuition-free public universities and trade schools, universal healthcare, federal jobs programs, fair taxation that closes loopholes that the wealthiest citizens have found, and using taxes on the rich and corporations to pay for social welfare programs.” [What Is Democratic Socialism? How It Differs From Communism | Time]
I probably would have voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2020 democratic primary if he had been 25 years younger. In my mind, the common good depends not on the survival and triumph of the fittest, most robust, most intelligent, or most affluent, but on everyone having enough (not too much or too little) and the stronger helping and sharing with the weaker. I would not object to being called a “bleeding heart” liberal.
Climate change—I believe the situation is dire because science proves it is. The polar ice caps are melting. Bird, animal, fish, and insect species are disappearing. The sea level is rising, and weather events (wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes) are becoming more frequent and severe. It is April 10 in Mid Coast, Maine, and it was 70 degrees today! I believe human activity has caused these changes. In our drive to make more money, have more possessions, eat more, do everything in excess, we have ignored our interconnectedness and our interdependence with the natural world. We have been self-centered and unbalanced.
What would falsify this belief for me? A change in scientific findings showing that the climate disasters I mention above are reversing themselves, however gradually, without any change in human behavior to mitigate these effects. What would it take to convince you that climate change is a serious threat to future generations of those who inhabit the earth?
“In general, we should deal with problems at the lowest level of authority competent enough to deal with the issue at hand.” In principle, I would agree. I would go first to a co-worker whom I felt had mistreated me to seek redress, and only later to her boss if we could not come to some mutual agreement. I agree that if a problem can be solved locally, to the benefit of all parties, that’s undoubtedly the place to start. But I feel there might be a trap in this kind of thinking. While liberal Massachusetts might enact laws to protect its LGBTQ citizens from discrimination, conservative Alabama can pass laws that endanger the human rights of its LGBTQ population. Both states see themselves as solving a problem, each with an opposite solution. In complex moral and ethical issues, the narrower local interests may not be capable of a larger and fairer viewpoint.
“Most political ideas are not bad in themselves, just bad in their application. I often tell people the following to help them understand what I mean by this: at the federal level, I’m libertarian, at the state level, I’m a Republican, at the county level, I’m a moderate, at the neighborhood level, I’m a Democrat, and at the household level I’m a socialist.” I love this description of you! It just proves how complex we all are and how nuanced our approaches to life.
Yes, the government does have a difficult time adapting programs to meet developing needs. Yes, there is way too much red tape in virtually every government program. The little person (the one who can’t afford expensive lawyers to figure out the loopholes) is disadvantaged in this situation. Adaptiveness, nimbleness, open-mindedness—I’d like to see far more of these at all government and institutional levels and in interpersonal interactions.
First, follow the money? I don’t know about first, but yes, by all means, follow the money. I agree about the media, left and right. Too big to fail is too big to exist? If you are talking about banks and corporations, I agree. I don’t see a dangerous concentration of power in “the government.” However, I have observed an alarmingly perilous concentration of power in President Trump, Vladimir Putin, and other autocrats or autocratic-leaning leaders. What diminished freedoms of the individual are you concerned about? I would like to hear your views on this in detail and am hoping that we can dedicate one whole exchange of comments to this topic.
I can’t think of a single freedom that I value that would be diminished by a government of strong, ethical, compassionate representatives elected by and accountable to the entire population. I am not an idealist. I know we are all wounded, bounded by our conditioned perspectives, and subject to misperceptions. I am a reductionist, I suppose. I reduce all issues and decisions to what is true, kind, generous, hopeful, and life-giving.
May I ask what your business affiliation is? What is your position in it? And how do your experiences there influence your views on immigration policy and less regulation? Each of these issues would also lend itself to a single topic exchange, in my view.
Back to you, Ryan. No hurry. I took plenty long to respond to your last post.
Ryan, I posted my last reply to you on April 8. I hope you are just very busy but well and still interested in continuing our conversation.
Yes, I am! Very much so. I’m deeply sorry for how long it has taken me to reply. I could bore you with my excuses but in the interest of brevity let me just state that I’ve had to become quite hands-on at the office due to some staffing changes and have been suffering fatigue from seasonal allergies. I will start co compose a reply right now, but don’t know if I can finish it tonight before I need to get home to family. If not, it will be this week, I promise!
P.S. I see that your EA book is out. I will be purchasing a copy this week!
Moriah, one reason I’ve been reluctant to commit to a reply is a fear for how long-winded my response might become and in what direction we ought to go from here. We could delve deeply into each of the topics we’ve brought to the forefront and I’ve been a bit anxious that whatever I shake my stick at will give an inadequate presentation of a conservative point of view. For this reason, I generally prefer verbal to written correspondence. But this is the format, so off we go to another round!
Lest I forget to answer your questions, let me answer them upfront:
1) I am a CEO of small business in the insurance industry in California. We have about 20 employees and I’ve worked in the business for 19 years. My father started the company in 1972 and retired in 2011 when I took over.
2) Re: the immigration issue, this is one of those topics that requires a more detailed and lengthy explanation (there is a reason it’s such a policy pit and has been for years) because it is very easy to perceive those opposed to mass immigration as simple nativists (which I am not; my father is Mexican American and suffered from prejudice for most of his life and I have great sympathy for the plight of people coming here to better their lives), but I hold that the primary purpose of any government is the welfare of its own citizens. And I fail to see how our current immigration policy does this. I believe we should have more of a merit-based approach, while allowing for a certain number of refugees, etc.
Just got a call from my wife and I need to run to soccer practice (I thought it was cancelled tonight). To be continued!
2) Regulatory concerns. Let me start by stating what should be obvious. No right-thinking conservative is opposed to regulations. We are merely opposed to regulations which are ill-conceived, inefficient, redundant, and so forth. Sadly, it seems Washington (and most state governments for that matter) has a way of making simple things difficult and vice-versa. Take Obamacare for example. While I disagreed with its chief aims (national in scope guaranteed issue insurance, individual mandate), these would have been rather simple to legislate. A couple of sentences and presto. Instead we got hundreds (thousands?) of pages. I think there is a better way in this case and in most cases. The problem is that our legislators are not very smart or creative people and, by and large, just do what they are told by their donors.
Now, onto some of your points.
Systemic racism. First of all, this is a very big claim that the Left is making. And because it’s such a big claim, is requires big evidence to substantiate. 100 years ago, I think we could all point to this, particularly in the South. But with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I do not see where racism exists as a matter of law anymore. Can you point out to me some laws which substantiate systemic racism?
Or perhaps you would say that systemic racism isn’t a matter of law? It’s a matter of prejudices so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche that we can only point to the outcomes this produces. OK. Maybe? Again, can you point out some examples for me that substantiate this?
Finally, my observation is that the Left uses this term in a way that doesn’t further dialogue. If you want to work with the other side on some real issues, you don’t start off by telling people they are blind to their own racism. My guess is that this is intentional and it’s simply a tool to incite their base (we do it too, so I’m not being partial here).
New Deal Socialism. You might be surprised that I agree with your vision of a benevolent society, but I disagree that the only way to attain that is through government action and forced transfers of wealth. Too many specifics mentioned here, so let me sidestep this a bit and talk about why while some of these ideas may have some merit, I don’t think they are matters for the federal government to pursue.
Here’s my basic belief: The history of mankind shows that power tends to concentrate and, once concentrated, rarely recedes. The Founders recognized this and attempted to put limits on the size and scope of government because too often people with too much power misuse it (e.g., body count from Communism and Fascism in the 20th century).
So, a diffusion of authority is a very good thing in my view, which is why I’m a big fan of Federalism properly conceived: let states handle most of the problems and restrict the federal to a certain number of things (foreign affairs, war, immigration, trade, currency, etc). This also allows experimentation with ideas that isn’t possible when the federal govt gets involved and imposes one-size-fits-all solutions.
Now, I do agree that the income gap is a huge problem, but I don’t think taxing the wealthy and giving it away to others through various social programs is a really great solution. More on this at some other time as this would require more brainpower than I have at the ready. 🙂
Climate change. I don’t know on this one. Most of the “consensus” revolves around guesses and assumptions that could lead to dire outcomes based on seriously complicated models. One variable off, and the whole prediction changes. I do agree that climate is changing of course (who wouldn’t?); the question I have is what percentage of that change is caused by us and further what can we do to minimize this while ensuring we don’t throw a whole bunch of people into poverty.
But let me spare you my own uncertainty around this and propose something new that might help us work together on this. I think most people dislike pollution, want cleaner energy, uncontaminated rivers, forests, and lakes, etc. So, we’re aligned on the outcome, right? If so, then let’s talk about how we can do less of the thing we don’t like together while not hating each other for attempted murder (of our lives or our fortunes). What is going to bear more fruit? The Left may have to sacrifice a bit of its ambitious aims, but you’ll bring us further along than if you didn’t, and we’ll get more done than if we didn’t. Who knows what we could achieve if we approached it from this angle instead? I have long wondered why the Right has not seized the mantle of environmentalism.
Incidentally, I agree wholeheartedly with your critique of consumerism.
OK, last point I’ll make before I depart for today. I’m going to make a statement that will jar you. Donald Trump is the logical consequence of modern liberalism. For as liberalism seeks to delegate more and more authority to the federal government, we will start to look less and less to ourselves, our communities, our institutions, and our states, and more and more for “strongmen” type leaders to solve all our problems. The Presidency used to be a pretty modest role. No more. Just as moths are attracted to lights, so are the worst personas attracted to the Presidency these days.
That’s all for now!
Ryan, yes, it is quite a burden and responsibility to attempt an adequate presentation of a conservative (or liberal) viewpoint, and I am a bit daunted by this as well. But let’s cut ourselves some slack. We both know there is a wide range of views on both sides of the spectrum. For the purpose of “deep listening,” I am interested in the opinions that you hold and why. And you have helped my understanding enormously by sharing a few personal details—your business background and your father’s Mexican American heritage. While I don’t want to jump to any erroneous conclusions from this scant information, it does open up possibilities for understanding. I know that complicated regulations are particularly burdensome and costly for small businesses. I imagine that your father (was he a first-generation immigrant?) has worked extremely hard his whole life to make better opportunities and a better future for his family, struggling against prejudice and other challenges—self-reliant, independent, and responsible. Such a family background has inevitably influenced your values and political views.
I am an immigrant myself, from Nova Scotia, Canada. I got my green card in my late 20s when I was a nun in an Episcopal convent in Chicago, and I became a citizen in the 1990s. My parents are from working-class backgrounds—farming, lumbering, marine livelihoods. I grew up in a very rural area. Almost all of my family still lives in rural Nova Scotia, and most are politically conservative. I remember my parents being frustrated that they and their ancestors worked extremely hard while the “welfare” recipients in our community lived on government handouts. They saw this as unfair. In many ways, I am a product of this background.
If we all tried to understand one another’s heritage, life experiences, and core beliefs, we could better understand each other’s political views. We would see our human similarities and be less afraid of those who seem to differ from us.
Regarding regulations, immigration policy, and many of the other issues on which we may disagree, I suspect you may be better informed about the details of these issues than I am. My overall impressions are influenced by news programs (mostly NPR and MSNBC), reading, and discussions with my friends. I have not done in-depth research. My professional background is in higher education (accused of being a liberal enclave), and I live in a relatively liberal part of the country (my choice.) Just to be upfront about all this.
Yes, I am sure that all regulations are more complex than they need to be, resulting from the need to compromise, cover one’s collective butt, and anticipate every eventuality. I believe good quality affordable healthcare is a human right. The Affordable Care Act was an attempt at moving toward such healthcare. It had/has its faults, needs revision, and I am open to something much better, but not to going back to the health insurance industry before ACA. I’d be interested in what you would suggest as a replacement for ACA.
My frustration at the moment, on this and every policy front, is that virtually all Republicans are determined not to work with any Democrats on moving forward any legislation at all on anything. It seems that their only goals are blocking everything, regaining control of the House and the Senate, and self-enrichment. I know that viewpoint is painting you all with much too broad a brush. Go ahead, paint us with one too! How do you see it? Your comments about how we might work together on preserving and protecting the environment show a willingness to work toward crafting and accepting compromise, an approach I don’t see embraced by many Republicans. Still, one I appreciate more as I grow older.
Systemic Racism. I am not labeling conservatives as racists, and I am sorry if you feel that liberals, in general, have labeled conservatives as racist. We have a hard enough time knowing what is in our hearts and minds and certainly can’t assume what is in another’s. I can’t, at the moment, point to any laws that enshrine systemic racism, but here are two examples of what I view as our American “system” fostering a racist attitude. [ From Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson] “In America, news outlets feed audiences a diet of inner-city crime and poverty so out of proportion to the numbers that they distort perceptions of African-Americans as a whole. Little more than one in five African Americans, 22 percent, are poor, and they make up just over a quarter of poor people in America, at 27 percent. But a 2017 study by Travis Dixon at the University of Illinois found that African Americans account for 59 percent of the poor people depicted in the news. White families make up two-thirds of America’s poor, at 66 percent, but account for only 17 percent of poor people depicted in the news…A political scientist at Yale, Martin Gilens, found in a 1994 study that 55 percent of Americans believed that all poor people in America were black. Thus, a majority have come to see black as a synonym for poor, a stigmatizing distortion in a country that glorifies affluence. Like poverty, crime, too, receives coverage out of proportion to the numbers. Crimes involving a black suspect and a white victim make up 42 percent of crimes reported on television news even though crimes with white victims and black suspects make up a minority of crimes, at 10 percent, according to the Sentencing Project, an advocate for criminal justice reform.”
And, policing and police departments. Events over decades, not just recently, show that people of color are disproportionately targets of violence by police officers. That makes me wonder about the whole culture, philosophy, and practice of policing—the backgrounds of people who choose to join police forces, their motivations, their training, their supervision, the standards to which they are held. The police “system” is so embedded in our society, that the way it treats black and brown people appears to me to be an example of systemic racism.
New Deal Socialism does not boil down to taxing the rich and redistributing wealth by giving it away to the poor, in my view. New Deal Socialism, in my opinion, boils down to an understanding that we are all interdependent—that I can’t be well, happy, safe, and at peace until everyone is. Therefore, if I could be willing to live with just enough (not more or less than I need), everyone could have enough. Enough food, enough education, healthcare, clothing, shelter, creative opportunity…We are not all born equal. Some of us are born privileged, some underprivileged. I believe it serves society as a whole well if the strong are willing to help the weak, the rich to help the poor. And yet, we find it hard to share because we are afraid of not having enough, of being unsafe. Why is this?
Climate Change. Again, I am sorry you feel beaten over the head by liberals who accuse “conservatives” of destroying our climate. I don’t think the science on this (our role in climate change) consists of “guesses and assumptions.” I believe it consists of careful, thorough research. But regardless, I agree this could be an area of mutual interest on which we could compromise and cooperate. The sense of urgency that many feel doesn’t lend itself to slow compromise, though, and so, perhaps we should all step back and consider whether “urgency” is the enemy of action in this case. I’m all for doing what we agree on and collecting more evidence.
Your jarring final point about Trump being the logical consequence of modern liberalism is an interesting theory, and I will consider it. For me, Trump and his base represent fierce independence and individualism, self-reliance, contempt for those different from themselves, a kind of “frontierism,” a take-matters-into-one’s-own-hands” spirit. [Frontierism is defined as one extreme of a political axis regarding the issue of how much support government (or society) should provide to individuals.]
When I think about this, I’m reminded of the principle of Yin/Yang. [In Ancient Chinese philosophy, yin and yang is a concept of dualism, describing how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.] The positive creates and includes the negative; the seed of one thing exists within its opposite. The Yin/Yang symbol represents balance and inclusion. It sees light and dark, good and evil not as enemies but as existing in an inseparable relationship. The tension between a strong central federal government and more diffuse local governance is inherent in our political system, like the tension between the good of the community and the individual’s interest. I don’t think our problems will be solved by opting for one or the other or fluctuating between the two. A humble, intelligent, compassionate, and creative strongman type leader at whatever level of government will have an entirely different effect from a proud, ignorant, self-centered, and rigid one.
I agree we cannot legislate a benevolent society. I believe it is a matter of personal transformation—cumulative individual changes of heart aggregating in social change.
As we further explain our perspectives, our comments will get longer and more complex, and I fear we will give up on this dialogue because it is simply more effort than we can sustain along with everything else in our lives. (It seems you have young children!) Dialogue, listening, and understanding require enormous time and effort, don’t they! Disagreement and disrespect are simpler and easier sometimes. In our conversation, I am sensing respect, openness, a desire to acknowledge agreement when we can, and a willingness to find things we could work together on if called upon to do so. And a sense of humor! So important to an attitude of humility about ourselves and our place in the world.
I believe we absolutely agree on the need for change leading to a fairer and healthier society.
What a beautiful, thoughtful reply. I don’t want to give up the ship just quite yet as, given the parameters you wisely established (viz., expressing opinions as articulately as we can and not expecting to land any haymakers) because you make so many good points that I wish to respond in kind. So, if you are willing, perhaps we just continue doing this as time permits. Consider it akin to the long-lost practice of having a pen-pal 🙂 I will compose some thoughts as I’m excited about the many areas of agreement and the ostensible willingness to compromise. I’m afraid this is the biggest thing missing in our current discourse, neither side wants to give an inch. Btw, I’m probably just as frustrated with the Republicans as you are, but for different reasons, but keep in mind the Democrats did the same thing while the Republicans were in power. It’s just Washington’s MO these days and I don’t have the patience to get an abacus out and figure out which side does it more. It’s a problem and one that we have to resolve if we’re to unify as a country (my overarching desire as this point) or continue to fragment and disintegrate. Thank you very much for the time you put into this! More to come soon.
P.S. Yes, four kids under the age of 10, two dogs, 20 chickens, 10 acres, and a few properties to manage. All in a day’s work. 🙂
Oh my goodness! Do take your time replying, you’ve got a lot on your plate. I was going to suggest that going forward, perhaps after your response to my most recent comment, we might try focusing on one topic per exchange. Maybe list the things we would like to discuss and then choose where to begin. So, shorter and more focused comments. Let me know what you think.
Moriah, it’s been a while. Since my last post back in June, I’ve been embroiled in a major remodel to our downstairs, a decision I now view as one of the worst I’ve ever made. It’s all 1st world problems, but when you are used to a certain mode of living, it can be quite difficult to adjust! We’re finally pulling out of things and the end is near and I notice that I’m having a lot more freedom to pursue various interests again. My apologies for the delay.
I do agree that it is helpful to understand one another’s background provided that we don’t fall into some form of determinism. After all, there are people from similar backgrounds who hold much different political views. But I do find it interesting as it makes it easier to relate to one another and not just view each other as opponents.
Health care is a massive issue and I don’t have a plan to replace ACA. This could be one of those separate topics that you mentioned we could tackle. I will say that I’m not sure I see it so much as a right but an obligation. I think this is an important distinction. I will also say this: that we need to figure out how to manage the cost better. ACA did nothing to manage cost, and by forcing insurance companies to take all comers, it increased the burden on the system.
I agree with you that’s what Republicans are doing, though this infrastructure bill seems to buck this trend. The only difference is that this doesn’t frustrate me as I see both sides doing it in the same manner and I don’t have the patience to keep score of who does it more.
Bottom line is that there is a dearth of leadership on either side of the aisle. Can you point to any leaders who are trying to unite us on anything? I can’t. They are all just marketing to their core constituencies. And the reason is because the work we’re doing here doesn’t sell. It’s too messy, difficult, and requires patience and willingness to compromise. Do you see these traits in abundance in the culture? People want simple answers, short takes, great sound bites, and a sense of belonging that can be found in choosing a side.
There is another way, and it involves engaging in the work that we are doing here. Listening, being curious, trying to solve for all constituents concerns, being generous, laying things out in the clearest manner possible for all sides to understand, etc., but to do this you need deeper and more capable leaders. I guess what I’m saying is that all of our problems (as they always are) are fundamentally a leadership problem, and we need to be demanding more of those who govern us.
I see a lot of people on both sides advocating for a national divorce, there is even talk about another Civil War, God forbid. I still believe all of this is solvable. But I don’t see anyone leading the way from the GOP or the Dems.
Re: Climate Change, Systemic Racism, Socialism, etc., these could each be their own topic in a separate thread. I, of course, would have lots of questions for you about each of those things.
So…where would you like to take things from here? Sorry once more for the delay!
Good to hear from you. Home renovations can be time-consuming, disruptive, and frustrating. One is captive to a contractor’s schedule, supply chains, weather problems, etc., with very little control over the timetable and plenty of anxiety about the result. It sounds like it has been a very stressful summer. But as you say, First World, not the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
And yes, understanding others’ backgrounds can be enlightening if one avoids the “determinism” you caution against. For example, as I mentioned, my siblings and their families are politically conservative, and I’m liberal, yet we all grew up in the same family system and environment.
I agree that the quality of our leadership is one of our major problems as a nation. Let me note here that more diversity in leadership (ethnic, religious, gender) might go a long way to improving it. A friend of mine has recently written a textbook for leadership training programs (Annabel Beerel, Rethinking Leadership) that critiques past and current leadership models and suggests qualities that our current dire political, economic, social, and environmental situations require in leaders. Unfortunately, the book is terribly expensive, as are most textbooks, so I’m not sure how widely disseminated her ideas will be.
I’d like to know what qualities you think are essential in a good leader. This question brings me to a suggestion about how we might move forward in our exchange of ideas—our attempt to listen to one another, understand, and “get along” at the very least. God forbid, civil war!
Here are the topics that have come up in our discussion thus far (in no particular order):
Healthcare – I’d like to hear about your distinction between right and obligation
New Deal Socialism, including Minimum wage, housing subsidies, SNAP, etc.
Regulation – financial, environmental, health and safety
Other topics on which I would like to hear your views:
COVID vaccinations, mask-wearing, other protective mandates
The Supreme Court
Foreign affairs – starting with Afghanistan
Human Rights in the USA and abroad – the US’s responsibility
A Woman’s Control over her own body, aka Abortion Rights
LGBTQ, etc. rights
Universal Education Rights
Crime/Incarceration (including drug policy and sentencing)
Why don’t you add others or elaborate on the above? And, perhaps, suggest a prioritized list? Then we can agree on where to start and dive in.
It’s clear, with all the other things we each have going on, this could take us a lifetime! But I want you to know that I am genuinely curious about what you think on each of these subjects and will do my very best to understand your perspective.
Sounds like a plan. Since it seems we’re both in some agreement re: the importance of leadership, perhaps we start there. It is first in my hierarchy as far as all of this is concerned.
You raise an interesting point about diversity that I’ve always been curious to engage with, and that is what problems diversity at a very simple level (gender, race, religion, etc.) can solve. I’ve always been far more concerned with individual traits and genuinely don’t get how one’s baseline genetics improve outcomes over and above a team in harmony, aligned on values and objectives. In other words, you could have a highly effective team with no diversity and one with complete diversity provided that the right individuals have been selected. So I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.
I took a quick look at your friend’s Amazon link and I couldn’t agree more with the summary. I’d be interested in knowing her proposals, although as a non-academic, I’m more interested in praxis than theory 🙂
As for additional items on the list, I think the list you have is good. I would maybe add:
*Gun control / 2nd Amendment rights
*State of journalism
By the way, your assessment of the renovation is spot-on. All of those have been a factor, mixed in with a bit of bad decision making by the contractor and ourselves.
Thank you for the quick reply and I’ll be much quicker myself now, fingers crossed!
Leadership. Here goes, Ryan!
I think for this discussion, we are focusing on political leadership, correct? Again, though, most of the same principles apply regardless of the leader’s forum.
I agree that one could have a very diverse team, in terms of race, religion, age, sex, nationality, etc., that might be completely ineffective and even harmful. The “quality” of the team members is of paramount importance. In my mind, an effective team, organization, political party, or government would require its leaders and members to be honest, humble, intelligent, educated, experienced, kind, flexible, and open-minded, good listeners, and good communicators. I could go on almost ad infinitum.
If this highly qualified team were also diverse, I think it would be even more effective. Diversity brings a variety of perspectives informed or influenced by an assortment of backgrounds. The more perspectives, the richer the dialogue and the better the decisions. The possibility of clashing views is greater, though. And that, I think, is where good leadership comes in. If the leader is, him or herself, humble, honest, … they are more likely to be able to set a tone of co-operation, compromise, inclusivity, and respect. So, I believe Joe Biden is a better leader than Donald Trump. Not a perfect leader, I grant you, but better.
You can see that the leadership model I am espousing is not a “strong man” one. Instead, my leader enables others to contribute their talents, skills, and ideas to solve a problem or create something new.
So, to bring in something that is uppermost in my mind at the moment—the COVID delta variant surge and the resistance to vaccination and wearing masks. Let’s say preventing people from dying of COVID is the problem. What kind of leader and team can best address and solve it? I know using this example could lead us down a whole slew of rabbit holes: individual rights and personal freedoms vs. societal good, the roles of federal, state, and local government, the media’s role, big pharma’s role, etc., but let’s resist going there.
I want the leader of the effort to prevent death by COVID to be a good listener, respectful of the ideas of others, thoughtful, and well-organized. I want them to be capable of pulling together a diverse team of experts to work harmoniously toward the clearly articulated goal. Finally, I want this leader to have a compassionate heart and a sharp mind, be patient, persevering, be willing to admit they are wrong, and careful but decisive.
Where do you find a person who has all these qualities? Of course, you don’t, but you give your best effort to thoroughly vetting candidates, you elect them, and you give them your trust and support. You hold them accountable, sometimes forgive them, sometimes not, and if you think they are doing the best job under the circumstances, you elect them again. If not, you look elsewhere.
A rather simplistic theory of political leadership, perhaps, but it’s the best I have come up with in my 69 years of life. I know you are more interested in praxis than theory, which is one reason I would want you on my team. I’m still reading Annabel’s book, but one of her most thought-provoking chapters analyzes the development of leadership theory. At the same time, she argues that a new approach to leadership is necessary considering the complexities of the modern world and the seriousness of the dangers facing it.
Your turn! Have at it!
We could have two or three back-and-forths on this topic before we agree to move on. Right?
Hi Moriah, I’m sorry for being a bit tardy in my reply, I didn’t see that you had responded until recently.
Re: the diversity component, I agree with your thought that a variety of opinions can ward off groupthink. It is something that I have striven for in my own role. Half of my managerial staff are liberals, one is a centrist, and the other is a conservative. Navigating something like COVID has been at times like walking a tightrope. I’m not trying to brag, just wanting to let you know that I get that idea and have a very high tolerance for views that don’t comport with my own.
My only point is that diversity isn’t a guarantee of that and that if we solve for that first and foremost then we may not end up with the best team. In other words, diversity should be a secondary consideration, the first being the expected potential of one’s contributions toward the desired outcome.
Perhaps I can articulate it like this. Suppose that we have a two teams of theoretically equally talented engineers who have been tasked with building a new dam, with the one difference being that one team is 100% Chinese and the other is a mixed group. Instinctively, I would probably tilt toward the mixed group just because it feels like there may be cultural barriers that might not be conducive to the best outcomes and decisions. So, I would tilt toward a diverse group, but it’s only because everything else was equal.
In this case, I’m a fan of diversity, but when I hear it common parlance, it seems to be bandied about as a first principle, and this simply isn’t nuanced enough for me.
OK, on to the question of leadership. Yes, political leadership, which has a very high (the highest?) burden of responsibility and is extremely complex given all the various factions one must attempt to keep together (or apart!)
First, a critique of what I feel is a putative model of leadership in our culture (and why we elect dumbos accordingly) and that is leader as “content expert”. We expect our politicians to have complete mastery of every subject matter under the sun. In a nation of 330 million people with an extremely complicated policy and bureaucratic apparatus, this is an illusion. Professing ignorance or uncertainty is viewed as a weakness. I always love watching the primary debates because invariably the moderators will slip in a “gotcha” question in the hopes of tripping a candidate up on their lack of knowledge. In anticipation, the candidates spend a whole bunch of time learning facts and putting forth detailed plans that matter very little in the long run.
Pretty much anyone in a leadership position knows that the higher you go, the more you rely upon your direct reports to possess subject matter knowledge. The challenge for the emerging leader is to divest themselves of their hard-earned knowledge and focus more on how to recruit and hire the right team and manage them at a high-level.
Instead, what I would like to propose is leader as “facilitator” who is focused on setting clear policy boundaries but then allows a highly creative, diverse conversation to occur within this framework from ALL sides of the political spectrum, builds consensus for a decision, is able to rally support for the proposal, and, finally, execute.
A list of desired qualities for such a person:
• Not an ideologue. Someone who can recognize that feeding their base red meat only serves to heighten division in the country. This doesn’t mean this person can’t have policy preferences, but is willing to compromise and negotiate for the greater good.
• Highly principled AND pragmatic. This sounds contradictory, but it’s really not. A good leader must have a core set of principles about which they are highly dogmatic, but then let the creative process guide the way toward policy.
• Extremely thick-skinned / can tolerate dissent and disagreement. This is much harder than it sound as most people haven’t evolved enough to take a direct hit and remain unemotional.
• Has superior listening skills, listens and asks questions more than talks.
• Humble. The wiser you are, the less you realize you know. So, someone who can see merit to a whole variety of ideas and approaches and doesn’t start with a preconceived notion of what will work. Somewhat related to first bullet point.
• Unifying. Doesn’t castigate part of the populace in attempting to generate support for policies.
• Exception organizational management skills. Knows how to hire, when to fire, place people in the right roles, etc. Pretty much all our POTUS have failed miserably in this category. It’s a different set of skills than a retail politician typically possesses.
In reading out lists, it’s hard not to see the commonalities. Why, then can’t we find a candidate who can check most of these boxes? I think the answer is probably pretty obvious: the public at large doesn’t want this kind of leader. Too ho hum!
Well, that, and the devil is in the detail. How would a highly talented leader that meets all our requirements navigate the minefield of any contemporary issue in a way that doesn’t engender intense hatred from one side? Perhaps it just isn’t realistic, I don’t know enough about political realities, but I do dream. But since we’re talking about the ideal, it’s fair game, right?
To make this all a bit more concrete, here is a sample Q&A with this ideal leader:
Media: “Mr. Smith, what would your policy be on X (where X is any hot button issue of today)?”
Smith: “My feelings on X are this…but I also realize that a good part of the public disagrees with me on this. So, in order to make some progress instead of just screaming at each other for solutions that won’t happen, here is how I would attempt to make some progress on this issue. Idea 1, 2, and 3. So you can see, that my proposal would not satisfy either side fully, but I think we can make some progress by doing these things, and that further, there is bipartisan support for these ideas.”
I remember when Howard Schulze indicated he would run for POTUS. I actually liked a bit of what he said, disagreed with him on a few policies, but just generally liked his approach. I also loved Ross Perot back in the day for what it’s worth.
Re: Biden’s leadership skills, I don’t know enough about this as I haven’t been paying attention. From the little bit I have seen, he seems inattentive, confused, and not up for the weight of the office. His framing of the pandemic of the unvaccinated, while it may be true, to me is a shining example of stoking the fire of division and discontent. There is a way to go about this other than to persuade the majority of the public to start treating others like second-class citizens.
The COVID issue is a big one and we could certainly treat that in a separate thread. I will say that think Trump blew it by not pursuing more of a precision shielding strategy (i.e., protects the most vulnerable, e.g., the elderly and the obese) and not shutting down the country. I view this as a catastrophic mistake and may have created more human misery through debt, loss of jobs, lack of learning, decrease in fitness/health, social isolation, etc., and just wasn’t even necessary given that we could have been more targeted with our approach and protected just as many people.
I’ll stop here and for now and see what you have in your reply. Thank you!!
Ryan, I will not say more on diversity because it appears we have the same views and practices regarding it. It’s the second principle, not the first in team building, and is too lightly bandied about with too little nuanced consideration. It’s become a byword. Nuff said!
I agree with your list of qualities and your overall umbrella job description of a leader as a facilitator. Extremely well expressed! And I think you may be right that this kind of leader would appear to be pretty uninteresting. As an illustration, I considered Trump an abysmally poor leader and believe that Biden is a better one (leaving their and my party affiliation aside). However, when Trump was in office, I listened to and was shocked by the news daily. During Biden’s term, I have stopped paying close attention, except for the Afghanistan withdrawal fiasco. Competence is not titillating.
This goes to your admission that you don’t know enough about Biden’s leadership skills, and you haven’t been paying much attention either. I don’t think that he is inattentive or confused. He might not have the energy that a younger person might possess. Still, he has a great deal of experience, has surrounded himself with a competent and conscientious team, and tries to play the role of facilitator. I don’t know enough of the details, but I suspect he faltered on the withdrawal from Afghanistan. From what I have heard, he didn’t listen to the advice of a diverse set of advisors, and he became mired in sticking to an inherited deadline without considering the changing complexities of the situation. However, I’m certainly no international relations expert.
I agree that framing the Delta variant wave of COVID as a pandemic of the unvaccinated is problematic and has certainly intensified divisiveness. Our Maine CDC Director, Dr. Nirav Shah, is a master of public relations. He has assiduously avoided criticizing those who resist vaccination while using every fact, figure, and rationale available to persuade them to get shots. As a result, Maine has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. I think “vaccine hesitancy” in those who remain “hesitant” is a euphemism for dogmatic insistence on the freedom to do as one pleases. “No one should be able to tell me what to do!” is what it comes down to in most vaccine hold-out cases. And while I respect personal freedoms as long as they don’t harm others, I value them less when people pit them against the demonstrated common good and scientific evidence.
One more thing about leadership that I want to raise. I’ve heard the aphorism: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” A political leader has a certain amount of power to influence the course of events. Admittedly, in our American democratic system, that power is limited. Lately, it’s questionable whether a political leader can accomplish anything during their term of office. There seem to be partisan roadblocks at every turn. Politics is rife with corruption. Follow the money, and you will find the root of it. So very few political leaders can resist temptation and avoid corruption in their quest to accomplish their goals. Their susceptibility to dishonesty and fraud is partly due to the fallacy that the end justifies the means. It is also due to a lack of self-reflection. If a leader does not know their weaknesses, does not look deeply into their motivations, does not listen carefully to what lies beneath what those around them are saying, they will go astray.
So, l think good leadership is a very tall order, and exceptional leaders are rare. They must be self-reflective, see themselves as servants/facilitators, have no grandiose notions of their importance or effectiveness, and be open to criticism and changing their minds. I think we can dream about the ideal and, in doing so, practice leadership in our own lives, projects, and teams to the best of our ability. The more I hear from you about your values and practices, the more I am convinced that you are a principled and effective business owner and manager. Ever thought of running for political office? I have rejected that notion for myself. Not thick-skinned enough, yet. Still hanker to be thanked once in a while!
Shall we talk about the politics of COVID next, since we’ve touched on it already, and then move on to something new like, say, the Supreme Court? I’ve added that to our list of topics and am interested in your view of its makeup and the cases it will hear in the current term.
Hi Moriah, too much time has passed since our last exchange. I don’t have a remodel to blame this time, instead I will blame coaching my kid’s soccer team. But now that the season is over I find myself with more free time, again!
Re: political aspiration, when I was younger and dumber, I thought about this a lot and even one day thought I would throw my hat in the ring. But I’m afraid I don’t have the skills to be a good showman and I would not enjoy the familial pressures that come with the job. So, no, I’m content to sit back and critique our leaders. But you know what they say about critics, right?
COVID sounds like a good place to go next. How would you like to approach this?
At the very least, in this post I will address vaccination since it’s a hot topic.
I have chosen to remain unvaccinated to date. This conclusion was reached through a cost/benefit analysis. Based on the available data, COVID presents a very low risk to my health.
Because the risk is so low, I’d rather not take a chance on a) any adverse side effects (also very low risk, but present, such as myocarditis in young men in particular) b) an experimental vaccine / gene therapy / therapeutic / whatever you want to call it / the long-term effects of which cannot be known. Let’s just call these both collectively “vaccine risk”.
I’m certainly not anti-vaccine. If someone is in a higher risk group, such as my parents, I would encourage them to get the vaccine because the risk of the vaccine is probably less than the risk of COVID. But I don’t understand why we are insisting everyone get vaccinated when we know exactly who is at risk from COVID, and isn’t the majority of the population.
The one thing that has caused me to pause is whether my decision to remain unvaccinated somehow injures others. We know that the vaccine doesn’t prevent transmission or infection. From everything I’ve seen, it does a pretty good job (initially) of keeping people out of the hospital and ultimately dying. The efficacy seems to wane as time goes on, which is why they are now pushing boosters. But I haven’t seen the data on how less likely I am to transmit vaccinated vs. unvaccinated.
But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that there is a huge gap between the two and the unvaccinated spread it at a much higher rate.
So, now we have a new risk to contend with: Ryan’s negligent infection of others risk. Now, I’d have to weigh my own personal vaccine risk vs. the risk I’m conferring upon others.
How do we measure this? The problem is I don’t know. If I thought I was a walking death machine, I would obviously have a very strong reason to get vaccinated or pursue other risk avoidance methods. But this calculation is difficult and hard to measure. Some questions:
1) How likely am I to have COVID and not know it? (I would stay away from others if I knew I was sick)
2) How exactly is COVID spread? Aerosols, droplets, handshakes?
3) What % of the population that I encounter while having COVID has not acquired either natural immunity or vaccine immunity?
4) Of the balance, how likely am I to interact with someone who is high risk and pass it on to them?
5) How much does common sense and respect reduce the risk from the unvaccinated to those in the high risk category? I.e., if I was around someone who couldn’t get the vaccine for whatever reason and was elderly/obese/autoimmune disorder, I would wear a mask, meet in a big, open area, not shake hands, etc.
There are probably some more important calculations to make here, but the point as you can hopefully see is that it’s not a straightforward thing. And there may be very good answers to each of these questions, but I haven’t spent the time to really dig in and investigate each one for there is so much misinfo on both sides it would become a full-time job.
I have looked at all this and decided (for now) that my personal vaccine risk outweighs the chance of me killing someone else. And this assume that the unvaccinated spread the virus at a greater rate than the vaccinated, which I don’t know enough about to say either way. If this isn’t true, then vaccination makes even less sense to me.
Anyway, I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter. I’m not looking at this from a “rights” perspective, though I do think President Biden’s vaccine mandate is a huge overstep and leads to all kinds of slippery slopes.
Soccer season may be over, but the holidays are upon us! So, you should feel no pressure to respond quickly unless what I say below prompts you to write again immediately. Smile!
Your argument for your own choice to remain unvaccinated is very intricate, thoughtful, and well-articulated, giving me helpful insight into a perspective I could not otherwise access.
You say, “But I don’t understand why we are insisting everyone get vaccinated when we know exactly who is at risk from COVID, and it isn’t the majority of the population.”
I don’t think we know with certainty who is at risk or who may be at risk in the future as this global pandemic evolves.
I believe everyone is at risk of contracting COVID to a greater or lesser degree. We know from experience that the risk is more considerable for seniors and those with underlying health conditions, but the playing field may be leveling with the Omicron variant. Scientists think it may be more easily transmitted.
However, one of my underlying assumptions is that current science (plus my own experience and that of my community) proves that severe reactions to COVID vaccines are rare and that the risks of severe illness and death from the disease are far greater than vaccination risks.
I agree that, with what we know now, the choice to be vaccinated or not is not straightforward. So many questions go unanswered, so much research is inconclusive. Multiple variables and complex risk assessments present themselves. Information changes daily, no matter its source. So, the decision to be vaccinated or not can be complicated if made solely based on science and statistics. I do not believe I can ever collect enough reliable facts about COVID, its prevention and treatment, to make a moral decision solely on scientific evidence.
My operative assumption is that the common good always outweighs individual freedom or interest in situations like this. Therefore, I choose to be vaccinated, regardless of the risk to myself, to lower my potential for harming others.
A question for you, “Who or what may have influenced your decision to remain unvaccinated?” My influences are NPR’s (my primary source of news) reporting on the pandemic and the Maine CDC director’s (whom I respect highly) recommendations. In addition, my retirement community has strongly recommended vaccination and boosters for all its residents. Finally, though conservative in many ways, my family is firmly in favor of COVID vaccinations. So, I’d like to know who may have influenced you.
Upon reading your comment about 15 days ago, I decided to ruminate on it for a while and let it sink in. At first reading, your argument seemed complex and hard to follow. So, I’ve read it several times, and my reaction has evolved. But, I’m glad I waited because several things have happened in the last half month that have affected my views: soaring numbers of COVID cases in Maine*; the emergence of the Omicron variant; the appearance of three COVID cases in my community of about 180 seniors (we had none for 20 months and then, right after Thanksgiving, when many had lowered their guard and joined large, unmasked family gatherings, three cases developed within a matter of days even though the entire community has had three vaccinations); indications that the virus will go on strengthening, varying and mutating, perhaps for the rest of my life.
I sense the need to adapt to a new way of living, one which may include: mask-wearing in enclosed and crowded spaces permanently, significant travel truncation, forgoing concerts, sports events, movies, and other indoor cultural activities, more of my life conducted on Zoom, constant disruption of the supply chain and difficulty finding products that have previously been abundant, a narrowing of life in general.
What saddens me is that vaccinations have become one more issue dividing our country. People in my relatively liberal community are angry that many refuse to get vaccinated, wear masks, and stay distanced. Others are incensed at being pressured to get vaccines or lose their jobs, forced to wear masks in certain venues, and restricted from entering others. As if we needed one more wedge pounded between liberals and conservatives! I don’t see a solution other than listening generously to understand one another, even when doing so involves risks. Do you?
One last comment on your closing remark about slippery slopes. The “slippery slope” argument has become one of my pet peeves lately. Folks around me keep citing fear of the slippery slope as a reason/excuse for not doing something they admit may be effective, helpful, just, and fair. Make one exception to the rule or custom, and you’re headed for a slippery slope! However, anxiety about setting precedents inhibits many good deeds. Case in point—Biden’s mandate requiring the vaccination of healthcare workers by a specific date seems to me, under current circumstances in hospitals and clinical settings, to be prudent to ensure a level of safety for them and their patients. Yet, some accuse him of overreach into individual rights and label the executive order as the first step on the slippery slope of government interference in and control of all aspects of our lives.
One of the marks of a good leader, in my opinion, is the courage to make the best, most effective choice in the present situation, regardless of the risk of setting a precedent that may require reversal in the future. But, of course, it works both ways. Refusing to make a fair, compassionate, prudent decision in the current situation can set one on the slippery slope toward similar refusals in the future. After all, it’s easier to follow a precedent than depart from it. Easier, not necessarily right.
I remember that one of our (your and my) commonly embraced guidelines for this dialogue is to ask each other a genuinely curious question in each post. So, my third question for you in this one is: Having chosen not to be vaccinated, are you observing the other recommended precautions of mask-wearing, social distancing, and handwashing consistently and rigorously? I’m concerned about your welfare and that of your family and associates.
*On Wednesday of this week (12/8), Maine hit a new record of 1,275 new cases in one day; on Thursday, another record 1,460, and today 2,148. There are only 1.35 million people in Maine. While the more southern, more populous counties are recording more overall cases, the northern, less populated, more rural counties that tend to vote more conservatively and have higher numbers of unvaccinated people are seeing an infection rate of 43% higher than the southern counties.
The holidays are certainly upon us. It’s been a whirlwind of a month with several company Christmas events, cooking, shopping, school concerts, and more. And, once again, I find myself racing the clock on gift giving.
A few years back, we shifted to the traditional Catholic practice of celebrating Christmas as a season rather than a single day and I must say this offers many, many benefits (not the least of which is that it teaches the kids the virtue of gratification deferral! There is hardly a sight more displeasing to me that than of children tearing through all their gifts in a frenzied state), and one of the primary ones is that it gives me more time to get all my shopping done!
I appreciate your commentary on my prior post. I strive to be thoughtful and not reactionary and I learned a bit about myself as I wrote that. I think that most of us don’t take the time to access the inner logic we are applying to situations and the process of articulation is interesting as it leads to all kinds of hidden assumptions, some bad, some good.
In the time since I wrote this and read your response a few weeks ago, I have had further time to reflect and it made me realize that there is a perhaps a more foundational question at stake that you point to and that is: where does the duty to oneself and family end and the duty to the community begin? I.e., at what point does the individual subject himself or herself to risk in order to reduce the risk to the community? You state the same thing when you say that your “operative assumption is that the common good always outweighs individual freedom or interest in situations like this.” I find this quite interesting and perhaps worthy of another exchange.
To answer your question about who influenced me to arrive at the position I have. I would say it’s more a compendium of personal experience than any current news source. I have found voices that articulate a skeptical vaccine position quite well (Alex Berenson comes to mind first and foremost) but I never looked to him for leadership on the issue; it was more backup and validation once I had arrived at my own position. In general, I avoid early adoption of anything and am leery of new things until they are proven. I have found this usually results in better quality decisions as all the bugs get worked out in 1st generation products, the costs come down, more features are added, etc.
Secondly, the family culture in which I was raised was deeply skeptical of pharmaceutical interventions: medicine was always a last resort. Rest, fluids, and chicken soup were the prescribed regimen, and this is something I follow to this day.
Lastly, as I have mentioned, I think most of the people running the show don’t really know themselves and are shooting from the hip most of the time. Their credibility with me got shot pretty early on with all the about faces on masks, social distancing, etc.
These factors probably influenced me far more than any media outlet. As a rule, I consume very little news.
Once I understood that the risk of coronavirus to my health was very, very low (lower than standard influenza) I decided to wait things out until I was forced to reckon with the argument that I’m a threat to society by not being vaccinated. This was quite a mindbender to me, and still is, and I don’t have a GREAT answer, but I do have an answer that I have tried to articulate in my original post on the matter.
I do agree with you that the vaccine does appear to work quite well if dosed in advance of illness AND continues to be dosed once the efficacy wanes. I look at the vaccines now similarly to flu shots, and not vaccines in the traditional sense of the word, which stop a virus dead in its tracks (e.g., polio)
The GOOD news is that Omicron appears to offer a way to the end of this pandemic. If the reporting out of South Africa and other places is accurate, highly transmissible, yes, but much less deadly than its predecessors. Alpha had an IFR of ~0.25%, Delta was lower than this, and Omicron is supposed to be even lower. So, most of us shouldn’t have too much to worry about as the overwhelming majority of people will survive and build the antibodies we need to fight in the future.
May I ask how you and your community are doing with the surge in cases? Is everyone well?
As to the solution to the divide, that is a good question. The most obvious answer is that the pandemic ends and most people agree that it’s over! Short of that happening, I think it will continue to smolder in our society.
Re: slippery slope, I learned in school that the slippery slope is a logical fallacy and refrained from invoking it up until a few years ago because of this. It is, of course, a logical fallacy as there is no guarantee of causality in much of anything, however it oftens tends to happen. For example, once taken, power is rarely relinquished, so when I see someone assert power or authority my first question is “what’s next”? So, I’m less disdainful of the slippery slope than I used to be, but your point is still well taken.
A couple of questions for you:
1) In speaking about adapting to a new way of living…I can’t tell if this brings you joy or sadness? It seems to be a lamentation of sorts, but it’s hard with writing.
2) What would you have to believe not to live this way, unless you find it a desirable mode of living?
3) Do you believe that getting COVID at some point is inevitable and that all the preventative measures are more to spread the tax on hospitals rather than to prevent death?
As to your final question: Yes and no. I’ve always been a vigorous handwasher and I attribute that to a very low illness rate. Social distancing is quite hard within a family life, and here at the office we’re pretty spread out as it is. I will wear a mask when I know it’s important to someone and it doesn’t bother me in the least. Thus far (knock on wood) no one I know has died of COVID and my immediate relations have remained hale and hearty.
And I’ve run out of time. I wrote a bit more than I intended, hoping it’s not a jumbled mess! Merry Christmas, Moriah!
Merry Christmas, Ryan! Until after the New Year…
Hello again, Ryan. I wish you and your family a Happy New Year, continued good health, and enjoyment of one another.
To dive right into responding to your previous comment, I completely understand your culture of being cautious about adopting new inventions, technologies, ideas, and changes in general. I, too, think being careful and thoughtful is far better than acting precipitously and following the fads. And I also appreciate your skepticism of pharmaceutical interventions. I’ve had some bad experiences with medications and now tend more toward natural remedies.
Could you explain to me why you believe the risk of coronavirus to your health is very, very low? What makes you less susceptible to serious illness?
And then, in response to your three curious questions:
1) In speaking about adapting to a new way of living. I can’t tell if this brings you joy or sadness? It seems to be a lamentation of sorts, but it’s hard with writing. (You)
(Me) Adapting to a new way of living during COVID, and perhaps for the rest of my life, brings both joy and sadness. I do miss the things I listed like travel, movies in theaters, dining out without anxiety, crowds at live baseball games, and always being able to find my favorite brand of toilet paper. However, I am relieved by the slowing down of my life that COVID brought. I have more time for quiet reading, reflection, writing, enjoying nature, and taking care of myself. So, both lamentation and rejoicing.
2) What would you have to believe not to live this way unless you find it a desirable mode of living? (You)
(Me) I believe variations on this virus or other viruses are likely to be endemic going forward. So, I think there will never be a time when we safely can go back to unrestricted social interactions. To enjoy what I love (see above) comfortably, I would need: 1) confidence that everyone I would encounter “out in the world” would be vaccinated unless it would be dangerous to their health, 2) everyone wearing a mask in public, and 3) people willing to stay six feet away from me unless members of my immediate family. Otherwise, I am content to stay at home or in small groups of those I know are taking all the precautions. I do take one risk that makes me quite uncomfortable. I swim at the local YMCA three times a week, sit in their hot tub (alone) and sauna (alone.) I do this for my mental and physical health. I have chronic pain, and exercise and heat help enormously. So, I do apply the risk/benefit principle in this case. And I respect your risk/benefit arguments.
3) Do you believe that getting COVID at some point is inevitable and that all the preventative measures are more to spread the tax on hospitals rather than to prevent death? (You)
(Me) I’ve heard some folks say that getting COVID is inevitable. I hope not because my spouse has very bad asthma and is at high risk of dying if infected. However, I know that vaccinated and boosted people who wear masks most of the time have still caught COVID. A few of them live in my retirement community. Fortunately, they have not been sick enough to require hospitalization, and no one has died. So, I know that we are still somewhat vulnerable no matter how careful we are. I don’t know what’s in the minds of public health officials—whether they are more interested in not over-taxing hospitals or preventing death. I hope they are interested in both.
To answer your question about how things are going in my retirement community, we’ve had about six cases of COVID since Thanksgiving. Everyone has recovered. About ten people have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, and they have been in quarantine for ten days. As the CDC defines it for congregate living, we are still in “outbreak” status, so dining and group activities are somewhat restricted.
I’m so glad those you know and care about have been safe and well so far.
I have just posted a new blog article about respect and building trust. I invite you to read it and listen to the audio of the Maine Public Radio program featuring our CDC Director, Dr. Nirav Shah, if you are interested and have the time. (I’m very aware of how busy your life is and grateful for the time you give to thinking and writing about the ideas we discuss.) If you do listen, I’d be interested in your reactions.
After this, I wonder if you have a strong leaning to one or the other of the topics on our list (a few comments back) or if you would like to have a more extended exchange about, (quoting you) “Where does the duty to oneself and family end and the duty to the community begin? I.e., at what point does the individual subject himself or herself to risk in order to reduce the risk to the community?”
Greetings, Moriah. I’m sorry for the extended absence here. As I mentioned in an email exchange last month, the business got hit with a wave of staff departures and I found myself on the front lines for the past 2 months. Things have stabilized now and after coming up for a breath, I made a resolution to renew our correspondence. I hope you’ve been well.
I’ll answer your question briefly, and I will also share some new reflections I’ve had in the past several months that aren’t political in nature. I find myself less and less concerned with politics and public policy lately, not sure yet if this is good or bad, but it saves an awful lot of time and needless stress.
Re: the risk of coronavirus to me. I read throughout the pandemic that someone in my age group had a very low risk, and then I saw this model published by the Economist and it lined up with what I had read, so I went with it. I’m making no claim to its veracity, so I’m open to being proven wrong here. As you will see, a 40 year old male with no other health factors has a 0.2% chance of dying from COVID. And I think this number has dropped even further with the far milder Omicron variant. https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/covid-pandemic-mortality-risk-estimator
On to part 2…just last week, I attended a 5-day Ignatian retreat the long-term benefits of which remain to be seen, but I can share that I will cherish the memory forever. It was intense, exhausting, and exhilarating. At the outset, I didn’t think I would be able to manage the silence (we were only permitted to speak with priests during scheduled visits) but at the end I kneeled on my prie-dieu and was intensely sorrowful that the retreat was at an end. I wasn’t expecting that outcome to say the least!
Anyway, one of the many reflections I had during the 5 days is how much time I spend on things in my sphere of concern (thing I’m interested in but can do little about given my present duties of state). This would consist mainly of checking the news, checking the stock market, and other trivial matters. All in all I wouldn’t spend a ton of time there, probably around 30 – 60 minutes a day, but still I always felt a little wasteful afterward and never the wiser (sweet on the tongue, bitter in the stomach?).
Now I spend even less time on these matters, to the point where I’m almost blissfully ignorant of what is going on. The question has started to form in my mind to what extent this might be harmful given that citizenship carries responsibilities. And I think the answer is that I will take an interest in something where there is a direct action I can take that will have consequence (viz., voting).
Instead, I wish to devote more time to God and my family. It’s funny, many of the things we learned at the retreat were catechism 101 things. Why am I here? To know, love, and serve God so that we can be happy with him in the next…but to what extent have I actually allowed that truth to penetrate my soul is another matter altogether.
If you are open to it, perhaps we can take things to a spiritual place? I noted in the mini-bio in your EA book that you were at one point an Episcopal nun, so I’m sure you’ve thought a lot about this and I’d love to hear your thoughts. On the other hand, I know that to some people the topic of religion is off limits. So, just let me know your thoughts on this and we can either move ahead or pick another area of interest!
Once more, I apologize for the delay in responding!
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Ryan, very good to hear from you. I am glad that things have settled down a little at your business and intrigued to hear about your Ignatian retreat, your reflections afterward, and the shift in some of your priorities. I’m curious about what led you to go on the retreat, as this seems to have been your first. I’m happy to talk/write about spiritual matters since our conversations have been tending toward core values from the beginning.
But first, thank you for the link to The Economist article. According to its interactive graphic, as a 70-year-old female with no underlying medical conditions, I have a 2.7% risk of death and a 15.7% risk of hospitalization. Very interesting. However, one of my concerns throughout the pandemic has been that I live in a retirement community where most people are 85 or older and at much higher risk than I. So that’s the primary reason I have been super cautious.
A little religious history may be in order first to orient our discussion. I’m hoping you will tell me yours as well. I spent 11 years in a relatively conservative Episcopal religious order. We wore full-length habits and veils, lived in a convent, and took the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. This was the second of two very intense religious experiences. The first was the five years I spent working for a missionary organization that smuggled Bibles into communist Eastern Europe and produced Christian short-wave radio programs to beam into the Soviet Bloc.
I was raised as a liberal Baptist, became an Evangelical Christian in college, moved on to the Episcopal Church in my mid-twenties, and stayed there after I departed from the convent at 39. I’ve been on many Ignatian retreats, and my spiritual director of more than 20 years is a Catholic nun specializing in the Exercises of St. Ignatius. So, I’m very familiar with Catholic liturgy and theology and will know whereof you might speak.
After my retirement, due to intense chronic pain six and a half years ago, I saw a pain psychologist who recommended a book called The Mindfulness Solution to Pain. It and he encouraged meditation as a method of managing pain, so I began to meditate for twenty minutes daily—sitting still and silent, breathing deeply, being mindful of my breath, bodily sensations, and sounds around me, relaxing, letting things be as they were. It was effective enough in relieving the pain for me to keep practicing. Eventually, wanting to know more about meditation, I started reading Buddhist literature and attending a weekly meditation group called a sangha, in the tradition of the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
So, you can see that I have done a good deal of moving around in the spiritual realm. “Why am I here?” has always been a motivating question for my quest. “Who am I?” another. And as I grow older and my time in the body grows shorter, “What is death and how will I meet it?” has become a growing focus.
So, here are some questions for you to consider in your response (or not, as you see fit):
• What’s your religious biography?
• What in your present life prompted you to go on your first silent retreat?
• What has stayed with you weeks/months after it ended?
• How do you imagine yourself moving forward spiritually?
It’s my turn to apologize for taking so long to respond. I look forward to hearing from you as soon as you have the time.
Thank you for your receptivity to this new area of dialogue and for sharing with me your history as it pertains to religion and spirituality. I must say I didn’t know there was a category for a liberal Baptist! I’ve certainly never met one; every Baptist I have met has always been conversative in their theology. Learn something new every day!
My parents raised us without much of a faith tradition. The only time I ever remember going to a church service was at Easter and Christmas, or with my childhood best friend’s family. My dad’s mother, however, was raised Catholic and she had a special place in her heart for religious so we would often visit monasteries and convents around the Bay Area and bring them fresh lemons from her garden.
Aside from these experiences, religion wasn’t an important part of our lives until my dad had an intense reconversion in the mid-1990s and dragged us with him back to Mass (he was raised Catholic and had stopped practicing somewhere along the way).
I never felt any kind of “ownership” of this decision, and as we had been raised without it, it was something we did out of familial obligation. In college however I decided to pursue a degree in History and as I read more of the early Church Fathers I started to embrace Catholicism as my own for the first time. It helped that the school I went to was deeply Protestant and I was constantly in some kind of argument with someone over some doctrine. Argumentation has a way of sharpening one’s understanding of things!
But even with this, my faith at that time was largely an intellectual endeavor, and devoid of any kind of sense of what I ought to do with this knowledge and what it meant to be a Christian, aside from go to Mass once a week. Seeking answers, I stopped and started a whole bunch of disciplines over the years including setting aside time for prayer each day, Eucharistic adoration, spiritual direction, helping out with some programs at the parish, and more. I even became an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and would bring it to the sick in nursing homes. Ultimately, these bore little fruit within my spiritual life and I dropped them one by one until I was, at best, a nominal Catholic.
I don’t remember the precise moment or set of factors that led me to “try again”, but getting married and having kids and the ensuing realization that the lifestyle I had continued since my 20s (late nights, video games, alcohol) was incompatible with long-term family success, I slowly started my crawl back towards the cross. My wife and I started attending a traditional Latin Mass chapel around 1 hour away from our house every other Sunday, and at this time I noted for the first time a “tug” in my soul to aspire to greater and greater holiness.
Of course, self-love has a funny way of getting in the way of love of God, so it took me years and years of blowing hot and cold before really and truly desiring to commit myself to Christ. And, of course, conversion is a lifelong process and not a once and done kind of thing, so it is something we must rise each day and face, but I can tell you that the number of days that I rise to face the Lord vs. my own selfish pursuits has been inverted…with tons of improvement still to be made!
I had heard about the Ignatian for years and had desired to do one, but obstacles were thrown up at every turn. One year, I was asked to go present to a very large prospect in Delaware so I had accepted and had to cancel the retreat. The next year, I had paid the money and booked the trip and then Covid hit!
In between these botched plans, one Sunday in 2021 our priest mentioned the Exodus 90 program to me in the confessional. After doing a bit of research, I decided to try it out. For 90 days I gave up music, trivia (Twitter, politics), sweets & sweetener, warm showers, snacks, and committed to at least 20 minutes of nightly prayer reflection.
It was the easiest hardest thing I’d ever done. Surprisingly, the biggest struggle for me were sweets (and not the cold showers, I have maintained this discipline and it’s quick and painless, preserves water, and supposedly has some health benefits too – all pluses). It was obvious, but it didn’t dawn on me until I gave them up: kid’s gummy vitamins (I would swipe a few while doling them out to the children each morning), sweetener in my coffee, in my water, a candy bar after lunch, a flavored ice tea at night, etc.
Overall, it was a very fruitful experience for me. As I wrote at the time “I can say with ease that while I’m still a baby in terms of my spiritual development, I have grown more in these past 45 days than I have in my entire 40 years of life.” I mention this only because I don’t know that I would’ve committed to the retreat if it weren’t for the prelude this program gave me. It showed me what was possible and I longed for more!
As for the retreat itself, well, that could be a post in itself. I took several pages of notes. Here are some of the things that I carry with me to the present:
• Love is an act of the will and not an emotion
• Those closest to God often suffer the most
• Prayer is to the spirit as food and water are to the body, and it isn’t difficult once you for the habit
• The importance of mental prayer
• St. Ignatius’s three types of people – which one am I?
• Our utter insignificance in the face of the created order, yet God loves each of us
• What is my little white rabbit that I refuse to give up?
I could go on, but I hope that will give you the sense you were looking for as to what I derived from the retreat.
As to the future, I had greatly simplified my view of this in the last few years, and it has been accelerated by my experience on retreat. Quite simply, I view my future as one in which I trust God and what He has in store for me.
I used to come up with all kinds of grand designs and plans and spend a great deal of time daydreaming about many things, business and personal; now I simply try and respond to the demands of the day. I recognize this as a season I’m in, and would not be fitting for someone who is contemplating major life decisions, but it seems like the right decision at the moment: the business is doing well, the kids are in their prime development years, and I like the stability and support I can provide to the family by maintaining the status quo.
This doesn’t mean I don’t do any planning. Every night, I try to review the day, express gratitude for the blessings it contained, look at where I fell short, and resolve to do better tomorrow. But instead of worrying about the big picture, particularly things I have little control or influence over (politics!) I have found more peace in accepting my present state and focusing more on the small improvements that I can make within myself to have more charity and to draw closer to God.
Additionally, I have found immense value in acts of self-denial and have made many of the practices referenced above a permanent feature of my life, except on Sundays where I relax a bit and allow myself some sweetener in my coffee and a bit of world news.
So, in a nutshell, stepping into the future I see myself striving to trust more, pray more, spend more time with family, and making small sacrifices throughout each day, while worrying less about my future, the future of the country, etc. While stress management is an ongoing struggle, I can report that my stress levels are at historic lows. I credit my revised outlook and habits for this change.
That was quite the stream of words! If you are comfortable, I’d be interesting in hearing the answers you’ve developed to the questions you asked of yourself below:
• Why am I here?
• Who am I?
• What is death and how will I meet it?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts, whether in response to what I’ve written or anything you feel inspired to share!
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Wow! That’s an interesting and inspiring spiritual memoir. Thank you for sharing it so thoroughly with me. I’m moved by your honesty and humility and the transformation that has obviously occurred in your life. I want to comment and ask a few questions before I try to respond to the three questions you reminded me about at the end.
First, is your father still alive? Do you know anything about the nature of his conversion experience? Have you been able to share your spiritual journey with him? And have you shared all or most of this with your wife, and how does she respond? Has she had comparable movements in her spiritual life?
Second, I sense that while our spiritual experience may have many similar touchstones, our theology is different. As with our divergent political views, I believe our differing religious perspectives can be opportunities for learning and growing.
Now to pick up on a few things you said.
Your phrase, “I slowly started my crawl back toward the cross,” struck me. It’s an expression that captures the Christian perspective on sin and salvation, which I have found problematic. I’d like to understand better what you believe sin is and how Jesus’ death on the cross (ordained by God the Father per St. Paul) saves us from the consequences of our actions both temporally and eternally. I’ve struggled my entire life to overcome a sense of my innate badness (cultivated by my family and my church) and to believe in my goodness and lovableness. Looking at Jesus, I see understanding, acceptance, and love in his actions and words, and I find it hard to conceive that God required him to die on the cross to save me from my terrible sinfulness. I guess I am saying that I find the doctrine of atonement hard to swallow. So, does your spiritual transformation feel like crawling back to the cross or being embraced, awakened, and transformed? Or both?!
It sounds like you are looking forward to the lifelong process of conversion that you have entered. You talk about ease, simplicity, trust, and peace. I sense joy, hope, and gratitude.
I understand your appreciation of the program of self-denial that you entered before the retreat. While I have never been much for giving things up, like chocolate and Ruffles (two of my addictions), some of the habits I am trying to overcome are anger, the need to be in control, and the compulsion to please others at the expense of being my true self. But it’s the same principle. Becoming aware of our habit energy and trying to replace it with something healthier for ourselves and others is a path of awakening and transformation.
And I share your longing for more spiritual deepening.
Also, (and you are coming to this much younger than I did), I think we share the sense that it is pointless to waste much energy stewing about big picture things that we can do nothing about. It’s better to live each day fully in the present moment, making loving, compassionate, just choices about situations and people in our lives, and believing that these choices contribute in some, perhaps mystical way, to the common good, the salvation of the world. You said, “Trust God and what He has in store for me.” I’d agree, but I probably conceive of God differently and without the masculine or personal pronoun.
A few comments/questions about what you gleaned from the retreat:
• Love is an act of the will and not an emotion. (Agreed!)
• Those closest to God often suffer the most. (I don’t know what you mean by this and would like you to elaborate.)
• Prayer is to the spirit as food and water are to the body, and it isn’t difficult once you form the habit (Yes!)
• The importance of mental prayer (Tell me more.)
• St. Ignatius’s three types of people – which one am I? (Indeed! Which one am I too?)
• Our utter insignificance in the face of the created order, yet God loves each of us. (I do not experience a personal kind of love from God. But I feel held, upheld, and loved by the created order – the universe, Mother Earth, the energy of life that I call God.)
• What is my little white rabbit that I refuse to give up? (Good question! I’ll ask myself that too, and we can write about it in the future if you like.)
•Who am I? There are so many different answers, but I choose a seeker for this response to your post. I’ve been so my entire life, searching for something beyond my grasp and understanding. I have an insatiable longing for something that keeps me looking, learning, moving, and aspiring.
•Why am I here? I’ll choose the Buddhist response. I’m following the Boddhisatva path – the journey to awaken my heart and mind so that I can be of greater and greater benefit to others.
•What is death, and how will I meet it? Death is the end of my physical body. I don’t know if it is the end of my consciousness (soul.) It is hard for me to conceive of the end of my consciousness. Currently, I think of death as merging my consciousness with the universal consciousness, the energy that creates and animates everything. Energy never dies, and it constantly changes. It’s the great I AM. Death is merging entirely with the great I AM. I’m practicing letting go now, in small things, in preparation for the final, big, “let go.”
Tell me more, Ryan, but take your time.
Who is HEN, who commented on your post?
Ryan, well done, no apologies required.