We’ll Never Understand

So far, I’ve seen statements from at least 3 politicians, who have no problem expressing strong opinions about people outside their religion and race; who never let their own ignorance keep them from pronouncing judgement on others, say today that we’ll “never understand the motivations” of the monster who killed 9 people last night in Charleston.

Why reserve your whip-smart judgement now? Why be so “sensitive” and offer your “prayers”? Could it be because your ignorant ramblings maybe inspired this guy?

Media figures and politicians demonize entire races and religions all the time, saying, like Glenn Beck did, that people are “willing to lay down their lives” for whatever batshit crazy cause they’re spouting off about. And then, when some crazed lunatic actually DOES WHAT THEY SO SLYLY SUGGEST, they clasp their hands and say they’re praying for the victims and say we’ll never understand what drove them to do such a horrible thing.

We know. They were inspired by parents, by the talk radio hosts they listen to, by the politicians that pander to any loony zealot who will vote for them (or give them money), by the mentally unhinged bastards who say we’re at war with everybody.

So, maybe instead of just praying for the victims, we should stop being such assholes and preach the religion we say we follow? Preach peace. Preach understanding. Preach forgiveness and humility. Teach your kids not to be racist. Teach your kids to love their neighbors (no matter who they are).

These tragedies are avoidable, and praying for the victims is the least you can do. Condemn violence. Condemn racism. Condemn those who make targets out of innocent people. And if you are one of those people, stop it already. You’re the problem. Be a part of the solution.

What You Won’t See on CNN…

“Here’s what you won’t see on CNN” is my new least favorite phrase. I definitely won’t see it on CNN because I don’t watch any of the 24 hour news networks. Their primary job isn’t to inform me, provide clarity of nuanced issues or situations, or to enlighten mankind about the problems we collectively face.

Their entire purpose is to make money. To do that, they need eyeballs. To get eyeballs, they have to turn every situation into an event. And every “event” has to have good guys and bad guys and has to have an “angle”. And that angle has to be clear enough so even the most mouth-breathing of viewers can understand it in less than 30 seconds between commercials and know who to root for.\
The problem is that nothing that happens is black and white and there are rarely easily identifiable bad guys, just people acting in their own best interest (or what they think is their best interest).

All of the coverage, all of the commentary, all of the fancy graphics, all of the “breaking news”, it’s all there to get your adrenaline pumping and to keep your eye glued to the screen and so you’ll stick around through the commercials.\
So, don’t fall for it. Don’t watch the news. Read the news. Read commentary on the news. Read real journalists who do real research and provide perspective and expose nuance.

Stop helping them treat tragedy as entertainment. Stop participating the outrage cycle. Understand that every source of information has a point of view. It doesn’t make them wrong or right, but it affects how they view and report on things. Don’t trust all first person accounts. Be cautious about joining a movement until you understand the motivations of those involved.

There are better things we can be doing with our time than speaking like pundits on the TV or radio. We could be helping.\
I’m not sure how to help with a lot of the things going on in the world (and in my city) right now, but I can at least not add fuel to an already out of control fire.

Question Authority!

I watched the documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition about the LDS Church’s involvement in getting California’s Prop 8 passed. It was depressing as hell, no lie, and I felt like I had just watched a movie about the holocaust. I encourage you all to watch it too.\
Non-LDS should watch, and then speak out about the church’s tax-exempt status. They clearly overstepped the lines in this case and it’s disappointing that more people aren’t outraged.\
LDS should also watch and ask their leaders for an explanation about the backroom shenanigans. I don’t care about what the LDS Church preaches to its own members or the reported strong-arm tactics of getting people to donate money, but all that sneaking around and manipulating and outright lying to the voting public is inexcusable. That is not the way any organization purporting itself to be of God should behave.

My International Day of Awesomeness Manifesto

Today is the third International Day of Awesomeness, a holiday I invented back in 2007. For the past three years, I’ve tried to perform a “feat of awesomeness” to commemorate the day. The first year, I dyed my hair blue, something I’d always wanted to do but never had the guts to actually do. Last year’s was less obvious, but there was a huge layoff at AOL the day before, so I wrote LinkedIn recommendations for all of my friends that got laid off instead of doing something else. This year, I walked around Forsyth Park with my friends Murray and Tom (something they do three times a week at 6:30AM), poorly organized a lunch at a brand new restaurant downtown, and am now doing part three – writing a manifesto. I wanted to write down, for the world to see, what I believe in and what I aspire to be. But, I remembered this TED Talk from Barry Schwartz and realized that he sums up most of it in 20 minutes of eloquence. So, watch it, and then join me down below.

He talks quite a bit about “moral heroes” and celebrating them. My moral heroes are pretty simple: Mister Rogers, Elwood P. Dowd and Jesus Christ. All three men (fictional or not) contain the attributes I aspire to. They’re kind, empathetic and gentle.\
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my kids to learn from me, and here’s the (very short) list I’ve come up with:

  • Be kind to everyone.
  • Do no harm.

I think that if I can live those two things, everything else that I could do that would be considered good or worthwhile will follow naturally. As Jesus said, “And the second [great commandment] is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:39). Elwood P. Dowd, the protagonist in Harvey said it like this, “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

I don’t know about choosing between being smart or pleasant. I hope it’s possible to be both.

And, I obviously stole the second item in the list from the Hippocratic Oath, but I think it applies to everyone, not just doctors. To me, that means not just avoiding physical harm but emotional. If you’re kind and empathetic, you’re not going to intentionally cause any kind of harm to anyone else – and you’re much less likely to cause it unintentionally.

The world is full of well-meaning people who forget about empathy. We hear it every day: “I can’t imagine anyone living like that / doing that / feeling that way / loving that person / doing that to themselves / etc.” That shows a problem with their imagination, not with the other people. The things one person can’t imagine are held deeply by others. The things one person thinks are disgusting are the deepest feelings of another’s heart. We try to legislate away everything that makes us uncomfortable. We try to push deep down inside us those feelings that we can’t express because we lack the imagination to invent the words for them.

I refuse to believe that there is too little imagination in the world for us to accept each other. Being “tolerant” isn’t good enough.

If the second great commandment is to “love thy neighbor as thyself”, then nothing else can trump that, not the Old Testament, not Paul’s epistles, nothing else in Christian scripture beats Jesus Christ telling us to love each other (if you’re a Christian that is – if you’re not, that’s fine, the golden rule is a fairly universal concept – see the Charter for Compassion).

If my kids learn that from me, then I think I’ve done my job. It doesn’t matter what else they learn from me. If they grow up to be gentlemen, in the truest simplest definition of the word, then I’ll be happy.

How are you supposed to end a manifesto? I think I’ll end it with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr, who is on my “expanded” list of moral heroes:

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, or retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

A Divinely Inspired Lack of Historical Perspective

“During my lifetime I have seen a significant deterioration in the respect accorded to religion in our public life, and I believe that the vitality of religious freedom is in danger of being weakened accordingly,” Oaks said. “Atheists and others would intimidate persons with religious-based points of view from influencing or making the laws of their state or nation.”\
That’s a quote from LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks that I found in this lovely article from the Salt Lake Tribune via this post on blurbomat. In a speech given at BYU Idaho, Oaks said:\
bq. These incidents were expressions of outrage against those who disagreed with the gay-rights position and had prevailed in a public contest. As such, these incidents of “violence and intimidation” are not so much anti-religious as anti-democratic. In their effect they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation. (emphasis mine)\
The “incidents” you speak about are isolated and rare, especially when compared to the violence and intimidation inflicted on the gay community by supposed people of “faith”.\
Your two statements are connected, Elder Oaks, but not in the way you think. Why have we lost respect for religion in public life? Why have we lost respect for religious leaders of most denominations? Because they say blatantly stupid things in public and then stand behind them. They ignore Christ’s teachings and support persecuting the different, weak and those in the minority. They incite hatred, persecution, inequality and show no empathy. They use phrases like “alleged civil rights”. I don’t understand the Church’s support for Prop 8 at all. It’s hypocritical when you look at our history as a people. The early members of the Church were actually persecuted for their beliefs – tarred and feathered, shot on sight and driven across the country – not yelled at or protested against. Why? Because they were different. Because they believed in a different interpretation of marriage than the majority of the country. Does that mean the early Saints were wrong? Does that mean that outlawing that form of marriage was just or right?\
No\
It wasn’t right then, and it’s not right now for the majority to inflict its imperfect morality on the beliefs of others – especially when those beliefs, those claims of rights, have absolutely no impact on the rights of others. Has the entire church forgotten the second great commandment the Savior gave, to “love thy neighbor as thyself”? If it wasn’t right for the government to outlaw polygamy, then it’s not right now to outlaw gay marriage. That’s showing a shocking lack of empathy.\
And you expect people not to be angry when faced with your hypocrisy – with your persecution of the different? You claim that people who want to deny others their right to the pursuit of happiness are being persecuted by the very same people you’re persecuting? And then, to top it off, you equate the fight against your campaign against others’ rights to the fight for civil rights by a truly oppressed minority? Divinely inspired lunacy is the best thing I can think of to say about it.\
I would have been fine if the Church had said nothing. But, the Church asked members to donate to Prop 8 organizations and donated an unknown sum of money itself. That support is why I stopped going to church – and you’re not making me doubt my decision, Elder Oaks.

What’s Happened to the Boy Scouts?

They’re now training Explorer scouts to ‘combat terrorism’. That’s crazy. As a wee bit of backstory, I’m an Eagle Scout. I was a Cub Scout and in scouting from age 8 to about 17 when I was a junior assistant scoutmaster. I got my Eagle when I was fourteen and was an Explorer.\
I can’t imagine what the point of this is other that a bunch of macho jackasses being, well, macho jackasses – and passing it on to kids. It’s just sad that Scouting has come to this; I’m not sure what else to say about it other than I’m disappointed and that my kids won’t follow me into Scouting.