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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.