using words wisely

The following sad story caught my attention — for its unique, potential legal precedent — and — for its broader application…

A young Massachusetts woman, Michelle Carter, who was 17 at the time of the incident, was found guilty Friday of involuntary manslaughter in the suicidal death of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III. Both struggled with depression, and Roy had prior suicide attempts. And when Roy was set to attempt it again, he had stepped out of his truck filled with carbon monoxide, but was in touch with Carter, who encouraged him to get back in.

The case, as noted by observing legal experts, hinged primarily on hundreds of text messages between the two. For example:

Carter: “If you want it as bad as you say you do, it’s time to do it today.”

Roy: “Yup. No more waiting.”

Carter: “Okay. I’m serious. Like you can’t even wait ‘till tonight. You have to do it when you get back from your walk.”

In a trial where the 6th Amendment’s right to a jury was waived, the judge held those words against Michelle Carter. Said the judge, “She admits in … texts that she did nothing; she did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family. And, finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction: get out of the truck.”

Her words were viewed as a weapon.

As I ponder the tragedy of the families involved above, I can’t help but focus on that perspective: her words were used as a weapon. The court saw it as such. Said Massachusetts ACLU lawyer, Matthew Segal: “This is saying that what she did is killing him, that her words literally killed him, that the murder weapon here was her words.”

Pause here for a moment.

Think not simply of our teens and tweens.

Think of us.

How many times have we seen on social media especially (where it’s easier to boldly rant without looking your audience in the eye) where we use our words as a weapon? Where we rant, rave, insult, judge, assert how evil or idiotic another is, or tell someone to go [expletive-inserted-here] themselves?

 We — not just our teens — are using our words as a weapon.

Friends, using words as a weapon doesn’t make another want to be like us. Beating another up with a vicious, rhetorical two-by-four is not an effective means of winning friends and influencing people. Beating them up only injures further.

Said international speaker and author Yehuda Berg:

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

In other words, whether on Facebook or face-to-face, we have a choice in how to use our words. We can use them to build up or tear down. We can use them to affirm or insult. We can use them to reflect upon self or point fingers at another. The wisdom in our words depends on how we use them.

As Michelle Carter awaits an August sentencing, there is no doubt her situation is a sad story with no easy answers. It’s heartbreaking. Unfortunately, what’s currently playing out on social media and elsewhere — between adults not necessarily suffering from depression — is also, often, equally sad.

May we use our words wisely… always.


deserving to be shot?

Over the weekend, Democratic pollster and former Bill Clinton consultant, Doug Schoen, wrote an insightful, analytical piece about Democrats and Republicans increasingly “loathing” one another. Can it be fixed? “Can anyone lead us to compromise?” Or do too many no longer associate any kind of compromise with wisdom?

Schoen began by detailing last week’s intentional gunfire directed at Republicans only. What was scary about the shooter is that he was not an “extremist.” Like many of us, he did “make a habit of criticizing [in this case] conservative viewpoints and projecting his own militantly liberal ideas across social media. His spiral downward into violence is a blatant depiction of the extreme rage that now permeates both extremes of the American political spectrum.”

Schoen asserts that even though America’s history has not always been peaceful, “we are approaching uncharted waters in terms of the stark ideological polarization in our country. Wednesday morning’s tragedy was a manifestation of the aggressive hatred that is fueling the schism between the left and the right.” The middle ground is gone.

Schoen then shares the data over the past two decades, sharing how increasingly more engrained partisan loyalty has become… how significantly fewer identify as “moderate”… how many would be deeply unhappy if their son/daughter married someone from the other party. We even think less of the other party. As the NY Times summarized last week, “Americans in 1960 were more likely to allow that members of the other party were intelligent, and they were less likely to describe opposing partisans as selfish.’”

No more. We are so judgmental now. Writes Schoen: “What these people fail to realize is that their own accusation towards the opposing party is, in itself, a threat to the well-being of our nation. The alienation of fellow Americans and their ideology discourages discourse, it discourages understanding, and it discourages unity. Disagreement is perfectly healthy. The two parties, with different philosophies, are bound to present different plans for health care reform, and to have different tax priorities, and to approach paying for infrastructure differently. But the idea that these differences are unbridgeable, that the two sets of ideals are so alien to one another that it is simply impossible to negotiate with our fellow Americans, is absurd. We have a common philosophical foundation. We are not Sunnis and Shiites, or Fascists and Communists.

Or are we? As we saw on Wednesday, incessant, dehumanizing intolerance shown towards opposing ideologies breeds something closer to blind hate. [Shooter James] Hodgkinson made a target of the Republican baseball practice, acting on his expressions of displeasure regarding the current administration’s values. An unspeakable act of violence stemmed from a simple difference of opinion.”

Can we no longer handle differences of opinion? Are those opinion holders stupid? Are they evil? Do they deserve to be shot?

The Intramuralist, for one, has been pleased with the pleas for unity and bipartisanship after the shooting, but let me be clear: I want it to happen for more than one week. I want it to happen consistently. I want change from our leaders — change from us. I want us to listen to one another. As Schoen advocates, “We will not move forward as a country if we cannot find a middle ground. I say this not as a political analyst offering advice, but as an angered citizen, hopeful about everything that this nation could do and be.”

Both parties/partisans take turns resisting and refusing, with adults even resurrecting the old playground mantra that because “they did it first,” it must be ok.

Presidents, leaders, and legislators from both parties have contributed to this political divide. Many have also called to heal it. Again, as said by Schoen: “[Trump’s] response to Wednesday’s shooting, however, was a step in the right direction. Trump made a powerful statement that demonstrated that he has the capability of leading a united coalition against partisan hostility. He said that ‘We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, we love our country.’

And it wasn’t just the President that suggested a message of unity. Politicians from both sides of the aisle corroborated the importance of reduced polarization. Speaker Paul Ryan urged his colleagues ‘to show the country — show the world — that we are one House. The people’s House — united in our humanity.’ Soon after, Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader, echoed the words of Ryan, her political opponent, calling his statement ‘beautiful’ and exclaiming that the shooting was ‘an injury in the family.’”

But Schoen’s final point is perhaps his strongest. While last week’s bipartisan pleas were healthy, the current election process for presidents and House representatives specifically magnifies the division; the divisions are growing. Hence, Schoen’s point is that we must stop blaming those who represent us and look first to ourselves…

“If the American people continue to drift further and further apart, it will be impossible for our elected officials to genuinely represent the extremism of those constituent opinions while also compromising to the extent necessary to enact bipartisan policy.

When a democratic government loses touch with its constituents to the extent that the United States government has, a sense of public betrayal is inevitable. Party leaders need to take more responsibility to represent their electorate in a way that moves the country forward…

Without popular support and some degree of trust, government faces a tragic crisis of legitimacy. As we saw on Wednesday, this can manifest itself in inexcusable ways. It is absolutely imperative that our country disrupt our current trajectory towards further polarization, division, and hate. We must come together as the United States; our country depends on it, our well-being depends on it, and our children’s future depends on it.”

We can no longer excuse the inexcusable. The rhetoric. The disrespect. The judgment. It starts with us.


what are we doing?

On Wednesday, as most know, a man who belonged to multiple anti-Republican groups, including one called “Terminate the Republican Party,” opened fire on Republican lawmakers, who were practicing for a charity softball game.

Let’s start here. Let’s start by omitting the words “Republican” and “Democrat,” for if any believe that only the Republicans or only the Democrats are contributing to the reckless rhetorical climate, than they — we — are more part of the problem than we think. What are we doing?

The Intramuralist believes we need to be clear in how we speak of this. It is not the rhetoric or a Facebook group or another association that is responsible for the violent acts; the people who choose the violent acts are the people responsible for the violent acts. However, we are contributing to a climate which makes the violent acts more likely; we are feeding a culture that encourages the equating of ideological difference holders to enemies; sometimes our elected leaders have even referred to political others as the “enemy.” That is the basis for today’s question. By definition, an “enemy” is seen as bad. Wrong. And sometimes even necessary to shoot and kill. We are contributing to an unhealthy, morally-digressing climate that encourages some to shoot and kill.

One of the things I appreciate after the resulting shock and pause of horrific events, is the positive use of “we”… “We are all Americans” after 9/11… “We are Orlando” after the Pulse night club shootings…. And “we are all sons and daughters of God” — a frequent, articulated truth that is perhaps the only “we,” we actually always are. In the wake of tragedy, no less, we turn the “me” into a “we” — focusing most on what we have in common. There is no assertion that the “other” is the “enemy.”

But with all due respect, save for in the wake of those horrific events, my sense is we currently, collectively stink at that. We stink at including others in our “we.” We tend to focus most on what we don’t have in common, as opposed to what we do. We pit our values, belief systems, identities, etc. against someone or something else. We pick teams, separate groups, and create intentional division. We utilize terms such as “resistance,” “war” and “destroy” — terms each partisan group takes turns embracing… sometimes shouting.

As former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) said this week, “Angry, divisive words are setting the stage for the unhinged to act out.” The reality is that our leaders and “we” are the ones using those angry, divisive words.

How many call now — or called before — for either Donald Trump or Barack Obama to be destroyed?

And how many justify it? … maybe, most likely, only for one?

Again, this week’s shooter is responsible for this week’s shooting. But we have created a climate in which a person lacking in wisdom or discernment feels like “destroy” actually means “to destroy.” The softball field shooter went to do exactly that.

While there is nothing wrong with respectful, passionate opposition, we have been seduced as a society into believing that it’s ok for policy attacks to become personal. We have been fooled into believing that another’s policy differences equate that person with idiocy or evil.

And then we fight.
The man at the softball field went to fight.

Will we come together to recognize that we really are all Americans?

Will we stop this reckless rhetoric that encourages hate towards someone?

Will our leaders courageously lead, stopping the call to resist and destroy, even though the firm stance tends to rile up the people (and secure more future votes)? 

Will we stop attacking the person — especially, referring to them as the “enemy”?

And — perhaps the bottom line question for today — will we embrace wisdom first and foremost — or will we continue to be seduced into something lesser?

Back to Sen. Bayh… “Let’s hear more reconciliation in our political debate. Let’s rethink our propensity to make every disagreement apocalyptic. Let’s resist the temptation to infer the worst motives to our adversaries. In the end, the American values that unite us are much stronger than those tearing us apart. Let’s remember that.”

Yes… let’s remember.

What are we doing, friends?


my friend, rick

I lost a friend the other day. Let me describe him to you, from those of us who’ve known him our whole lives…

Rick was one of a kind.
He was high voltage.
He beat to his own drum.
He’s the funniest person I’ve ever known.
No one could really keep up with his energy, but he was always fun to run alongside and try to keep up with — even just for a moment.

Rick was an uncanny, energetic, passionate man. From first grade on, I never failed to laugh in his presence.

I’ll add a little more…

He was a wrestler in middle school and went undefeated in 8th grade.
He was a brewer for Oaken Barrel Brewing Co. long before the craft industry became cool.
He owned several ferrets over the course of his life.
He loved animals.
He was a tireless worker and enjoyed a successful hospitality and sales career.

Rick, too, loved an audience…

He was an entertaining mix of Robin Williams, Sam Kinison, and Ronald Reagan.
In high school, he used our lunch table as the test market for his standup routine. Every day. I think our favorite was watching him eat his peaches as if they were a live goldfish.

Rick would also do anything for his friends…

Rick wanted to be a friend to all.
He was clever, raw, edgy, conservative, and loyal to his friends.
He would be the first to stand and the last to fall when it came to the people and issues he held dear.
He was firm in his convictions, but not condemning.
He loved his family and friends fiercely.

With the rise of social media, Rick also found new ways to voice his passions — and voice them he did. He was never afraid to speak his mind, and often, brazenly so. He spoke out sometimes daily on the issues, never hesitant to call it as he saw it. We interacted often, and when I saw him some 3-4 years ago, I razzed Rick for the frequent sharpness in his political statements — he who comes from a stance one friend describes as “somewhere a little bit to the right of G. Gordon Liddy and Friedrich Nietzsche.” Rick shyly grinned, turned a little red, and said something along the lines of “yeah, I know I can be a little rough sometimes.”

But Rick’s roughness never impeded how he felt about his friends — even on those days he’d shoot me a quick bold text, arguing I was wrong or not hard enough on someone. Said another friend, “He and I really butted heads over politics and rights, but he was also the first person to tell me how much he cared about me!” The key to our friend, Rick, was that his convictions never compromised his relationships.

I’m thinking of how much I will miss Rick. I think, too, of the current sad, digressing, societal state in which too many intelligent others have allowed their convictions to compromise who they love and how they love them… how their convictions have knowingly and intentionally damaged their relationships… how they have no tolerance for the conviction of another… and how that intolerant tone rubs off on those who take it way too far. Some want passionate voices silenced. On the left. On the right. That grieves me, as we are sacrificing wisdom.

While I can no longer hear, Rick’s raw, edgy, voice, his silence also grieves me…

Some final words…

“Bottom line — he was a great guy who would do anything for his friends. When he asked how you were doing, he really cared. He knew that life was hard, and we’re all in this together. There are people who don’t know Rick who will think that he gave up early on life. But he was a shooting star that was destined to burn out early. He even knew that. He candidly talked about being amazed to be alive in his 20s and in his 30s and in his 40s. And he didn’t work hard to stay alive for himself — he did that for us. He did that for his friends and family, and we were blessed to have him here for 52 years. For those who knew him, he is irreplaceable — but I trust that his memory will live on in the stories. I’m guessing everyone has their favorite Rick story. I’m smiling right now as I think of mine. Somewhere in heaven, Rick is working his routine on a new audience. God bless him.”


language or communication?

A week ago, as with most Hall of Famers, Phillies veteran Mike Schmidt found himself once again before a microphone, with another earnestly desiring his opinion. He was asked about the future of the Philadelphia Phillies, a subject upon which the twelve time all star would obviously possess a unique perspective. He was asked if the team could build around current outfielder Odubel Herrera. Schmidt’s answer, calmly articulated, was as follows:

“My honest answer to that would be ‘no’ because of a couple of things. First of all, it’s a language barrier. Because of that, I think he can’t be a guy that would sort of sit in a circle with four, five American players and talk about the game — or try and learn about the game or discuss the inner workings of the game — or come over to a guy and say, ‘Man, you gotta run that ball out.’ [He] just can’t be — because of the language barrier — that kind of a player.”

Only a few hours later, the former third baseman found himself apologizing, seemingly sincerely from this blogger’s observant, albeit limited perspective. He apologized for the perceived disrespect of Herrera and Latin players in general. “I’m very sorry that this misrepresentation of my answer occurred and may have offended someone,” Schmidt added.

Still later that night, Boston Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy took his turn before the mic. During the game versus their New York rivals, when the Yankees pitching coach made a visit to the mound in the middle of the fourth, he was accompanied by a Japanese translator; they came to calm the momentary errancy of Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka, also Japanese.

As play resumed, Remy averred about the translator, “I don’t think that should be legal. I really don’t. Learn baseball language. You know, learn; it’s pretty simple. You break it down pretty easy between pitching coach and pitcher after a long period of time.”

Like Schmidt, Remy calmly offered his opinion. Also, like Schmidt, Remy’s comments were met with immediate criticism on social media. The next morning, his employer said in a statement that it “does not agree with any such views expressed by Jerry Remy and we know from talking to Jerry that he regrets making them. The network sincerely apologizes to anyone who was offended by Jerry’s comments.”

An apology was made for Remy’s seemingly sincere opinion that speaking the same language was a necessary part of the game.

Great question. Is it necessary to speak the same language? Is it necessary to speak the same language in order to play the same game? Is it necessary to speak the same language in order to be a leader in the game? Again, great question.

I wish there was an easy answer. In our current, sensitive societal state, I often wonder if the intensity of offense and immediate apology strategy at times impede our ability to wrestle with the underlying issue. The issue here isn’t language; the issue is communication.

We don’t have to speak and write the same formal, linguistic structure. But we do need to communicate. Communicating is far different than language.

We communicate and connect via example and engagement. We communicate and connect via eye contact and touch. We communicate and connect via unspoken kindness and courtesy.

We communicate positively and lead effectively — both on and off the diamond, hardwood, soccer field, etc. — when others know via some connection that we expect nothing more of our teammates than we do of self… when our teammates know we are doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit… when our teammates know we value others above ourselves, typically looking to their interests first.

With all due respect to Schmidt, Remy, and likeminded others, we communicate via the nonverbals embedded in humility. That’s the kind of communication that spurs others on. That’s the kind of communication that’s powerful and effective. And that’s the kind of communication for which no offense nor apology is necessary.


hearing on the hill

In the wake of all the commentary on Capitol Hill last week, there was one exchange that especially caught my attention. Let’s first attempt to extract some of the emotion that tends to skew our objectivity, as the two persons involved, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, are potentially polarizing figures. Sanders, even though seemingly authentic, is potentially polarizing because he’s a little too comfortable with socialism; and Vought — not that most know who he is — is potentially polarizing because he’s a nominee of Pres. Trump, and many currently oppose anyone or anything advocated for by Trump. The two were discussing Vought’s nomination as Deputy Director at the White House Office of Mgmt. and Budget (OMB) — important, but not dire to our existence. Note their exchange last Wednesday afternoon…

Sanders: “Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people. And that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for the publication called ‘Resurgent.’ You wrote, ‘Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.’ Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?”

Vought: “Absolutely not, Senator. I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith. That post, as I stated in the questionnaire to this committee, was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation, and…”

Sanders (interrupting): “I apologize. Forgive me, we just don’t have a lot of time. Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?”

Vought: “Again, Senator, I’m a Christian, and I wrote that piece in accordance with the statement of faith at Wheaton College”…

Sanders (interrupting): “I understand that. I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. Maybe a couple million. Are you suggesting that all those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?”

Vought: “Senator, I’m a Christian…”

Sanders (interrupting and now shouting): “I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”

Vought: “Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals…” 

Sanders (still interrupting): “You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?”

Vought: “Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.” 

Sanders: (turning away from Vought) “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote ‘no.’”

Remember that Russell Vought has been nominated for the OMB, the office whose most prominent function is to produce the President’s budget. To Bernie Sanders, aspects of Vought’s faith impair his ability to work on a budget.

Is Christianity now a litmus test? Are some suggesting Christianity is a value system that is lesser, wrong, or in this case, actually disqualifying? And how in our humongous, democratic melting pot, does Christianity make one not what “this country is supposed to be about”?

With all due respect, it concerns me that in a land marked by its bold freedoms, that an elected government official would equate any man’s faith as what we are “not about.” This, therefore, may have been the most troubling hearing on the Hill last week.


sacrificing objectivity

One of the challenges currently facing contemporary culture is the narrow selection of news. It’s not, in my arguably-less-vocalized opinion that so much of the news is this “fake” stuff we keep talking about; it’s more that it’s editorialized. We have facts that are filtered through opinion; the objectivity has been removed; therefore, the audience is subject to news which has been editorialized first.

Juxtapose, for example, the Huffington Post vs. the Drudge Report, and how they each responded to Pres. Trump’s decision last week to pull the United States out the 2015 United Nations Paris Climate Accord. [Note: the Intramuralist welcomes the respectful support or opposition to this agreement and to the decision to withdrawal; however, the decision is not what’s in question in today’s post.] Note how strikingly different the two supposed “news” sites handled the headlines…

With a background of flames, the Huffington Post announced: “TRUMP TO PLANET: DROP DEAD.”

The Drudge Report proudly boasted the President’s profile: “TRUMP FIGHTS: PARIS ‘CLIMATE’ REBUKE.”

This was over the same issue. At the same time. From “news” sites.

Pick most any topic upon which varied perspective exists — and is okay to exist (… wait… we still acknowledge that; right?). The challenge is that daily, people are reading one of the above, so-to-speak, insulating it with likeminded others, and then concluding that they have a clear grasp of the news. The problem is that news is objective, and both of the above sources are subjective; they are opinion offerers. They have editorialized the news prior to presenting it.

Let’s continue to utilize the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as our example, attempting to offer a more objective response. Here is where a source such as Rasmussen Reports, an American polling company, founded in 2003 is helpful in the discernment process. They track data and public opinion, aiding in objectivity.

Key facts regarding U.S. consent to the Paris agreement are that it was signed by Pres. Obama in 2015, but it was never submitted to the Senate for ratification or rejection. Regardless, according to the polling data by Rasmussen Reports, only 30% of voters support Pres. Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement.

What is also true is that 60% of voters believe the Paris treaty should be submitted to the Senate for an up-or-down vote.

The above data — that true, has a margin for error — helps this current events observer wrestle with reality. Let me say that another way. The above data, which by definition is more objective, helps me better wrestle with what’s happening than any call to “drop dead” or “rebuking” of the Parisians. The editorials, in my opinion, often get in the way. They fan the flames, inciting judgment and disrespect.

The Intramuralist believes climate change is a topic worthy of in-depth, give-and-take, listening-based discussion. I also believe it’s a topic which tends to prompt the most disrespect, arrogance, and lack of listening. Note that Rasmussen also reported polling data last week that only 25% think the scientific debate over global warming is over. So let’s talk about it. Calmly. Humbly. Respectfully. Let’s listen to all perspectives. And let’s quit being seduced into believing that insulting another side makes anyone want to think like us.

The point of today’s post is be aware of how our news sources skew our objectivity, due to their daily presentation of an “editorialized” version of the news. When we adopt such as truth, we tend to have little patience for alternate perspective. And then we can’t even have those worthy, listening-based discussions.

Where can we find the news? While none is free from opinion (although CSPAN comes pretty close) and several sources offer opinion pieces (albeit clearly marked as such), the Intramuralist finds the following five to be among the most trusted:

  1. CSPAN
  2. The Christian Science Monitor
  3. RealClearPolitics (and its subsidiary sites)
  4. Reuters
  5. The Wall Street Journal

Notably omitted are the aforementioned Huffington Post and Drudge Report — also, Breibart, the Daily Kos, InfoWars, and Occupy Democrats, etc. On the left and on the right, each takes turns editorializing what we hear.

I thus wonder what effect an infusion of objectivity would have on today’s news… and how we could better discuss the issues thereafter.

Respectfully… always…

fighting climate change

[Note: due to illness, the Intramuralist is offering one weekend column which I believed raised significant, valid, respectful questions. I’m not sure I agree or disagree, but remember that agreeing or disagreeing is not necessarily most important. This editorial did make me think. I like to think. It was written by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.]

So last week President Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement — to the extent that one can pull out of an agreement that’s not actually legally binding, anyway. This left some people upset.

But if climate change is really such a crisis, and if sacrifice on our part is needed to stop it, then why aren’t we seeing more sacrifice from people who think it’s a problem?
That’s what one person asked on Twitter: “What if climate scientists decided, as a group, to make their conferences all virtual? No more air travel. What a statement!” And what if academics in general — most of whom think climate change is a big deal — started doing the same thing to make an even bigger statement?

It would be big. And what if politicians and celebrities stopped jetting around the world — often on wasteful private jets instead of flying commercial with the hoi polloi — as a statement of the importance of fighting climate change?
And what if politicians and celebrities lived in average-sized houses, to reduce their carbon footprints?  What if John Kerry, who was much put out by Trump’s action, gave up his yacht-and-mansions lifestyle?
What if, indeed? One reason why so many people don’t take climate change seriously is that the people who are constantly telling us it’s a crisis never actually act like it’s a crisis. They’re all-in for sacrifices by other people, but never seem to make much in the way of sacrifices themselves.
Well, some might say, that’s why we need laws. Even people who are deeply concerned about climate change lack the self-discipline to change their behavior. So we need discipline to be imposed, by the force of government.

Well, okay. Since some states and cities are promising to live by the Paris agreement anyway, and since Trump’s rejection of that agreement doesn’t mean that Congress is forbidden to act, I have some proposals for legislation that will take climate change seriously indeed.

First, we need to tax the “blue zones.” That is, we need to impose steep taxes on property in coastal areas that will be flooded by the sea-level increases that global warming is supposed to bring. By discouraging people from living or building there now, we’ll save ourselves from big problems in the future. Sure it’ll drive down property values, but those values should go down — they’re values for property that’s going to be flooded anyway, remember?

Second, we need to ban taxpayer-funded air travel to conferences. State legislatures could ban reimbursement for travel outside their states; Congress could require that no federal grant money be spent on air travel to conferences and similar events. A lot of academic conferences would fail, but that’s a small price to pay for saving the planet.  And besides, it will encourage the development of Internet-based conference alternatives. A whole new industry might result: Green jobs!

Third, we need to ban private jet travel. At first I thought about just taxing it heavily, but with the planet at stake, that might not be enough. It’s nice that John Travolta can have his own Boeing 707, or that Leonardo DiCaprio can jet around the world speaking against climate change, but the carbon emissions involved set a bad example that outweighs anything he might say. So no more private jets. Bigshots will just have to fly commercial like everyone else, the way they did in the 1950s. (And sorry, Leo, but massive yachts have to go, too). Politicians, too, should have to fly commercial. No more government-funded “executive jets” for them.

Fourth, we need a luxury tax on mansions. Any home more than twice the size of the average American home should be taxed at 25% of its value per year. Celebrities and the rich enjoy great powers of persuasion — but with great power comes great responsibility, and they have a great responsibility to set a good example for the rest of us on climate change!

These proposals are just the beginning, and I’m sure that enterprising members of Congress and various state legislatures can come up with more. But the important thing is to set a good example: Treat climate change like the crisis you say it is, and maybe more people will believe that it really is a crisis.


dear graduate

Two years ago, when my oldest son graduated from high school, I penned most of this post. As son #2 experienced the pomp and circumstance so sweetly yesterday, I sat down to craft something new. Yet as I reread the below, I was pretty sure this still needed to be said. Hence…

Dear Graduate,

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.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

Now that you are formally entering adulthood, allow us to address a few more brief truths as you take these next few, albeit humongous steps…

First, there is that time for everything — every activity under heaven, every season under the sun. The reality is you will not enjoy nor desire each of these times. But one of the quiet truths in life is that how you respond to circumstance is typically more important than the circumstance itself. Such is a key to wisdom. Seek after wisdom. Always.

Remember that you have a choice in how to react; too many forget that. Instead of intentionally weighing the wisdom, it’s tempting to become self-focused or demanding. Resist that. Learn the difference between enjoy and embrace. When the time comes to tear down or turn away, embrace the time; when the time comes to grieve, grieve… dance, dance. Maybe even dance a lot. But remember that learning from the experience is most important. The wise one learns and grows from each season, even embracing that which is hard.

Second — and don’t let me shock you — but contrary to perhaps your long-held belief (or some fictional, parenting mantra) — you cannot be whatever you want to be. I’m sorry; remember: we are wrestling with reality. Similar to the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and jolly old St. Nick, there are a few things we’ve told you for some reason, that aren’t actually true.

You cannot be whatever or whoever you want. Also true is that you are not entitled to any of those desired positions. However, you can be something better. You can be all that God created you to be. Embrace your gifts. Utilize the individual, unique wiring within you — the wiring that makes you distinctly and beautifully, 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 your own. Simply embrace your strengths and grow from your weaknesses. Quit attempting to cover them up. Seek God first; seek his intention for your life. Then be who he created you to be.

And third, our brief rapid fire of encouragement…

Love deeply. Offer grace generously. Never view grace and truth as opposites, as each can be applied in full measure. Always. Wash your sheets — at least before you have company. Don’t be selfish. Be slow to anger. Be fast to forgive. Be humble. Forgive again. And again and again. See the wisdom in forgiveness. Recognize that sometimes intelligence gets in the way. Don’t be bitter; you will be the only one harmed in the long run. Eat healthy. Know when to not. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, as well. Separate the reds from the whites. Be charitable. Be noble. Save some; spend some; give some away. Don’t be afraid of sorrow. Recognize that you can feel sorrow and joy both at the same time. Turn off the XBOX. Sometimes. A lot of time. Value other people. Be sharpened by their differences. Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t ever think of equality with God as something to be grasped. Listen to the elderly; invest in the young. Bow and curtsy when appropriate. Open the door. Show respect — in what you say and how you think. Remember that respect does not mean accepting all as equally good and true. Know that all things are not equally good and true. Know when to be loud — when to be silent. Look another in the eye. Use your napkin. Watch what you put on Snapchat. Be discerning. Be aware that just because something feels good, it still may not be wise. Be prayerful. Figure the faith thing out; know that another can’t do it for you. And embrace each and every season shared above… the time to laugh… the time to cry… the time to grieve… and yes, that time to dance.

There is a time for everything. God has made everything beautiful for its own time.

Graduates, without a doubt, now is your time…

Sweetly, With a Special Salute to Our Grads…

listen up, grads…

On Sunday, the Intramuralist will publish our annual wish to this year’s grads. Today, no less, let us borrow from the wise and witty words of others, beginning with that high school English teacher who spoke so poignantly years ago…

“The great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.” — David McCullough, Jr.

“There is a good reason they call these ceremonies ‘commencement exercises.’ Graduation is not the end; it’s the beginning.” — Orrin Hatch

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” — Arthur Ashe

“It doesn’t matter that your dream came true if you spent your whole life sleeping.” — Jerry Zucker

“Keep in mind that neither success nor failure is ever final.” — Roger Babson

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” — Beverly Sills

“You’ll find out that nothing that comes easy is worth a dime. As a matter of fact, I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face. Never.” — Woody Hayes

“Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.” — Will Rogers

“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” — Adm. William McRaven

“The best helping hand that you will ever receive is the one at the end of your own arm.” — Fred Dehner

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” — Art Linkletter

“The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.” — Henry Ford

“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” — John Wooden

“Love the poor. Do you know the poor of your place, of your city? Find them. Maybe they are right in your own family.” — Mother Teresa

“You will never see a U-haul behind a hearse. You can’t take it with you.” — Denzel Washington

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” — Winston Churchill

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Ghandi

“The trouble with learning from experience is that you never graduate.” — Doug Larson

“Always have a purpose in life that is beyond position and money.” — Colin Powell

“To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you too may one day be president of the United States.” — George W. Bush

“Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.” — Anna Quindlen

“What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.” — Eleanor Powell

“From my point of view, which is that of a storyteller, I see your life as already artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art.” — Toni Morrison

“Your life is your story, and the adventure ahead of you is the journey to fulfill your own purpose and potential.” —Kerry Washington

“When you leave here, don’t forget why you came.” — Adlai Stevenson

So much behind… even more ahead…