Author: Craig Freshley

I don’t know what’s best

“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that, Supreme Court Justice.

“You don’t know what’s best for you.” Rick said that, guy I once knew trying to teach me something.

Here’s me in my head: “I know what that person should do and what that person should say. I know how things should be, and shouldn’t be, and how everyone should just chill out and listen to me.” Or something happens that I’m sure is a terrible thing. “I told you this was gonna be terrible,” I can hear myself saying. And then it isn’t.

Always thinking that I know best gets in the way of stuff. Getting along with each other is a lot easier when we are humble. Innovation and creativity happen when we are humble. When I let go of my righteousness and trust my fellow humans, things tend to work out. Often, things work out better than I could have imagined.

Mad as hell AND want to talk

I am furious at President Trump. In my opinion he has done tremendous damage to our country. He urges Americans to be mean to other Americans. I think he is unpatriotic and has put our national security at risk. I’m furious that he is further compromising our national security by resisting a peaceful transfer of power.

And at the same time I am willing to talk with and show respect to a Trump supporter. I know you have your reasons for supporting him. I want to learn about that. I bet we have stuff in common. I want us to at least talk.

It’s okay to not approve of someone’s behavior yet not walk away. It’s like two people living together, mad as hell at each other, and still come to the same kitchen table. And at least try to get along.

Here’s an NBC News article: Post-election calls for unity are toxic positivity that ignores damage Trump’s done. Author Tonya Russell breaks down the Trump damage to people like her and she’s angry at people like me who want us all to get along with each other.

“You have no idea,” she basically says to a guy like me. “Me and my people are kicked and dying because of this Trump guy and his supporters. You want me to what? Don’t you dare try to get me to be nice to them.” The quotes are my paraphrases. I hope I got it right. Please read her own words and stories here. This is a great article.

I think Tonya Russell is rightfully furious. I get that people are done with talking. I get that people want to be warriors right now. And that’s all okay with me. It’s not for me to say that anyone shouldn’t follow their heart.

But those whose hearts are torn or those who have not yet enlisted in the fight; let’s talk in spite of our differences. Let’s stay at the table even if it’s hard.

Some are called to aggression and some are called to diplomacy. Some are being peacemakers and some are being warriors. And it’s okay to be both; sometimes one and sometimes the other. Both are needed, and every kind of effort in between. It’s okay to be mad as hell AND want to talk.

I just have to say one more thing and that is to check my privilege. Tonya Russell also writes, “These sentiments [like mine calling for harmony] are clearly coming from people whose ability to live comfortably in the United States doesn’t hinge on the outcome.” That’s an actual quote and I believe she’s right about that too. Things like this are easy for me to say.

History brought to life through stories

The books I love to read are historical fiction. Historical because I get to learn stuff about my ancestors, things that happened to humans long ago, historical events like wars and discoveries. Fiction because more than dates and accounts of “what actually happened,” I get pulled into “what could have actually happened.” I get to meet actual people with real life dramas. They just happen to have lived long ago.

The fiction part turns history into stories. That makes history come alive for me. The drama, the betrayal, the loyalty, the tragedy, the triumph, the secrets, the life-changing decisions that people make. This makes it really fun for me, and relatable. I can see myself in the stories. It’s hard for me to see myself in dates and facts. But I can see how a person in a story is facing the same kinds of things that I am, although in a different age.

The history part of historical fiction reminds me that humans have been through this before, and worse. Of course Americans have not gone through the same things as the Chinese or Romans or other empires, but certainly the same types of things. Always with different settings and different players, yet many societies have faced dramatic political uncertainty much like America today. Many societies have feared scarcity of resources. Many societies have endured pandemics.

As a younger man I toured the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I stumbled out onto the sidewalk afterwards and cried uncontrollably. If you don’t know, Anne Frank was a Jewish girl hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. You think our lockdowns are bad? For 761 days Anne and her family lived in a secret part of house behind a bookcase. It’s a remarkable story that shows me how things could be. Check out her story here.

And this is just one story. One. There are millions of such stories in other times and places. And these stories are happening today. They are even happening in America right among us. People are trapped in their houses or apartments. People are prisoners in abusive relationships. People are in hiding. People are desperately hungry. People fear for their lives.

Reading such stories – even tragic stories – gives me strange comfort. I think it’s because I get to see I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who has been through stuff like this. I get to see what it means to be human. I feel a sense of belonging.

And I get to see that actually, things aren’t so different today. Or so bad. And I get to see how my ancestors handled the tragedies they were handed. I learn coping skills.

And I learn that today’s tragedies are not my fault. The historical characters in the stories before me didn’t ask for their tragedies either. History is just human nature over and over again.

I am in awe of authors who can bring me history though stories. Thank you.

A nation divided by the stories we believe

How could so many people vote for President Trump? He’s so bad. It’s infuriating! The explanation must be that Trump supporters are getting different news than I am. Not only that, the news they are getting is false.

But wait a minute. Haven’t I also received false news? As a white child, I was taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America. I don’t think this is how Native American’s tell that story. As a white child I heard the joke about George Washington being “the father of our country” – wink, wink – condoning that he fathered children among his black slaves. I don’t think black people spread this joke with a wink.

As a Democrat I can point my finger at Republicans for voting based on false news, yet I have received and believed lots and lots of false news in my lifetime. We are all guilty of believing what we want to justify our moral supremacy.

I suppose this is how it’s always been; different people holding different versions of what’s true. And then all of a sudden, as if by surprise, we wake up and realize that not everyone in the country sees things the same. We become instantly angry. We accuse each other of believing false news. We are all forced to question what we thought was true.

For me, my country doesn’t seem to be the one that I thought I was living in. Based on, you know, what I’ve heard, I have always thought of my country as a place that welcomes and respects immigrants. Not true. I have always thought of my country as a place of equal opportunity. Not true. I have always thought of my country as a place where the government protects the people from bad corporations and bad people. Not true.

Actually, none of these things about my country have ever been true. I have carried false stories for years. I didn’t realize that racism, classism, sexism, and other isms were so alive in my country. I’m figuring out that these divides aren’t new; they’ve just been glossed over in the stories that I have been fed.

The street-level stories that would otherwise demonstrate our true divisions haven’t been showing up in my news feed. I haven’t been getting the complete picture. My parents’ TV news and my grandparents’ daily papers also committed crimes of omission. Those news feeds highlighted stories that appealed to my parents and grandparents, news that reinforced what they wanted to believe. Mainstream history books and text books have also hidden the truth of our nation’s divisions and have exalted false myths for generations.

As a white American of European descent, mainstream news has worked well for me and for people like me before me. But the glorified narratives about America being open to immigrants or about America as the land of opportunity simply aren’t working for a lot of people right now. For many Americans these myths just aren’t true. These myths are being exposed before our very eyes.

Today myths and false news are being spread, and targeted, like never before. Without election results in front of me, it’s easy to believe that my view is correct. No matter what you believe you can find “news” on the internet to support your belief. That’s what I do. It’s infuriating that the election results don’t support what I want to believe!

My country is divided. I can’t help that. We were born that way. Two books by Maine’s own Colin Woodard’s – “American Nations” and “American Character” – explain these divisions very well. Being divided is part of our fabric. It’s in our blood. The different modern-day tribes of America are telling and believing very different stories. Just like we always have. So why am I so surprised that the election shows us so split? Again!

I don’t know the best path forward. But I’m pretty sure it’s about accepting that we’re a divided country. And I’m pretty sure it’s not about hating each other for believing different stories. Different stories is who we are.

 

 

Acceptance

For me, acceptance is a critical strategy for finding peace.

When I’m upset it’s usually because there is a difference between what I want and what I have. Something seems unacceptable to me. For instance, I want a government that supports wind and solar but I have a government that supports oil and gas. That infuriates me! Or I want a government that supports pro-life but I have a government that allows abortions. To many people, that’s infuriating!

One strategy is to work to change what I have; work to change the policies of my government. Another strategy is to work to change what I want; work to change how I look at things. That’s an inside job. That’s acceptance.

Here’s the tricky part: When to fight for change and when to accept what is. A well-known prayer calls that “the wisdom to know the difference.”

For me, one often follows the other. I fight like hell and then at some point I try to accept. I’m expecting that point to happen around 8pm tonight when the polls close.

I have knocked on doors, written letters, made phone calls, and given money; all to change things. Yet the results of this election are not up to me and not all my responsibility. 8pm marks a turning point from “courage to change” to “serenity to accept.”

I do the best I can – I put it all out there and leave it all on the field of battle – and then once the battle is over I let go of the fight and accept the results. That’s how I find peace.

Sometimes before the battle is over, or even before it’s begun, I try to imagine losing. I practice acceptance in advance. “What’s the worst that can happen?” I ask myself. It helps me to prepare for that.

And sometimes after the battle is over I can’t let go of the outcome. I want to keep fighting. I seek new fights to overturn the last outcome. And that’s okay if I am driven from within and game for continued conflict.

What’s not okay — if you want any hope of finding inner peace — is to complain about the past without trying to change or accept things going forward. Yelling about “how things should have happened” is a set-up continued inner turmoil. Instead I try to tell myself, “Okay, this is how things are now. In light of this new reality, what should I do? Who should I be?”

You have to decide for yourself where the line is. When to fight. When to accept. I am wishing you wisdom to guide your decision.

Yet I’m also reminding you that you have choices. Peace is available to you if you are able to look at things differently.

Good news is worth paying for

In last week’s Craig’s Weekly (my eNewsletter), I recommended a Wall Street Journal article on how to have hard conversations. Some of you wrote to me that you couldn’t access the article. My apologies. I figured that if someone didn’t have a subscription or ability to buy one, they would at least be able to register with the Wall Street Journal and get free access.

Although admittedly I had another thought too: this article is worth paying for.

We are quick to complain about poor quality or biased news, even fake news. Yet we are also quick to expect our news to be free, like on Facebook. But don’t you get what you pay for?

I currently have paid subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The New York Times, and Yes!. I’m not trying to be a news snob here. And I get that I am very privileged to be able to buy these. What I am trying to do is model that I am prepared to pay for good, trustworthy news.

If a credible news source – The Wall Street Journal for example – wants me to sign up for a free trial just so I can read just one article, I think that’s fine. The Wall Street Journal has to support a huge infrastructure — staff, buildings, equipment — for quality news investigation and reporting. And they have a huge reputation to protect. That has value. To access that value I’m willing to let them try to convince me how good their paper is for a month, and I have to remember to cancel before they start charging me.

Sign-ups and payment schemes vary, but you get the idea. Inaccurate or intentionally misleading news is usually free. Trustworthy news has a cost.

I caught myself being racist

Soon after the pandemic hit I went to Danny’s hot dog stand on the Brunswick mall. There was a long line, all six feet apart, and when I stepped to the counter I was horrified to see that no one making hot dogs was wearing masks or gloves. Weren’t food providers supposed to wear masks and gloves?
 
I was not courageous enough to confront the woman taking my money. Yet after I got my hot dogs I dropped them into the nearest trash can. Then I called the police. Not 911, but the office just to see if I was right about the law. I was a little freaked out I guess. The virus was new and scarier to me then.
 
That same evening I ordered take-out from Lisbon House of Pizza. I know! Basically I eat hot dogs and pizza; that’s what it looks like. Anyway, when I stepped to the counter I was horrified to see that no one making pizzas was wearing masks or gloves. While being handed my pizza I said to the woman at the counter, “So no one is wearing masks or gloves in the kitchen? I probably won’t eat this.”
 
She was taken aback; insulted. I explained that I was perfectly happy to pay for it, which I did. I thought that would make things okay.
 
In the first instance I turned my discontent away from the hot dog clerk and to a third party, the police. In the second instance I vented directly to the pizza clerk. Why did I handle these two instances differently?
 
I’m sick to admit it but I think it’s because the hot dog clerk was white and the pizza clerk was black. I guess I thought it was more okay to directly disrespect a black person than a white person.
 
Make no mistake. My comment to her was disrespectful. I told her to her face that I was rejecting the food she was handing me. Paying for it did not make things okay.
 
I have this awareness because the Black Lives Matter movement inspired me to read two books about racism by black authors, So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo and How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. I’m starting to see things I didn’t realize before. Systemic racism is in my blood, sick to admit it or not.
 
Without this awareness I would have justified my poor behavior on many other grounds.
 
As a white person I have to be more aware and call myself out. This post is me trying to do what the books are asking me to do. This is me trying to be an example for other white people. It’s not fair to put the burden on black and brown people to bring this stuff to light.
 
And notice the title of my post. It’s about a behavior not a person. It’s okay to catch oneself doing racist things without defining oneself as a racist. Just because I did a bad thing doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. I choose to define myself as a white person who grew up with systemic racism trying to learn to be anti-racist.

Knock on the doors of your fellow Americans.

Limited time offer. This week only. This is an excellent opportunity – the perfect excuse – to get out there and talk with strangers about politics. Face-to face.

I did it yesterday. As a volunteer for the Maine Democratic Party I knocked on doors and talked with strangers about the election. Have you decided who to vote for? Can I tell you who I am voting for, and why? It was a wonderful experience.

Many people were hungry to talk. I learned from some why voting is a sacred honor and from others why they don’t vote. I heard many theories; things I agreed with and things I didn’t. And I heard full color stories of real people about why they have changed their minds or why they are standing strong; the stories behind the numbers and trends we hear in the news.

And I’m pretty sure that for some people, this was the only in-person conversation they had for days. People are so isolated in the pandemic. If for no other reason, this is a great opportunity to break the monotony and offer a face-to-face connection to someone shut in.

Here in Maine both major parties are recruiting volunteers. They can get you trained and get you out there in a hurry. And if face-to-face is not your thing, they will be happy to train you to talk with strangers by phone. See https://www.mainedems.org/ and https://mainegop.com/.

If you are fed up with politics on social media and tired of shaking your first at your screen,  I am double-daring you to get out there and engage for real; on actual doorsteps and in front yards of your fellow Americans. This is your chance.

And by the way I experienced no hostility and several versions of, “Thanks for doing this, man. Good for you. This is what we need.”

Our Peaceful Means to Settle Disputes

October 22, 2010

I have gotten into just one real argument about this election. I was having breakfast at the Washington DC International Youth Hostel and two strangers sat down to eat and chat. After some pleasantries the talk turned to politics and the man and woman started building on each other about how unfair it is that liberals are helping homeless people vote, helping them register, giving them rides to the polls. Outrageous! Apparently there was something in the news about it.

I watched them reinforce each other’s outrage until I just had to ask, “Why is it not okay to help every American vote?”

The arguments came back sharply about how “those people” were uneducated and lazy and unpatriotic. “Well any respectable black person should at least have a driver’s license,” one of them said. “It should be illegal for those people to vote,” was another comment.

To me these were fightin’ words. I pretty-much shouted that there is just one basic requirement for voting. One. Being American. You are totally allowed to be homeless, uneducated, lazy, black, and unrespectable…..and you are still allowed to vote. In fact I believe we especially need to hear from “those people.”

It turned into a thing. Strangers gathered around to watch. I had been triggered, as they say.

Here’s why. I’m all about arguing. I’m all about different views and opinions. Our disagreements have helped make America great. Yet when push comes to shove – before it turns into a fistfight – we vote. Everyone gets a say. Majority rules.

One thing that holds any group together is a way to settle conflicts by peaceful means. Here in the U.S., this is our peaceful means: Every few years we vote. Everyone gets a say. Majority rules. Of course there are many nuances but this is the basic way that we settle big disputes in America.

I have no tolerance for voter suppression. No tolerance for my fellow hostellers in that moment. To me voter suppression is unpatriotic. It’s not putting America first. It is showing allegiance to your cause more than allegiance to your country. It’s trashing our peaceful means to get your own way.

I think it’s better to lose than to cheat. In sports, following rules and accepting outcomes is how we show our respect for the game.

I don’t expect these posts to be so opinionated every time. It’s just the timing. As Americans we are about to make a big group decision and everyone should have a say.

Why be civil to Trump and his supporters?

October 20, 2020

That’s what an anti-Trump person asked me. He wrote, “Donald Trump is doing all in his power to divide our society and destroy our democracy and our nation.” He drew analogies to Hitler, Mussolini, and our own General Lee and the Confederates. “We weren’t civil to those people.” He argued. “Nor should we have been!”

Liberals should be civil to President Trump and his supporters because it’s your best shot at de-escalating conflict. We are not at war yet and until we are, the best chance we have to prevent war is by talking with each other. If you are not civil to your adversary, they won’t come to the table to talk. Conflict will escalate.

Being AT war is a different matter. The objective becomes not to prevent, but to win. And at that point you’ve got nothing to lose if you abandon civility. Win any way you can.

You might already have crossed over and see yourself as at war with the other side. If that’s the case this advice is not for you. But if you’re not there yet, show some respect to people on the other side. They have feelings and fears and dreams just like you. And even if it’s hard for moral reasons, show respect for practical reasons. It’s your best chance to avoid war.