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Marley's Chains

-Karen Michelle

As we near the Christmas holiday, 2 stories always emerge as the mainstays of the season,

A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Why? Why are those two stories able to stand the test of time? What are the themes within these works that continue to grip the hearts of each new generation?

 

In a Christmas Carol, we find the themes of greed, isolation, blame, guilt, shame, compassion, and forgiveness, and the start of something more, reconciliation and atonement.

 

In “It’s a Wonderful life”, the heart of humanity is explored along with the questions society grapples with daily. What is true sacrifice?  Is loyalty real if there is expected return? Why do I feel so dissatisfied? This particular story leans heavily on the themes of perspective and expectations. And contentment.

 

Both stories are redemption stories, stories that inspire us to be better people.

Christmas itself is considered by many to be a redemption story in that it celebrates the birth of a Redeemer, one whose sacrifice allows us to atone for our failings.

The desire for redemption is what allows humanity to start over when it is destructive, it's what drives us towards progress, it is the soil that nurtures even the smallest seed of hope.

 

The questions posed and discussed in these well known works are ones we see mirrored in our governments as well as society they are bound to serve. And none of us, even the wealthiest and most powerful are immune from the quiet moments of reflection when we have only ourselves and the choices defining the life we have lived as our companions. Many times, in those moments, especially the final ones, we find ourselves almost drowning in regret. Many a politician or person in power, albeit seen as a hero or a villain,  have reflected on these regrets:

 

Lee Atwater, political strategist and republican strategist was many different things to different people. He was described as “brilliant” “A dear friend” and also “sinister”, “racist” and “cruel”. People are complicated and it’s likely a bit of everything would apply, as it usually does. There is no doubt that Atwater is one of the architects of some of the worst of the Republican party-the “Southern Strategy” that gave white supremacists a home within the GOP, and a delight of dirty politics that has shifted rhetoric ever since. But at 39, Atwater was diagnosed with an incredibly aggressive brain tumor and died at 40. Before his death, he spoke out often about his political regrets. It was clear he was still proud of his success in who he helped get into office, but he was ashamed of how he did it.

 

Nearing his death, these words reflected the shift of his heart and mind:

 

"My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The '80s were about acquiring — acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn't I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn't I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don't know who will lead us through the '90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul....I was wrong to follow the meanness of Conservatism. I should have been trying to help people instead of taking advantage of them. I don't hate anyone anymore. For the first time in my life I don't hate somebody. I have nothing but good feelings toward people.”

Malcolm X, hero to many, and to some, a provocateur who separated the races more than he united them:

Although he did not know his days were about to be stolen from him,at the time of his death, Malcolm was undergoing more life transition. He  had rejected the coarse version of black racial separatism he had previously assumed.. He repudiated the concept that non-whites stood on a natural spiritual high ground. He also rejected such ideas as black Americans founding their own country within the confines of the American Northwest. At this point in his life, Mal­colm expressed regrets of all kinds and in a speech shortly before his death said that Dr. King was right and attempted to unite with him in a show of brotherhood. This is not to say that Malcom X did not still maintain a fighting attitude towards injustice, but that he did express regret from some of the more militant positions he held and the further divisions they caused.

 

Recently, the death of Senator John Mccain made headlines Many speak of him as a hero, but some label him as traitor and warmonger. . Because he knew his time left on the earth was short, Mccain made the most of his time by openly expressing his regrets and encouraging us all to work towards better government. In his final book, Mccain discussed his biggest political regrets, not speaking out against confederate flag flying, involvement in the Keating Five scandal, not picking Lieberman as his running mate during his Presidential bid, For not speaking out more often and more clearly for pro-trade and pro-immigration stances, and for not speaking out more in support of the media. Mccain even made another shocking admission in his memoir about the Iraq war. He wrote “ It can’t be judged as anything other than a mistake, a very serious one, and I have to accept my share of the blame for it.”

 

Ted Kennedy is a champion for liberals and an easy target for the ire of conservatives who quickly brand him “alcoholic”, “womanizer” and “murderer”.

Yet, in his final memoir, the Senator dedicated five pages to voicing his regret over the event that defined him to the right.  Kennedy said his actions on Chappaquiddick on July 18, 1969, were "inexcusable." He said he was afraid and "made terrible decisions" and had to live with the guilt for more than four decades. He regretted excessive drinking and bad behavior with women, and not being forthcoming on the infamous rape charges involving his nephew William Smith,  and purposely derailing Jimmy Carter’s bid on universal healthcare.

 

Billy Graham:-Reflecting on his friendships with several of America’s presidents, Graham acknowledged the nearly insatiable pull of partisan politics. Although he didn’t regret ministering to leaders of both political parties, he expressed remorse for allowing himself to be drawn too close to President Richard Nixon, who was later caught up in the Watergate scandal and resigned.“Looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now,” Graham said in 2011.Although widely credited for his commitment to integrating the largely segregated Christian church in the South in the 1960s, Graham told The Associated Press in 2005 that he regretted not participating in civil rights marches with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.“I think I made a mistake when I didn’t go to Selma,”Graham said. “I would like to have done more.”

Robert Byrd is another example.  He was a member of the KKK. Voted against the Civil Rights Act and as he grew older, openly regretted it.  He owned who he had been, what he had done and changed. “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side. … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”
Later in life, when discussing Mr. Luther King, he said "With the passage of time, we have come to learn that his Dream was the American Dream, and few ever expressed it more eloquently.” Upon news of his death, the NAACP released a statement praising Byrd, saying that he "became a champion for civil rights and liberties" and "came to consistently support the NAACP civil rights agenda". About his time in the KKK he said “I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times ... and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can't erase what happened … it has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one’s life, career, and reputation.”

 

Authentic apologies can be healing, and science backs this up-but science also tells us that apologies can create even more angst in the in one who was hurt and can inspire an even greater thirst for justice or revenge.  Greater healing comes from apologies that are backed up with repentant behavior, a literal turning from the wrongdoing towards active pursuit of the right thing.

One example of someone who owned their behavior and turned from it was Britain’s John Profumo, who by most accounts lived the rest of his life trying to make amends from an affair he had with a spy.

Societal Response

 

Here is the thing, as we read these, it is very likely, dependent on your perspective, that you  believe these people just wanted to clear their conscience or found an apology to be the most expedient political course, and it is possible that you are right, but you don’t know for sure.. and is an important distinction. The fact we often lack the ability to make that distinction is a symptom of a society getting so cynical it can’t even appreciate the possibility or value of redemption.

It is easy for all of us to judge harshly and not give grace, but the thing about grace that makes it so unfathomable is that it is undeserved. There will be some people mentioned on this episode that you may decide are not worthy of grace and that is ok- we aren’t asking you to.

We ARE however, asking you to consider the implications of a society that cannot give grace. Are we so focused on shaming that we can’t even give room for redemption?

One of the big issues driving American society today is that we are finding ourselves more and shame driven rather guilt driven.

Guilt culture is built on knowing if you are “good” or “bad” by what your conscience feels, but shame culture defines your fitness by what your community says about you and whether is honors or excludes you. Right now social media is the largest source of community most of us have, and we are rapidly turning to shame as our catalyst for change.

Guilt in and of itself is not a bad thing.

Research suggests that guilt is a more adaptive emotion than shame and can prompt a more positive, sustained response than shame.

Shame and guilt lead to contrasting motivations or action tendencies. Shame is typically associated with a desire to deny, hide, or escape; guilt is typically associated with a desire to repair. In this way, guilt is apt to orient people in a constructive, proactive, future-oriented direction, whereas shame is apt to move people toward separation, distancing, and defense.

Guilt becomes a powerful motivator when we either see the effects of our bad behavior (like in the Christmas Carol) or when other people’s good behavior naturally exposes our own lack thereof.

Shame motivates behavior, but on a very shallow way. Perhaps so many of the apologies we hear from power players today don’t ring true because we are increasingly turning into a shaming culture rather than a guilt driven one. Remember, it was a shaming culture that defined much of t colonial America, do we really want to go back to that same philosophy, just with different standards of what constitutes being shameful?

 

As we have become increasingly relative in terms of what is ok and what isn’t, we really haven’t freed ourselves of anything, we have just replaced it with new standards of measurements. Perhaps we should all focus more on being people that inspire those around us to change for the better. We can criticize a policy wholeheartedly without shaming a person.

 

Literature and entertainment prove we love a redemption story. Most of us, even in the smallest sense, desire to live one. But the only way we can do that is to give grace. We can accept an apology with a heavy dose of skepticism, but we can also allow for the possibility of truth. We can try a little harder to want truth and goodness to win rather than expect and delight in destruction.

As this season inspires many emotions, as we just said, a big part of that is inventory. We review what and who we have in our lives, we grieve what we lost. We are quiet for a moment and we reflect on things bigger than ourselves, and often, we find regret.

Huffington Post ran an article a few years ago listing the top five regrets voiced by hospice patients.This was the list

I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

I wish I had the courage to express my feelings

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends and family.

I wish I had let myself be happier.

 

If we are breathing, we have the chance to right the ship so that we won’t find ourselves with a bunch of I wishes, but instead, I haves.

We leave you with this quote from “It’s a Wonderful Life”…


Now, we can get through this thing all right. We've got to stick together, though. We've got to have faith in each other.

Here is where you will find our podcast scripts written in blog form with sources. 

February 8, 2019

Searching for a common set of facts

-Karen Michelle

As many of you have noticed, and the rest of you soon will notice, we have decided to change the name of the show from Rants and Reason to Context and Clarity.

There are several reasons for the name change. First of all, the show took an organic direction that was bit different from where we started.  Also, we believe people are tired of ranting and we found that once we really researched an issue, we were humbled to the point that it was hard to get up the indignation to rant.  But the main reason we changed our name was because we realized that we were really doing was going on a quest for political truth, and asking all of your join us. But then we had to ask ourselves,  how does one discover political truth?

 

We are going to start by discussing last week’s State of the Union. After the presidential address, many news sites and political bloggers immediately began the work of “fact-checking”, ourselves included, but then we widened our lens and came to some bigger realizations.

First, let’s discuss the historical structure of the State of the Union Address.

The address is made up of 3 parts: meditations on values, assessment of information and issues and policy recommendations. The usual themes of the speech also come in a set of three; the first being past and future, 2nd bipartisanship, and 3rd optimism.  State of the Unions are also historically known for the introduction of a major policy proposal, which this particular one didn’t have. The President touched on policy proposals that we are already familiar with but didn’t really broach a lot of new territory


In President Trump’s speech, most of the usual elements were there but it all seemed rather disjointed, and we believe this is why-the overriding themes the writers appeared to want to convey was bipartisanship, unity, and common ground and in doing that, there was actually very little discussed that most Americans wanted to hear about.

We hear the word unity tossed about a lot, but we propose unity is nowhere near a solution to current political division. Neither is common ground. Now, before we move forward, we want to own that in the beginning of our show, we said the exact opposite.

 

When we first decided to do a podcast, we talked a lot about common ground. But as Chuck pointed out once, common ground really wasn’t our goal because common ground isn’t really standing for anything- and that isn’t how either one of us approach politics.

 

Now, what do we mean when we say that common ground doesn’t really stand for anything? Let’s go back to the State of the Union. The President brought up many issues that hopefully we can all agree on such as eradicating Aids and childhood cancer. That is common ground. While working together to solve those problems is a very positive thing, focusing the speech on issues like that attempted to avoid the issues that we struggle to find consensus on.

 

Webster defines common ground as : “opinions or interests shared by each of two or more parties.” Common ground isn’t hard.  It also doesn’t solve any of the problems outside of the ones we all share concern or interest in.  Finding common ground with our political opponents is a good thing in relationship building. It’s a good thing in maintaining a cohesive society. It simply isn’t all that helpful in crafting meaningful and sustaining policy.

 

Back to our goals with the podcast. We realized we both have very concrete ideas and principles and those ideas don’t always find common ground. While we tried very hard to find points of convergence, what we figured out along the way was that those points of convergence came where we agreed to a common set of facts. We thought if people could take those facts and find a way to compromise, that would be the solution. And compromise can definitely be beneficial, in fact compromise is absolutely essential to a functioning government and some of the more effective and sustaining policies are bipartisan ones shaped by the tool of compromise.  However, it is only one tool in the toolbox and not one that always reflects the will of the people. Compromise is not necessarily a representative action unless we start to demand it. (K: Which I personally would like to see more of)

 

There is a reason that we have two political parties.  

There is a reason that candidates run on a platform.  

What is that reason? Because we don’t all agree on what should be done, how it should be done or when it should be done.

For example, the right wants lower taxes, the left wants a stronger safety net by raising them.  So how do you come to an agreement? Common ground or compromise can’t get it done.

 

That takes us back to the whole “common set of facts” thing.

As a podcast, we started focusing on that...facts. If we could all just disseminate facts we could start to solve the problems.

 

Then we encountered one major obstacle: The definition and manipulation of facts.

First of all, one has to deal with the almost philosophical problem of defining a fact.

Webster’s defines a fact as something that has actual existence. Which is pretty vague and open to perception. Other definitions state a fact is something that exists with evidence to support that existence. Well, going by these definitions, there are facts flying everywhere. In fact to use a Chuckism , we are all be accosted by “fact blizzards”.

The internet has singular facts flying at us all of the time.  With people being generally blind to their own bias, it is easy to grab one of those facts and present it as truth.  And then share that “truth”. We all have bias blindness when it comes to ourselves. We see it in each other, but don’t want to admit that WE have it.

For example, one can take any fact that makes President Reagan look like a horrible President and store it for later use. It may be true that Reagan did wonderful things as President but this person will choose to forget them and favor any facts surrounding Iran Contra and use that to craft their “truth”.

 

Facts and Truth are NOT the same thing. But we will go into that more in a few minutes.

 

Next, you have deliberate manipulation of these singular and biased facts. The internet has made this so much easier.  Consider that there are 214 million FB users in the U.S.  You have the greater population of the U.S. into on platform.  

Internet lies are like herpes, except you can give them to 1,000,000 once.  As we have talked about before on a previous episode, lies travel about 3x faster on the internet.

A study done by Stanford University identified 570 fake news sites-sites dedicated to disseminate false information on Facebook and Twitter.  They found that every story produced by these sites averaged over 100 Facebook engagements, (likes, comments, etc and 10 Twitter retweets). They may not sound like much until you consider that there were 10,240 false stories published by those sites from 2016 to 2018. And they are only using data on the known fake news sites. The study did not account for individual created memes.

 

Back to facts and truth. Again, a fact is its own thing. It can be a statistic, a study conclusion, or physical representation. But it is is incomplete and rather useless without context.

Context is what can turn a fact into a truth.

 

Think of simple sentence structure. A complete sentence is made up two essential parts, a subject and a predicate. Facts are the subject and context is the predicate. Context is what activates the fact and gives it strength and meaning.

Really let that sink in. In most of today’s political discourse, we haven’t been speaking in complete sentences-no wonder we can’t hear each other. We are all throwing out facts, but fact without context. History helps provide that context.

 

Armed with both, one can finally start to cut through the fog of ideology to see political truth.

That is ultimately why we changed our name.

We need context to provide some clarity.

That is the only way to political truth.