Why Are We So Divisive?

Our political system is seriously messed up on both sides. We are intensely polarized and have lost the art of compromise; a skill that is critical to political success. We snipe at each other from our entrenched positions and refuse to give quarter or budge an inch. It is ridiculous.

We need to be able to speak respectfully with each other over issues we disagree on. We need to be able to consider each other’s opinions and be flexible. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t have all the answers to every problem no matter how smart I may think I am and I have changed my opinion drastically in the past based upon thoughtful reasoned debate with people I disagree with. None of us knows it all and none of us should trust that anyone else does either.

My wife and I are liberal democrats who believe in much (but not all) of the “liberal agenda”. We believe in social services, universal healthcare, and taking care of those around us in need. We have two very close friends that we care about who are conservative republicans who believe in self empowerment, personal responsibility, small government and much of the “conservative agenda”. We are opposite on the political spectrum but we are also quite a bit alike as people.

If you listen to the public discourse, you’d demonize your opponent. My wife and I should, by all rights, look at our friends as horrible people who have no heart, who don’t care about people less fortunate than themselves and who want to eat babies. In return, they should look at us as just a couple of hippies with no sense of responsibility, a couple who thinks the government should run every facet of our lives and who sacrifices babies to some pagan god.

The reality of it is that our friends are two of the kindest people I’ve ever met. The husband, especially so. He’s a retired detective. She still works in social services. He has spent his life protecting people and she spends her career making sure the less fortunate have a safety net.

He cares deeply about people and when someone needs something he’s the first one there to do it. He takes care of people who are sick, he brings food to friends and he is bothered deeply when he sees injustice. God forbid you ever abuse an animal in his presence.

She is a fiercely independent woman who feeds hungry people, buys gifts on a whim and is her sister’s biggest cheerleader and fan. She hurts when people around her are in pain and would give you her last nickel if you truly needed it. God forbid you ever abuse any truly needy person in her presence.

I can draw similar parallels with my wife and I, who also defy our entrenched political labels. I hate government snooping and interference. My wife and I are both devout Christians who believe in salvation and try our best to live a morally “good” life. We believe there are always consequences to our actions and that we have to be personally responsible for them. None of us are neatly understandable people who fit into pigeonholes.

If you look closely at our friends, you can see how their beliefs color the way they live. They believe that if someone needs help, you don’t turn to the government but instead roll up your own sleeves and go help them. They walk the walk and do this themselves, helping those around them. My wife and I believe that there aren’t enough people in the world like our friends who will truly help others and there should be a public safety net to help those people because in general, most people suck and won’t help.

Are we wrong? Are we right? No more or no less than our friends and we both have valid opinions and viewpoints. Demonizing the other side simply because we have different motivations and viewpoints would be stupid. Unfortunately, the way our current public discourse is going that’s what most people do. Instead of taking the time to disagree respectfully and truly listen to each other we try to distill everything down to little soundbites and memes and lob them at each other like bombs. We try to “score” points off each other like we can “win” which is, in a word, stupid.

Well, I’m going to take a page from our friends’ playbook on this issue. I see something that needs to be done and I’m going to roll up my sleeves and do it myself. I’m going to change one small thing that I do and see if I can use it as a catalyst to change the people around me as well. It may seem small and simple, but I believe it’s the first step in changing how people interact with each other and once we change that, we can start closing the gap.

One of the popular things to do on social media is to capture some complex issue as a small picture and “soundbite” and post it as a barb to the other side. We all have seen it and I’d venture to say we all do it as well. I know I certainly do. I did it just yesterday, as a matter of fact. This morning it struck me as ridiculous; how can I truly distill a complex person like my friend who happens to have a different opinion than I do politically down to a single stupid image and short series of words? I probably couldn’t explain who he is to someone who doesn’t know him in a million words, let alone a picture and short sentence. Do I want to “score” some sort of points off him? Hell no, I don’t. He’s someone I like and respect so why would I want to do that? Knowing him, I can’t possibly imagine he wants to “score” points off me either, he’s a much kinder and more thoughtful person than that.

The reality is that most people are just like we are. Most people are more thoughtful and reasoned than we truly give them credit for and to demonize a stranger is just as stupid and unproductive as demonizing friends. To that end, I’m going to stop posting those stupid memes and images and stop trying to “score” points off the other side with them. That doesn’t mean I won’t still have opinions and share them, but I will do my best to try and share them in a thoughtful fashion that invites discourse instead. I will attempt to avoid disparaging those who disagree with me and instead try to create an atmosphere of thoughtful discussion. I don’t pretend that I will always succeed but I will definitely try.

I will do my small part to bring people together and encourage thoughtful compromise instead of encouraging polarization. Who’s with me? Can we do this together? Are you in it with me?

Very disappointed

Wow. Stopped at Jack in the Box today to get a quick sandwich and I really don’t think I’ll be stopping there ever again. Here’s a copy of the email I just sent to their corporate HQ:

“I stopped in to one of your locations in san francisco today on my way to work. My intent was to pick up a sandwich for breakfast. Instead, I was witness to an unfortunate incident.

As I stood there waiting for my food a homeless man came in. I assume he came in to use the restroom or something of that nature. He was quiet and inoffensive and didn’t bother anyone as he came in, he merely walked in and started walking back towards where the restrooms are as anyone would do.

He was immediately accosted by the store manager and another employee, who shouted at him in spanish. They were aggressive, demeaning and used a tone one would use to address a dog. The man mentioned he just wanted to use the restroom at which point the employee mopping the floor began to get physically aggressive with him, posturing and attempting to goad him into an altercation. The few of us “acceptable” customers who were in the store all looked obviously uncomfortable by the behavior your employees exhibited.

The homeless man turned around and walked out, at which point the employee sped him on with a few parting demeaning comments (I assume they were demeaning, the tone they were delivered in was offensive at the least but I didn’t hear them clearly enough).

I am ashamed. What ever happened to basic common decency towards another human being? I am disgusted at this behavior by your manager and employees and I am asking you now, is this Corporate policy for Jack in the Box? Is it your policy to aggressively demean people because of their unfortunate socioeconomic status? If so, I can assure you I will no longer be purchasing anything from your restaurants and I will be sure to clearly and concisely communicate your corporate policies to my friends so they can decide how to react as well.

I understand there may be mitigating circumstances, this store may have had a hard time with homeless people, etc however nobody should be treated as I saw them treated today with a complete and utter lack of basic human respect. Nobody should be treated like they are filth blown in off the street and even if there were mitigating circumstances this could have been handled in a much more gracious manner.”

Love Letter To Myself

Dear Younger Gary,

You are very near and dear to me and looking back, I can see some things that are going to trip you up. I thought I’d take a few minutes to write down some advice for you so that you can hopefully benefit from those bumps and bruises without actually having to live through them.

Sell the stock before the split. Trust me on this.

You will find a girl who will hurt you very badly. Stay away from her.

You will find another girl who will complete you. Find her sooner. While you’re at it, spend more time with her dog too.

I hate to say it, but you’re never going to get that million dollars. Deal with it and move on. You really don’t need it, trust me on this too.

Fast little cars are fun, but big trucks are way more comfortable.

Stop being so smug. You really know less than you think you do and you’re wrong a lot more than you admit to yourself.

Go hug your Grandma. Right now. Go… I’ll wait.

Listen to your Uncles and Aunts when they try to teach you something. Pay better attention and take notes, because some day they’ll be gone and you will have to fry your own potatoes, clean your own chickens and grow your own garden.

Your mom was right.

Your mom was right about that too.

Your mom was wrong about that, though.

Islay whisky is very very good but it takes some getting used to. Start sooner.

Your politics will shift radically to the left. Seriously. I’m not kidding. It’s called “compassion” and it’s ok.

No matter what you think right now, you really don’t want to be famous. You’re really happy and thankful being normal.

Yes, they are right. A drop of water in your whisky is much better than drinking it neat, no matter how “cool” you think it is to order it that way.

Blended margaritas are for rookies and noobs. Order them on the rocks with salt. Trust me. Now get two of them and go sit on the beach with that girl I told you to find sooner and listen to the waves. That’s it, just listen to the surf and hold her hand.

You’re going to convert to Catholicism. Stop laughing, I’m serious. I was just as surprised as you are but it’s a really good fit and you will be much happier.

Remember that million dollars? Yeah… I told you to forget it, pay attention.

You will have dogs. You will cry bitterly when you lose them, and you will always find room in your heart for another. Cherish them and love them, the tears are always worth the love you get from them.

Go ahead and learn to play the guitar. Try slack key first. Hawaiian music is much better than that crap you’re listening to right now.

Joining the Navy, volunteering for submarines and going into the nuclear power program instead of going to college isn’t a bad life choice… but doing it because you were tired of studying and just wanted to get out of a bad situation is a really really stupid reason.

Eat more mangoes.

Sleep more. Work less. Take relaxing vacations with that girl you found sooner this time.

That job where they spend a year trying to recruit you? Yeah… stay away from it and tell them to get lost.

Other people’s opinions matter a lot less than you think they do.

Healthy food can actually taste good and all that fat you eat is why you feel like crap all the time.

Turning 40 is actually pretty cool. You can finally afford all those things you wanted, about the time you realize you really don’t want them after all.

You will eventually be allergic to crabs and shellfish. Eat lots of them before that happens.

Are you still thinking about that million dollars? Sheesh.

Go ahead and write that book.

Most of all, rest assured that you will love yourself eventually. Once you love yourself, you open yourself up to the possibility of other people loving you too. Everything turns out pretty good so don’t mind the rough patches. Try to bark less and wag your tail more. Most of all, just relax and enjoy the journey.

With all my love,

Older Gary.

Organized Religion

I recently had someone who I dearly love tell me they were no longer a Christian. They are in a phase of their life where they are questioning their beliefs, questioning the world and trying to convince themselves that whatever they believe is ok.

First, I got upset. Then I prayed. Then I cried (yes really). Then I prayed again. I asked him to help me find the words, to help me find his message and to be an instrument of his will. Then I left it in God’s hands and went to bed. It’s 5:30 am now and I woke up a few minutes ago, got down on my knees and thanked him for giving me the words and helping me to see what I needed to say. Now, all that is left is to say it.

There is a tendency today to preach the religion of secular humanism. People want to turn away from God or from Christ. They want to believe that people are inherently good and left to their own devices they will do good and grand things. They trot out all the evils that organized religion has done and use that as an example of why religion is bad. What they fail to do is to present a fair and balanced account. They fail to even attempt to balance the scales with all the good things religion has wrought in this world as well.

Yes, people have done horrible things while wearing the mantle of religion… Christianity is not the only religion that has suffered from this. However, religion has also clothed and fed billions of people. In the name of religion, people have trekked across the world to vaccinate, cure and feed billions of starving children. Religion has provided a safe harbor for refugees during wars or strife and it has also provided safe harbors during the casual violence of everyday life. Religion has driven people to the streets of Calcutta, the horrors of the Molokai leper colony, the backwaters of Africa and the urban sprawl of New York to combat disease, pestilence, famine and poverty. Religion has provided food banks at local neighborhood churches for when there’s no place else to turn. Religion has driven people to provide clean water for isolated villages, to build schools, to eradicate diseases. Religion has inspired men and women across the world to give of themselves in order to ease the suffering of lepers, of AIDS victims, people burnt and blown up in wars, people born crippled or blind. Religion has driven people to their knees to give thanks to their creator for the gifts he has given them so that they might share those gifts with those around them who have fallen off the edge of society and into homelessness, prostitution, poverty or a million other ways to be ignored by the mainstream society.

Religion has staffed suicide hotlines and given people hope where they had none. Religion has made strangers stop in the street and provide comfort to dying accident victims. Because of religion, people have quit drinking, quit smoking dope, quit beating their wives or children. People have reached out and reached up not because they have the strength themselves but because they have the weakness and humility to turn to something larger than themselves for help.

Let me be perfectly clear. I approach the topic of organized religion with trepidation. I went through a phase in my life where I questioned it too. I never questioned God, though. I never questioned Jesus Christ and I never believed he was simply a “man with a message”. I doubted the church but I never doubted God and I never doubted that Jesus Christ, the only son of God, born of the Virgin Mary and become man, died for me and my sins so that I might be forgiven. I never once doubted that Jesus loved me even when I couldn’t love myself. Yes, I pushed him aside and refused to embrace that love but I never doubted it was real, only that I deserved it.

The truth is I don’t deserve it. None of us do. That is the central beauty of it, that we can fail to deserve it yet it is still there for us, more rich and deep and all-encompassing than we can ever truly grasp or comprehend. We can’t ever deserve it, all we can do is be thankful for it, acknowledge it and accept it for what it is… an unconditional gift of love, the hardest thing in the world for us as humans to accept and understand.

Secular humanists like to believe in the power of intrinsic good. They like to believe that left to their own devices humanity will self-motivate to be good. Again, let me be perfectly clear here. There is nothing good in this world that isn’t a gift of God. The most beautiful works of art and architecture, poetry and music to praise him are a testament to the power of God inspiring man. The most beautiful “secular” creations can’t even hold a candle to them. The “intrinsic good” in man doesn’t inspire people to anywhere near the heights that religion has driven people to. The “intrinsic good” in man doesn’t exist, the “good” in man is there because of God, ONLY because of God. Yes, some good things have been done secularly but these are pale shadows of the things that God has driven man to do and are simply but a reflection of the enormity of the emptiness of man, striving for something we can never deserve, never understand but only accept and embrace.

When the secular humanists can hold up examples that can stand up to the faith and gifts of Mother Theresa or Saint Damien of Molokai they may begin to just scratch the barest surface of what organized religion has wrought for good in this world. When they can point to the billions of people they have fed, clothed, washed, healed, educated or simply comforted without any sense or desire of recompense they can have the tiniest amount of legitimacy in the discussion. When they find the humility to accept that there is something out there larger than themselves, they can begin to realize the beauty of being able to give two loaves when they themselves only have one.

Is organized religion perfect? No. Organized religion is an institution of man and it reflects how screwed up man can be. It is like anything else in this world, imperfect, stumbling and occasionally falling in the ditch. Many people like to think this would be a far better world without it. Religion is all those things. It is also, however, a reflection of the beauty and grace of God in that even when it stumbles and falls, it gets back up and continues to strive for good. Any discussion of the “evils” of organized religion is incomplete and unbalanced without the discussion of the grace of God and the things he has done and continues to do in this world through the imperfect offices of man. Thank God for organized religion because without it, this world would be even more messed up than it is.

— Gary D. Foster

Little Wolf Brother

I wrote this way back in 2003 and through the wonders of the interweb, I found an archived copy stashed away and thought I’d repost it here just for the heck of it.

Little Wolf Brother
— Gary D. Foster

Little wolf brother, I will run for you
and share the bite of the frost on our paws

Little wolf brother, I will hunt for you
and the blood of the kill will slake our thirst

Little wolf brother, I will howl for you
and hurl our challenge towards the winter moon

For you are trapped, and I am free
to run and mate and fight
and join my voice with the packsong
on a cold December night.

The wind will never touch your fur
but I am trapped as well,
my soul is caged as surely as yours
within this human shell.

So when the light of the hunter’s moon
shines down and touches me
I’ll raise my voice in challenge
while our spirits both run free.