Is the richness of debate a dying art?

I am learning that the field of earnest debate between people is becoming an art that is no longer appreciated nor desired by many.
I will never forget the joy as a youth of learning the skills of debate, of working to bring someone who was on the other side of an issue into your interpretation of the situation.
Often as a youth, I was able to see two intelligent individuals with differing opinions, sometimes different philosophies, sit down and revel in the joy of presenting a well-thought-out position sometimes shifting to think on their feet as their opponent took a different approach.
In recent months, I have looked on so many online discussions on various topics facing our country, our communities. Many are so entrenched in their beliefs at an emotional level without any foundation of reasonable facts to debate or an ability to articulate their thoughts so others might be persuaded to their way of thinking.
If you have taken the time to read the writings of our founding fathers, you would know that often their debates were lengthy, with participants arguing points endlessly in hopes of winning others to their point of view.
Some among my family forebearers were party to these debates: my cousin John Adams was known for saying one should “Always stand on principle even if you stand alone.” His lengthy heated discussions with Thomas Jefferson helped create our founding document.
A few years later another family member James Madison fostered into our American system, the representative government we have. He said that “it is much more convenient to prevent the passage of a law, than declare it void after it is passed.”
So, in some respects, the representative form of government is an opportunity to put forward all potential sides, discuss potential problems that might arise from the approach and make the best decision to act or not to act which will best benefit all those concerned. In our form of government often an elected official must bring a long list of fellow elected officials on board to carry an idea forward into fruition.
Sadly, today, we see very little desire to do so, those elected seem to be singing to their own choir rather than working towards bringing others on board to their way of thinking.
The ability to present a good case and the ability to debate any challenges is a strong set of skills.
Unfortunately, I am coming to the conclusion that these abilities are becoming something which is no longer taught and no longer appreciated. It is so much easier just to eliminate someone that does not think like you from your friend list, cancel them, rather than possibly learning something from them.
The richness of the American experience is one that allows people of differing backgrounds, thoughts, beliefs the opportunity to come together discuss ideas and all learn something from one another. That was what our education, journalistic and political systems, and even the spice of community lives and friendships were about – growth through debate, new choices through learning from such exchange, and often a new selected path forward whether individually or collectively.
Though I am always hopeful, I do wonder whether we may ever see the vibrancy of what we once shared as an enlightened society ever again.

Candidates around the cracker barrel

It is the time of year when towns across America find political signs for local campaigns filling the right-of-ways and yards as fundraising barbeques and door-to-door canvassing is in full swing.
For many years, I have had the pleasure of living in small town America, in a community that up until this decade enjoyed amiable competition on occasion for the available council seats. You had men or women give their vision of what they wanted to do and then the voters came out at the polls and picked the vision they preferred.
Our little town was even less competitive than Mayberry in the episodes where “The Andy Griffith Show” centered around the council and sheriff’s races. I remember years ago as a newspaper reporter gathering three council candidates with bottles of Coca-Cola in or near their hands as two faced each other off in a game of checkers on an old cracker barrel while the other one watched. All laughing and joking throughout. That is the way it was for decades of our history.
Sadly, the advent of social media and those that use it has transformed many uplifting positive communities into a sea of dissatisfaction fueled by the egging on of candidates who are seeking any opportunity to gain a bit of attention for their campaign. Negativity, slights, one-up-man-ship seem to now be the approach of this decade’s group of candidates.
There was a time in our community, if a candidate went around bad-mouthing their opponent, that was a sure loss in the making for the bad mouther. Our great folks were just not going to stand for it and did not wish to be led by those who would do it.
Now though I am seeing candidates who make a sport of trying to destroy or hurt others through social media or other means who are applauded for their efforts. They are given pats on the back for the evil done. While this is certainly a norm in national and even some state elections, our small towns do not need this type of behavior among our leaders.
We should be the beacons of civility, the populace of principles, the sages of political strategy, by allowing only the best to serve us. Small town offices often are little more than volunteer positions that require hours of dedication, training, reading, creating relationships all to benefit our communities. Other leaders want to partner with leaders they can depend upon to follow through with regional and state led efforts at the local level. That takes character and solid leadership.
I have heard said “Well. it’s just campaign rhetoric,” but it seeps into governing as well.
As the elections are in full swing, and you pick the candidates you want to lead, look beyond the nice family photos, the slick election mailers, and look to the actions and the heart of the candidate not as they portray their actions in social media and commercials but as they conduct themselves in real life.
I long for the day of three men or women who state their visions and let us decide without running the other candidate down.
I lived it before not so long ago. I miss it. If I could trade this social media world for that again, I would flip the switch in a heartbeat.
Maybe we all can flip the switch ourselves in our respective towns by earnestly choosing the candidates that are not trying to win a social media popularity contest but will actually do the job to serve. When we go in our voting booth and cast our ballot for good decent civil people who have our interests at heart, maybe in our little way, that will be taking us all to a better small-town experience, no matter the size of our community.

The sadness of social media

While the effort began innocently as a way to connect college students and others together.
The world which includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and dozens of other companies which seek to build an audience. They bring us together for communication, use us as an audience for their advertisers, and collect information about our computer habits so they can gain money by using or sharing our data.
Now they are being scrutinized as private companies for judging what we say and hindering our ability for our opinions to be seen by others by shadow banning and or creating algorithms that prevents everything from being seen by everyone who chooses to follow or like an individual.
Social media is now taking over as the medium of delivering news and information which creates an unusual problem. Now real news comes to us right beside the opinions of anyone and everyone.
Anyone can state their opinion, form it as a news article and get people believing their false or slanted information as the gospel truth simply because it floats through next to legitimately prepared, reviewed and presented information.
Whether it’s a small or big town social media bully attacking a volunteer, a business person, or public servant, to create a fervor against them, or a child telling a tale about a fellow student in their school, the result is the same. Someone is being emotionally harmed by the actions of someone else for their own gratification or gain while others are fooled into believing the falsehoods.
Many of the companies claim their staff are policing such, but it seems many of their actions that are exposed reflect the old saying of “Straining at a knat while swallowing a camel.” They spend more time on restraining legitimate free speech while not dealing with individual abuse and bullying.
Realizing that they are not going to protect us. We must be the real police of such behavior. First and foremost, we should be cautious of inflammatory statements about individuals no matter their source.
Seek more information. If you know the person, do the courtesy of contacting them to alert them of the offense. If you feel the information is untrue or see it to be bullying or an attack, report it to the social media company. The main action, if you are a close friend of the author, then call it privately to their attention that you disheartened by their actions.
In the past, our personal negativity generally passed to a circle of six to 12 people and stopped. But today, we all have the ability to share a statement and potentially hundreds to thousands see it, and have the potential to believe it and share it further. That makes our job as a human being even greater than ever before. We must take responsibility for what we say, post, share and promote on our social media pages.
Social media is an amazing tool which if used well can bring us together, if used for evil purposes, it can bring us and our civilization to destruction.
I urge our federal and state authorities in taking a greater interest in how these companies do their business to make sure that they provide a fair space available to all, and that their efforts to protect us from ourselves, do that while not destroying the freedom of speech we all rely upon.

Passion and politics

The election is nearing and we will soon go to polls and choose a vision for the future of our country.

Whenever such an opportunity is at hand, I reflect back on family stories centered around elections.

In the early days of our country, people actually had a passion about the right to vote and exercising thereof. I guess since there were still those who could remember living without that right whether here or in their home country or whose parents’ described the experience of having no such right to them.

By the mid-1800s, the rights were extended beyond property owners, and by 1870s eliminating prohibition on voting due to race, color or previous servitude. But for many the right was still out of reach and that passion re-emerged during the suffrage movement for women and then again insuring the rights already promised were delivered during the civil rights movement for African Americans.

My grandmother joined in the passion of the suffrage movement anxiously wanting to place her vote when the opportunity came after the passage of the 19th amendment, she could not wait for her chance to pull the curtain. After finishing making breakfast for the family, she headed off on foot to her poll where she proudly cast her ballot. It was years later, she told me that part of the joy of that moment was voting for a different candidate than my grandfather wanted to win thus cancelling out his vote. She finally was able to have her choice and not just have to go along.

Today, many treat voting as a nuisance, something that you only do if it convenient, or if you happen to like one of the candidates.

I hope I am not mixing up my stories but as I recall in one branch of our family, one section of the family was so passionate about the candidate running for president in the late 1800s, that when news that another cousin might vote for his opposition, they kidnapped the cousin to keep him from voting. This resulted in his closer kin retaliating to get him back resulting in some passionate exchange of gunfire until the matter was settled. I don’t remember if there were any deaths in this enthusiasm.

However, in another polling place disagreement, a battle erupted between adversary kin outside a local polling place, once again over political philosophies, resulting in, as best I recall, the final deaths in a family feud that spanned two centuries.

Passion and politics have long walked hand in hand. We have seen much passion exhibited during this season. I hope if nothing else occurs in the next few weeks, something that you hear, something you see, moves you not to take this right we have for granted. Exercise it. Be like my grandmother who walked miles to vote. Vote for whomever you feel will lead our country, your community, in the direction you desire us to go.

Men and women fought, marched, and died to give us this right. Don’t let all those sacrifices be for naught.



Take off the gloves and put on the mitts

The election season is finally over with a few post-count legal maneuverings left to go.

It is now time for all candidates on every tier of government to take off the boxing gloves, shake hands and come out fighting for the American people rather than against each other.

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