Empathy and Respect

In the wake of the inauguration of President Trump, I have found myself reflecting in the state of political discourse and engagement in the US, and perhaps by extrapolation, through out the world.  That reflection has lead me to a singular conclusion: we are failing.

Let me be clear.  I’m not on the bandwagon of “America is a failing nation, just look at our exporting of jobs/ increase of social ills/ widening income gap between the super rich and the middle class,” etc. No, I think we are failing in that we seem to have lost our ability to engage civilly around ideas, contradictory positions and mutual values.

Civil engagement, to me, has always meant that the issue was forefront, that the outcomes of action or the consequences of inaction were central to the discussion.  Civil engagement meant that the personal characteristics of the individual putting forth an idea were set aside so that the merits of the ideas could be discussed and debated.  In our day, this seems more of will o’the wisp of whimsy than a standard to be pursued and protected.

The latest political cycle here in the US certainly sems to show just how far we are from this goal, and I’m not talking about the sound bites from the major candidates in their various races.  No, I am referring to the way that we, the people, are using social media, particularly facebook, to belittle, demonize and dehumanize any and all who hold opinions contrary to our own.  Further, it is becoming increasingly clear that this behavior is not limited to a single party or special interest group.  This behavior seems to be much more wide spread, and name calling and vitriol seem to have become acceptable replacements for civil dialogue.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I am well aware that mud slinging has always shown up in politics for as long as people have run for office.  However, it seems in recent years that it has been elevated to the primary tool of politics rather than an unfortunate aspect of politics, utilized only when one has reached a point when an impasse has been reached.

There was a time, and not so long ago, when mutual values drove politial action.  From our founding fathers attempting to wrangle a clear defining line between the role of government and the role of the individual to our modern era where energy and tax policy drove heated discussions of economics, the issues seemed to remain centered around the good of the people of the country.  And while spin doctors and community organizers might be interested in defining them in the narrowest of terms, cooler heads in times past encouraged us to think of our larger identities, not as members of political parties, but as participants in a process of governing. And, at least in my eyes, it is impossible to see clearly on an issue if the only thing we hear are words that reinforce our own biases and self-serving conclusions.

After listening to the President’s speech, I pulled up a TED talk where the speaker encouraged the audience to consider empathy and respect when engaging in political discussion.  I, for one, intend to take this advice to heart and model it, as best I can, in any engagement I find myself in.  

I plan particularly to model this when talking with my children about politics and the political process. I see that as my primary job as a family man and a man of style and substance. Empathy and respect may be the most critical tools in getting to sound fiscal, environmental and international policy and legislation.  And they are certainly vital in crafting strong and long lasting relationships.  And if I can help my family learn this lesson, perhaps we can begin to reverse the direction of political discourse away from failure and toward cooperation.

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New Year, New Look, New Focus

Greetings!

I signed off from this blog around nine months ago now, and during that time, I had a chance to think about a lot of things.

I thought about the blog, its purpose in my life and in my interactions with the world.

I thought about what drove me to start this blog, and what caused me to question its veracity.

I questioned many of the motivational factors that drive my activity, both professionally and among my avocations.

I questioned whether or not the world needed this blog.

In short, I questioned everything about the wisdom of keeping this project going.  In most measures, it is easy to identify this as clearly a hobby.  I am not reaching a wide audience.  I am not being recognized as a result of these posts as any type of expert.  The time that it takes to produce a quality post takes large amounts of time away from other ventures, and I really began to wonder if it was all worth it.

During all of this time, I had several candid discussions with my family, especially my adult children, about the blog. I shared with them some of how I was feeling, some of what was making me wonder if this was worth any time.  And as we talked about things, I found myself getting some answers to my questions and concerns.  And most of those questions revolved around the focus and ease of access on this blog.

I began this as an exercise in writing about finding adventure in everyday life.  I believed then, and I still believe today, that while journeying far beyond the boundaries of home can lead to amazing and once in a lifetime adventures, one can find adventures close to home.

I later began to wonder at the number of men’s magazines that were directed at helping men enjoy nice things, enjoy the good life, but few about how to enjoy nice things while living wisely and on a budget.

Still later, I began to take notice of how many parenting magazines seemed to be focused on helping mothers be better homemakers but few were dedicated to helping father’s be better heads of households.

All of these realizations drove me to change the direction of the blog.

But they also caused me to wonder how to respect and represent them all in my posts.

I have come to the conclusion that all of these ideas, from intelligent adventuring to being a wise head of household, are wound up in what I am calling The Everyday Dad.

Everyday dads have to put on their best every day and go to work, giving their best in pursuit of goals and objectives that are often not their own, in order to provide income and stability for a family.  Often they do this in partnership with a spouse who also needs to work and toil outside the home just to make ends meet.  When the work day is done, the everyday dad comes home and works to handle some projects around the house, like painting or car repairs or home maintenance.  He often tries to play with his kids and share with them some of the appreciation that he has developed for a sports team or a particular performer or the lessons that he has learned along the way ofhis experience in daily life.  Finally when the kids are asleep, he strives to be a lover to dedicated spouse, often also exhausted from the second shift of shared househould duties.  In some cases, the everyday dad works a second job (as I have through much of my married life), an experience which makes all of the other activities that much more stressful and precious and precarious.

But everyday dads are also funny, and passionate, and dedicated, and want to give their family nice things, pleasant memories and a bedrock of values to guide them through the difficult times that are sure to come into their lives.

My children helped me discover this about myself.  And that is the journey that I want to now share with anyone who wants to read.  Likely it will be a small audience.  But small or large, antagonistic or supportive, share I will.

I will share the mundane, the practical, the exciting and the transcendent.  I will share the funny and heartbreaking and the inspiring and the melancholy.  I will share the things that make me a better everyday dad and the ways in which I fall short.

I’m going to add some pages to this blog, hopefully in a way to combine some of the other blogs that I have been working with in the past.  Perhaps one day i can manage several blogs, but right now, managing one is plenty difficult for me!

I hope you enjoy the new journey.  I’m grateful to have you along!