the death of expertise

As we near the fourth quarter of the year, I began evaluating last year’s resolutions — how they’re shaping up, noting any ditched long ago, and how I might be motivated with three more months in the year. As noted, my previous, most prominent goal was simply to read more. And what a joy and growth opportunity it’s been. From “Called to Forgive” by Anthony B. Thompson — husband of Myra, who was gunned down by Dylan Roof in the 2015 AME church massacre — to Chad Veach’s “Help! I Work with People” — a fun, light-hearted, relational tool for leaders, learning how to steward influence wisely — to “Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore our Nation” by Intramuralist fave, David French. Embracing neither a Democrat or Republican approach, French takes a logical yet sobering look  at how the two competing political narratives are significantly hurting us.

What’s wrong with us? Why has conversation become so hard? Why are we so seemingly, quickly, easily offended? Sometimes it seems we can’t even joke anymore.

Such has lead me to “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters,” by Thomas M. Nichols. Nichols, a professor of national security at U.S. Naval War College, examines our respect (or lack of it) for facts, how uninformed and expert opinions have become entangled with one another… how “policy debates sound increasingly like fights between groups of ill-informed people who all manage to be wrong at the same time”… how universities are part of the problem… how journalism is, too…

Note more of Nichols’ insight that prompts my attention…

“These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had so much access to so much knowledge and yet have been so resistant to learning anything.” 

“While expertise isn’t dead, however, it’s in trouble. Something is going terribly wrong. The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance.” 

“Learning new things requires patience and the ability to listen to other people. The Internet and social media, however, are making us less social and more confrontational. Online, as in life, people are clustering into small echo chambers, preferring only to talk to those with whom they already agree.”

“We are supposed to ‘agree to disagree,’ a phrase now used indiscriminately as little more than a conversational fire extinguisher. And if we insist that not everything is a matter of opinion, that some things are right and others are wrong … well, then we’re just being jerks, apparently.”

“Journalism is now sometimes as much a contributor to the death of expertise as it is a defense against it… This fusing of entertainment, news, punditry, and citizen participation is a chaotic mess that does not inform people so much as it creates the illusion of being informed…This morphing of news into entertainment stretches across every demographic.”

“The modern media, with so many options tailored to particular views, is a huge exercise in confirmation bias. This means that Americans are not just poorly informed, they’re misinformed.” 

“One of the most common errors experts make is to assume that because they are smarter than most people about certain things, they are smarter than everyone about everything… Entertainers are the worst offenders here… This creates bizarre situations in which experts in one field—entertainment—end up giving disquisitions on important questions in other fields…” 

“What is different today, and especially worrisome when it comes to the creation of educated citizens, is how the protective, swaddling environment of the modern university infantilizes students and thus dissolves their ability to conduct a logical and informed argument. When feelings matter more than rationality or facts, education is a doomed enterprise.” 

“College is supposed to be an uncomfortable experience.”

“At the root of all this is an inability among laypeople to understand that experts being wrong on occasion about certain issues is not the same thing as experts being wrong consistently on everything. The fact of the matter is that experts are more often right than wrong, especially on essential matters of fact. And yet the public constantly searches for the loopholes in expert knowledge that will allow them to disregard all expert advice they don’t like.”

“Americans no longer distinguish the phrase ‘you’re wrong’ from the phrase ‘you’re stupid.’

Looks like we have a little more to read this year…

Respectfully…

AR

the current COVID crisis… sort of…

Many of our posts here have a definitive beginning, end, and bottom line point — sort of as if, when complete, it’s all wrapped up in a nice, neat, figurative bow. This will be no such post.

I want to talk about COVID-19… the vaccine, masks, mandates, our individual and collective response. Let’s face it; it’s messy. It’s also hard for the masses to talk about respectfully. 

One thing I know for certain is that Covid is still a thing. It is still affecting us… what we do, how we act, how we interact. There are so many questions that continue to swirl…

What stage are we in? … are we still in a pandemic? … or in an endemic now?

What’s our end game? … complete annihilation of the virus? … or reducing it to an endemic?

And what’s with the messaging? … why do the words/behavior of the administrations (current and past), the CDC, and FDA not always agree? … are there political motivations in play?

Part of the problem, it seems, is that we can’t agree on even the questions above. So let’s attempt to approach this from a different angle… We have a crisis.

Let me be more specific: we have an empathy crisis. We’re selective in whom we choose to actually extend empathy — to those arguably most often associated with Covid…

… to those who are sick… The U.S. has experienced almost 43 million cases of Covid. Near 700,000 have died. I can only imagine. A dear friend who wrestled with it called it nothing short of a “literal hell”; she said it was like an elephant sitting on her chest for three weeks. True, the fatality rate is less than 2%, but every person has a story, and every story matters to God. How heartbreaking indeed.

… to our friends in the healthcare industry… Many hospitals are overloaded. There’s a shortage of workers. More continue to quit. As a trusted professional shared with me, some quit because they’re downright exhausted. Some quit because they’re exhausted and frustrated; they’ve lost faith in the system; they’ve lost faith in humanity — in people trusting the science, doing what they believe is proven to be wise. “We all want to do good,” she said. “We want the healthcare system to be able to flex and be able to deal with this. But it’s not.”

Then there’s the friend who is routinely called in for extra nursing shifts in the nearby, very full NICU, and at the end of those long, draining shifts, is often confronted by protestors… Caution: soapbox comment coming… Why is it protestors always go after the wrong people? Protestors/activists seem to go after who’s easiest to attack — not necessarily who’s most responsible.

… to the vaccinated who are high risk… For those for whom the virus would be immediately life-threatening including friends and family for most all this is really hard. It’s scary… don’t other people see how their choice affects me?…. We don’t all have the same fears, but wisdom doesn’t make the unlike fears of another any less valid. So I’ll say it again: this is really hard.

… to the unvaccinated… (Remember: we said this was messy.) I listened to another intelligent friend share his family’s choice not to receive the vaccine. It’s not that they don’t believe in immunity. It’s not that they don’t love and care for their community. They are pained by the thought that countless times they’ve been told they are a “threat” to society — that because of them “millions are going to die.” That’s the farthest thought from their mind. They don’t question the efficacy of the vaccine; rather, they question the speed at which this was produced and thus its safety. They want immunity, too; they simply, genuinely believe that natural immunity is safer than manufactured immunity. They are also confused at why the conversation is so focused on the vaccinated vs. the unvaccinated, omitting the believed even greater effectiveness of natural immunity.

Let’s be honest; it’s easier to give empathy to some people more than others. Have you noticed the number who have offered mockery instead? Or anger instead of empathy? But what if solution actually began with empathy? What if truth trumping conspiracy was jumpstarted by empathy? What if we recognized that relationship and conversation are healthier and more productive when we choose empathy? Empathy doesn’t mean agreement, friends; empathy means we work to understand.

Writes columnist and Intramuralist favorite, David French: “… Becoming empathetic does not mean that we forsake the search for truth. In fact, it can often empower us and motivate us to seek greater knowledge and insight. It means, however, that we shouldn’t prioritize our fallible and frequently-mistaken perception of the truth over the humanity and experience of the person before us.

Even if we’re dealing with something as simple as ‘vaccines work,’ or ‘a vaccine likely would have saved his life,’ the person who lacks empathy is often stunningly ignorant of another person’s heart or motivations or the full context of their lives. There is so much they don’t know.”

There’s so much we don’t know, friends. What if we got that? What if we were less selective? 

Hence, no nice, neat, figurative bow.

Respectfully…

AR

what are we unaware of?

Follow me here. It was crazy scary…  

It started mildly; it was first observed to be only a tropical depression. A tropical depression is a tropical cyclone that has maximum sustained surface winds of 38 mph or less. But within 48 hours, there was an unexpected, rapid intensification. Sustained winds began to exceed 180 mph. It was a Category 5 hurricane.

To be labeled a Category 5, that means forecasters don’t suspect there will be damage; it means that “catastrophic damage will occur. A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”1

Note that to reach such a severe, sobering categorization, sustained winds need “only” reach 157 mph or higher. We are talking at least 20 mph more.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), only five storms on record have jumped from a depression to a Category 5 in such a short time period. It then was expected to make a direct hit in a heavily populated area. Not only was it expected to hit, its path was so unusual — one that would seemingly maximize the time spent over the affected land area — that maximum damage potential was also feared. Hundreds of thousands of persons were thus evacuated prior to landfall.

From those who were aware when it was happening…

… absolutely stunning…

… nothing short of explosive…

… very impressive imagery of this beast…

Friends, I continue to conclude that while we think we’re knowledgeable and well-informed, we are often only well-informed about that which is closest to us. Things that aren’t on our radar — meteorological or otherwise — are totally capable of instead being the object of our ignorance.

The storm identified above — one of the strongest storms ever recorded on Earth, with gusts approaching 200 mph — didn’t happen years ago; it happened at the end of last week.

Were we aware?

Maybe we are paying tons of attention to Afghanistan. What’s going on there is awful, whether people want us to pay attention to it or not.

Maybe we are paying tons of attention to Covid, the masks and the mandates — also an awful situation — infusing a whole new energy into the emotionally-charged “my body/my choice” debate.

My point is that we pick and choose what we pay attention to. The media picks and chooses what they — hopefully for them, we — pay attention to. And there are so many serious things happening on this planet of which most of us aren’t even aware.

What are we missing, friends? 

We’re in the middle of the 2021 Pacific typhoon season. There are no set seasonal boundaries, though most tropical cyclones develop between May and October. Super typhoon Chanthu (same as a hurricane) developed off the coast of the Philippines on Sunday, Sept. 5th. It quickly intensified in the Philippine Sea area of the Pacific. Having family in that area, noting the thunderous, dangerous winds, we were very aware.

But the storm was over 9,000 miles away. And even though it was predicted to be “catastrophic,” I didn’t hear or read a single word about it from any lead news host nor post. I had to Google what to know. I was thus only aware because the issue was near and dear to me. That tells me there is undoubtedly far more of which we are unaware.

What are we unaware of? What don’t we know?

And what — as we’re distracted by other, even valid passions and objects of attention — are we simply ignorant about? What other stunning, serious “storms”?

It’s scary, friends… crazy scary. And I’m not talking about a hurricane.

Respectfully…

AR

1National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center, NOAA, Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

the day after…

Oh, how I long for a September 12th mentality…

… a day we came together…

… a day we knew that life was short…

… a day we knew what was good and right and true…

… a day we knew all lives mattered…

… a day we weeped together…

… a day we cried out to a holy God, recognizing we need help and we are not Him…

… a day we encouraged one another…

… a day we listened well to others…

… a day we loved our neighbor…

… a day we focused on the big picture…

… a day social media rants were recognized as unhelpful…

… a day we knew being divisive wasn’t wise…

… a day politics didn’t matter…

… a day we weren’t so polarized…

… a day we respected firemen and law enforcement…

… a day leaders led…

… a day leaders fought the real enemy and not one another…

… a day leaders knew who the real enemy was…

… a day we knew shaming all Democrats or all Republicans was shortsighted…

… a day even in disagreement, we respected our President…

… a day where collectively we knew that love is always stronger than hate…

… a day where we learned hate was only associated with evil…

… a day in which we kept the main thing, the main thing…

… a day where we were kinder…

… a day we knew the Taliban was bad…

… a day we all knew sports was just a game…

… a day we always shook hands at the end of the game…

… a day when imperfect as we are, we still respected the flag…

… a day we were humbled as a nation, but full of resolve…

… a day we knew what mattered most…

As Jeff Parents, founder of the New York Says Thank You Foundation — an organization which is devoted “to build hope and provide healing to people around the world to continually ‘pay it forward’ for the humanity, kindness, and volunteer spirit New Yorkers — and all Americans — experienced on 9/12 — as Parents said…

“We’re not about what happened on 9/11. We’re about what happened on 9/12.”

Let me say that once more…

“We’re not about what happened on 9/11. We’re about what happened on 9/12.”

May we not forget either 9/11 or 9/12.

May we not lose sight of what’s most important.

May we stop allowing lesser things to get in the way.

Respectfully…

AR

thoughts from 20 years ago and today…

20 years ago today, I was attempting to grapple with a coming new reality. It wasn’t expected, wanted, nor bound to be easy. While simultaneously thrilled and overwhelmed with the thought of soon raising another child, it never ever occurred to me that the plan for my life would include a son with a perilous heart defect and potentially special needs, too. The number of thoughts swirling in my head and the pace at which they swirled were far more than I could comprehend.

Three days later, hiding in my home somewhat, preparing to soon somehow balance all the ‘new’ on my plate, my friend, Cathy, called — knowing I never turn on the TV in the morn — emphatically imploring me to turn it on now.

The North Tower had been burning for several minutes, with American Airlines Flight 11 crashing into floors 93-99, killing everyone on board and still hundreds more inside the building.

Succinctly said, it was impossible to make sense of what we were seeing.

I walked out of the room briefly (since two already born toddlers also needed tending to). Soon then United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into floors 75-85 of the South Tower, also killing all on board and hundreds more inside.

That made comprehension harder, as now we knew this was not an accident.

The President spoke 28 minutes later, identifying the scene in lower Manhattan as an “apparent terrorist attack on our country.” Innocent people were intentionally murdered. All in the name of evil.

Our eyes remained glued to the TV. Still trying, yearning, aching — something — trying to somehow make sense of it all. That’s the problem; isn’t it? Evil makes no sense.

Still sobered by our senseless shock, rumors were flying of additional attacks. The Pentagon was hit — American Airlines Flight 77. There was talk of the White House and the U.S. Capitol building being next. Some 3,300 commercial flights and 1,200 private planes were quickly grounded.

And then perhaps, when we had mistakenly concluded our shock could swell no more, at precisely 9:59 a.m., the South Tower of the World Trade Center began to crumble. 

I remember watching as it was happening — seemingly in slow motion… increasingly aware of the gravitas of the moment… still carrying that single, new life inside of me… while other lives were dying. As much as I had my own fears swirling up inside, it did not compare to what I was witnessing on TV.

In the days and years past, I have oft reflected on that time — again now, as my son approaches the twentieth anniversary of his birth. I can’t help but remember all the compounding emotions of the season.

Of course, there was continued horror on the actual day… United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Western Pennsylvania… and then again, at 10:28, when the remaining tower returned to dust. 

In our reflection, no doubt there is still so much to learn and glean… so much embedded within the unforgettable, awful tragedy…

One, evil exists on this planet. It existed in 2001; it exists in 2021. There are people who desperately want to kill the innocent. There are people who deeply desire to rid the world of persons unlike them — persons who don’t think like them, believe like them — sadly, in our country, even vote like them. Stop it, friends. That’s pure folly. Unlike thinking does not equate to evil.

Two, life is bigger than self. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own experience — or the experiences of those closest to us — that we become incapable of seeing the bigger picture. While I was pretty rocked in my own emotional world going into 9/11, there was far more going on than what was happening to me. Life will never be defined by a sole set of circumstances. 9/11 made that painfully clear.

And three, it’s important to keep the main thing the main thing. The bottom line of September 11, 2001 is that the militant Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda deliberately attacked the U.S., killing 2,977 people. Our country responded by invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban. That’s part of what’s made recent weeks so incredibly frustrating; it’s not that any “war on terror” needed to be re-waged, but how we exited Afghanistan and who we left behind was once again horrific. Terrorists remain housed there — including al-Qaeda. How we are proceeding? Who are we trusting? We need to remind ourselves what the main thing actually is.

And so I sit here on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack in human history… 

Very aware of and thankful for life…

Very aware of innocent lives lost…

And still, very sobered… even 20 years later.

Respectfully…

AR

ignorance is by no means bliss

In recent years I went through the process of becoming my youngest son’s legal guardian. And while an incredibly skilled and gifted individual, as a young man with a few special, special needs, it’s important that another be involved in his personal, financial, and possible medical decisions going forward.

Noting that it’s slightly varied state-by-state, allow me to briefly describe what we experienced, which I believe to be comparable to other state processes. It took months, was a mountain of either actual or online paperwork, included visits and/or records of most every physician ever involved in his care, took multiple in-person appointments with the courthouse, attorneys, etc., interviews, and a few hundreds of dollars. Last but not least, once approved and all requirements were met, I had to attend an all-day class to be officially certified as his legal guardian. I had to do all this, as his mom.

To be clear, if any other would have desired to be my kid’s legal guardian, their process would have been almost, exactly the same.

Let that sit in for a moment. The 18 years I spent shaping, teaching, guiding, directing, disciplining, enjoying, investing in, caring for, feeding, funding, blessing, etc. — granted, all imperfectly so, as outside of heaven, there is no perfect parent — counted for absolutely zero. Zilch. Nada.

I can remember talking with a respected attorney early on in the process. More stupefied than offended, I questioned the credulity of what we were required to do. The legal process, the laws crafted and actions dictated by the governing authorities, were embraced and enacted in order to protect all wards from any potential abuse of care. Some who become the legal guardian of another take gross advantage of their role.

That scenario has continued to prompt extensive pause in me. It’s made me think about how law is crafted and how government proceeds.

Let me humbly rephrase. 

It’s made me think about who and what we prioritize when law is crafted and government proceeds.

How spurious to assume that as an active, engaged and pretty decent parent to my kid over the entire course of his life that I still needed one more course. How vacuous to disregard our family history so sweetly and diligently built in those previous 18 years. But I am not the one prioritized by the law nor government. The chosen priority of the law and government — and no doubt an understandable concern — but their chosen priority allowed them to ignore me.

That’s the tension here, friends. When we stand and cheer or tweet or whatever for singular sides of any debate, are we humble enough… insightful enough… shrewd enough to recognize how our passionate position often ignores someone else?

That’s my question: who are we justifying ignoring?

Who are we suggesting as a result of this law, what happens to them is lesser?

Who or what in our priorities, are we saying does not matter?

If we are going to stand behind the mantra and virtue that all lives really do matter, then we need to wrestle with who each of us is ignoring in the passions and positions we hold so conspicuously dear.

Before my guardianship experience, I remember sitting with a speaker, a little frustrated with his teaching, because he justified tailering his teaching to 70% of his audience. He gently but firmly said I needed to recognize I was in the other 30%. He then equated what he perceived as a lesser percentage with no need to pay attention to them. No need, dare I say, to respect or work to understand either.

Let me suggest that a wise and civic society does not ignore the 30%. With absolutely every issue facing our politically polarized and thus paralyzed public — from here to Afghanistan — we can’t ignore the others; we can’t count them as lesser. Unfortunately, though, to justify that ignorance, we often go further, demonizing different perspective and experience instead. Sorry, friends, but that feels even more foolish to me. Actually, inaccurate and unfair, too. Demonization is most often used to embolden our own position as opposed to wisely wrestle with all who are affected by what we’ve chosen to believe. 

Wisdom thus compels us to compassionately wrestle with the different. Wisdom makes us refrain from equating percentage with lesser. And wisdom requires us to not allow priorities to justify who and what we’ve chosen to ignore.

Ignorance is not bliss, my friends. It’s not wisdom either.

Respectfully…

AR

fact checking the fact checkers

It was Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, I believe, who first articulated that “you are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Moynihan was a unique statesman; long before the present days of polarized partisanship, the New York Democrat also served in various advisory positions to Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Ford.

Unfortunately, no less, we often ignore facts. Sometimes they are inconvenient in the binary conclusions we’re tempted to cling to…

This person is all bad… this one is all good…

This party is all bad…

This church is all bad…

And then we compartmentalize the facts in such a way that we never have to wrestle with how they contradict some of our opinions. As has been said here in various ways in multiple days, to conclude that this, the past, or another administration is all healthy, competent and full of integrity — or not — is probably to have misconstrued the facts. Oh, how I wish our government was consistently known for both its integrity and competence. Compassion and financial prudence, too.

Allow us, therefore, to simply provide a tool today from a fact checking perspective. For example, did you know that fact checkers also have known bias? … and that influences the presentation of their conclusions?

Snopes, NPR, Politifact — they each lean left. Breibart, National Review — they lean right.

Understand that bias does not necessarily reflect accuracy nor credibility; bias instead plays itself out in the fact checking world by what or who the checker chooses to cover and how subjective analysis is included.

Writes AllSides, one of the Intramuralist’s favorite, recommended, respectful news sources: 

“Fact check websites like Snopes and Politifact reveal their bias numerous ways. Often, fact checkers will analyze information for the reader and draw a conclusion about the meaning of the facts, which is subjective in nature. Other times, they’ll display bias based on what facts they choose to downplay or to highlight. They also show bias based on story choice — for example, primarily fact checking left-wing politicians, or only fact checking right-wing claims.”

Based on reader feedback, notice AllSides interpretation of fact checkers here:

(To be clear, the above is different that charts we have previously posted; this simply addresses those who claim to check facts. The Intramuralist checks The Dispatch and RealClearPolitics daily.)

I wonder what it would do to the depth and respect level of our conversation — and to the humility we extend to one another — if we recognized the bias even embedded in the so-called “facts.” What would it change?

Would our conversations be better?

Would we make more progress?

If we realized our opinion was emboldened because of bias, would it soften the brash tenacity with which we oft feel compelled to speak? … especially on social media?

Many thanks, Sen. Moynihan.

No doubt we each still have more to learn.

Respectfully…

AR

who is the enemy?

Saturday mornings are a great time to take a long, leisurely walk in our community. We’re pretty wellness focused here; in addition to the neighborhood gym, there’s some 40+ miles of walking trails. Yesterday, in fact, was especially sweet. Almost all of a sudden, displayed on dozens of front patios and lanais, the American flag was proudly displayed.

Let’s be honest. Some have struggled with the flag in recent years. Some have used it as a brash source of protest. Some as a bold sign of patriotism. Some have wished to fly it or trounce it in the face of another. Still others use it to mop up tears or to drape a casket in the ultimate sacrifice.

I would like to believe, no less, the flags flown in my neighborhood are for something else this week…

That we know who our enemies actually are.

One of the most grievous errors of even the intelligent is the mistaken identity of our enemy. Let’s go one step further. One of the most grievous errors of even the intelligent is the mistaken identity and promotion of that enemy.

Such is part of what has been so difficult and confusing about the week behind. The images in Afghanistan have been awful… people killed, suicide bombers, babies thrown over fences, people in absolute desperation, fearing for their very lives…

The Taliban have taken over the country. Let’s remind ourselves briefly of who they are…

The Taliban — or “students” in the Pashto language — enforce what the BBC refers to as “their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law.”  Ruthless adherence to this “austere version” is demanded, with the Taliban having a long history of gross abuses and attacks especially on women, Americans, and on any civilians and journalists who dissent. They are a religious movement that relies on physical force.

When they ruled the majority of Afghanistan pre-9/11, note Wikipedia’s report: “The Taliban and their allies committed massacres against Afghan civilians, denied UN food supplies to 160,000 starving civilians, and conducted a policy of scorched earth, burning vast areas of fertile land and destroying tens of thousands of homes. While the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, they banned activities and media including paintings, photography, and movies that depicted people or other living things… The Taliban prevented girls and young women from attending school, banned women from working jobs outside of healthcare (male doctors were prohibited from treating women), and required that women be accompanied by a male relative and wear a burqa at all times when in public. If women broke certain rules, they were publicly whipped or executed. Religious and ethnic minorities were heavily discriminated against during Taliban rule.”

And yet these are the people to which the American government recently gave a list of US citizens, green card holders, and Afghan allies wanting to get out of their country. These are a group of people unquestionably marked by authoritarianism and violence. And these are a group of people we are attempting to trust.

To say our government’s approach to withdrawal has been incredibly poor is being kind. The inconsistency and inaccuracy of their messaging may be worse. But let me also remind us that we are not the enemy.

While the Taliban is not currently designated as an official Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), they still have not taken tangible steps to break the ties with the enemies they continue to house. Al Qaeda, ISIS, ISIS-K, etc. are still active in Afghanistan. Dare we go out on a limb here, they are our enemies.

Hence, the next time one of our American leaders attempts to paint an entire political party as our enemy, let them be convicted of their foolishness.

The next time we cheer along with the rhetoric — concluding that because of the way another thinks or votes or wants to wear/not wear their mask — that they are our enemy, let us be quieted in our judgment — choosing humility instead, with a commitment to grow in our understanding of others.

And the next time we get so frustrated with the imperfections in our country — those existing pockets of oppression and injustice, inefficiency and hardship — let us not fight to trounce all others and tear all systems down. Let’s work together, recognizing we are not the enemy. There’s a reason people are throwing those babies over fences. There’s a reason people want to come here. There’s a reason we take refugees.

That’s what working together takes, my friends. It starts by ridding our rhetoric of its inherent folly, changing our harsh, divisive thinking, and recognizing instead who the enemy actually is.

Under no circumstances is it us.

Respectfully…

AR

ignorance or dishonesty?

One of the three zillion things drilled into me as a kid was to let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’ In other words, say what you mean and mean what you say. In my spirited adolescence, I far from fathomed that such would be equally challenging for many in adulthood. Why is it so hard to speak accurately?

Maybe there’s an unspoken caveat worth wrestling with… is inaccuracy due to ignorance or dishonesty? While ignorance and dishonesty may manifest themselves identically, motive separates the two. 

To be ignorant — to misspeak, per se — means to unknowingly say something wrong. 

To be dishonest — to mislead — means to say something wrong intentionally.

There is no chip off anyone’s integrity for misspeaking. There is far more than a chip off for misleading.

One of the challenges with many of our leaders — and this goes back far more than the past seven months — is that their “yes” hasn’t always meant “yes” and their “no” not “no.” It’s then up to us to discern intention. Are they misspeaking or misleading?

Better yet, what determines our assessment? Is misspeaking or misleading based on…

… whether we like them or not? … because liking someone is an accurate gauge of discernment…

… whether we voted for them or not? … because if we voted for a person, surely we wouldn’t have supported anyone other than a beacon of integrity…

I’ll be honest — and I indeed mean no disrespect — I’m simply respectfully sharing a sincere opinion. I have struggled with the communication especially of the two most recent Presidents. I was not a fan of Pres. Trump’s often arrogant, over-use of Twitter nor of Pres. Biden’s often press-avoidant, over-reliance of the teleprompter. There have been far too many inaccuracies by both. 

Sometimes I feel like our leaders are telling us what they think we want to hear — or what they think sounds best — or they’re trying to talk us into something — like we can’t handle the truth. The messaging, for example, on the current turmoil in Afghanistan has been grossly inconsistent and wrong. And that’s the reporting of news sources all across the biased political spectrum.

So we ask once more: is inaccuracy due to ignorance or dishonesty?

The reality is we can’t always tell.

Vanessa Van Edwards, author of the best-selling book Captivate, suggests that while 82% of lies go undetected, 54% actually can be spotted if we know what to look for. Since in her extended research, she shares that “only six out of ten Americans claimed to tell the truth every day,” I’m thinking it might be wise to have a few more tools in our discernment.

According to Van Edwards, these ten signs help discern when people may be lying:

  1. A change in speech patterns
  2. The use of non-congruent gestures (when body movements don’t match a person’s actual words)
  3. Not saying enough
  4. Saying too much
  5. An unusual rise or fall in vocal tone
  6. Direction of their eyes
  7. Covering their mouth or eyes
  8. Excessive fidgeting
  9. Finger pointing (literal or figurative)
  10. Self-identifying as a “good liar”

Looks like there’s lots to discern. 

Letting our ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ be ‘No’ would be easier.

Wiser, too.

Respectfully…

AR

what has happened?

Ok, I admit it. There were many days over the course of the past month in which it was incredibly tempting to pick up my pen (or actually, open Pages) and craft a post. But two premises rang louder: one, the guest writers of our annual summer series articulated themselves thoughtfully on some terrific topics; and two, rest is vital; breaks are necessary; we are better at what we do when we are intentional with our rest.

So let’s mark today’s return with some select shout outs…

A shout out first to those guest writers…

Thank you for your thoughtful, inspiring words. You modeled well how to express that about which you are passionate without ever adding insult or “you idiot” to the end of your sentence. I continue to learn much from you, once again recognizing that just because I, too, may be passionate, there may well be more than one valid perspective. That is wise for us all. May the passion of our perspective never blind us to the acute angle of another.

A shout out next to all the healthcare professionals, dealing especially with this Covid crud…

What a tough time in the industry. I can only imagine. No doubt you didn’t pursue this professional course for celebrity or political status; you wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. And you are.

I can’t imagine what it’s been like, striving to do your job well during this oscillating pandemic. You’ve had to creatively, wisely navigate through a changing protocol and challenging public. God bless you. Unfortunately, we the people can be an opinionated bunch. With great grace and understanding to the immunocompromised, may we always be aware and honoring of those around us.

A shout out to all the Olympians from earlier this month — and especially to you, Simone Biles…

So we don’t all think the same way on this… that’s ok.

When Simone, you made the decision that you were incapable of participating, I’ll be honest; it was hard. So many of us across the country and globe had come to gleefully cheer you on these past five years. You’re the G.O.A.T. And America loves her goats.  

But what some of us omitted in our reaction was that hard as it was for us, it had to be harder for you. One of the things I think we often forget — or I’ll make this just about me, throwing no one but self under the bus — but one of the things I often forget is the importance of proximity. Here I was feeling bad — a little heartbroken honestly… wanting to still cheer… thinking you could still somehow do it… feeling bad, too, for maybe someone who could have made the squad had you discerned this earlier… and then I realized how far I was away. I speak not of the approximate 7,250 miles between here and Tokyo; instead I acknowledge that I’m simply a fan on TV. I don’t have any intimate or close up view. My perspective is therefore limited by my proximity. Your perspective, Simone, is a zillion times better. Knowing that, I have great admiration for the one who realizes how important their mental, physical, and spiritual health is. I admire the example you are for the rest of us, being intentional in self care. May each of us always be aware of our proximity.

A shout out, too, to those who have reacted and responded to the current turmoil in Afghanistan honestly, transparently and with zero other agenda…

What’s happening in this Central-South Asian country is heartbreaking. The real life images are absolutely awful. That’s where I believe we should be most focused; let our prayers be heard. 

What I also believe is that the foresight, execution, and communication of the current administration has been chaotic, confusing, and deeply concerning. Hear me clearly: four administrations have had a role in what has transpired over the past 20 years; they thus hold some degree of culpability. But Pres. Biden’s actions and communication (or lack of it) have been equivocal at best. His unavailability to the American press and public is dubious. The entire situation is soberly disappointing.

I say all that first because due to our hyper-polarized political state, it’s tough to admit when someone we support makes a significant mistake; in fact, as a people, we’ve become pretty stingy in our extension of grace, thinking our leaders should never be susceptible to error. That doesn’t make sense to me. May we thus always offer mercy and grace — remembering mercy triumphs over judgment — but may we be humble enough, too, to admit our obvious errors in judgment.

And our final shout out, to you, the reader…

Writing the Intramuralist is truly a labor of love. I enjoy the writing, researching, observing, learning and interacting… I enjoy the humbling truth of knowing and acknowledging that I’m not always right. I don’t even always realize when I’m not right. But life is journey, a journey God gives us to learn and grow and learn how to love and respect one another. I thus am grateful to you… being on this journey together.

Respectfully — and thrilled to be back…

AR