what we reward

As oft articulated here, this is not a sports story. You need not possess any zeal for any athletic entity and have interest in today’s conversation. Today we’re talking about when sports becomes too important… or rather… when sports — or profitability — trumps ethics and integrity.

At approximately 1:00 PM EST today, kickoff will commence at NRG Stadium. It’s the Cleveland Browns vs. the Houston Texans. And for the first time since the 2020 season, the very talented Derrick Deshaun Watson will step onto the gridiron to quarterback his team. Granted, he’ll be quarterbacking his new team against his old team. 

Deshaun Watson sat out the entire 2021 season not due to Covid but on the contrary, because the Texans chose to pay him but not play him. Watson was accused by over two dozen female massage therapists of sexual harassment and/or assault. Those privy to the testimonies of the accusers claim significant similarity of details when comparing the individual accounts. Watson, however, has denied any wrongdoing, despite financially settling over 20 of the disputes. My point, no less, is not to disparage Watson. I will only add from an admittedly distant perspective, when there’s that much smoke, there’s typically some sort of fire.

But as aforementioned, the point is not the player. It’s what happened next.

After sitting out the season due to the accusations of unquestionable iniquitous behavior, there was a bidding war for Watson’s professional football services. It would be unfair to target solely the Browns. Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans were each also active solicitors. Minnesota, Seattle and Tampa Bay likewise inquired about a trade.

The contract then subsequently agreed to between the Cleveland Browns and Deshaun Watson was this: a fully guaranteed, 5-year, $230,000,000 contract with a $44,965,000 signing bonus. Negotiated prior to the league’s discipline decision, contractual language was included — and to better make my point — and agreed to by the Browns — that Watson would not have to forfeit the signing bonus nor future guarantees should the NFL suspend him. “Fully guaranteed” means that the “player will receive every single dollar from that portion.”

There are indeed multiple perspectives intriguing to pursue in this story. One could easily examine the glaring inconsistency of the NFL’s player conduct policy and punishment system. Watson was eventually handed down an 11 game suspension. Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley, on the other hand, made the disastrous mistake of betting a total of $1500 on his own team to win. He was suspended for 17 games. Alas, we’ll attempt to not be lured by the tangent perspectives.

Those familiar with NFL contracts and salary caps would share that Watson had to play 6 games this year, as otherwise, his number counting against the cap would have given the Browns a $20 million competitive advantage in the succeeding year. But understand, that’s because of how the Browns structured the contract. It didn’t have to be this way.

I suppose that’s what perplexes me… and why I felt propelled to make this an actual post. I just think in our society, we sometimes value the wrong things.

Clearly, the Browns’ motive is winning. And again, no need to throw any stones; they are by no means alone in that. It’s as if Coach Vince Lombardi’s infamous statement that “winning isn’t everything — it’s the only thing” has morphed from a clever sports mantra to an acceptable social ethic. Sometimes, clearly, winning is too important.

When winning becomes too important, we excuse character and behavior that we know to be otherwise illicit. We turn a blind eye to things we would otherwise not accept. We act as if things aren’t that bad when they really are. We do it in our sports. We do it in our politics. Sometimes we do it in our personal lives as well.

USA Today sports columnist Nancy Armour wrote, “If Watson were anything but an athlete, prospective employers and co-workers would be trying to get as much distance from him as possible. But because he’s a special talent, in a league where quarterbacks are king, and at 26 has another decade or so left to play, there is almost nothing he can do that won’t be forgiven.”

If I’m honest, I deeply believe that for some, forgiveness can be a vital, unprecedented prompt to finally get it, so-to-speak, and turn your life around. No, I don’t have a problem with what we forgive. I have a problem with what we reward.

Respectfully…

AR

compounding the awfulness

[It] “can often lead to bad decision-making.” — Kendra Cherry with Very Well Mind

[It] “may lead to disastrous decisions.” — Margit E. Oswald and Stefan Grosjean in Explorable: Think Outside the Box

And… [It] “degrades our judgments when our initial beliefs are wrong because we might fail to discover what is really happening until it is too late.” — Gary Klein Ph.D. in Psychology Today

Today’s “it” is none other than confirmation bias. 

To clearly define the phenomena, let’s return to the research published by Explorable, Psychology Today and Very Well Mind, with a little WebMD mixed in…

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out or prioritize info and perspective that supports one position or idea. It is a “cognitive bias that favors information that confirms your previously existing beliefs.” It is “known as selective collection of evidence. It is considered as an effect of information processing where people behave as to make their expectations come true. People tend to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses independently of the information’s truthfulness or falsity.” In other words, even very intelligent people hear what they want to hear, read what they want to read, and tune into the channel or site that they know ahead of time will reinforce what they want to believe. This bias is thus one of the many reasons we regularly re-publish a media bias chart. This bias is not healthy nor good. 

To be clear, there exist different types of confirmation bias; below are some of the most common…

Biased attention: This is when we selectively focus on information that confirms our views while ignoring or discounting data that doesn’t.

Biased interpretation: This is when we consciously interpret information in a way that confirms our beliefs.

Biased memory: This is when we selectively remember information that supports our views while forgetting or discounting information that doesn’t.”

Want to see how this plays out? Note how people conversed — or were unable to converse — about the recent, awful shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs. Let us do absolutely nothing to diminish the tragedy; five people lost their lives in the senseless, evil act. The resulting shaming and shouts, no less, while taking nothing from the tragedy, certainly compounded some of the awfulness. 

It made me wonder… as one who wishes to honor all and promote respectfulness in tragedy and celebration alike — in agreement or disagreement — did it matter where people got their news? Was there a confirmation bias that affected individuals’ ability or inability to converse?

According to AllSides, here’s what the Left was saying about the shooting:

  • Said Lauren Boebert and other conservatives spread anti-LGBTQ hate that contributed to the shooting
  • Framed LGBTQ community as under attack
  • Reported on anecdotes pointing to a potential anti-gay motive

Here’s what the Right was saying: 

  • Covered the left’s reaction to  Boebert’s comments about the shooting
  • Reported on the suspect identifying as non-binary
  • Highlighted lack of clear motive

So allow me to humbly but boldly ask the three zillion dollar question: how in the world could a person who only tunes into the Left or only tunes into the Right converse, for how could either have a totally accurate perspective? Each has had their perspective emboldened by their bias. And — true to one of the dangers of confirmation bias — they are convinced they are right.

Hence, back to Kendra Cherry, recognizing the pitfalls of this process…

“There are a few different ways that we can try to overcome confirmation bias:

  • Be aware of the signs that you may be falling victim to it. This includes being aware of your personal biases and how they might be influencing your decision-making.
  • Consider all the evidence available, rather than just the evidence confirming your views.
  • Seek out different perspectives, especially from those who hold opposing views.
  • Be willing to change your mind in light of new evidence, even if it means updating or even changing your current beliefs.”

Just trying to be healthy and good. Wanting to be able to converse, too.

Respectfully…

AR

confounding the “vuhls”

Fans of the collegiate gridiron oft anticipate those late November days…

South Carolina vs. Clemson… Oregon vs. Oregon State… Florida vs. Florida State…

Our house found ourselves camped on the combative contests of Michigan vs. Ohio State and Purdue vs. Indiana. 

The time is colloquially known as “rivalry week.” So for purposes of today’s primary point, let’s define the key — and dare I suggest, oft misunderstood — word…

rival [ rahy-vuhl ] – noun – a person who is competing for the same object or goal as another, or who tries to equal or outdo another; competitor.

Key to comprehension is the included synonym; a rival is a competitor. A competitor is one who vies for the same prize, accomplishment or acknowledgement. They want what we want, so-to-speak. Their ambition is comparable to ours. 

But notice what’s not included in the objective explanation of the word…

There exists no inclusion of moral value or virtue. There also exists no lack of it.

Meaning, a rival is just a rival. A competitor. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing better. Nothing worse.

But how many times do we dismiss the objective explanation in order to embolden our passion, perspective or experience?

And when we dismiss it, what do we do? 

We change what precedes the “vuhl.” Instead of rival — or “rahy-vuhl” — we think evil — or “ee-vuhl.” And just like that, we inject an assumption of morality… or perhaps more accurately stated, a lack of it.

When pondering this post, I kept thinking of how we confuse the terms, how we turn rivals into evils to justify the intensity of our dismissiveness or disgust. I think of all the ways and wheres in which we do that. I came across a recently revised Stanford study in their “Encyclopedia of Philosophy” in which they address the concept.

They suggest that ever since World War II, “moral, political, and legal philosophers have become increasingly interested in the concept of evil.” They also acknowledge that one of the aspects that has motivated the uptick in interest are “ascriptions of ‘evil’ by laymen, social scientists, journalists, and politicians.”

Let’s be clear. Sometimes such an ascription is a valid attempt to respond to the various atrocities and horrors on the planet…

9/11 was an act of evil.

The modern day genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia and Herzegovina are acts of evil.

Mass murder, terror, torture and human trafficking — all evil.

Evil is one thing. Badness and wrongdoing is another. But let’s be clear — as the Stanford study also affirms — they aren’t the same.

Which leads us to clearly express what many of our journalists, politicians and even college football fanatics will not. Let’s elaborate on the objective, even though agenda-driven media and fundraising partisans also will not…

Our rival is not our enemy. 

Maybe read such once more; our rival is not our enemy.

It doesn’t matter our level of disgust. It doesn’t matter the depth of the passion or how badly we want to beat them.

It’s simply wise not to confound the two, as they are not the same.

It also makes all November days better.

Respectfully…

AR

gratefully…

In this wonderful week where an entire country is wholeheartedly encouraged to be intentional in their expression of gratitude, let’s keep it short, simple, and straight to the point… 

Let’s quote the quip from author John Ortberg in another one of his witty-titled books, “When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box.” Writes Ortberg:

“Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation.” 

And so this Thanksgiving, let us be honest with ourselves. Let us ask…

Where am I unable to see life as a gift?

What has gotten in the way?

Where am I (knowingly or unknowingly) preoccupied with self?

For…

A wise person is known for their gratitude.

A wise person is generous in their expression of gratitude.

A wise person knows a simultaneously felt emotion need not be cause to omit gratitude.

It’s that short. That simple.

So to the point, this Thanksgiving, may we be wise.

Gratefully…

AR

the candidates… from an HR perspective

Right before the most recent election, Pres. Biden announced his intention to run for reelection. Right after the most recent election, former Pres. Trump announced his intention to run for reelection. Each, therefore, has now publicly stated they want the position. Hence, allow us a bit of an honest, raw conversation this day, for as a career human resources (HR) professional, one of my long term, ongoing tasks is to discern the best fit for a job.

Allow us first to reiterate an integral Intramuralist ethic. We will be respectful of each of the above and of their (dwindling?) ardent supporters. We will not ignore the truth nor be lured to deride any, even in passionate disagreement or potential disgust. Respect is a value we simply will not sacrifice.

Hence, when perusing wannabe candidates, I am always evaluating specific aspects. Such as…

Maturity… Are they both physically and emotionally mature? In one who is emotionally mature, there is no tit for tat, proneness to insult, nor propensity to lie. They can navigate conflict, communicate clearly, and acknowledge both error and responsibility.

Temperament… Do they show evidence of a healthy, general disposition? One with a solid temperament isn’t susceptible to mood swings nor fits of anger or fear. They are emotionally stable, work well with a team, and exhibit keen self-awareness.

Skill set… Do they possess the necessary abilities to succeed in said position? Every job description is accompanied by a set of unique prerequisites; not every person is qualified for every position. Hence, qualified candidates will have the job-specific, necessary combination of analytical, creative, leadership and more skills. 

Summarizing the above, for every professional fit, there is an evaluation of both character and competency. I’ll admit: it’s somewhat of a subjective process. I will also admit, however, that neither character or competency can be sacrificed if we are setting both the new hire and organization up for success. In order to be an effective, productive employee, character and competency must be consistently solid and unquestionable.

In truthfulness and respect, it is my sobering belief that with both presidents Biden and Trump, our country has sacrificed varying degrees of character and competency. It is thus no wonder why polls suggesting we’re headed on the right track or right direction are nonexistent. We’ve sacrificed what we cannot.

Let me add one more HR angle — and it’s a bit of a tangent, but still relevant and something I’ve long encouraged in those I’ve been honored to lead. While affirming each employee and their unique contribution, I also encourage each to think about how the organization would fare without them. In other words, one of the best, lasting marks of any great leader, is that the organization can both survive and thrive without them actually here. The employee has made their mark, stewarded their season wisely, and thus their physical presence is not vital. That is a key mark of an effective leader.

One of the disappointments, therefore, that I find with both presidents Biden and Trump is that I feel like, in their own way, they think we need them. My sense — from true, this limited vantage point — is that they each think they personally are what we need — like our country somehow can’t get along without them.

Sorry, but I don’t feel that way. One is 80 today; the other is 76. I deeply respect those who’ve gone before me, but clearly, at that age, there is some obvious cognitive decline — in some significantly more than others. I don’t think we need presidents Biden or Trump. In fact, I believe our country could benefit from a new generation of leadership.

Granted, whichever generation is next hired — hopefully a person who intentionally unifies more than divides — they must be far more than popular. They need to be one who is physically and emotionally mature, exhibits a healthy temperament, and possesses the necessary skill set. That means both character and competency.

Those are the people to hire.

Respectfully… 

AR

media bias update

So honest question today… no need to tell me… I’m encouraging honesty with self.

In the most recent election cycle — and on the days you tune into the news — do you tune into a majority of the following resources:

  • The Daily Mail
  • FOX News
  • National Review
  • New York Post 
  • Or Newsmax

If not the above — and again no need to be honest with anyone other than self — do you instead tune into a majority of these:

  • The Atlantic
  • CNN
  • MSNBC
  • The New Yorker
  • Or The New York Times

Let me first acknowledge that there are some very gifted writers and journalists from each of the above. I’ll admit, for example, that The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan, FOX’s Dana Perino, National Review’s Yuval Levin and NYT’s David Brooks each typically and often both get and keep my attention.

But let it be said if you watch solely from one of the above lists, you are succumbing to a limited perspective. Such was glaringly true in the last election cycle.

Let me not suggest that an always loyal landing on solely the Post or the Times or on CNN, MSNBC or FOX will provide you with inaccurate news. Perhaps the slant is accurate. Perhaps the slant is credible. But the slant is also known to be biased — which actually makes it more difficult to discern if the perspective is accurate, credible or true. 

Let’s keep being honest… to be biased is to be limited; by definition, bias means we’re actually “unfairly prejudiced against someone or something”… in other words, not ever something equated with virtue.

All said, AllSides released their updated Media Bias Ratings this week. Their conclusions are based on multi-partisan, scientific analysis. Note that sometimes the bias of some sites changes. For example, in the substantiating blind bias survey, The Atlantic moved from its previous rating of “lean left” to the more “left.” 

See more sites here: 

I see this simply as a tool. It’s a tool I appreciate as I believe bias — especially unacknowledged and unstated — can be manipulative and thus potentially dangerous. Why? Because bias makes discernment of truth harder… conversation and solution harder then, too.

Hence, I enjoy The Hill, Real Clear Politics, and The Wall Street Journal news with regularity. I feel like we get good news there. There’s no one on the other end attempting to rile us up or make us judge someone with an opposing perspective.

Just being honest, friends… trying to not be so limited either.

Respectfully…

AR

a few more election observations

As of this week, the Intramuralist celebrated 14 years of existence. Thank you, readers! For the thousands of you who read weekly, I am grateful for your presence and participation. My intention has always been to honor you — in my words and in the sharing of my perspective — regardless of whether you agree or disagree. As has been said some three zillion times on this site (which may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it makes my point significantly better!), agreement does not matter. Agreement is not a prerequisite for respect.

That said, on Nov. 4, 2008, we ran a blog entitled “This is the Day.” It was Election Day, the year we saw the junior senator from Illinois defeat the senior senator from Arizona to become our nation’s 44th President.

In honor of that contest, we wittingly penned a top ten list of things learned from that election cycle. For example from that list, we observed:

  • Jesus would not be a Democrat OR a Republican.
  • Objectivity in the media cannot be assumed.
  • And Tina Fey is a comedic genius.

Let me suggest that I believe each of the above is still true. However, in honor of our anniversary, allow us to pen this season’s insights…

TOP 10 THINGS I LEARNED FROM THIS ELECTION CYCLE:

10. We are sadly, a politically divided country. A wise leader would tackle that first.

9. Most people don’t want singular party government. Too/two many parties think they should control all.

8. Neither the Democrats or Republicans can walk away thinking the majority of the country really likes, supports, or agrees with them and the distinct radical aspect that each has allowed to be attached to their party initiatives.

7. Mail-in ballots make a difference. Voter suppression seems less an issue than a last ditch effort by the lost.

6. There were some really weak candidates; some of them won.

5. There were some really strong candidates; some of them lost.

4. The media often magnified or diminished the weaknesses and strengths pending the specific media’s agenda. The media may be the perceived “biggest loser” of the midterms.

3. Candidates only called out election deniers in the party opposite theirs.

2. Presidents Biden and Trump each had and may continue to have a negative impact on a significant number of candidates.

And last but not least…

1. It may be exhausting to do this again in 723 days. 

But let me close this post with words again written 14 years ago. As said, I believe they remain true…

“As this election cycle closes, I find myself thankful that it’s over, weary of what it entailed, and hopeful for what is to come – and that’s regardless of whom I voted for. Two years for a campaign is too much… too much money, too much mudslinging, and too much manipulation. Each campaign attempts to manipulate us by promoting desired images, but not necessarily reality…

Let’s move ahead, being respectful of our leaders. Let’s get rid of using the word ‘hate.’ And let’s engage in respectful dialogue in this country, remembering above all else that we pledge ourselves to be one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

Blessings, friends… Thanks for being with me all these years. It’s been a challenge, joy, and labor of love all rolled into one. It’s been a privilege to do this with you.

That’s the beauty of it. We are all in this together. No matter what.

Respectfully…

AR

now what?

Since Election Day has come and gone, let’s talk. Honestly. Unassumingly. And as always here, respectfully.

Now what?

Let’s start with arguably the most glaring slant of the season; our politics is bringing out the worst in us. Allow me to gently but unequivocally explain.

Our politics is bringing out the worst in us because we are using it to justify thinking the worst of other people. In fact, one of the things that bothers me most on this planet is the ease of that thinking — how willing we are to think the worst of another. 

And the behavior digresses sadly more…

Many who claim to be wise or upright people/many who seem to be wise or upright people, many who claim to love their neighbor/many who seem to love their neighbor, many who claim to promote integrity and virtue/and many who seem to promote integrity and virtue, totally throw all that out the nearest, convenient window during election season. In that so-called wisdom, uprightness, love, integrity and virtue they treat at least one third of the American population with an attitude that seems to care not if they would be silenced, disappear or — excuse my vulgarity for the point of this post — they care not if the other goes to hell. Worse yet, they seem to think they are somehow capable of discerning eternal damnation.

We justify saying the worst. We justify demonization. We justify sweeping, mass judgment. Not to mention the abundant fear mongering…

This is the most important election of our time! Only one of us is really a patriot! Only one of us believes in democracy! And those people?! Don’t get me started!!

If those people get into office, do you know what they’ll do?!… Do you know the evil they’ll cause?!… The hate they’ll spew?!

And we say all this because our political bias has blinded us to wisdom, uprightness, love, integrity and virtue.

Friends, I appreciate you much. I am also acutely aware that some read the above words and still mutter a definitive retort back to the screen saying “but they will cause evil!” … “they don’t believe in democracy!”

And just like that we justify the lesser once more. Let me boldly opine that we can’t denigrate, demonize and divide and then still claim to be acting consistently with any of the above. We have allowed our disagreement to blind us to what is good and right and true.

So what is good and right and true in our political perspectives, articulation and response?

I wish I knew how to solve; it’s complex. But I think I can encourage where to start…

Be honest. In regard to both dominant American political parties, both have leaders and voices within who are good, upright people. Both also have leaders and voices within who are not good, upright people. Sometimes we hear a call out of them as the “crazies.” Such isn’t my favorite word, but let us be honest enough to admit that both parties have their share of “crazies.” Be able to see it and admit it in both. Make excuses for neither.

Be a good listener. So many talk first and most. So many, too, immediately drown out dissent, as if dissent can’t and shouldn’t exist. That’s pretty hubristic, albeit perhaps, unknowingly so. But the wisest people I know always listen to the different. They know they have more to learn, and often, listening to the different broadens or sharpens perspective. Be willing to listen, even when it’s hard.

Be humble and kind. One of the reasons I think this particular election had some closer contests than expected is that I think too many people led with pride instead of humility. Who that doesn’t think like me would want to interact with me if I’m not humble and kind on the receiving end? My guess is none. My sense is many were quieter about their perspective, their wants, needs, and voting priorities, because shared opinion met with pride can be an explosive interaction. Hence, let’s be wiser. Always stay humble and kind.

Enough for now. It’s a little exhausting if I’m honest. I’m grateful for the soon-to-be, hopefully election season break. I’m grateful, too, to grow in the practice of what is good and right and true.

Respectfully…

AR

what will you teach me?

I love how we are given opportunity to learn the same lessons repeatedly. The environment is  different; the circumstances change; but the learning is the same.

If I’m honest, there was a time in my life when I found that to be more a frustration than opportunity. And then just like that, one of those silent, not so subtle, likely divine two-by-fours knocked me over the head, presenting indeed a place to grow.

A key learning occurred with the birth of our third son, one referred to oft here as young master Joshua. Josh is wildly gifted, a fantastic encourager, and really good with diverse people groups, especially with varied ethnicity. Josh also has Down syndrome.

My key learning was found in the heart of a brief letter from a friend, dropped at our door, when Josh was still in utero but his special, special need had been confirmed. Our wise friend penned, “Josh, I look forward not to what I will teach you, but to what you will teach me.”

For years I’ve pondered those words.

Last week I had opportunity to travel to the beautiful isle of Grenada. Dubbed the “Island of Spice” — known for its nutmeg, ginger, turmeric and more — this hilly terrain sits in the West Indies in the Caribbean Sea at the southern end of the Grenadine island chain. It’s not far from Venezuela, hosts some 115,000 people, and is frequented by tourists primarily traveling via cruise ship. Noteworthy, too, is their national motto: “Ever Conscious of God We Aspire, Build and Advance as One People.” I love and admire their proclaimed national awareness.

My intention on this long planned trip was to meet with a specific group of people on the island — mostly women, but some men, too — authentically interacting, encouraging, and helping them grow in their life and faith.

But clearly, being on the receiving end of their extravagant welcome, overflow of gratitude, and abundant generosity, I would argue that it was they who encouraged and taught me.

My time with the men and women and even children was wonderful; it was humbling and joyful with so much to take in. It is thus now making me take stock of perspectives and convictions I cling to fiercely, wondering where that fierceness has evolved into more of a detriment… I’ve heard this before… learned this before… a place where I went to give, so much was instead given…

I wonder… where else we could learn this… instead of walking into spaces and places and audiences with this inflated idea that we are the ones so richly imparted with great wisdom or so much to teach or so much to give, what would it change in us if we turned that around?

What if we walked into a room or relationship with the conviction that the person or persons standing before me had something to teach me?

What would that change?

What good would that do?

What better conversations could be had?

Perhaps it’s not a question of who will give or teach the most. Neither is it one in regard to who has most to learn. Rather it’s a recognition of the truth that we each have something to learn from the person on the receiving end of us…

No matter the room.

No matter the relationship.

No matter even the island, age, political persuasion, too.

Who are you unwilling to learn from?

Let me respectfully but bluntly rephrase…

Where has your fierceness in perspective or conviction blinded you, impairing you so much that you can no longer see what another can teach you?

We are no different, friends. Each of us have much to learn from one another. Thus, let me add… God bless you, young master Joshua… you, too, my new sweet friends in Grenada.

Respectfully…

AR

we the people (supposedly)

Years ago, I penned a version of this post. Fascinatingly— which doesn’t necessarily mean good — I think it’s still relevant. I reference the insights of self-described “professional truth sayer,” Matt Walsh, who suggested 6 years ago that “America Is Falling Apart And It’s Your [our] Fault.” Ponder the following brash but insightful excerpt — including a few embedded Intramuralist anecdotes:

“When deciding who to blame for the current state of affairs in our country, we always run through a familiar list of shadowy villains: the ‘system,’ the ‘establishment,’ politicians, lobbyists, the schools, the media, etc. [and also the Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, MAGA supporters, etc.] These are fine suspects in their own right, but I find it ridiculous that, somehow, we skip right over the first and most dastardly culprit: ourselves.

We never blame us, do we? We always get off the hook. All of the misery and misfortune in our culture have been hoist upon us from Washington, D.C. and Hollywood and Ivory Towers, and none of it from us, we claim. We’re victims. We had no say in any of this at all, according to us.

Well, at the risk of alienating literally every single person reading this, I’d like to suggest that you are an adult and a voter, and this is your fault. And mine. And your mother’s. And your neighbor Jim’s. And all of our accomplices who generally make up the club known as ‘We The People.’

Here’s what I know: If you and me and your mother and your neighbor Jim and the rest of them were prudent, rational, resolute, wise, well-read, morally courageous and intellectually engaged, we wouldn’t be in this fix. What’s more, we wouldn’t have the same sort of politicians because we wouldn’t vote for those sorts of politicians, and we wouldn’t have the same sort of media because we wouldn’t watch that sort of media. Right on down the line like dominoes, everything would change if we changed. Everything.

But there is no accountability. We all say we want accountability, but what we really mean is we want everyone else to be accountable. Very few people will actually hold themselves accountable for anything. Our Republic crumbles while we all sit around pretending we’re victims of a culture we’re actively creating and politicians we actively vote into office. We put torches to our own home and wonder why it’s on fire.

And then, surveying the destruction we wrought upon ourselves, we weep like damsels in distress, crying out for a white knight to save us. Inevitably, a charlatan in a suit of armor comes along and promises to do just that. We faint and fall into his arms, and he proceeds to immediately betray us. Then we weep again for another white knight to save us from the last one, and another comes along, and he betrays us, and we weep again, and another one comes, and so on and so on and so on and so on unto infinity.

In the midst of all of this, nobody ever says: ‘Hey American people, STOP IT YOU FOOLS.’ Instead, even the people who know better continue making patronizing excuses for us. They pontificate about how the ‘blue collar workers’ and the ‘middle class’ are feeling quite sad and angry at the moment, and we can’t very well be expected to take charge of our lives and make better decisions when we’re feeling this way. Nonsense. It’s all nonsense.

We vote for petty bullies, crooks, and charlatans [and those who clearly lack compassion or competency or even the good health to be able to run]. We vote for them. We select them. Our politics are a reflection of us. Just like the deterioration of the family, the divorce rate, fatherless homes, the moral bankruptcy of our culture, the decline of faith, collective apathy,  ignorance and intellectual laziness are manifestation of our choices, so is the political system. None of this was hoisted upon us by dark overlords or mystical sorcerers. We have made choices, we have done things, we have decided to be a certain way, and that way has proven poisonous to the future of our country…

So while I’m accusing the American public of wreaking havoc upon their own country, I’m not actually the one insulting the public. I do not believe that people are, by and large, stupid…

If a lack of intelligence were at the core of our nation’s problems, it might be true that our dear leaders in government, media, and education are solely to blame because they’re the smart ones taking advantage of a bunch of drooling imbeciles. But I don’t believe that to be the case. I believe at the core of our nation’s problems — especially our electoral problems, but also everything beyond that — are a collection of common vices, not mental deficiencies: laziness, apathy, greed, pride, envy, hatred, etc.

Our sin is our undoing. I’m as irritated with ‘the establishment’ as you are — or at least I would be if I knew what that phrase meant — but ‘the establishment,’ whatever it is, isn’t responsible for your sloth and your selfishness. Although nobody will acknowledge it, there is indeed a profound selfishness in the person who interjects himself into the democratic process yet refuses to think deeply, evaluate all the evidence, listen to opposing arguments, and scrutinize the principles, character, and integrity of the candidate he supports. To plug your ears and put on your blinders and plunge determinedly into the voting booth, having spent months aggressively refusing to apply any serious and considered thought to your decision, is an act of supreme self-centeredness. Even more so in the case of the people who vote for the politicians who promise to give them money appropriated from their fellow citizens. That’s greed and self-indulgence, not mere gullibility. In fact, these people are anything but gullible. They know exactly what they’re doing.

Ignorance, especially, can no longer be the stock explanation. We all carry around little devices that grant us access to all of the information in the world. The sum total of human knowledge is contained tidily in our pockets. We may choose to use this godlike tool to watch porn and take pictures of our own faces, but the fact remains that none of us have an excuse to be ill-informed. We continue to make reckless and shortsighted decisions as voters not because we lack information, but because we’ve seen the information and don’t care, or perhaps because we don’t care about seeing the information. In both cases, again, the fault is ours and ours alone…

Our bad choices and our flaws and our sins have brought us here politically, culturally, and in every other sense. That’s the truth. So if you want things in this country to improve, stop whining about the system and look in the mirror. We aren’t the victims, we’re the cause. If America is ever going to be ‘Great Again,’ it has to start with a little personal accountability.”

Respectfully… absolutely always…

AR