Different perspectives

Have a look at the cube above. Now look again and see if you can see it from a different perspective.  Most people can – but not see both views at the same time.  It’s lucky we can still do this with the cube because as political animals Americans seem to have lost it.

It gets worse.  Presidents and newscast hosts get involved in slanging matches and start competing for the “Bully of the Year” award.  People become very self-righteous for different reasons and with different reactions.  Some of us have high expectations of appropriateness and when we don’t see it, we become outraged.  Others follow the Twitterverse for its entertainment value.  Values are clearly in play.  Some feel discouraged, others feel helpless.  It’s one thing to deal with a surly adolescent or screaming child at home.  It’s another when you’re dealing with a leader of the free world.

As Tom Friedman observed recently in a New York Times article, “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans,’ but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation-states in the Middle East is now infecting us.”

It’s more than disagreeing on facts. We seem to have graduated to disagreeing on values. How can people who have so much common history seem to be living on different planets?  The clue may lie in how we determine values as much as we do facts.  While even expertise is distrusted these days, a bit of expertise might now come in handy.  I turn to Jonathan Haidt and his book, The Righteous Mind.

Haidt’s premise – that we are intuitive first and rational second – has much in common with Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman’s in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow.  Haigt as a social psychologist framed this concept in an earlier book, The Happiness Hypothesis, using the analogy of the mind as a rider on an emotional and instinctive elephant.  He sees moral judgment based more on more on intuition than on conscious reasoning; it is automatic.  If we want to change other peoples’ minds, he says, we talk to their elephants.  It is through relationships with others not our arguments that different points of view have a chance of making an impact.  There is more than one way of looking at things and if you return to the original image and looks at it long enough, you can see it in two different ways.

After in-depth  research on moral thinking, Haidt has identified these moral foundations arising out of different cultures and historical traditions but now almost universal in presence – if not in emphasis:

  • Care: Ability to “feel the pain” of others, to show a nurturing kindness. The opposite is harm
  • Fairness: it can be interpreted in more than one way- equal treatment for all or proportionality.  The opposite is cheating.
  • Loyalty: our ability to form groups and put the needs of the group first. The opposite is betrayal.
  • Authority; respect for leadership and traditions. Its opposite is subversion.
  • Sanctity; respect for the physical body and the need to keep it pure and clean. Its opposite is degradation.
  • Liberty; individual freedom and hatred of bullying and domination  Its opposite is oppression.

It gets interesting when you start to apply these foundations to politics. Haidt notes that Democrats and Libertarians are strong on the first two and Libertarians especially on the last one – while Republicans value all six – giving politicians more road maps in how to appeal to voters. The “facts” may matter a good deal less to the elephant than the emotional response they arouse and we see lots of that going on right now.

I’ve also been reminded of another book whose title seems prescient – Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve, published after his death.  A rabbi and psychotherapist, Friedman served as an advisor to six US presidents and it would be interesting to think what he would have to say to the current one.  Long before the current turmoil, be saw America as overcome by anxiety.  Both presidents and parents need to understand different roles as leaders.  I have zero confidence that the current leader would take Friedmans’ advice, but it might have some usefulness for the rest of us.  There’s room for more than one leader among us.

The leader’s role, Friedman says, is to be a non-anxious presence – to maintain one’s own integrity when facing sabotage – which any rise to power will automatically bring.  The real job is to maintain a sense of self while at the same time remaining connected to the opposition.  The very time one is under attack is the time not to react by hitting back in the same way.

Any emotional relationship involves a triangle. It can be three people – any parent has seen how the game plays out among mom, dad and teenager – or any two people or groups with an issue in which they disagree.  In an earlier work, Generation to Generation, Friedman explores how earlier generations become part of our triangles even after their deaths. Friedman notes that we are all part of multiple triangles simultaneously involving our jobs, our parents, our significant others, our finances, our health – and even our vacation preferences.  Three levels of government present another set.

Any triangle is a recipe for high anxiety – so the ones we are dealing with right now a perfect storm. In human terms, trying to change the relationship of the other sides of the triangle hardly ever works.  All of us, I suspect are trying to be more responsible than the other players. That doesn’t bring a solution – what it does bring is stress.  Anxiety is contagious and we are in the midst of an anxiety epidemic.

What to do?  Friedman would say –

  • Self-differentiate. The only person’s behaviour we can change is our own.
  • Maintain a sense of humor and be playful. If this were a play or a novel, the modern scene would win prizes for farce of a very high order.  The fact that it is happening isn’t so great – but life is long and things change.
  • Focus on personal strengths and do what one can to enhance them. Let other people work on theirs.
  • Stay in touch with what’s going on. There is a tendency to want to hide under a rock, but we can’t.
  • Be honest. Speak your piece but don’t fall into reciprocal slurring.
  • Question beliefs. Haidt notes that there is a difference between “What can I believe?” and “What must I believe?”
  • Live in the real world – not just the digital one – liars and cheaters are easier to spot there.

I like a quote from a recent memoir Safe Passage, by Ida Cook.  She and her sister helped many Jewish families escape the ravages of the second world war before it started.  She notes that when the war began, her 70-year-old father told the family that he was going to enroll as a stretcher bearer.  His wife replied that he was more likely to be on it than carrying it.  One of the sisters was worried about her father’s silence and projected that his feelings were hurt.  She said, “We think it is fine for you to want to be a stretcher bearer, Dad, even if mother thinks it is impractical”.  His reply would have gladdened Ed Friedman’s heart. He said, “I don’t care in the least what any of you think so long as I do what I think is right”.

We can stop being outraged.  We can stop being entertained.  We can stop expecting others to change.  We can stop being tired of foolishness.  We can start working on our own integrity and acting on it. We can also recognize that there is more than one perspective on the right thing –  giving some the right to emphasize some more than others and follow our own.

 

RULES FOR REPORTERS

news

When you are a reporter for the New York Times, BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, the BBC and The Huffington Post and find yourself excluded from a White House Press conference this past Friday, you need help with bullying when it happens again.  So I looked online to find some advice:

 Act with Awareness, Calm, Respect, and Confidence

Projecting a positive, assertive attitude means holding your head high, keeping your back straight, walking briskly, looking around, and having a peaceful face and body. Staying aware also helps you to notice so that you can deal with it sooner rather than later.

Leave in a positive powerful way

 Leave in an assertive way, saying something neutral in a normal tone of voice like “See you later!” or “Have a nice day!”

Set Boundaries About Disrespectful or Unsafe Behavior

Your values are to have a welcoming and safe environment for everyone – and that being cruel or hurtful is wrong whether it happens in person, via social media, by texting, online or in any other way.

Use Your Voice

Leave and go to an adult to report what happened and get help as soon as possible.

Protect Your Feelings from Name-Calling and Hurtful Behavior

The reality is that, no matter how committed we are to safety and respect, not all places have the same commitment – and even when they do, people will still make mistakes. . . . saying, writing, emailing, or texting in ways that are hurtful to anyone makes problems bigger, not better.

Speak Up for Positive Inclusion

Being left out for reasons that have nothing to do with behavior is a major form of bullying

Be Persistent in Getting Help From Busy Adults

Learning how to have polite firm words, body language and tone of voice even under pressure and to not give up when asking for help is a life-long skill.

Use Physical Self-Defense as a Last Resort

Help for the kid in us all:  Excerpted verbatim  from https://www.kidpower.org

 

PERSISTENCE

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It’s interesting that women can be silenced but men can be allowed to go on reading the same thing.  But it’s also a reminder that we have to continue to be activists no matter what our gender.  I was glad to see the suggestion in a recent New York Times that this is an analog process as well as a digital one and there were a few reminders for any of us no matter what country we live in

  • Educate ourselves by reading legislative documents – not just people’s commentaries on them
  • Know who our political representatives are at municipal, state or provincial and national levels. Visit their websites and read their newsletters.
  • When we have strong views on issues, let politicians know.  Visit their office, phone them. Individual letters make much more impact than polls and questionnaires. Ringing phones have more momentum than tweets.
  • Join advocacy groups that work on things we care about and support their advocacy efforts
  • Let companies know when we question their political support – give them positive as well as negative feedback
  • Most of all – when we know that information is questionable when we hear friends utter it, respond – but gently rather than stridently.  By saying, I notice. . . . ,  I wonder . . . . we allow both ourselves and others their integrity.  We’re going to have to keep that in mind when we inhabit divided states.

WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY?

social-media-icons-the-circle-set

How do we cope with a Tweeting leader?  Should tweeting be subject to censorship when it spreads lies or hatred  by anybody – no matter who?  Are social platforms really publishers even though they think they are not?  What power does an ordinary citizen have? If I protest, do I deserve a backlash from people who voted for the leader – even though they think they had a numerical majority when most reliable sources say they didn’t –  but they believe the lie because a certain leader tells them so.  Now when the press is called the opposition party, I really wish Marshall McLuhan were around to help us straighten out the time worn phrase that the media is the message.

Social media have been professing themselves as merely the conduit of free speech for quite a while.  Perhaps it feels different lately.  Faith in letting people say anything they like seems to be wavering among tech leaders – especially when it affects their own employees as it did last weekend.  We all need to pay attention, reframe and rethink responsibility in a digital age.

DISCONNECT

download2

Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam, Lovely spam, wonderful spam   – Trump, Trump Trump Trump . . . . . . . .

Where are rhe Pythons when we need them?

My morning paper, The Globe and Mail, created the world of the day in its Saturday edition. Today’s editorial suggests we “Keep calm and carry on”.  So how does its content this morning help us do that?  I decided that it would be fun to put some headlines into a word cloud generator.  The result is what you see above and the answer is “Not so much”

I restricted my Word Cloud to two sections of the newspaper –  “News” and the one called “Focus”, which includes commentary and the weekly editorial. I didn’t have the energy to cut and paste the copy of the articles under these headlines or we would see the word Trump push every other word out of the cloud.

Yes, I know that an inauguration is news through I didn’t see it on TV.  I don’t generally watch the swearing in of Canadian poliiticians on TV either though I did attend a real-life one the fall and it was moving and made me glad to be a Canadian.

But if the fourth estate wants us to keep calm and carry on here in Canada, is it effective to be as obsessed with one person as it seems to be?  I don’t need Canadians to be happy about an inauguration.  But I don’t need reporters and columnists to encourage me to be as angry or afraid as they are either.  I also don’t need them to share their disillusionment or wishful thinking that a new head of government in the country next door would suddenly become presidential.

I did feel as though I were being spammed this morning.  Reality TV has created this person and the press seem taken in by it more than anyone else.  The values that this genre inspires are mixed. I hardly ever watch it though it is a favorite of my young grandsons – unlike their father who used to like shows like Barney Miller or Get Smart at the same age.  Sometimes the Reality TV participants in their endless competitions show courage and ingenuity but more often display winner-take-all and to hell with anybody else.  If we are expected to keep calm and carry on, we need a press that focuses more on facts and less on the personal fears, obsessions and anxieties of its writers.

 

The polical pitch

Canada  has a national election coming up.  At least one blogger has tried to explain the process to our American friends so I don’t have to do that.  We haven’t had an election for some time and we don’t have the same kind of advance campaigning ever before so I want to be informed before I vote. There have never been so many options – and we have never had less useful information. Where to find something useful?

I started with TV.  The national broadcaster provides one to two hours of noisy chat from politicians and pundits.  It’s basically a shouting match in which the moderator joins in.  The other major network has a more gentle approach.  But what the networks have in common is participants who simply want to slam other points of view.  To have any sense of the issues is almost impossible to fathom.  The newspapers aren’t much better.  Columnists no longer give facts.  They go straight to their take on the facts.

And then there are the polls. A pollster on one of the networks had a podcast interview with a senior vice president of Angus Reid.  She brought the results of a national poll of 6,000 persons and commented on the segment of “likely voters”.  Could you describe “likely voters”, the interviewer asked.  “They are people who are likely to vote,” she replied.  Hmmmmm.

So I thought of going to the party websites to see what the issues were.  Surely this would be a place for reasoned and well-presented platforms.  As an inveterate mapper who likes to find patterns and common threads, mapping menu headings seemed like a possible approach. I intended to chart broad issues and see how the compared across the parties.

So in I went. Wow!  Somebody started with a really good opening template and everybody else followed – following the leader in ways than one.  To be fair, a campaign site is obviously looking for volunteers and donors.  But it would be nice to have a glimpse of the party’s platform, before signing on to donate or contribute cash.

I have created several websites using free templates. A first step is deciding the overall organizing structure to help people navigate a site. One starts with a top level menu; and then one can create sub menus allowing readers to drill down. Think of a book library classification system. That’s actually what a branching system like mind mapping does too.

So let’s have a look:  Conservatives first  (You can go to the real one if you like)

cpc

If you want to have a policy you have to go to “latest” on the menu.  When I did what I found was a series of announcements.  This is a map of the subject matter issues:

CONSERVATIVE

Obviously not a whole lot of help on the big picture here.  All those Rotarians and Kinsman will like getting some tax relief on their membership fees – but is this what all Canadians were hoping for as a national strategy?

I moved on to the Liberals: (actual site here)

Lib

This is just the opening page – right below it is a slide show of quick moving promises relating to specifics.  Veterans get a lot of attention.  I tried to summarize the potential menu items here as well by using key words from the slides as they moved.  But the primary branch words here are my own.

THE ISSUES. LIBERAL

One Thousand dollar tax credits to teachers who buy their own school supplies might reflect the leader’s teaching past, but it seems to be in the same realm as giving tax breaks to service clubs – goofy distractions, not consideration of important issues. Not much convergence on issues re the first two parties either.   I moved on to the NDP

NDP

Rather interesting that the NDP combines “just not ready” and “change”. We’re all sound biters now.  Whoever designed the sitec originally might have thought of not covering the leader’s face with the sign-in option.  It almost looks as though someone is trying to shut him up. (Somebody else noticed this before I got arround to publishing and fixed it – good thing).  But the positive thing here is that when one scrolls down just a bit – one actually sees a bunch of actual issue topics.  It was easy to make my map here:

THE ISSUES.NDP

While the Green Party is not a major player at this point it is only fair to see how they see the issues.  I secretly hoped that we might see a different entry design here – but no such luck.

Green

One might also have thought that a green background would be obvious –  even just to counteract pre-judging a new party with blue sky thinking.  But it is the first time we have seen the use of the word, “vision”.  I clicked on it. Going one layer down one actually sees some issue headings under graphic boxes.  I’ve mapped these as they appear as follows:

GREEN PARTY

This is a good deal more transparent.  I think that some topics could be lowered a level and combined but at least there are some real issues here.  Perhaps the most important addition under the pictured options is another message in a box that says, “Read our Comprehensive Plan”.

I did check it out and from the headings, it clearly has an environmental focus but it is not quickly evident how the other issues fold in.  But a published plan is a huge step forward.

What are we to make of platforms when we have so much information with so little substance thrown at us every day?  I’m in a new riding where the old sectors sent elected representatives from two different parties to parliament.  Both candidates are viable alternatives.  Henry Minzberg, the noted management conultant  says that one way to make change is to ensure that ridings don’t split the vote between two parties to the benefit of a third.  There is even an organization focused on avoiding that by constant polling and asking people to rally around one candidate at the end.  It’s not going to be an easy few weeks ahead.

Political Landscapes

Well who says that August  is boring!  My day started with digesting yesterday’s Canadian news about the Duffy trial and its star witness, Nigel Wright.  The wheels of justice move slowly so we are only now getting around to events that happened in 2013.  Memories of being glued to  TV during Watergate poured back, but this time it’s different.  Instead of memos – we now have email correspondence threads – complete with all those endless repeats.  The CBC’s host of Power& Politics is in the courtroom tweeting a stream of almost verbatim Q&A. Reading the more thoughtful press reports aftewwards gives a definite sense of déjã vu.

An inside view of the PMO brings politics down to earth with a bang.  Even though CBC news head honcho Peter Mansbridge thinks it gives a fascinating glimpse of what is really going on, it could be duplicated in the internal memos of any office including his own –  in its full banality – messes other people have created,  protecting the boss,  saving their own skins – though the scale of the game here is a little bigger.  In most offices you don’t have a staff member claiming to cover lots of $90k  items on his own.  And quoting Matthew 6:3 as a rationale for left-hand right-hand actions did inject a new level of interest, as journalists suddenly had to bone up on theology.  Even Facebook Anglicans chimed in.  One claimed to be a classmate of Wright while another admitted preparing him for confirmation.

Some of my own dots connected this week here too.  I learned from an except of John Ibbotson’s new book that Stephen Harper enrolled in my alma mater, Trinity College Toronto; he left after three weeks feeling he didn’t fit in.  I sympathized.  Harper came from suburban Etobicoke; I entered Trinity College many years earlier from a small Ontario city, not from one of Toronto’s elite private schools. But being in residence gave me a tribe that allowed me to survive and even thrive – unlike Harper after his first lonely three weeks.   On the other hand, Wright – a member of an Anglo Catholic parish in Toronto with strong links to Trinity through their joint benefactor, Gerald Larkin – would fit right in.

But it’s election season – and the Duffy trial TV stories are interspersed with election ads and campaign road news clips.  How did campaigns get so goofy – in both the US and Canada?  To start with they both go on forever.  Politics becomes a round of attacks and counter-attacks. Even the New York Times is solemnly chiming in.  After listing all Harper’s shortcomings it asks, “Whether or not he loses, he will leave Canada more ignorant than he found it. “The real question for the coming election is a simple but grand one: Do Canadians like their country like that?”

The response from this voter – aka as citizen or taxpayer or middle classee depending on who is talking to me – needs to be  – uh uh – followed by some laughter before I settle down to some serious thinking about it.  We can start with the PMO philosophy:

Sigursdson Photo

or move on and enjoy reading The Lapine

elizabeth-may-and-stephen-harper

“Harper Says He Found Elizabeth May’s Cleavage Distracting During Debate”

But Elizabeth Renzetti takes my prize for her article in the Globe and Mail about staged press coverage – the people behind the political leaders – in particular the hard hats behind the prime minister.  How did they get there?  Why were they there? What are they thinking about when he noted that he was the only person in the PM office not to know about some pretty absorbing preoccupations?  And why, she asks, “did they clap when it came to the part about Canada being richer and safer”?  She cites the artificiality of the whole process.

Justin Trudeau apparently has to take a cue from the “He’s not Ready” attack ad to reply to it rather than ignore it. Personally rather than “I’m Ready”  I think he could have come up with “Justin Time”.

Renzetti says we get the campaigns we deserve. She is right.  If the most popular shows are The Amazing Race – which I get to watch when my grandsons get to choose –  or if I submit to canned addresses from  teleprompters  and read “bright lines/ message lines put out by the PMO – perhaps I am equally complicit in a  dumbed-down world where only the obsessive achievers are worth watching while I -sprawled on the couch – mutely reach for another potato chip.  The only secret weapon left might be a Newfie comedian or two; we export a lot of them. Maybe it’s time to ask them to come home.