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What Will It Take to Stop the Fear and Certitude?

June 23, 2018

Seven months ago, I published Ending Our Uncivil War, entering an unknown land.

 

I felt vulnerable and a bit unsure of what I would hear, as well as hopeful, even optimistic. How would my book impact “the conversation?” My relationship with close friends? My job? Me?

 

So far, so good! I’ve made many new friends and deepened relationships with people I respected, and more importantly quite a few people I didn’t know well, or yes, even trust or like much. I’ve been part of conversations on important stages, like The Tennessean’s “Civility Tennessee” launch at Vanderbilt’s Freedom Forum, and nationally, at the Aspen Institute’s Knight Commission on “Trust, Media & Democracy.” Enlightening engagements at rotary, leadership and book clubs, and places of worship continue. I’m learning a great deal about issues and people, but mostly what I had hoped … how much we have in common despite our differences.

 

I’ve heard directly from hundreds of liberals, conservatives and independents who’ve said they’ve made changes in their lives to get on that crucial path to political recovery and spiritual renewal. Many people are craving civility, and more are leaving their bubble, just like I’m working to do on a daily basis.

 

There have been other enlightening moments. A few months ago, most in a group of 20 older men looked at me with disdain during my presentation. The Q&A was more like a rant. More recently, a friend who runs a political blog without publicly disclosing he runs it (lots of that going on, unfortunately) tried to link my personal views on separating children at the border (it’s inhumane, y’all) to my employer’s positions (they’re almost entirely neutral based on surveys). Sorry, dude. It’s only a tug of war, if one grabs a hot dangling rope. He deleted his late-night post later. Kudos to that.

 

Some curious friends have asked, “What are you hearing on the road? What’s the general tone? Hopeful, gloomy, indifferent?” After about 50 speeches and presentations to an estimated 5,000 people, and more interactions via social media, I’ve heard all three responses. Most, however, are either hopeful or moving in that direction as they make changes in their lives.

 

The wall of fear, certitude and anger may be high right now, but I believe a great sea change is underway. When will the wave of civility, civic engagement and renewed spirituality clear the wall? I’m not sure, but political reformation is coming at some point. Check out Jon Meacham's The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels for some historical context.

 

Do you share my optimism, and Meacham's, or are you less hopeful? If you’re hooked on Fox Opinion or MSNBC’s 24/7 obsession with the president, or retweeting the anger and misinformation from people on both sides of this uncivil war, or living with someone who’s all-in either way, you’re likely unconvinced. If you’re not hooked on one-sided presentations, and reading diverse news sources, you’re aware that there is still quite a bit of exceptional journalism and news coverage, with data, facts and balanced coverage. True, sloppy media coverage in the 24/7 news cycle is a big problem, but the “fake news” ranting is simply recycled McCarthyism, which as we know collapsed under its own weight.

 

Here’s what I’m sharing 24/7. We can meet with people with whom we disagree. In fact, it’s critical. What can happen when we don’t?

 

• Complexity and humility disappear. Certitude and fear take root. 

• We lose the opportunity to find common ground.

• We risk making our opponent an enemy.

• We become very vulnerable to manipulation.

• We lose our curiosity.

• We believe everything we think. Complex issues seem either-or.

• We don’t feel good.

• Compromise is impossible. So is trust.

• Hope fades. Empathy wanes.

• Tribalism diminishes community.

• Love loses.

 

I’ve been there before. Liberation from our firm, limiting thoughts can be hard. But it’s achievable. I continue to share my plan.

 

Serve regularly.

Grow spiritually.

Protect speech.

Reform the government.

 

Have you planted LOVE in your garden? Are you taking care of it? Watching it grow? Are you inviting more unlike you to your table? 

 

If so, you are being the change you wish to see, and part of that sea change that’s going to breach today’s seemingly impenetrable wall.

 

 

 

 

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