Salmom Upstream, LLC

Developing and implementing real-world community solutions.

The right way to think.

This one is for my “liberal” friends. I put that word in quotes because I hate it. I hate it because it is inaccurate, and just the label itself serves to put us into different boxes.

This one is for my “liberal” friends. I put that word in quotes because I hate it. I hate it because it is inaccurate, and just the label itself serves to put us into different boxes. And in those boxes, we learn that the only right way is inhere, and those who aren’t in the right box are, well, wrong. And I don’t believe that for a second.

For the rest of this discussion, I am excluding nut-balls from the fringes. Those people are not helpful, and in fact, quite destructive, probably more than we realize. So let’s ignore them.

I tend to group people into two different categories: caring, and jaded.

In general, most “liberals” would wear the caring label pretty well. But there are some jaded “liberals” too.

Caring people want to help. They want to solve the ills of the world, to see us grow as a people into a big, happy, cooperative community. World peace. Who can argue with that idealism? Who pictures this in their head and thinks, “Whatever we do, we can’t have that!”

Exactly no one. (Remember, we filtered out the nuts…)

And yet, here we are, at each other’s throats, standing on each other’s necks. It’s not like world peace isn’t physically possible – we don’t need a new gadget or some technological wonder that has yet to be invented – it’s totally doable. We are talking world peace, not cold fusion. And yet, we seem no closer today than 50, 100, even 200 years ago. How is that progress?

Seeing something that would be awesome right in your grasp, but not being able to reach it? That’s frustrating. And when it goes catastrophically wrong? It’s absolutely infuriating, and can drive anyone to the edge and over it.

The mind is a powerful thing. Over the last few years, I have watched an incredible spectrum of reactions from caring people who are struggling to cope with a level of frustration in our society that seems to be growing at an alarming rate. I have seen people retreat socially, struggle at work or even quit their jobs, make enemies of neighbors, or even family members. I have seen people become relentless bloggers… nothing short of mass hysteria.

Frustration is by definition the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially at the inability to change or achieve something. Einstein is typically credited with recognizing the insanity of doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. If we want to end our frustration, we need to do something different. Something needs to change.

If you are thinking that what needs to change is the minds of all those people in the other box, you are doomed to eternal frustration; we are always going to have different ways of thinking. Changing the minds of those that don’t think like we do, that is something we have to end. The idea that we will all have to be forced to think alike, that’s been tried: Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, Hitler; these were folks who thought it would all go better if we were a bit more uniform in our ways. Now it’s ISIS (or whatever we are calling them now): one religion, one cohesive society. But every time we try to impose one will on a big group, someone comes along to stir the pot, and then it’s war, war, war. Same results, every time.

But that doesn’t mean we are doomed to fail. We just need to change our approach: if we can’t change the minds of the people in the other box, can we instead build a world where we coexist? Isn’t that the only real option?

Right about now, many people will start to think about diversity and embracing differences, and some will get this warm and fuzzy sense of satisfaction, because they are pretty sure they are all good with it. But diversity – real diversity – is not a bunch of people with different skin colors and hair styles and clothing and jobs sitting around a table talking about art or music. Real diversity is an atheist scientist and a fundamentalist Baptist and feminist and a guy who believes that the man is the head of the household sitting around a table talking about abortion. It’s tense.

So, how do we all get along?

The first and absolutely essential component: recognizing that we have to allow people to have dramatically different ideas. I am not talking which color is most appropriate for the paint on the front door, I am talking fundamental, philosophical differences. And “allow” may not be the best choice of words here, because some people may interpret that to mean “not beaten or killed.” I think “accept” may be a better choice. We have to be able to accept other people’s greatly varying ideologies – to accept the very people that hold values that are vastly different than our own – and share our world with them. To live in the same box. And this is really, really hard.

Now, before you stomp off, realize that you don’t have to think that way. Or act that way. Or do things like others might do that think differently than you. You just have to live and let live.

But how do you do that when people are – quite literally – dying?

The answer is: listen.

First accept, then listen.

There is no issue that we face today that doesn’t have a workable solution for everyone (once again, good thing we ditched the nuts). But we have to accept, and then listen. And then accept a little more. Only then can you even hope to work to a compromise, a plan that allows us all to do our own thing without interfering in the lives of others. Isn’t that the real intent of the American way of life?

Which brings me back to the government, and why we are all so frustrated. Because even if we decide to try this crazy scheme of acceptance and listening and compromise, our government is not designed to work this way. And we don’t seem to see that, so we keep hoping and waiting and begging and shouting and time after time, the same crap: nothing.

It’s not the fault of the people in government, it’s our fault. Because it’s our government. And it is doing exactly what it is designed to do, and the people within it are doing just what they have to do to survive with the rules that we have set in place. The problem is that the world has changed since the original rules were written, and our current intentions have changed with them. We just don’t seem to see it.

Remember that we started this to move to a government of the people. And we have a lot of well-worded documents that we hold dear to our hearts that talk about things like freedom and inalienable rights and justice and equality. But even those terms meant different things at the time. For example, equality didn’t really mean everyone was equal, just some of the people. Religious freedom didn’t mean just any religion, it was more about variations on a theme.

So it was really a government of the people (well, some of the people) that allowed for diverse ideologies, as long as those ideologies weren’t too different from the norm. It was better than anything that had come before. It is still one of the top. But if we want to go where no one has gone before – true diversity – we have to recognize the things that are holding us back. And all the other countries people point to as having it all figured out? None of them are us, and none of them are truly diverse.

First: accept. Then: listen. And we have to do it first, the government is not going to do it for us.

Because that’s not how the current rules work. I know I sound like a broken record, but it all comes back to how we select our leaders and what we expect from them. We are all fed this dogma that this two-party system is somehow necessary, but it’s not. And it is, by its very nature, preventing us from doing exactly what we all want to do. And that is incredibly frustrating. Each political party gathers and holds its supporters by rallying them against the enemy: the other party. And all of its supporters. This is not a recipe for acceptance and listening, this is a recipe for conflict. And you will never see compromise, change, or innovation from such an environment. You will never see a single policy that benefits everyone – and isn’t that the best type of policy? – from an entity that thrives on your fear and loathing of the other side. And it doesn’t matter which side you are on. Caring or jaded, it’s only important that you rally to the cause.

Nearing 15 months since this frustration cracked me, and I have yet to see any evidence that the system will fix itself. But I have seen and continue to be inspired by what is possible when you tear down the walls of the boxes and work together toward a common goal. It does take time, so the “look here!” part will have to wait a bit more. In the meantime, watch as the same results are regurgitated again, just as they have been, time after time.

And maybe try a little acceptance and listening. You might be surprised when something different happens.