Each of Us Can Be a Force for Change


                                    

                                                by Neal Lemery

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 8/3/2022)

            We are in the midst of change.  We’ve always been in transition, growing and evolving, but these times seem even more energized and challenging.  Big challenges are all around us:  the post-pandemic world, climate change, economic, social and political uncertainties. How many of us work and get an education, how we socialize, how we look at our world and our own expectations are in flux. How do we deal with all that? 

            I often don’t handle change well.  I like stability, predictability, the certainty that the demands of tomorrow will be comfortingly just like the demands of yesterday and today.  But that’s not realistic, and we are all compelled to adapt and move into uncharted and often uncomfortable new territory. I’ll resist that, and want to stay in my rut, the old patterns and ways of navigating through life as comfortable as a pair of broken in shoes.  

            Yet, I see that much does need to change.  Like most of us, I’m conflicted, wanting some things to change, but then not wanting change.  I struggle with that continuing conflict, that debate with myself about what needs to change and what we need to go back to.  After some inner conflict and self-talk, I mostly resolve those internal conflicts with myself by being a champion and voice for real reform, a recommitment to finding solutions, and doing things differently.  

            “It can be tempting to focus on all that is not working – the challenges, hurdles, and injustices. Good times can feel fleeting, like momentary distractions from the real work of life, which is more struggle and heartbreak than satisfaction and happiness.”  — Dan Rather 

            I’m dissatisfied in leaving the role of change maker, of rabble rouser, of being the dissenting voice that advocates new thinking, to the politicians, the theologians, and those who simply seem to be just wanting to make a lot of noise.  All of us should take on that role, and raise the voice of the reformer, the change maker.  As citizens, isn’t that our duty? If I don’t become the actor, the instigator, the loud voice, then don’t I lose the right to complain?

            “Change will not come if we wait for another person. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” — Barack Obama. 

            My rant isn’t just about political reform, about rewriting public policy and revitalizing our institutions to be the change makers.  The work, and arguably the most important work, lies within ourselves and in the relationships we build in our communities.  The work is one on one, deeply personal, and demanding of our own energies and skills. 

            The changes you and I can make can start with a conversation at the post office, with the gas station attendant, with a small group activity where we are deep in a community-building event.  It can be seeing a need in the community for something and then taking leadership to fill that need. There is so much talent and passion in our community and it often becomes unleashed by the work of a single person. Often, it’s not limited by money, but by our own willingness to step up and get something done. 

            The true power lies in the individual and the small group. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead. 

            Want to change things up? Want to make a difference? Want to revitalize your community? Then have those encounters at the post office, the grocery store, the community event.  Gather a group for coffee and have those deep conversations, the ones where everyone walks away with a to do list and a motivation to make some changes. Ask the tough questions, and seek out the meaningful conversations. Organize, motivate, daydream.  Learn the skills you need to work on solutions. 

Educate yourself. Imagine what may seem is impossible and take on those first few tentative steps. Be persistent, stubborn, and focused.  Be outspoken, and speak your truth. Surround yourself with like-minded people and be determined. Know that you are called to leadership, to be the instrument of real change. 

            You will make a difference.  You will be the change you want to see in the world. 

8/3/2022

Pruning Time


Pruning Time

By Neal Lemery

(Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 1/26/2022

The recent sunny weather gave me good reasons to get outside and start my early spring pruning chores. That work includes a lot of social and personal pruning, as well as the work in the garden. 

I have a long list, starting with eliminating some of the clutter and debris in my life, how the community can be improved, as well as taking a long look at the grapes that I had neglected to fully prune last year. 

I’m motivated to sharpen my garden clippers, both literally and figuratively, because I’m seeing a lot of community pruning of our lives, our social institutions, and our daily work in these times of the pandemic. We are challenged by quarantines, other public health concerns and responding to economic challenges. Giving these community challenges a critical eye is a healthy step forward to improving our lives, and having a positive response to these challenging times. 

“Here we are, and what are we going to do about it?”, a friend recently asked me.

The results of that pruning, that reorganization and revitalization are already apparent. Stagnant institutions are being revived, people are becoming more engaged, and new ideas are finding fertile ground. And, practices and attitudes that aren’t helping to improve our lives are being pruned away, to the betterment of all of us. Community life is on a rebound. 

As a gardener, I know that pruning away the dead, the diseased and the overlapping branches of plants improves their health, and stimulates them to be more vibrant, more productive plants. Pruning opens up a plant for more exposure to the sun, and is a proven way to invigorate older plants. I’ve recently learned that when I’m planting a shrub or tree, I should be also pruning the roots, which stimulates the plant and ensures its success in its new surroundings. 

Such practices should be applied to our work in the community. 

“In nature, every plant eventually is pruned in some manner. It may be a simple matter of low branches being shaded by higher ones resulting in the formation of a collar around the base of the branch restricting the flow of moisture and nutrients. Eventually the leaves wither and die and the branch then drops off in a high wind or storm. Often, tender new branches of small plants are broken off by wild animals in their quest for food. In the long run, a plant growing naturally assumes the shape that allows it to make the best use of light in a given location and climate. All one needs to do to appreciate a plant’s ability to adapt itself to a location is to walk into a wilderness and see the beauty of natural growing plants.” (Douglas Welch) 

I’m trying to apply those gardening principles to my own life by exploring new ideas, cleaning out some old time-wasting and stale activities and projects in my life, and finding new ways to improve our community life. Like any pruning job, my personal and community pruning involves taking a hard look at the structure, having a plan of what things should look like when I’m done, and getting tough on eliminating disease and the superfluous, the stuff that gets in the way of vigorous and fertile growth. 

The thoughtful gardener takes the long view of where one’s garden needs to be . By having a long term vision, and taking some bold steps with one’s clippers, as well as the occasional saw, transformation occurs. The needed change will soon produce obvious benefits, with the plant (and our community relationships) becoming healthier, more vibrant.

I struggle with change, and healthy pruning is one of the key tools we have to bring about needed growth in our relationships and our community. Recent stories in the Pioneer and other media tell of how people are instigating change and revitalizing our community. We are taking on new ways of how we work, go to school, raise our kids, and care for each other. These changes are the subjects of deep and sometimes hard conversations. Yet, changes are coming. Indeed, many of them are already here. 

I look around, and see that I’m not the only one out in the yard with my clippers, pruning away the dead, the misshapen, the cluttered shrubs in the yard, and the parts of our social fabric that need revitalized. We gardeners are a persistent bunch, and recognize that pruning is an ever-present task on our to-do lists. We can have sometimes heated discussions on how we should tend our community gardens, our institutions, and how we interact with each other. Our commitment to positive change, to effective pruning, is one of our great strengths, an aspect of our lives that we should celebrate with enthusiasm.

In those conversations, we can all grow and change, and become better gardeners of our community and our lives. 

Small Things


                                                

                                                            by Neal Lemery

                                    published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 1/19/2022

            We live in a complicated and interconnected world, a world where a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific creates sound we can hear, alters our air pressure, and sends tsunami waves up our beaches and rivers.  Natural and political forces from other places affect our lives, requiring us to respond and alter our lives. We can search data bases and communicate effortlessly with people all over the world. The enormity of all of that is often overwhelming. It is easy to feel insignificant, ineffective, the problems of our lives too big to handle.

            Yet, it is the small things in our lives that are often the most important and the most transformative. 

I’m joining others this week in donating blood.  Being part of the Red Cross blood drive in my town has been something new for me, part of my efforts during the pandemic to do something meaningful for others in need.  I’ve learned it is good for me, too, helping me to feel part of something bigger, making a difference, even saving lives.  I feel involved and I feel I’m acting for the common good. 

Recently, I couldn’t help but overhear part of a conversation between good friends who were digging deep into sobriety and personal accountability.  There was a sharing of experiences and the giving of heartfelt advice and encouragement.  I tried to give them their privacy, yet I felt the energy of their friendship, their mutual respect for each other and their friendship, and their passion for improving lives and building a community based on knowledge and mutual positive regard. Those golden conversations occur a lot, I think, the sharing of experience and wisdom, the love for a friend, building up rather than condemnation and rejoicing in the misfortunes of others.  

That experience reminded me of the deep conversations on addiction I had with a son, one on one, digging in deep to the heart of the dilemmas and questions we both had. We loved each other, we trusted each other, and we both wanted to move on with our lives and deal with the elephant in the living room: addiction. We were both tired of feeling angry and not finding resolution, both wanting to be loved and to give love. I cherished those hard conversations with him.  

When he invited me to his AA meeting, proudly introducing me to the group, I experienced the trust everyone there had with each other, and their passion for changing their lives. I felt my relationship with my son change then, and I grew.  Part of that growth was painful, and included recognizing some uncomfortable, hard truths about me.  That recognition, I have come to realize, is part of my own growing and changing.  

            Such work may seem like small talk, small work that doesn’t make much of a difference in the world.  Yet it does. Such conversations, such truth telling and empowering changes lives.  A changed life changes other lives and changes our communities.  Hope and faith find their voices and people find the strength to change.

            The storms in our lives often give us renewed faith and strength to endure and to change. Dolly Parton reminds us “storms make trees take deeper roots.”  By believing in ourselves and our own and collective goodness, we gain strength, we become the healthier giant trees in the forest that is our community.  

            We live now in the midst of many storms, the pandemic, drug addictions, violence and thievery, houselessness, depression, and other situations that often seem to defy solutions and relief.  Yet, we endure, we cope, and we often move into solutions and remedies that we may not have previously imagined.  The pandemic is teaching us that there is much work to be done to realize our dreams and to heal the wounds that now need our attention.

            The work that needs to be done is often silent.  Confucius reminds us, “a seed grows with no sound, but a tree falls with huge noise. Destruction has noise but creation is quiet. This is the power of silence … grow silently.” 

            We are a resourceful community, and our successes in coping and managing often go uncelebrated.  Yet, like the quiet conversations one has chanced to overhear, that work goes on and changes lives.       

1/19/2022

Filling Up the New Calendar


                                    

                                                By Neal Lemery

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 12/28/21

            The new calendar on the wall is fresh and clean. So far, there are only a few events are there. It is a fresh start to a new year. 

            The normal daily routine will return after all the winter holiday events come to an end.  Life will soon begin filling up all that empty space.  I’ll miss the blissfully quiet winter evenings of the week between Christmas and New Year’s, with shoes off, wrapped in a cozy blanket, with a good book and a cup of holiday tea. With the “to do” pre-holiday list mostly crossed off, I’m free to do what I darn well please, without a pressing agenda. It is a rare week of few expectations.

            January and a new year are always filled with great promise and opportunity.  I make a few resolutions, knowing that real change is possible, if I truly want to change and grow. I’m the one who gets to write on the calendar.  Traditions and agendas are mine to follow, or change.  It’s my call.

            I can grump and whine about the world and what our lives are like now. Or, I can do something about it. It starts with my attitude and where I decide to put my energy. That’s intention, and I’m in charge of that. I have to want to intend to change what I don’t like, and put myself into action.

            When I point a finger at something, three of my fingers point back at me. I have more than a little responsibility for how the next year unfolds for me. When I demand accountability from others, I need to be looking in the mirror, to look at where most of the fingers point.

“Be the change you want to see,” one of my inspiring role models, Mahatma Gandhi, said. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change who I am and how I live. I do have an impact on my little corner of the world. And in that, bigger changes can come. The work starts with me. That thought seems to be a universal truth.

            What do I really want to see in 2022? I need to figure that out, before I start to whine and mope about the world’s state of affairs. First, change my attitude, find my intention, then develop my plan for achieving my goals, and fill up the calendar with all of my good, positive actions.

            We live in community. Real change, real accomplishment only happens when there is a group that is engaged in that good work. Then there is engagement, ownership, and collective, community-focused achievement. Success comes from a collective effort, and is a community project, the energy coming from each of our individual intentions and acts, doing the work together.  

            One of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s favorite Zulu proverbs was Ubuntu. “One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu — the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness … We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

            I need to put more of his wisdom and determination to better society, and that spirit of Ubuntu, into my life and the life of our community.

            The nearly empty calendar stares back at me, offering a challenge. I see opportunity and a challenge to move ahead in my life, and thereby change myself, my community, and the world, making it a more beautiful and creative place. There’s work to be done.

            What’s on your calendar? 

How’s the Family?


                                  

             “They are fine, thank God.  I can’t say that for my cousin, though, or my neighbor.”

            The line at the check stand fell silent, the clerk pausing in her work. 

            “That used to be such a casual question,” she said. “Something you just said to get a conversation going.  Now, that question goes to what’s in my heart today.”

            Her eyes watered, and she wiped away a tear. 

            “I’ve lost a few relatives, my neighbor, and a couple of co-workers here,” she said. “There’s a lot of people I’m worried about, too. 

            The lady behind me, the one on the asking side of the question, took a deep breath and nodded.

            “We’re in hard times, and I’m so grateful for my health,” she said. “But we don’t talk much about what we are all going through, with all the loss, all the uncertainty.”  

            “We have each other,” the clerk said.  “We need to care for each other, and talk about our pain, and the grief, and all the unknowing, the value of family and friends.”

            We looked at each other, nodding, smiling, sharing some deeply felt emotions that needed to be shared, realizing we were in sacred space and time. 

            The silence filled me up.  I felt comforted, connected with people just like me — scared, fearful, and lonely. I was with my tribe, my people, my community. Simply acknowledging all that jumble of feelings was what I had been needing. 

            The pandemic, the isolation, the sense of disconnectedness, it is all the elephant in our community living room.  We are all going through this together, and sometimes, you just need to put that into words, get it out there, and share our hearts with each other.  It is what community does the best, bringing us together in love and compassion.  

Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer 10/6/2021

10/6/21— by Neal Lemery

Thoughts on Creating and Harvest


                                               

                                                                        –by Neal Lemery

            I’m feeling stuck. I haven’t thought I’ve been creative lately.  My blog lacks a new post, my writing tablet has no new sheets filled with my penciled writing, my guitar is gathering dust and is out of tune.  

            Despite my self-evaluation of my idleness, I realize the creative juices are still flowing, though, in different ways. I have been busy in the kitchen, turning apples from my trees into sweet packages of apple pie filling for the coming rainy days.  I’m slowly simmering the last of my tomato crop into sweet tangy sauce for hearty pasta dinners, topped off with warm apple crisp.  I am savoring the richness and abundance of harvest, in all its forms. 

            My hands play in the dirt as I plant tree seeds for my new bonsai project, and pot up the last of the geranium cuttings that took root this summer without my close attention.  The last cucumber from the garden is harvested, and the compost bin becomes filled with the remnants of the summer garden. 

There is the promise of future plantings and future abundance, and I dream of guitar chords and strumming patterns, and yearn for new ideas, new expressions to be explored. 

            The fall rains have begun and I sit under the eaves listening to the rain music, as snippets of poems yet to be born are caught in my journal.  There can be such richness in moments of silence and “just being”. 

            Coffee with a friend produces a rich conversation on serious topics, the few moments of silence over our cups offering fertile territory for new writings. We plow familiar ground, allowing the soil of our friendship to become fallow, preparing for a new season of fertility. 

            Like the season, it is a time of both harvest and of composting, turning spent plants and the last of the summer energies into the stuff that will bring forth spring explosions and summer abundance.  I am reminded that the winter ahead is simply a time of rest, renewal, and needed silence and contemplation.  Winter has its own noble purpose, its own role to play in the cycle of life. 

Everything has its time, its season. It is a time to be patient, to rest, and to observe. 

            I’m not really stuck, I’m stepping back, taking a much-needed rest, absorbing the beauty and solitude of autumn, this time of transition and rest. I take a deep breath, and simply observe. And, that is celebrating my creative spirit. 

            I’ve recently come across these nuggets of wisdom, and they need to sit with me, without an immediate response, as I listen to the rain replenishing the soil after the summer’s heat and drought. The falling rain is an act of renewal and faith, guiding me in my own creativity and work —

  • “Poetry is the art of overhearing things you didn’t know you knew.
  • “Whatever you are looking for is just beyond yourself.”

                                                — David Whyte (Anglo-Irish poet)

  • “To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for one’s

                                                    –Ruth Bader Ginsburg

published in the Tillamook County Pioneer 9/30/21

            9/29/2021

Embracing Change


                                   

                                                –by Neal Lemery

Change is in the air. The rains have returned, leaves are turning, and autumn is here. 

Some change is welcome. Yet, I resist many changes. The old ways of thinking are comforting and soothing, predictable. I’m set in my ways, determined and often obstinate. I most always am thinking I have all the answers, I know all the facts, and I’ve always reached the proper conclusions. 

People I agree with have also miraculously reached these same conclusions.          

I can blame my attitude on age. But I was at least as stubborn in my younger years. Part of who I am and how I navigate life can be traced to genetics, and part on the times we live in. 

This is an age of contrariness, obstinance, and too often, argument for argument’s sake. That feistiness is often wrapped in the blanket of divisive politics and thinking that one’s own theology and morality should be everyone’s correct thinking.

There should be no surprise that our sense of current affairs, that focus on egotism, has persisted throughout human history. Heated politics has always dominated our country’ public forums.

            The chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic has shaken our desire for stability and “normal”. Our fears, assumptions, and problem-solving skills have been deeply shaken by the unpredictability, this “facelessness” of cause of this invisible and increasingly fatal infestation. The pandemic seems out of control. Many resist what others, often experts in the field, say are useful and life-saving practices. The issues don’t lend themselves to resolution and harmony. 

            All this argument increases our society’s divisiveness, making humankind’s informed responses less effective. I am reminded of Lincoln’s phrase: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

            And, real change requires that I deeply examine my own thinking, my own analytics, and look to correct my thinking and be better informed. I need to be more of a citizen and pay less attention to my ego.

            I am but one person. But I can make a difference in this world.

            This change of seasons brings us new tasks and new opportunities. We are being called to action, to bring new tools and new viewpoints to old problems and old thinking. 

            Angela Davis writes: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

            Each of us is an instrument of change, a presence in the world for real fundamental change. It starts inside of each of us, and can then spread to friends, families, the institutions we are part of. Politics and society don’t change unless and until we as individuals change. It starts with each of us, almost on a cellular level.

            The opportunity for real change is here and now. It starts with me, and with you. Now. 

            What we need — facts, methods, organizing, communication — are literally in our hands. Change takes time, commitment, and persistence. We each and collectively have all of this, in abundance.

            “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

9/22/2021. Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer

Living With Fear in Challenging Times


https://anchor.fm/neal-lemery/episodes/Living-With-Fear-in-Challenging-Times-e17256f

                                               — By Neal Lemery 

I can find a lot of things to be afraid of. Nights can be long and my imagination can easily flesh out the shapes and skills of many monsters.  Whether or not they might be real doesn’t matter, for they take root in my brain, where I can easily imagine them in all their hideous glory.  They feed on my heart energy, too, sucking away my sense of self-esteem and my sense of purpose in this world, to make it a better place and to live my life as a loving, caring person, governed by kindness and generosity.  

Those fears feed on my self-doubt, and the wounds left from previous battles and the cruel words of others, who have felt entitled to evaluate and grade my many possible deficiencies. They are partners with the insecurities that live in that mental file cabinet drawer labeled “not good enough”.  It is also easy to feed on the drama and gloom of the day’s headlines. 

I can see the glass as half empty or half full, and the problems of the day either a disaster or as opportunity.  Life has an abundance of choices, and opportunities to act with courage. 

We all have choices.  Every generation, every time has had its challenges. Society has faced and managed other crises and obstacles, and the human spirit has prevailed. Now it is our time to deal with today’s challenges, and we are well-equipped to take them on. We are the descendants of generations of successful problem solvers and leaders.  

I am my own gatekeeper, the captain of my own ship.  I am the one who has the power to let others in, to march around my heart, and speak to me on a deep, personal, and vulnerable level.  If their presence does not serve me well, then it is up to me to show them to the door and to leave me in peace.  I remind myself that I live my life for me, and not to please someone else. 

If I let fear run my life, to be the governing principle of my existence, my personality, and my spiritual essence, then I need to own that choice, as well as the consequences of that mindset, that perspective of how my life is to be managed and lived.  I suggest, however, that such a mindset, of fear and doom, such a psychological software package, is contrary to my own self-interest, and my own self-benefit.  Being fearful is not who I want to be, nor how I want to live.

Today is Rosh Hoshana, the Jewish new year, a time of self-reflection and new beginnings. I am both comforted and motivated by these wise words from the Talmud:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

9/7/2021

published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 9/7/21

Spreading Some Good Cheer


                                               

                                                                        By Neal Lemery

            “Be a reflection of what you like to receive. If you want love, give love. If you want truth, be truthful. If you want respect, give respect. You reap what you sow.”

                                                                        –anonymous

            I’m often frustrated by the news of the day, or the way life has become a real challenge to some of my friends and neighbors.  Some days, I just pay lip service to my frustrations, and realize I’m whining, but then I realize I could take action.  

Each one of us could do better, and I believe we all have the ability to bring about change.  Do we simply lack the will to make the change, to do the right thing, and make our corner of the world a little better?  Or is all the inaction because I haven’t found the magic wand to cure all the woes of the world? 

“Put up or shut up,” as my grandmother would say when I’d just complain and whine. 

            Change is often hard, and requires will power to move ahead or change direction, to live our lives differently so that we don’t keep repeating old and dysfunctional patterns of behavior.  We expect that of our kids and we expect that of others in our lives.  We often don’t expect that of ourselves, though, and keep ourselves moving in the same old ruts, then wonder why life doesn’t improve.  One counselor friend calls that “stinking thinking”. 

            Often, the real work of making a better world goes back to the basics, the simple things that changes lives.  The action can be a simple as a short conversation, or the gift of some flowers or a book or a casserole dropped off at a friend’s house.  When I’ve been the recipient of such small acts of kindness, I am often transformed and enlightened, and the clouds in my life are lifted.  Opportunities open up, all because of a simple act of kindness. It is the power of feeling valued. 

            “I care” goes a very long way in brightening our world.  Yes, some problems are monumental and need years of commitment to be remedied.  But, the relationships to implement those solutions are based on acting on healthy and compassionate thoughts.  The foundation of that work is in the details, the small things that add up and bring about real change.

            “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” Malala Yousa Fzai. 

            I recently read about Dolly Parton’s generosity.  She grew up in an impoverished rural area of Tennessee.  After talking with others about the county’s dismal high school graduation rates and literacy statistics, she took action.  She engaged high school students to motivate them to graduate. She funded teacher aides for every first-grade class, after learning that having one on one tutoring and attention in the first grade dramatically reduced dropout rates and boosted academic and social success for teens.  Every kid began to receive a free book every month.  The cost was not astronomical, but her money was prudently invested in small things that transformed lives.  That money, and, more significantly, that level of compassion and interest, made all the difference for all of those kids. Someone noticed and cared. 

            That generosity continues today, and those programs have been utilized across the country. That work addresses basic needs and advocates timeless values of individual attention, one on one relationships, self-worth, and putting books in the hands of eager young people. 

            We can all do that kind of work and give attention and kindness to those in need. 

            It can start with a few kind words in the line at the grocery store, or meeting for coffee with a friend who needs a compassionate ear.  It’s a hand-written note put in the mail to someone who did a kind deed.  Maybe the kindness wasn’t out of the ordinary, but you can at least notice it and tell someone they are appreciated.   When you are the recipient of such kindness, “pay it forward” is genuine magic and greases the social machinery.  

            If you want to change the conversation, if you want to bring about real change, it can start with you.

7/22/2021

Shopping the Cultural Marketplace


                        

Published in the Tillamook County (Oregon) Pioneer March 9, 2021

                                                by Neal Lemery

            When it comes to opinions and ideas, we are both the producers and the consumers.

            I’m always looking out for the latest idea, the most interesting cultural experience. “New stuff” takes many forms – local news, some new political development, updates on a friend’s family or business, not to mention a beautiful photo a talented photographer has posted on social media. The list of what piques my interest seems endless. I’m like the house cat with a ball of yarn or a catnip-filled toy.

            Most of my interest comes with a new idea of how to look at the world and approaches to challenging problems.  Finding a well-written new book, meeting with a good friend or joining in a group discussion gets my juices going. And if the new idea comes from me, I’m more than happy to “market” it to my friends and others who have the same interests.  

            Like everyone else in this age of social media and digitized information, I’m able to wear both the hat of the producer and and the consumer.  The choice is mine.  I’m the gatekeeper of my cultural experiences.  

            While some may bemoan the perceived censorship or manipulation of a snippet of our cultural offerings, each of us is still capable of finding the story, and choosing how we react, and what we do with the new knowledge.  If someone wants to cancel my own cultural experience, to act as my censor, they face a daunting, if not impossible task.  

            I’m drawn to the deep discussion. The op ed page of a great newspaper is like honey in my tea, and I find a deep satisfaction in the well-thought argument, the well-researched point of view. I might even change my mind or have an intellectual growth spurt.  The more diverse the opinion, the better.  I love the mixing of curious minds.

            My coffee table groans with a wide assortment of books and articles on a wide variety of topics. And, it is up to me, not some powerful media mogul, to decide what ideas I’m going to spend my time on.  If I am going to be manipulated, what I consume is truly my own choice.  

            The idea of freedom of speech also includes both the freedom to listen and the responsibility to choose my materials wisely.  

            I am my own traffic cop in this hectic intersection of ideas, the melting pot of the great American conversation. How I respond to the ideas of others, as well as what I choose to put out into the world, is my choice.  We traffic cops have responsibilities, with truth telling and well-reasoned viewpoints being the primary duties we all have to the community. 

            This marketplace of ideas is at the heart of the American experience. Innovative thoughts and new approaches have always brought about needed change, and has helped us improve our lives and the lives of future generations.  The clash of ideas, the often heated discussions, provide the sparks that light the fires in our brains, and bring about a renewed, invigorated society.  

            If I fall to the toxic atmosphere of fear and intolerance, I’m cutting myself short, and denying myself access to the riches of the marketplace of ideas. I’m neglecting my own duties as the producer and the consumer, and I’m making the community conversation a mere shadow of what it can offer all of us.  

Raging against an opinion or perspective that is not your own only serves to suffocate this marketplace, and limit the work of the marketplace in producing new thought and dynamic change.  We need to learn to be better listeners. We also need to examine another viewpoint without the limits of our own fears and biases and be the seekers of truth and reason.  

If I am the good listener, and an advocate of reason and truth seeking, at the end of the day I might have even learned something, and come closer to helping to solve a problem. 

3/8/2021