Wednesday, November 16, 2005


One of the challenges social reformers face is keeping the attention of a distracted public. Stimuli come from so many directions that getting folks to focus on anything for longer than a minute or two is a minor miracle!

Maybe we need to start a new movement that declares a weekly Sabbath from all media except classic books and real human conversation.

No, I am not becoming the leader of a new cult!

Why did all the recent California Initiatives lose? Opponents will argue that they won on the merits (and $80,000,000+ in spending). Proponents will re-examine the "messaging" and try again.

The real issue is focus. No one is taking the time to think deeply and examine thoroughly all the ramnifications of various policies. When too much is happening too fast, everything gets lost. To expect voters to reform teacher tenure, correct a century of gerrymandering, understand prescription drug markets, and do anything on abortion rights at the same time is unrealistic.

Just as humans beings can not change more than one or two personal habits at a time, why would we expect the entire public to focus and follow-through on multiple issues?

My advice to political leaders: do not try to fight on a dozen fronts at once and stop treating the public like imbeciles.

But my most important advice is for all of us known as "the public".

We can choose to slow down and focus on the important issues that confront us. We must choose to look beyond our personal circumstances and think of the "commonweal" that binds us all together.

Back to my Sabbath idea. Regardless of religious affiliation, I challenge all of us to find a 24 hour period free of email, web, TV, radio, cell phones and any other media. Use the waking hours to think deeply, converse intelligently, and see what emerges from an uncluttered mind!

We might even discover new solutions to apparently intractable problems.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Almost Wise

In January I will turn 47. My kids have made sure I know that this means that I am in my "late" forties and therefore entering the "middle age" zone.

Why does this matter? I am not in a mid-life crisis of direction, faith or identity. I am enjoying good health, a great marriage and the maturing of my children into outstanding adults.

My wife Kathy pointed out that 47 is a prime number. I am still pondering the meaning of this; however, I will enjoy mild self-delusion and consider myself in the prime of life.

47 matters because it is a moment to reflect upon the wisdom I have gained in the first half of my life and the insights I have yet to discover in the seconf half.

In my present "Almost Wise" state of mind, here are some things I have learned:
  • A happy marriage and healthy kids are the greatest assets of all.
  • Lifelong friendships provide good soil to plant the seeds of new ones; there is always room for another good friend.
  • Regretting past mistakes and dwelling on how others have disappointed us paralyzes our progress. It is vital to get help where needed, work through real issues, and keep moving forward.
  • When we build our lives as a service to God and others, personal fulfillment comes naturally. Conversely, when we dwell too long on our own selves, happiness escapes like the morning mist.
  • Significant social progress only comes when ideology takes a back seat to deeply-held convictions of love and sacrifice.
  • The Left wants to redistribute others' unprotected assets. The Right wants to hold on to as much of their own as possible. Both sides need to ask, "How am I personally improving the lives of others outside my comfort zone?"
  • Misdirected religious zeal yields great sorrow. In contrast, people with no moral or spiritual convictions can be manipulated toward totalitarian self-destruction.
  • Faith and Science are not incompatable. We do not need to live in the dichotomy of two spheres of knowledge. A believer in Genesis needs to synthesize the theological goal of the narratives with good science. Scientists without faith need to welcome colleagues who posit an Intelligent Designer behind the processes they are postulating.
  • There are real moral issues that can not be avoided. It is impossible to propose any law or regulation without considering the deeper values underpinning them. If it is wrong to lower taxes, why is it wrong to let parents know about their children's medical care or sex education?
  • Americans are spoiled. We need to appreciate the hard-won gains of our soldiers on the battlefield and the saints who brought civil rights and equality. We have forgotten that the majority of those we esteem for their sacrifices were people of faith and profound moral convictions - notions considered "out-of-date" by too many today.

This is a sampling of some of what I have collected during my 46+ years on terra firma.

As I write, I realize that this is an early Thansgiving column.

I like what a friend mentioned to me yesterday, "Instead of one day set aside for giving thanks, how about one day set aside for all our complaining? Then we can live thankfully during the other 364 days a year."

My friend is among the Almost Wise!