today’s sobering grief

At least 19 elementary students.

2 teachers. 

An 18-year-old gunman, identified as Salvador Ramos, shot and killed the above at Robb Elementary School about 85 miles west of San Antonio, Texas. The children were in second, third, and fourth grade.

Absolutely awful. Absolutely evil. The killing of innocent life.

Lord, have mercy. God be with those families. Our hearts collectively grieve.

There are at least five stages — five emotions — associated with grief. Originally dubbed the “five stages of death,” Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published her theory in 1969. The five most common emotional reactions to loss or grief are — in sequence — as follows:

  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

All are valid. None are easy. And as we continually learn to love our neighbor as ourself, we respect all where they are.

The challenge becomes when we get stuck in a stage. With the exception of acceptance, “stuckness” in any of the above is presumably unhealthy.

Sad as I wish to admit, I’ve been there.

Many will rush to lash out…

This is the reason… this party is the reason… this person is the reason…”

Sure. I get it. It’s easy to finger point. It’s easy to politicize; it’s easy to argue about who cares more about the totality of life. The first bottom line is that it’s easy. It’s easy to hold someone else or something else completely responsible other than, the person responsible. It’s easy. None of us want this to happen any more! Again, Lord have mercy.

To be clear, we don’t know…

We don’t know the motive…

We don’t know the gunman’s mental health…

We don’t know what laws were broken… purchase, possession, immigration, etal.

We don’t know what laws would have been effective…

We don’t know how social media played a role…

We don’t know why this elementary school…

We don’t know why he reportedly killed his grandmother first…

The second bottom line is that we don’t even know what we don’t know.

When we know — and when we are collectively out of the first four stages of grief — we can work to make such incidents less alluring to the evil or the sick. What laws would be most effective? What would actually deter the evil? [See link below.] Friends, this isn’t a Republican problem or a Democrat problem; disturbingly, this is a humankind problem. If we could see it that way, maybe we could minimize the manifestation of this evil. This is no time to attempt to score political points; this is a time to be instruments of peace.

Let me humbly add one more tough topic. I am deeply uncomfortable with the brash retort encouraging forgoing of any thoughts and prayers; some use a different choice, crass ”f” word. I understand the impatience; it’s a part of the grief — the undeniable horror. None of us want this to happen again. None; this is what it means to honor life. But when we forgo the unprecedented wisdom offered by the great big God of the universe — the One who knows each of us best — we only give way to continued human delusion, beguiled by the notion that we need no wisdom greater than we. With all due respect, perhaps it’s precisely that forgoing that has allowed us to see this as a political issue, rather than an issue with all humankind… how evil can dwell in the actual heart of a human.

We need wisdom, friends… deeply… desperately… wisdom that’s collective, not stuck in any stage, and not focused on the easy or the finger pointing or the politics… this is hard, grievous stuff.

So in our grief, let’s humbly do this. In honor of those 19 kids and teachers. May the evil killing of the innocent soberly prompt what is better and wiser in each of us. May we humbly start by moving forward together. It will be hard. But the hard is necessary and worth it.

Soberly…

AR

[P.S. For more on a potential, reasonable deterrent to mass shootings, consider this proposal by the articulate, highly respected, and always respectful, David French, advocating for the passage of “red flag laws” and scrutinizing what current law is ineffective and why. It is a wise read. Focused on solution. Together. https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/pass-and-enforce-red-flag-laws-now?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email&utm_content=share&token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjo0OTQ2ODY3LCJfIjoiL2hFR2QiLCJpYXQiOjE2NTM0ODE2NTcsImV4cCI6MTY1MzQ4NTI1NywiaXNzIjoicHViLTIxNzY1Iiwic3ViIjoicG9zdC1yZWFjdGlvbiJ9.2c-7bZiWvcN6o9E_9gDb_CceYnVanSNs5zc1d2RCQ5Q&s=r]

it’s you, grad… (and maybe the rest of us, too)

It’s no secret that the Intramuralist is proud of Purdue University… incredibly grateful, too. There’s much wisdom to be gleaned there. We provide a little bit more in today’s post, an excerpt from Purdue President Mitch Daniels’ remarks during the university’s spring commencement ceremonies last weekend…

“Greetings, friends, and welcome. I should say ‘welcome back.’ We are back in Elliott Hall, where Purdue spring commencements belong, for the first time in three years. And as I’ll tell you in a few minutes, to me that matters beyond just the pleasure of returning to this beautiful, traditional venue.

Starting with my first delivery of these remarks a decade ago, I have ended them with the same signoff: ‘Hail Purdue, and each of you.’ It was just meant to be a little signature, a rhetorical device chosen as much for its cadence as for any deep meaning. But reflecting on this year’s ceremony got me thinking that maybe there’s more to it than what I’ve intended all these years.

Many talks on these occasions address themselves to ‘all you graduates’ or ‘the Class of 20-x’. I guess I’ve approached it that way some years. Today, I’m thinking more like those movie tough guys who ask, ‘You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?’ Today, I’ll be talking to you, each of you, individually, or at least I’ll be trying to.

A friend told me of a commencement he attended where the speaker, to inject a little levity, advised the graduates, ‘In life, it’s not who you know that counts. It’s whom.’ (I assume at least the English majors in the crowd get it.) A funny line, but bad advice. It is who that counts. Not who you know, but who you are.

The further I go, the less I’m sure how to answer the question, ‘Who are you?’ Where to start? I’m a Purdue employee, a happy husband, a father of four, a businessman, a former elected official, a Presbyterian elder, a history buff, and a mediocre golfer. Ancestry.com informs me that genetically I’m more Syrian and Lebanese than anything else, but I’ve got high percentages of Scotch, Welsh and a dash of Italian mixed in.

And I’m a dog lover. I grew up in a family of them. We got all ours from the Humane Society, every one some sort of mixture. And every one was great: loyal, loving, a full member of the family. During those years, I adopted my mother’s opinion that mutts are the best. We’d all better hope Mom was right. Because we’re all mutts here today. Hybrids, amalgams, crossbreeds, mongrels. Mutts. If you doubt that, go check with Ancestry.com.

There are no one-dimensional ‘you’s.’ Every one of you, when you pause to think about it, can already name a list of qualities that make up ‘you.’ That list will keep growing as you leave here and launch into the fascinating and varied lives you are destined to lead. You’ll keep learning, and growing, and adding new elements to your individuality. The more facets a diamond has, I’m told, the more brilliant it is; the same will be true for an ever more interesting and differentiated ‘you.’ The one certainty is that there will be no exact copies, no one just like you and, therefore, no one box anyone can stick you in.

But there will be people who want to take away your ‘you.’ There always have been. The pharaohs, monarchs, and warlords of old, to whom other people were mere tools, to be used and discarded. In recent times, the proponents of all the ‘isms’ that viewed people as helpless ciphers in some predetermined historical trend, or valueless instruments of an all-powerful state. In the worst cases, some people were grouped together and treated as sub-human, not deserving to exist at all.

These days, your individuality is challenged by some who seek to slap a label on you, to lump you into one category or another, and to assert that whatever you are, your choices have little to do with it. What matters is not what you think or do, they claim, but what group they have assigned you to. You’re a prisoner of your genes, or of circumstance, or of some societal forces against which you are defenseless.

Such views may be cloaked in caring, sympathetic terms, but they are deeply disrespectful of those they affect to be supporting. They are a denial of your personal dignity, and ability, and will power. Someone attempting to herd you into a group is someone with an agenda, and your personal wellbeing is not its main purpose.

Your experience, and success, at this institution should convince you not to listen to such disrespect. In a few moments, when you walk up here, it will be your individual achievement we are honoring, and only you know how much individual effort it took to get here.

He eventually gave Colts fans like me a thousand great memories, but never one I admired more than Peyton Manning’s first action as a professional athlete. At the news conference announcing his multimillion-dollar contract, the 22-year-old Manning was asked, ‘What are you going to do with all that money?’ He answered, ‘Earn it.’

The degree you are about to receive is not being conferred on a group. We aren’t awarding it to any club, team, or fraternity you happen to belong to. It’s not because of your hair style, eye color, or because your parents went to Purdue. Nothing entitled you to it. It is yours, and yours alone, because the work that justifies it was yours. You earned it. You…

At the outset, I said there was a larger reason I was so happy to be back in Elliott Hall. That’s because, in here, over six separate ceremonies, Purdue still honors every graduate one by one. Most schools our size long ago went to batch processing, where degrees are conferred on groups, sometimes the entire class at once.

Here, we take a different view. No matter how big Purdue gets, we value each Boilermaker as an individual. That diploma we’re about to hand you is yours and yours alone. Sure, you had help, and support, and I hope some valuable mentoring, but fundamentally you will be crossing this stage because of what you have accomplished. You.

So walk proudly. You are about to add another facet to the diamond that is you: ‘Graduate of Purdue University.’ It will be far from your last distinction, but I hope it will always be one that you value as highly as your university values you today. Hail Purdue, and each of … you.”

Respectfully…

AR

how we respond to the awful

I hate it when awful things happen… when tragedy strikes… when the world is witness to evil made manifest… It’s absolutely awful. 

How do we make sense of that which makes no sense? 

How, too, when witness to the awful are we to wisely respond?

Allow me to quickly be clear; this blog will offer no simplistic answer; it’s not so easy to declare what works. But we do seem to know what doesn’t work. We’re passionate people; we engage in a variety of vehement response. But passion doesn’t equate to effectiveness.

Let us thus highlight two chosen, popular, questionable means of response. First, as articulated by Salvy Snr, an author who lives and writes in Nigeria, on how we respond by feeling justified in shaming the silent. Writes Snr:

“As a child — an African child — I grew up being manipulated and guilt-tripped into doing many things I didn’t want to do.

Every wall I faced had a specific kind of graffiti that made me feel bad for my (in)actions. I’d desist from playing football with my friends because, ‘What would people say if they saw the school’s quiz representative soiling himself alongside razz pupils?’ At home, I’d cringe myself into discussions I had no interest in, just to pre-empt verbal kvetchings about me being too detached from the family.

I’d go out of my mentally paved way to do certain things I wasn’t built to do, so as to let the pressure lift away. I was too young to know that my mental health was being compromised.

I’ve seen comments on social media subtly or brazenly guilt-tripping people — celebrities and nobodies alike — for their apparent silence. There have been comments on Twitter such as ‘Kanye West has been uncharacteristically silent,’ ‘I thought [insert famous black woman] was a black woman, too? Why isn’t she saying anything?’ ‘If you’re black, and you’re quiet during these times, you’re racist.’

There are remarks such as these in the thousands. Some get told in person, and are being forced to say something, when in reality no one has a clear understanding of their silence…”

A second popular (albeit not necessarily effective) response is blame. Andrea Blundell, the Editor-in-Chief and lead writer of the Harley Therapy counseling blog, wrote a great piece a few years ago on “Why We Put the Blame On Others” — including the title’s second half: “and the Real Cost We Pay.”

Blundell defines blaming as “the fine art of making others responsible for all the difficult things that happen to us.” She then boldly asks if such is helpful.

Her entire essay is excellent and worth reading. But what’s interesting to note and relevant to today’s post is Blundell’s synopsis of why we blame other people. She includes five succinct reasons — such as how blame allows us to unload our emotions, protect our own ego, and avoid any vulnerability. But it was the first reason that stood out to me.

Reason number one for the blame game?

(Let’s be honest, can we?)

“Blaming others is easy,” writes Blundell. [Emphasis mine.] “Blame means less work as when we blame, we don’t have to be held accountable.”

As said at the onset of this blog, I hate it when awful things happen.

It makes it harder, too, when we respond so poorly.

Respectfully…

AR

to the class of 2022

Congratulations! Well done! Regardless of your individual path, you have completed something significant. You have persevered. No worries about figuring all of life immediately now out; your goal is simply to take the next step. It’s a big one. It’s beautiful, too. There are also a few things to remember.

Remember, grad… 

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven…

A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up.

A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance… 

As you enter adulthood — even in these current crazy, uncertain times — allow us to address some brief truths as you focus on these few, albeit noteworthy, next steps…

First, there really is a time for everything — every activity under heaven, every season under the sun. To be clear, you will not desire each of these times. Every activity will not be awesome nor every season incredibly joyous nor fun. Don’t let me discourage you; that’s not my intent. My intent is for you to be prepared to wisely wrestle with reality.

Remember that to enjoy and to embrace are not the same thing. As you face life’s next chapters, the truth is that there will be seasons and chapters that stretch you beyond your wildest imagination — beyond where you ever thought you’d go or perhaps ever even wanted. You have a choice in how to respond. Remember that. When the time comes to tear down or turn away, embrace the time; when the time comes to speak, speak — laugh, laugh — and certainly grieve, grieve. Enjoying the season is less important than learning from the experience. The wise one learns and grows from every experience… from the seasons that are hard. Even yes, from now.

Second — and don’t let me shock you — but contrary to any long-held belief or fictional, rhetorical chant, you cannot be whatever you want to be. Sorry. Remember we are wrestling with reality. (Note: I apologize now on behalf of parents everywhere for not always promoting reality either; see Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and/or that jolly old St. Nick).

The reality is you (we) cannot be whatever/whoever you want to be (ie. see the many who’ve thought they should be President). You can, though, be all that God created you to be. How?

Embrace your gifts. Utilize the unique wiring within you — the wiring that makes you distinctly, uniquely you. Don’t compare yourself to another, falling prey to society’s hollow teaching that another person’s wiring or set up is somehow better or worse than yours. Simply embrace your own strengths and grow from your weaknesses. Seek God first; seek his intention for your life; find your greatest identity in being his kid. Then be who he created you to be, and do what he created you to do. Don’t compare your calling to any other. It will never be lesser. Whatever you do, do it well. 

And third — perhaps because I’m more verbose than I wish to admit — allow me to humbly offer our traditional, brief, rapid fire of final encouragement — those final things we parents wish to say once more as we pass the blessed baton into adulthood…

Love deeply. Extend grace generously. Never view grace and truth as opposites, as each should be applied in full measure. Wash your sheets. More than twice a year. Don’t be selfish. Resist any quickness to anger. Be fast to forgive. Be humble. Forgive again. Pursue wisdom. Don’t judge any by the color of their skin. Don’t judge period. Know the difference between judgment and discerning right from wrong. Consider coffee. Limit sugars. Find the wisdom and joy in both fasting and feasting. Be intentional in enjoying a good donut. Be intentional with more. Take an interest in others. Be sincere. Separate the reds from the whites. Including the wine. Be charitable. Save some. Spend some. Give some away. Don’t be afraid of sorrow. Put down the device. Watch your screen time. Be cautious with social media. Talk to people. Don’t quicken to offense. Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t think of equality with God as something to be grasped. Listen to the elderly; touch them. Invest in the young. Bow. Curtsy. Open doors for other people. Be unselfish. Do it again. Don’t keep count. Don’t make it about you. Show respect — in what you say and how you think. Remember that respect does not mean accepting as equally good and true. Remember that all things are not equally good and true. Know when to say that; know when to not. Look another in the eye. Use your napkin. Be discerning. Be aware that just because something feels good, it might not be wise. Be prayerful. Figure the faith thing out. And embrace each and every season shared above. Embrace the time to laugh. Again and again. Cry. Grieve. And yes, dance. Always dance.

There is a time for everything. Still and especially now. Don’t let any current circumstance make you doubt the hope and the future God has planned for you. He has a plan. And it is good.

Congrats, grads! It’s your time to dance. Enjoy as we so celebrate you.

To the Class of 2022…

AR

a radical, messy “a-ha”

I had a bit of an “a-ha” this week. I think I finally figured it out. 

In recent years, the reasonable among us have sensed an increasingly significant problem with the polarized ends. Respect has wavered; the rancor has intensified. The far left/far right no longer see any good in the other.

“How did America get this way?” chided Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker. “Partisans have a simple answer: the other side has gone nuts!” 

(Insert LOL here…)

And just like that the polarized ends point the finger at someone other than self. Partisans do it. Administrations do it. Unfortunately, the elementary prudence repeatedly conveyed by our parents that “you-own-up-to-what-you-do” hasn’t filtered up to way too many partisans and politicians. It’s simply easier to blame someone else. Them.

A frequent Intramuralist conversation has focused on the damage of the adult finger pointing. But my “a-ha” this week more centered on the why…

Why is there a problem with the polarized?

As much as I cringe actually admitting such — not wanting to fuel either of the opposites’s heedless, hell-bent fire (aka points of view) — most likely the far left and far right may each have a sensible approach on some, maybe very few things. For let’s admit: even a stopped clock is right twice a day (as I was also oft reminded in elementary school).

Both the far left/far right make excuses for protests/protestors they like. Both make excuses for gerrymandering that works in their favor. Both make excuses for borrowing and spending massive amounts of money. Both, in other words, make excuses.

Ok. Got it. I hear you; you’ve heard this before here. But what’s new to me this week is why this matters. I mean, it’s ok to be passionate. It’s ok to have strong feelings. There are many convictions I, also, strongly adhere to.

But when we only adhere to a far left or far right perspective — and believe only the others have gone nuts — why is that a problem? What’s the value in the middle?

We’ve heard some insightful descriptions of that middle… “the radical middle”… “the messy middle”… In truth it isn’t all that radical, and it doesn’t need to be so messy. I think it’s just that the extremes are really, really loud, and they’d like to convince us there is no wisdom or reason in hanging out in someplace other than a polarized, isolated camp. They’d like to convince us that the other side is so dangerous… and they, of course, are the only solution to save us from the ills and evils of the other.

They, my friends, entirely miss what the middle provides.

Hear me here…

The middle is where shared experience takes place.

(Feel free to read that again.)

From author, renowned business strategist and executive trainer, Bryan Kramer: “A shared experience is exactly what it sounds like: seeing, hearing, or doing the same thing as someone else. Although it’s a simple concept, shared experiences have a deep impact on human socialization because they enhance each person’s individual experience… Shared experiences are powerful because they bring people together…”

The middle, friends, is where we learn about other people. And not just a select, isolated few.

On the fringe — on those polarized opposites where we justify the protests/protestors, gerrymandering, massive spending and the like — they aren’t learning about most of the people; with all due respect, they’re only learning about people who already think like them.

I know this isn’t easy. It’d be far easier to camp in a polarized place; it’s comfortable there. I no longer have to consider whose wants and needs I’m ignoring when I remained firmly entrenched on a polarized fringe. And no doubt, the pandemic exasperated the entire scenario, as our isolation only increased. But that doesn’t make it wise.

Shared experience is wise. It expands our thinking. It makes us aware of the understandable differences of opinion — even passionate differences. But while differences of opinion are society’s reality, division — intentional polarization and the thinking of others as nuts — is a choice. That choice is a lot harder make in the middle.

Respectfully…

AR

the abortion debate…

Many moments I have ventured into this topic. Join me, if you will. But allow me to initially provide a brief bit of both caution and ground rules…

First, all persons with all perspectives are to be treated with unwavering respect. Second, we encourage the generous asking of questions for that which we don’t understand. And third, if you’ve already decided all that you believe and thus have no room to grow and merely wish to find new venues to voice your already-fully-established opinion, that’s fine; but this probably isn’t the place for you. One of my deepest convictions is that I will always have more to learn. I never want to be that place of so-called rocky soil where words of truth can’t permeate my stoic, hardened exterior. Such isn’t attractive. Nor healthy or good.

So let’s start with a simple question: what has contributed to the molding of your opinion on the issue of abortion?

Your experience?

The experience of another?

Your faith?

What you believe to be moral?

Unquestionably, this may be one of the hardest current issues for people to dialogue about. Respectfully or not. Many believe they are defending a God-given right. Many, too, believe they are acting in defense of God.  

Isn’t that what makes conversation challenging? We start from an immediate defensive position. I contend that such a posture is both relationally and societally damaging.

Damaging, too, are the loudest voices on each side of this issue. As written by Caitlin Flanagan in a thoughtful piece entitled “The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate” in the December of 2019 issue of The Atlantic: “The loudest advocates on both sides are terrible representatives for their cause. When women are urged to ‘shout your abortion,’ and when abortion becomes the subject of stand-up comedy routines, the attitude toward abortion seems ghoulish. Who could possibly be proud that they see no humanity at all in the images that science has made so painfully clear? When anti-abortion advocates speak in the most graphic terms about women ‘sucking babies out of the womb,’ they show themselves without mercy. They are not considering the extremely human, complex, and often heartbreaking reasons behind women’s private decisions.”

Those loud voices aren’t changing hearts, minds, nor behavior. Hence, when we scream or utilize the oft imperious mic drop with others, we simply cause others to conclude they don’t want to be like us. Therefore, to have this conversation, let’s cast away the defensiveness…

Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land since 1973. The ruling stated that Texas statutes criminalizing abortion violated a woman’s constitutional right of privacy in most cases. The high court found such to be implicit in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment (“…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”). While ruling that government could not prohibit abortions during the first trimester for any reason, it permitted state regulation thereafter. Several in the legal community questioned the soundness of the original ruling. The Court then revisited and modified the ruling in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. That decision removed the first trimester requirement. Many have since advocated and legalized the right to abort up to the moment of birth. 

Also in 1992, as previously noted here, Pres. Bill Clinton intentionally worked to find common ground language, saying he desired abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare.” Such allowed him, as Flanagan stated in a separate piece, to “bring together a range of abortion supporters under a now-abandoned umbrella.” Those words were expunged from the plank of the Democratic Party 10 years ago. So here’s an honest question: do we still believe in “rare”?

No doubt that’s part of the current challenge. What was once understandably, respectfully controversial — with women and men of good conscience on both sides of the issue — has now become radical. It is one thing to advocate for the right for women’s reproductive health, where we may disagree on the right to abort when we juxtapose women’s rights vs. another life or potential life. It’s a far other, sobering thing to advocate for the ceasing of a baby’s beating heart right up unto the moments before birth.

I sincerely, respectfully wonder if we would be where we are now if this societal approach would not have become so radicalized. Polling shows that most support Roe. Polling also shows that most oppose abortion after the first trimester. That is the current quandary.

And so I respectfully ask… wanting to promote respectful dialogue…

Where should the limit on abortion be? At what point is it no longer a choice?

At what point does the unborn child have a similar, fundamental right to live?

What is moral?

What is both God-given and in defense of God?

And again, how would you define “rare”?

I’ll say it again: this isn’t easy. And I hate that so many refuse to even dialogue; my sense is they/we/me each have a bit of rocky soil in our hearts. Yes, I’m watching developments regarding the current publicized Supreme Court draft, which speaks of overturning Roe — not making abortion illegal — but rather, returning the decision to the states. Regardless of where the decision lands, I believe there to be wiser questions for us to individually both boldly ask and humbly answer.

But let’s again be honest. A wise discussion will only ensue if embedded defensiveness is cast away. Join me, if you will…

Respectfully…

AR

the original post, leak, Court & more wisdom

With a full week ahead, I penned this week’s midweek post a little earlier than usual. It began like this…

“With the inflating situations abroad in Ukraine and at home in the economy, the Intramuralist continues to actively search for what is good and right and true. As a society, we no doubt struggle with this at times — especially when we’re passionate about an issue. There’s just too much finger pointing. Too much justified denigration. Too much assumption of motive in the perspective that’s different.

Allow me, no less, one more ‘too much’…

There’s too much lack of awareness of whom the enemy really is…”

I then continued by sharing news of the gathering last week of 22 women in Washington. Maine Republican Susan Collins and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein gathered 20 of their Senate colleagues to dinner. The ladies sat around a large table. Politics wasn’t discussed. It was an evening intent on relationship.

Said some of the attenders…

“It’s the biggest group of women I’ve ever had dinner with since I’ve been here,” said Sen. Feinstein.

“I’ve been here a while, and it’s just nice to relax and have conversations with friends,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, the Republican from Nebraska.

“It was lovely. We enjoy each other’s company, and then we get to know each other as women first, not really as senators,” offered Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democrat from New York.

I then quoted No Labels, the admirable, growing organization that is actively promoting an emphasis on respect and bipartisanship…

“This sort of thing shouldn’t be shocking – or rare…”

No Labels continued: “… Sadly, as the two parties move ever more toward the extremes, and as social media noise and nonsense overwhelm rational discourse, we’re losing those bonds that cross party lines – and more and more Americans find themselves politically homeless.”

And I wrapped up the post by focusing on the noise and nonsense that actually overwhelms rational discourse… on the right. And on the left.

Including — I respectfully submit — on society’s most passionate issues…

We lack awareness of whom the so-called enemy actually is.

Friends, in the wake of the shocking Supreme Court leak of a draft opinion on the constitutional right to abortion, we’ve seen a lot of denigration — a lot of attacking… a lot of people assuming the worst about another…

“You don’t really care about babies!… You don’t care about women!… You don’t care about a [insert ‘woman’s’ or ‘baby’s’ here] life!… You don’t care!” 

And the list goes on (much of which is inconsistent in a blog modeling respectful dialogue).

I get it. But when we do that… when we scream and shout, demonize and denigrate, we have inerrantly concluded the politically different are our enemy.

I think of the women at that table last week. No way they all agree on pro-life, pro-choice, or pro-you-name-it. No way they all agree on the upcoming Supreme Court decision; they might even be passionate. But they have also gleaned the wisdom in being intent on developing relationship. That shouldn’t be shocking nor rare.

Respectfully…

AR

student debt

Let’s begin with the following three distinct scenarios…

Person number one: “When I was 17, I started looking at colleges. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, but I knew getting a college education was important. I didn’t come from a lot of money; in fact, while my parents would help me get a loan, it was my responsibility to pay it back. I wasn’t thinking Ivy League or anything. I simply chose a small, nearby private school. Tuition was fairly reasonable, comparatively at the time — but still over $20K annually. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but securing loans was the only way continued education was possible. Several years later, no longer attending the college, I’m burdened by that debt now.”

Person number two: “I remember my parents sitting me down as a junior in high school. ‘You have a choice. We will allot you [this much] for college each year. But we believe you need skin in the game; people don’t value that which costs them nothing. Thus, we ask for you, too, to financially contribute.’ I then — fully knowing what I was going to pay — made the choice to attend an out-of-state, public university. I knew when I made that decision, that at current rates, I was going to graduate with a minimum of $100K of debt. I made the decision anyway. That’s where I wanted to go.”

And person number three: “I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school. Most of my friends were going to college, so I figured I might as well, too. But’s let’s be honest. I never was much of a serious student. I wasn’t a bad student; my grades/activities were solid. I just wasn’t motivated nor ambitious. So I followed my friends to a popular DI California school. I racked up a few hundred thousand dollars in student loans, bought a sweet, new car, and I kid you not — I had a fantastic social life! I actually never got a degree, no less. My spouse is wishing I would have been a little more responsible when I was younger, as we continue to make monthly payments on these loans now.”

Student loan forgiveness has become a debatable topic — relevant in the lives of each of the above. In recent days Pres. Biden has announced he is weighing forgiving some broad-based level of student loans via executive order. There is reasonable debate in what can be legally done absent congressional approval.

In order to have an accurate perspective of why this is a debatable topic, let’s insert a few facts into the conversation:

  • The average cost of college tuition has risen exponentially over the past 20 years.
  • Approximately 43.4 million borrowers have federal student loan debt.
  • The outstanding debt is approximately $1.7 trillion.
  • Nearly a third of that debt is held by the top 20% of earners.

Adding to the formation of our perspective are two other significant details. First, with inflation the highest it’s been in 40 years, what impact would broad student debt forgiveness have on inflation? Remember that the simplest definition of inflation is too much money chasing too few goods. Forgiving mass debt puts more money into the economy.

And second, only 12 years ago, no one outside the perceived political extremists pushed for large scale debt cancellation; most moderates advocated modest Pell Grant increases in order to account for rising college costs. Such was true for Pres. Obama; it was also true for then presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. The Atlantic ran an insightful piece on the issue in June of 2019, reporting how the 2016 Democratic presidential debates between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders highlighted this divide. Their editorial take was that the far left of the party had “radicalized” the issue.

As the Intramuralist has researched the issue with both diligence and candor, it’s been insightful to say the least. I sincerely struggle with this debate. Knowing debt forgiveness would negatively impact increasingly inimical inflation numbers, why would the administration pursue this effort now?

But there’s one more reason for the validity of the struggle. Each of the above mentioned persons are real. I spoke with each of them this past week. Some have debt, not recognizing at age 17/18 the implications of their choice; there was no lavishness. Others understood the long term implications; they knew and were prepared to assume responsibility for their choice. And still others squandered what they borrowed. All three of those scenarios (and no doubt more) exist. I can’t ignore the reality of any of the above scenarios.

I thus, find myself asking: is there a better way? 

The US Dept. of Education shared a report that federal borrowers already have an option for debt forgiveness; it takes diligence and time. A Wall Street Journal analysis of the report revealed that when the programs were first introduced, financial hardship was necessary to prove; such is no longer necessary. However, federal borrowers seem unaware, as only 30% of borrowers are taking advantage of the available plan. 

Prudent governing means we forge a way through that makes economic sense and recognizes each of the above scenarios. We must also remember that this, too, still doesn’t address the root issue. It’s not about student debt; it’s about college affordability. Where’s the accountability? Where, friends, is the better way?

Respectfully…

AR

honestly, the bigger question in the Disney debate…

The Disney debate has certainly been an interesting one. For discussion purposes, allow me to offer a concise, factual timeline:

  • On March 8th, the Florida state legislature passed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents, the legislation prohibits “classroom instruction” on sexual orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade.
  • On March 9th, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that the Walt Disney Company publicly opposes the bill and will work to combat this and similar legislation in other states.
  • Following the onset of the public dispute, polling revealed support for the bill by a two-to-one margin when presented with the actual language of the bill. (See data here.)
  • On April 22nd, the Florida state legislature voted to dissolve an act made law in 1967 that essentially allowed the Walt Disney complex to operate as a private government. The dissolution is set to be effective in June of 2023.

People have reacted in multiple ways… to the contents of the parental rights bill… to Disney’s initial silence… to the role of social media and public pressure… to the state’s perceived retaliatory response… and more. 

Respecting, of course, all angles and opinions, let’s address the bigger issue…

What’s the role of business in politics?

And also, how far should corporate wokeness go?

“Woke” or “wokeness” continues to evolve. In its simplest form, the terminology conveys an awareness of social issues. Some see it as a virtue — others, an insult. 

But the bottom line question — that’s relevant in the current Disney debate and seemingly a fantastic question to earnestly, respectfully ask — is how far should a company go in regard to political involvement, especially, when the issue doesn’t directly affect them.

And… do the totality of the opinions of their stakeholders matter? … noting, of course, that a company’s stakeholders typically adhere to a wide spectrum of beliefs.

It’s an excellent question.

I’ve been toying this week with the opinion of former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi (the man who’s actually credited with inventing the infamous “McNugget”), who said, “Corporations have no business being on the right or the left because they represent everybody there and their sole job is to build equity for their investors… It is not the providence of board members or executives that take shareholder money profit and spend it on social matters.” 

I’m assuming such recognizes the wide spectrum of stakeholders’ beliefs.

Friends, I don’t have an easy answer to this question. 

As a citizen of the Sunshine State (and yes, in the same county as the Walt Disney complex is technically a part of), my desire is for the Disney CEO and Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis to meet together, seeing if they can avoid the June 2023 self-government dissolution. 

I’d also like them to listen well, respect each other, and sincerely ask and answer these questions. How far is too far for a corporation to go?

How far is too far especially if a company’s advocacy or opposition doesn’t fully represent their stakeholders?

How can we work better together on this and other issues?

P.S. For the record, I was at Epcot on Monday, one of my favorite parks to routinely visit. Soarin’, Test Track, and Mission: SPACE are totally awesome attractions! The Pandora ride at Animal Kingdom is the best, though. Be sure not to miss it.

It’s a small world, after all.

Respectfully…

AR

to mask or not to mask?

To mask or not to mask — that is the question.

After the recent ruling by a federal judge striking down the Biden administration’s federal public transportation mask mandate, we’ve witnessed all sorts of reactions. Among the most prominent: 

  • Gratitude
  • Rational concern
  • Irrational fear
  • Celebration

Let me not suggest that a sole response is the right answer. Let no other suggest it as well.

We have different circumstances — different physical conditions, mental aptitudes, and surrounding communities which make varied responses equally understandable. When we speak of mandating masking or not, valid, different approaches exist. 

Unfortunately, as much of the national communication about what’s wise to do when has been ambiguous and inconsistent — and sometimes questionable if political motivations were in play in either enactment or delay — that leads to an even wider range of justifiable beliefs in regard to prudent individual approach.

With all due respect, the messaging has been messy. 

One of the more thought-provoking analyses I’ve read on the end of the mask mandate — as the federal government appeals the decision — comes from Josh Barro in the Very Serious newsletter.

Barro wrestles with how this has situation has played out over the last two years — including that messy, multi-point intersection between government control, individual freedom, public health, and the definition of the common good.

Writes Barro: 

“Mourning the rule we lost yesterday only makes sense if your interest in masks is more about how we should regard COVID than how we should prevent it. That is, if you just liked seeing people forced to make sartorial expressions like your own about how much they care about COVID, then yesterday was indeed a sad day for you.

But the transparent arbitrariness of mask rules was one of the main factors driving cynicism about and resistance to pandemic control measures — when the rules about masks changed from one situation to another with no apparent consistency or link to sensible cost-benefit analysis, of course people concluded that they were being ordered around for no good reason, and they stopped listening. (It certainly didn’t help that so many public officials were spotted breaking the very rules they had imposed.)

The public health establishment still has not grappled with the damage it’s done to its reputation by failing to respect the fact that members of the public have different values and preferences than their own, or to place any value at all on individual freedom. There is a cost to ordering people around all the time, and if you’re too obnoxious about it, your powers to do so will be taken away. This is part of why leaving the transportation mandate in place so long was such a mistake: The more capricious an enforcement measure looks, the more likely it is the courts will find some justification to throw it out.”

As said, when a judge found justification to throw out the mask mandate last week, some were grateful, rationally concerned, irrationally afraid, and some celebrated.

Let me make a case for none of the above.

Let me simply suggest that the values and preferences of the entire public matter.

And messy messaging matters, too.

Respectfully…

AR