Kindness:  The Fourth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

sharing-ice-cream-kids_fKindness is number four of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Thursday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Help me to understand the hearts as well as the minds of others and to be kind to all in word and deed.

 I confess I do not always separate hearts and minds very well.  I have a great respect for affairs of the mind but I often have much less respect for affairs of the heart.  I grew up with an understanding that logic, rational thinking and knowledge were the greatest attributes of a human being.  Compassion, sympathy and kindness were emotions that I thought would only get in the way of intellectual reasoning.  I thought Spock was hopelessly emotional despite his ability to calculate odds to a thousandth of a percent.  Spock often let his feelings get the best of him and I was disappointed with his resulting behavior.  Besides, if logic was most important, then why was Spock not Captain of the Enterprise instead of that emotional unpredictable volatile and childish Kirk.  What Captain in his right mind would leave a ship full of hundreds of crew people to go gallivanting around on the surface of some unknown planet as Kirk did every week?

2014-07-28-KindnesstoYouisKindnessThere were few heroes when I was growing up who could measure up to my standards for clear and unemotional thinking.  I grew up with a father who demanded toughness.  My father’s motto was not to “get even” but to “get one up.”  If someone hit me, he taught me to make sure that they would never think of hitting me again.  My father was 6’ 4” tall and had been a professional boxer with a 21 and 3 record.  He taught me fighting skills at a very young age.  My neighborhood taught me to disregard the “rules of boxing” and to fight with whatever I had to win.  I could easily protect myself and few people would bother me.  Somehow, I became a protector for those kids who were less aggressive and who were picked on by the ever pervasive bullies. I kicked more bullies asses then I can count.  I was always proud to help the underdog.  Paradoxically, these traits did not make me more compassionate but made me harder and tougher.

NoActOfKindnessThrough hardness and toughness I began to forge a wall that nothing could get through.  Sentiments, compassion and empathy were increasingly blocked out by my need to be tough and to not take any shit from anyone or the world.  Each episode where toughness prevailed was another brick that helped to build my wall higher and higher.  I never thought I would get married but after getting my first wife pregnant, I “did the right thing” and married her.  It was the manly thing to do.  My dad had always taught me to take responsibility for my actions and my baby Chris was a direct result of my actions.

acts-of-kindness37One day we were in a grocery store just before Christmas.  An apparently legless man pushing himself along on some kind of a wheeled board was inside the grocery looking for some money.  I walked by him with Julie (my first wife) and ignored him.  My wife turned back and started to give him some money and I said:  “Shit, don’t give him any money, he can probably outrun me.  I will bet he is just a fakir.”  She gave him the money anyway and replied “What if he is not?”  I never forgot that comment.  I am not sure why my first wife married me.  She once said that she thought all people had feelings and emotions until she married me.  We subsequently divorced but I have to say that I probably owe my life to my first wife.  She cared for me when I was suicidal and she always looked after me when I was hurt or needed help.  Through her, I began to see what compassion and kindness were.  This journey has continued with my second wife Karen who is one of the most considerate and most compassionate spouses anyone could have.  Every day I learn something about kindness from her.

Kindness for someone like me could not happen as long as the wall was up.  I can’t lie and say there is no wall anymore.  I am not overly sentimental.  I don’t like chick flicks and I will gladly enact retribution on anyone who tries to hurt anyone or anything I value.  I love Jesus for turning the other cheek and as they say “I can see where he is coming from.”  However, it is not where I am coming from and I don’t think I will get to where Jesus went.

I can say that I have tried and am trying to be a better person and to me this means a more humane and more compassionate person.  I constantly remind myself of the quote:

“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

As time goes by, I have seen many of my friends become entrenched in fear and uncertainty and an increased caution in living their lives.  This almost seems to be a disease of aging.  Its symptoms are fear of minorities, distrust of immigrants, intolerance towards other religions and an antipathy towards other nations.   G. B. Shaw said that “If you are not a socialist when you are young, you have no heart but if you are not a conservative when you are old then you have no brain.”

acts-of-kindness36I disagree with Shaw.  I am getting older and I still respect and uphold the values of our Founding Fathers, but I refuse to live in a gated community or allow a homeowners association to tell me what color holiday lights to put up.  I am not a believer in mincing words but I respect the rights of minorities and anyone else to be referred to as they want to be referred to.  I respect the rights of Indians to have their ancestor’s graveyards not dug up for commercial or even academic reasons and I respect their rights not to be depicted as silly mascots for some college team.   Trump and his supporters believe the US has become too PC.  They blame minorities for this.  They would like to live in a land where it is ok to call a Black person a nigger since we call Italians wops and French frogs.  A Black person they say has a double standard or we apply a double standard for Blacks and Whites.  The bottom line of all this double talk is not too much PC but a lack of empathy and compassion and kindness towards others.

cop_homeless_manYes, there are extremists who want to take Huckleberry Finn out of the library just like there were Popes that knocked the genitals off of statues in Rome.   But if you have any empathy or even the slightest understanding of culture and history, you will be less apt to say “My father didn’t own any slaves.”  That is a little like replying to a woman who was raped “Well, I did not do it.”  To which I can now hear someone replying, “Yes, but no Black people alive today were slaves, so why should they be so upset?”  Yes indeed, why should they be so upset?  If you are serious about looking at a reason, please regard the following article:

These ten charts show the black-white economic gap hasn’t budged in 50 years — By Brad Plumer August 28, 2013

“Arrested progress in the fight against poverty and residential segregation has helped concentrate many African Americans in some of the least desirable housing in some of the lowest-resourced communities in America,” the EPI report notes.

And those poorer neighborhoods have a way of perpetuating inequality, the report points out: “Poor black neighborhoods also have environmental hazards that impact health. A very serious one is higher exposure to lead, which impedes learning, lowers earnings, and heightens crime rates. While rates of lead exposure have been declining for all races, African American children continue to have the highest exposure rate.”

The economic and social conditions depicted in this article would be unacceptable if they pertained to White people and you can bet there would be a real “War on Poverty” if they did.

Caring about Black people.  Caring about minorities.  Caring about people living in poverty.  Caring about immigrants.  Caring about the hungry and sick.  This is what kindness is about.  It is not about some esoteric concept of doing good or being PC or being a patriot.

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  —- Matthew 19:21

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  — Mark 8:36

I have learned that you cannot show kindness by being hard and tough.  Being hard and tough means taking care of yourself at the expense of other people. You can be a rich business person and that does not make you a good person.  Some of the richest people in the world have realized this truth and have become philanthropists who are now more focused on giving to the world rather than taking back.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffett come to mind.  Consider the record of Donald Trump as noted in the article:  “Donald Trump: The Least Charitable Billionaire in the World.”

“Although Donald Trump has described himself as an “ardent philanthropist,” he has only donated $3.7 million to his own foundation. In comparison, a wrestling company has given Trump’s foundation $5 million. He ranks among the least charitable billionaires in the world.” — Ben Davis

kindness-ivThe people that we will remember in our lives and who make the most impact on our lives are not the rich and famous.  They are the people who most cared about us and looked after us.  They were kind and loving towards us and somehow showed that we meant something to them and to the world.  They may have been our fathers or mothers or an aunt or teacher or perhaps a close friend.  How much money they had or how successful they were did not make a difference to us.  Indeed, what they gave us could not have been purchased by money.  Money doesn’t touch us but kindness does.

Time for Questions:

How kind are you to other people?  Are you kind to strangers as well as friends?  Are you kind to the poor and needy?  Do you try to spread compassion and empathy in the world?  If not, what gets in your way?

Life is just beginning.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” — Plato

“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” ― Mark Twain

“My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
 

 

 

 

Hillary versus Bernie:  Why I Don’t Feel the Bern!

Vote HillaryOver the past few months, the vitriol between Hillary supporters and Bernie supporters has increased in both intensity and animosity.  I have had numerous arguments with Bernie supporters.  I suspect many of them were once my friends and are now no longer so.  This is interesting since you would think that we would have more in common than not.  It would not surprise me if you were a Republican or Trump supporter and banished me from your Facebook, Twitter or any other list of friends that you maintained.  However, it seems sad that so much rancor has been generated by the Hillary/Bernie battle as to result in lost friendships when we have so much in common.   I must take some of the responsibility though since I am not and never will be one to shy away from a fight.  If a fight is what you want, I will give it to you and no holds barred.  I support my candidate and I will explain my reasons but when you get personal or insulting that is the end of the line.  It would seem to be a line that is easily crossed and that reasons and emotions are two very different things.

This past week, a good friend of mine sent me the following attached letter.  It was written eight years ago.  He was supporting Hillary (The establishment figure) and I was supporting Barack (the outsider).  I hope some of my Bernie supporter ex-friends will read this blog but I sort of doubt it.  I would like for them to see that I have supported outsiders as well as insiders and my support of Hillary has nothing to do with supporting the establishment or not supporting the establishment.  Indeed, I would argue that my logic for supporting Hillary today is very similar to my logic for supporting Barack eight years ago.  How can this be?  How does one justify supporting an “establishment” figure when most of my work and writings have been anti-establishment?  Well, a quote that comes to mind is as follows:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.  With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.  He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.  Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?  Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh.  To be great is to be misunderstood.”  —- Ralph Waldo Emerson,

I rather think I might be misunderstood by my allegiance to Hillary, but if I can stand for even a brief moment of time in the shadow of such as Socrates and Pythagoras, I will die a sublimely happy man.  In the letter below, you will see that my friend has laid out his very practical and logical reasons for supporting Hillary.  He acknowledges my candidate (Obama) but does not try to disparage or denigrate him.  This is an apt lesson that many Bernie supporters might pay attention to.  I don’t remember any of my friends calling Obama a liar or evil.  Many felt that he was unrealistic but they did not disparage his character to the extent that Republicans and some Bernie supporters have been disparaging Hillarie’s character.  If you think you are going to win me over with such attacks, you do not know me very well.  Anyway, here is the letter my friend, the Hillary supporter, wrote me eight years ago while I was then in the Obama camp.  BTY, I also voted for President Obama four years later and still have no regrets.  History will remember him as a great man, a great leader and a great president.

Hi John,

How are you doing? You know I miss speaking with you as well. There’s night time talk show here in Philadelphia. They address diverse topics. The host, Dr. Maz, reminds me a lot of yourself regarding his tone, and speed of speech. Of course, I believe that you could do a much better job because of your wit and broad range of interests. This might be something that you could look into.

Well, this certainly has been an interesting political campaign these past 2 years. I must admit that I voted for Hillary at the NJ Democratic Primary. I’ve listened closely to both people, and I believe that Hillary is the person who is most likely to bring change needed to this nation. I don’t see trying to recapture the 90’s as moving backward, but rather as retreat to a solid foundation on which one can move forward.  No change happens by itself, and one person can change little. Anyone who has tried to run an organization knows how consensus is essential to getting anything done.

One can look with pride at what our ex-presidents have accomplished after leaving office. Jimmy Carter, George Bush, and Bill Clinton have accomplished near miracles. Their experience, their contacts, and their savoir faire have changed ideas into reality. I don’t believe that those same men could have been as successful if they tried to accomplish the same tasks in their 40’s. Not because of the age but because skill takes time.

When I listen to Obama, I too am enthralled. I remember the speech Ted Kennedy gave at Robert Kennedy’s funeral. He said “Some men speak of the way things are and wonder why. My brother spoke of things that never were and asked “why not? “ I do believe in inspiration, and do believe that leadership can do wonders. But also know that this nation has done nothing of consequence to restrain the violence that is being done to Arab people around the world by the United States.  Do you expect these same people who acquiesce not only to an insidious apathy but the mindless shelling of their own tax money to promulgate a hell on earth? You think Obama’s pipe dreams will be realized? We can’t even shut down Gitmo!

My friend, Dave P, who passed away 2 years ago used to explain his reluctance to embrace radical change like this. He would say that the USA is like a large ship of state. When you want to change its direction it must be done in very small increments over a long period of time with a great deal of planning.  To do otherwise could harm the vessel and sabotage the voyage.  Radical change can not be applied to a large ship.

If I were to vote with my heart, I would have voted for Dennis Kucinich. I am in complete agreement with him, even with regard to UFO’s.  I did as much in 2000 when I voted for Ralph Nader.  These past 7 years have made me take my vote much more seriously.  If change is to come, it has to come from the ground up. My pipe dream is that as I get nearer to retirement that I will become more politically active and begin to advocate a progressive agenda at a local level.

A United States where the grass roots of the people embraced this agenda would bring far more success to an Obama presidency.  Perhaps our best shot would be the ideas of Dennis Kucinich advocated by Obama to a populous prepared to accept such changes.

Well, John, sorry it took so long to get back to you but I knew that some time should be set aside to explain myself.  There’s really so much to talk about. I don’t have a cell anymore. I do still have my home phone, 856.xxx.xxxx. I became a grand-father last year. My son, R, had his son, R. Wonderful, wonderful.

Take care of yourself, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Your friend,

Greg

————————————-

Well, it is now eight years later and today I am supporting Hillary.  The reasons I did not support her eight years ago had nothing to do with her being evil or mean or a liar.  In fact, if you believe this propaganda about her then go ahead and vote for Trump, because you deserve him.  Here is what I recently wrote to one friend who seemed sincere in understanding why I am supporting Hillary:

My reasons are as follows:  1. I cannot support most of the prevalent Republican policies ergo I need to support someone on the other side.  Either Bernie or Hillary would do here.  2. I think Bernie has been given a pass by the Republicans since they see Hillary as the biggest threat, thus I think that Bernie would soon be slaughtered when they labelled him a Commie and/or Socialist which the majority of Americans either do not support or could not tell the difference between.  Thus, he would be defeated in the general election and we could get Trump.  3. I think Hillary is a highly intelligent well qualified candidate for the POTUS.  I think she has been subjected to a double standard in which opportunistic aggressive competitive male behavior is called leadership but the same in a woman makes her a bitch or mean spirited.  Finally, I think her being labeled as a liar is part of the Republican smear campaign that has been targeted towards her for the past 4 years.  I think all politicians lie and prevaricate and she is no worse and perhaps a lot better than most.  I am voting for her not just on her character but on her policies which I think will move this country in a progressive direction.  I hope that explains my position.

My friend made several good points in his letter above about change.  Heraclitus said that you can never step in the same river twice.  Is it irony now or has the water changed?  I think times have changed.  I have obviously changed my mind.  While, I regret losing friends over this difference, I am more troubled by the Bernie people who say they will not vote or will vote for Trump before they will ever vote for Hillary.  Sometimes half a loaf is better than no loaf.  William James said:

“I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride.” 

We need visions like both Bernie and Barack brought to their campaigns.  However, we also need a large dose of pragmatism to make these visions a reality.  Rome was not built in a day.  If the people energized by this present campaign (even those who support Trump or those who support Bernie) truly want to make this country GREATER than it ever was, if they truly want to create a fair and just society, if they truly want to create a land where all its citizens are happy and prosperous, then the only way they will ever be able to do this is by staying engaged in the political process.  Coming out every four years, regardless of how much passion and how much zeal you bring to the process, will not change the systems in our country that so badly need to be changed.

I have written about many of these needed changes in my blogs.  I have put forward many progressive ideas which I hope someday will be propagated in the Congress, legislatures and courts of this land.  Reading my blogs, some might say I am too idealistic.  I would probably agree but I am not running for office.  I am trying to be a herald whose ideas might someday resonate throughout this nation and speak loudly to the American people of the changes we need.  Read some of my following blogs and see what you think.

https://agingcapriciously.com/2014/12/01/social-legacy-systems-how-they-block-change-and-prevent-progress-part-1-education/

https://agingcapriciously.com/2014/12/08/social-legacy-systems-how-they-block-change-and-prevent-progress-part-2-the-legal-correctional-system/

https://agingcapriciously.com/2015/09/27/we-need-a-fair-immigration-policy-not-an-anti-immigration-policytru/

https://agingcapriciously.com/2015/11/09/towards-a-policy-of-diplomacy/

https://agingcapriciously.com/2015/01/12/when-the-truth-will-not-set-you-free-part-1-of-2-parts/

Time for Questions:

How much time do you spend on politics?  Do you speak your peace or do you avoid confrontations?  How do you tell when you should speak up or shut up?  Can we be too political?  Can we be political and still be civil and respectful to others?

Life is just beginning.

“Revolution is about the need to re-evolve political, economic and social justice and power back into the hands of the people, preferably through legislation and policies that make human sense.  That’s what revolution is about.  Revolution is not about shootouts.”  — Bobby Seale

 

 

 

Ask Dr. John: Wisdom for the World?

Dear “Ask Dr. John” is a new syndicated column for men only.  Each week Dr. John Persico Jr. will answer questions from his many loyal followers concerning a wide range of life issues.  The comments given in this column are not medical in nature and readers are advised to use discretion before following any advice or recommendations.  The author claims no responsibilities for sickness or death as a result of information or suggestions provided in this column.

Dear Dr. John,

I came home today and found my wife in bed with three of my best friends.  What should I do?

PS:  My wife is 19 years old and I am 74 but we have been happily married for several months now.

Signed,

Frustrated

————

Dear Frustrated,

I have thought about your situation very carefully.  At your age it might be easier to find a new wife than new friends.  I would give her an early buyout on your prenuptials and try to mend fences with your friends.

Yours truly,

Dr. John


Dear Dr. John,

I have the greatest grandchildren in the world.  My youngest grandson is smart, handsome and athletic.  He will surely be a pro-football player.  He is only three years old now but you can easily see how great he will be.  I bought him a football for Christmas and he handles it like a pro.  My problem is that none of my friends really listen when I try to talk to them about him.  Do you think they are just jealous?  I am not sure what to do as they do not listen very well.

Signed,

Grandfather of the Greatest Grandson in the world.

———–

Dear Grandfather of the Greatest Grandson in the world,

I am sure they are just jealous.  Sounds like your grandson is truly amazing.  Have you thought of entering him in the Guinness Book of World Records?

Keep hammering away at them, they are bound to come around.

Yours truly,

Dr. John


 

Dear Dr. John,

I would like to retire early but I do not think I have enough money in my savings yet.  I am 45 years old and I am tired of working for a living.  Do you think there is any way that I could get my Social Security early?  It has been really hard for me these past few years as I hate my job and my work.  I am bored most of my working day.  I would rather sit home and watch football on TV.

Signed,

Would Like to Stop Working Early

———

Dear Would Like to Stop Working Early,

I know the feeling.  Many of my friends feel like you do.  However, most of them are in their seventies and like you they do not have enough in their savings to retire on.  Thus, they are still working part-time.  I have several good friends who are greeters at Walmart.  They are often bored.

I am not an expert on Social Security but I doubt that the government will give you an early out.  I think your best option would be to join the military and see if you can stay in long enough to get a good military pension.  The military has some good openings now in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq.  I doubt you would be bored over there, particularly if you asked for a combat assignment.

Yours truly,

Dr. John


Dear Dr. John,

I have a lot of aches and pains.  I still smoke and I don’t like to exercise.  My medical doctor says I am overweight, but I think he is wrong.  I am 5’ 8” inches tall and weigh 240 lbs.  Do you think that is too much weight for my height?  I am fifty three years old.  Can I lose weight without exercising or dieting?  I understand that neither of these activities are healthy and they are not much fun.

Signed,

I Want to Be Healthy

—————

Dear I Want to Be Healthy,

It is very difficult to say if you are overweight.  There are many factors that must be considered before one can render such an opinion.  Do you run or walk each day?  Do you get much activity doing housework or in the yard at home?  How many calories do you burn each day?  How much do you eat?

Many magazines in the food section of your local market will have an array of health tips and suggestions that you may want to read about losing weight and staying healthy.  My favorite book is “How to stay healthy even while you smoke and over eat and avoid exercise.”  This book has been on my shelf or years.  I have learned a great deal about health from this book.  See if you can purchase a copy from Amazon.com

I am sure it will help you as much as it has helped me.

Yours truly,

Dr. John


 

Dear Dr. John,

I have been an atheist all my life.  My last siblings died a few months ago and I have been thinking a lot now about death and dying.  I am seventy years old.  Do you think it is too late to start believing in God?  Would he accept my apologies?  Do you think I would be seen as a hypocrite by all the people I have been making fun of for years?

Signed,

Is It Time to Repent?

—————–

Dear Is It Time to Repent?

I don’t think it is ever too late to change your mind.  As you get older, it might be a good idea to hedge your bets.   As for your friends, I think I would explain to them that you had a change of heart and have finally come to your senses.  Apologize to them for all the times that you knocked their God and said what idiots they were to believe in God.  Start reading the Bible and try to remember some quotes such as:

“For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. He will strike down the non-believers.” 

Yours truly,

Dr. John


 

Dear Dr. John,

I live in a trailer park with a lot of other retirees.  Every Friday night, the guys play poker for low stakes in the community center.  This is a guy thing only.  However, one of the guys has started insisting that we let his wife play too.  I think she has been badgering him to be included.  He is a real wuss and won’t say no.  She usually comes around during the game to kibitz and look over his shoulder.  None of the other guys want to let her play but we don’t want to hurt our friend’s feelings.  What do you think we should do?

Signed,

It’s a Guy’s Thing

________________

Dear it’s a Guy’s Thing,

Look at it this way.  If you let her play, before you know it all the other wives will want to play to.  You have got to “Nip it in the bud” as Barney Fife used to say.

Here is what I think you should do.  Change your game to Thursday nights but don’t let her know.  Be sure to tell everyone that the new night is a secret for only the regulars to know about.  You can explain that this is necessary because the IRS was going to audit the game.  If that lie does not work, then simply think up another lie.  Remember “Nip it in the bud” or your guy only poker games will be a thing of the past.

Yours truly,

Dr. John


Dear Dr. John,

This is an election year and I take my voting very seriously.  I am torn between Trump and Hillary.  My friends think I am crazy and want me to support Cruz.  I don’t like Cruz because I think he is a Canadian and not really an American.  I like Hillary because she is for the common woman.  I like Trump because he is for the common man.  Should I support the common man or should I support the common woman?

Signed,

Political Dilemma

———————————

Dear Political Dilemma,

Wow, this is a tough one.  There is good and bad on both sides here.  Hillary is cuter than Trump but Trump has more money.  Hillary has held a high political office as First Lady but Trump has casinos all over the world.  Hillary will probably help us defeat ISIS but I would bet on Trump to defeat Mexico and make them pay for it.

It’s a tough call, but I would go with Hillary.  She stood by her man and you have got to give her points for loyalty.

Yours truly,

Dr. John

Well, that’s it for this week readers.  Stay tuned for more exciting “Ask Dr. John” columns to come in the next few weeks.


 

 

Debate versus Discussion:  Why Debates are a Waste of Time!

(Listen to the Debate Song, while you read my blog this week.)

berniedebateOnce upon a time, I thought debates were the answer to the question of “how do we discover the truth?”  I thought that if you put two intelligent people together and each took opposing positions on an issue, that through the interplay of ideas the truth would emerge.  If you think about this a bit, it is the basis for our judicial system in America.  One side argues for the defendant, the other side argues for the prosecution or against the defendant.   It is also the basis for an academic exercise called Dialectical Research or Dialectical Inquiry.

dialectical inquiryA dialectical investigation is a form of qualitative research which utilizes the method of dialectic, aiming to discover truth through examining and interrogating competing ideas, perspectives or arguments.  This latter method is often applied through the use of case studies in which students or investigators discuss real world examples of complex situations.  The purpose of a case study is to provide a more thorough analysis of a situation or “case” which will reveal interesting information to the reader.  As I use them in my classrooms, my goal for my students is to help them understand how to better form strategies for success in business.

159_TJ_Dillashaw_vs_Dominick_Cruz.0.0Unfortunately, in the real world the strategy of debate does not work.  Debates are a waste of time when honest discussion takes second place to winning or looking good.  Dialectical Inquiry is also often useless since the complexity of the subject can be beyond the ability of many students to grasp.  Real world situations are froth with uncertainty, volatility, complexity and ambiguity or as some have called it VUCA.  VUCA is an acronym used by the military to describe or reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations.  Many complex situations are seldom able to be accurately modeled leading in most instances to weak images or portrayals of the actual situation.  This is why debaters opt for simple explanations rather than complex explanations.  Another example of this watering down of reality is a Hollywood movie depiction of a supposed “true” story.  Recent movies that come to mind include the following:

  • The Revenant – Story of legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass.
  • American Sniper – Story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle
  • Steven Jobs – Story of the founder of Apple Corporation
  • The Theory of Everything – Story of physicist genius Steven Hawking

Hollywood loves to take stories of great enterprise and or daring do and change them into a 1. 5 hour dramatic show full of love, heroism and imaginary situations that often did not exist.  Did I say lies?  Perhaps that would be more accurate.  For often, these Hollywood epics are no more than half true.  The other half are stories added for dramatic impact.  Even worse perhaps are the often skewed biases that intrude into the movie which distort the reality of the character or situation.   For instance, here is what one critic had to say about the Steve Jobs movie:

“With all this in mind, I was disappointed in the Steve Jobs movie.  Partly because as an Apple expert I watched the film in dismay as events were pulled out of context and people appeared in locations and at times where they simply wouldn’t have been around.  I can’t help but think that in his desire to avoid the chronological retelling or Steve Jobs story, a traditional childhood to death epic, in favor of three acts (which would be better suited to a theatrical production) Aaron Sorkin constrained himself too much.  The only way he could tell the story was to pull events from all corners of Jobs’ life and present them as if they had happened in the 30 minutes before a keynote presentation.”  — Karen Haslam, 10 Nov 15

I mentioned earlier that debates cannot work when winning is the primary objective.  Hollywood’s version of winning is making money.  Making money becomes a more important objective than telling the truth.  Similarly, the truth takes second place to winning in political debates.  Winning for the networks means providing entertainment to sell ads, not necessarily a stage full of erudite rationale individuals trying to discover the truth.

The 2016 debates for both the Republican and Democratic candidates have not only been a farce but they have been an insult to the American People.  Here is one comment regarding the Republican debate on TV a few nights ago:

“The GOP debate on FOX last night was an embarrassment.  The talk show hosts said it best.  This debacle stooped to a new low. Penis size?? C’mon people.  Seriously. We need to respect our President.  It is beyond my comprehension how anybody could respect this pathetic excuse for a candidate.”

politifact-photos-Trump_gesturesI have watched several of the debates now and I see no evidence that truth is being discovered.  The debates have become hyperbolic spectacles of insults, half-truths, reality distortions, innuendos and petty personal attacks.  I doubt if anyone has found much truth in these debates never mind elucidations of complex policy positions for any of the candidates.  Trump 2495-so-funny-and-true-rhetoric-wallpaper-427x454will build a giant wall.  Cruz will fix Syria.  Rubio will fix health care.  Sanders will fix inequality in America.  Hillary will fix Obamacare.  Do you know how any of the candidates will accomplish these lofty goals?  Of course not, since they know that the “debates” are no place for such a complex discussion.  Trump perhaps realizes this fact better than anyone and has kept his discussion and clarification of his policy positions to less than fifteen second descriptions.  The general consensus seems to be that if a candidate cannot explain their position on any subject in less than fifteen seconds, they are doomed, i.e., they lose.

In their book, Presidential Debates: The Challenge of Creating an Informed Electorate, (1988) Jamieson and Birdsell make a case for the importance of Presidential debates but only if certain changes are made to the usual format.  Their book was written over twenty five years ago and if you have watched the recent debates, you will note that their recommendations were not heeded.  Furthermore, the present debate formats have probably encouraged worse excesses in rhetoric and sophistry than either Jamieson or Birdsell could have imagined in 1988.  Looking historically at debates, the Lincoln-Douglas debates were the epitome of rationality and decorum.  Today, the networks want drama and entertainment.  Debates such as took place between Lincoln and Douglas would never qualify as either drama or entertainment.

debate parrotsOn a more personal level, I have a problem with debates.  I have a few friends who love to debate.  I have noted as a result of recent discussions with them concerning the Presidential elections that do not want to understand or clarify any issues, they just want to argue or perhaps debate.  I say that they want to argue, because their main agenda seems to be looking good or advancing their points and not understanding my points.  They often enter into these contests (Since that is what a debate means to them.  It seems to be a contest between winning their points and looking good or losing their points and looking bad.) with a pretense of trying to understand why I think or feel a certain way.  Sometimes, they start the “debate” with a flat out rejection of my position or with a declaration such as “you are dead wrong” or “you don’t know what you are talking about.”  I confess that such latter utterances often preclude my disposition to have a rational discussion with them.   I see no point in it.

Have you ever changed anyone’s mind which was made up?  Have you ever tried to have a rational discussion with someone who was being emotional?  Have you ever tried to explain something to someone whose main objective in talking with you was to score points or make you look stupid?  Under the rubric of “debate,” are we to think that our antagonists give one farthing for the truth or where we stand on an issue?  There is a big difference between debating me on an issue and discussing an issue with me.

The result of these “debates” with erstwhile friends have led me to two inescapable conclusions.  First, I don’t need or even want debaters in my life.  I have little time left for scoring points or winning games by making someone else look bad or proving that they are wrong and I am right.  Second, debates do not start from an honest position of fruitful and objective inquiry and thus cannot lead to truth or relevant knowledge.  Rather, most debates start from a position of “I am right and you are wrong.”  The antagonists goal being to show you or the audience how right and smart they are and how wrong and stupid you are.  Is there a point to such an exhibition?  I presume winning is the payoff and reward.  As Vince Lombardy once said:  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

If your objective is to understand something or if you want to find the truth, I suggest that you think more of discussing and less of debating with others.  A good discussion aims to find an understanding and comprehension of complexities that is often beyond our singular abilities to understand.  The truth can usually (but not always) be found between two extremes.  However, the process of truth seeking is more important than the process of truth finding.  The truth will inevitably change over time.  You will never have found a truth that will be good for all eternity.  There will always be a new truth to be found somewhere.  Thus, the process of truth seeking becomes a way of life that outfits the seeker for a journey through the cosmos that may take the seeker to the end of the universe and back to the beginning.

Well, if you finished my blog and you think I did not give a fair presentation on the evils of debate, then please listen to the song I noted above.  This song makes a case for the value of debate.  It does it in an Indian Rap song with great visual effects, music and choreography.  I am probably undoing my entire argument by including this song but Amen or so be it. 

(Listen to the Debate Song, it makes a great case for the value of debate)

Time for Questions:

Do you seek first to understand or first to be understood?  Do you debate others or discuss with others?  Are you more concerned with understanding or looking right?  How do you grasp complex issues?  How do you insure that you truly understand and are not being duped by charlatans trying to sell you simple answers to complex issues?

Life is just beginning.

“And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:”  — The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom written by Thomas Jefferson in 1777.

 

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