Getting Distracted


 

 

Some of the best conversations I’ve had occur in the aisles of the local grocery store. There, in those spontaneous and seemingly random encounters, I find the greatest wisdom, coming from longtime friends who speak profound wisdom and solid Truth.

We nearly ran into each other, grocery lists in hand, and quickly caught up on the successes of a mutual friend.  Our similar political views led us to some hand wringing about one of the current scandals on what I’ve been calling our collective national news feed.

“But, it’s really all a distraction,” my friend says.  “Keeping us from talking about and taking action on the really important stuff.”

My friend is right. I am distracted, feeling like I’m jumping from one outrageous story to another, never having the time to be fully morally outraged about an event or a trend, when another absurd or unsettling story blips on my radar screen, stirring up my indignation, and leading me down another rabbit hole in the political and cultural scene.

Some of my angst comes from not feeling I’m taking action myself, righting some injustice through my own actions, or simply not speaking out at all, because I’m distracted.

I’ve been finding some direction and camaraderie with a wise person from the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Politics and culture in his time weren’t tranquil and serene, and, in his writing, he spoke out against injustice, hypocrisy, and what one of my social worker friends calls “stinking thinking”.

 

“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.”  —Ralph Waldo Emerson.

 

I’ve been distracted from being purposeful, intentional, and acting against the intolerance and injustice of our times.

 

“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

 

Am I living well, am I living to be useful and compassionate, and making a difference? Like all of us, I suspect, I want to be living in the here and now, to be productive.

My grocery store conversation stirred me up, and I’m motivated to keep at it, keep doing my life work, and making a difference.

 

I’ve long believed that social ills and “stinking thinking” are best addressed by a good public airing, so people can truly see a thought or an attitude for what it really is.  One of my missions in life has been to seek the truth, and bring it to light.

My friends in the medical community often talk about the curative properties of sunlight and fresh air, and how infections often respond to a change in the environment, and the need for a thorough examination under a bright light, bringing in fresh air, and creating a place where healing can begin.

I’ve long enjoyed the idea of clearly identifying the elephant in the living room, so people can begin to talk about the real problem, take ownership and responsibility, and move towards finding solutions. Such clarity and directness gets us “down to brass tacks”, as my grandmother used to say.

Then, another news story, and a flurry of unreasoned opinions, rants, and personal attacks. Distractions, again.

Uncivil discourse, a sign of the times.

Blindsiding and personal attacks; not having meaningful, purposeful conversation about the issue at hand  — it all reminded me of what our national political conversations have turned into, a lot of noise taking away our need to focus on productive discussions and the elephant in the living room. We are being distracted from expressing and sharing, not having well thought out and articulated debates on issues vital to our national health and direction, and respecting people’s views, even if we might disagree with them.

My grocery store encounter with my good friend reminded me that distractions are simply that. They get in the way, and keep me from my purpose in life and in my community.  I need to keep focused on the task at hand, the issues we are facing, and carry on, “to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived, and lived well.”

 

–Neal Lemery, 6/1/2018

 

 

Being Civil


I wear a number of hats in my community, and I’m involved in a number of issues for which I have a great deal of interest and passion. My resume could be rather lengthy, but then, most people I know around town also take on a variety of tasks and roles, and have a treasure chest full of talents and experience. And, I’m certainly not the only one who can get stirred up about a subject.

My most important job title is “Citizen”. And we need to respect each other, and honor our fellow citizens for their vital role in our social fabric.

We don’t always agree, but we do keep talking with each other. We have lively, often passionate discussions and conversations about “hot topics” and how we can marshall our collective resources and move forward.

I suppose that’s politics, but it is politics in the good sense. We put our passions and our viewpoints out on the table, so we can have rich discussions, and so we can come together and find solutions, and implement them.

Sometimes, our conversations are heated and involved, but that is because we care. We care about each other, we care about our community, and we care to take the time and energy to make our community a stronger, more effective place to live our lives and invest in our future together.

I’ve learned to respect other people’s viewpoints. They have had different experiences, different backgrounds, different thoughts and opinions. Those differences are resources, assets for all of us to treasure and respect. We need all the tools we can find to take on our community’s problems and to move ahead.

In those conversations, those disagreements, we have the opportunity to explore the full extent of our problems and our solutions. Disagreements are really resources, and differing viewpoints give us the opportunity to examine our own views and our own solutions. By listening to others, respecting their views, and by working towards a consensus, or at least a collective decision based on compromise and fully explored views, we make better decisions.

Our diversity is one of our strengths and one of our best tools to build a better community and a better country.

I want people to not stir the political cauldrons, yelling about our differences, or crank up the volume of heated arguments. Nor do I want to applaud the cleverness of someone’s political rhetoric, or the depth of sarcasm and vitriolic speech.

Let’s tone it down, and be civil with each other.

“Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health.”

– Pier Massimo Forni, Professor, Johns Hopkins University, who chairs their Civility Project (http://krieger.jhu.edu)

Wise words from the National Institute for Civil Discourse, at the University of Arizona, Tucson. (http://projectcivildiscourse.org) :

“Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about the need for community leaders and elected officials to tone down the divisive and polarizing dialogue that seems to typify discussion about difficult community and political issues. But what is it that average, ordinary people can do to help heal our community and restore our sense of cohesiveness and solidarity in order to take on our common ground issues and concerns? We’d like to suggest the following as a starting point for measuring our individual impact on restoring Arizona’s “Civil Culture.” Feel free to add to this list!

1. 1. Be an active part of the community you live in!

o Do you know your neighbors? If not, go meet them! Make food to share and use it as an occasion to go door to door to meet new neighbors or your closest neighbors that you may not have met.

o If you are eligible, register to vote, inform yourself about local issues and vote in local, state and national elections. Attend public meetings and read up on the issues to make informed decisions.

o Get to know who your elected officials are and how to contact them to inform them of your views.

2. Volunteer / Serve others

o There are innumerable community organizations looking for regular or occasional volunteers.

Investigate ways to involve your whole family in regular volunteer activities that speak to an interest or concern that you all share.

o Make yourself available (within reason) to assist friends and neighbors in need.

3. . Make sure future grown¬ups are part of the solution

o If you’re a parent, talk to your children about respecting others with differences of opinion, and lead by example. Involve them in discussing ways to deal with conflict and disagreement in constructive, bridge -building ways.

o If you don’t have children, get involved with mentoring programs to provide support to young people who may not have good adult role models in their lives.

4. 4. Don’t take yourself so seriously

o When someone disagrees with you, don’t take it personally. Refuse to allow the disagreement to escalate into an exchange of personal attacks. Ask questions to really try to understand where the other person is coming from, and show them that while you may not agree with them, you are interested in understanding their point of view.

o If you’re having a bad day, consciously make an effort not to take it out on others.

5. . Broaden your horizons
Learn about, or get involved with, people that are not like you. Seek out cultural activities or performances that you’ve not experienced before; read about or take a class on another culture, religion, political ideology, interest, etc.”

Developed March 08, 2011 by Maricopa Community Colleges Center for Civic Participation for Project Civil Discourse * projectcivildiscourse.org

— Neal Lemery 2/1/2016