Monday, February 27, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: The Human Condition

This may be our moment. It may be a moment in modern history when we can take a step back and really look at what we believe and where we are going. We need to be careful with this inheritance.

We all have inherited the societal situation we are in. We were plopped down here with no input on the matter. Our inheritance is loaded, too, like a powder keg. It can explode and create devastation, or it can burn with power, purpose, and direction. With our inheritance, we can do what is very good, what is very evil, or something in between.

Condemnation of history frustrates me. People criticize individuals, such as the racist N.C. governor Charles Aycock. They criticize the feudal world of the Middle Ages. They criticize the politics of the Vietnam War. They criticize the sexism of literature of every previous generation. They criticize the Europeans who stole a continent from militarily inferior Native Americans. And there is an abundance of criticism for the whole American institution of slavery.

Criticism of history is a lazy man’s self-righteousness. We can look so high and mighty when we point out the flaws of previous generations. But remember, we can’t change history. Of course it is flawed. Anyone can see that.

We can’t change history, but we can understand it. If we really want to understand it, we need to dig deeper to learn why people thought and behaved as they did. Why in the world would so many Southerners in 1860 support the institution of slavery? Were they that much more evil than we are? Were they just morally blind? How could they be that blind?

Once we understand the loaded inheritance of that generation, we can begin to make sense of their choices. Not that we would have behaved similarly, but that we can see how they got there. Critical looks at previous generations are most helpful to us if they do one thing: if they help us find our own blind spots.

I don’t want to defend any of those people, systems, or institutions. They were wrong. But those people inherited a world different from ours. In 100 years, many will look back at the early twenty-first century and wonder how we could have been so cruel and selfish. Every generation is blind to the wrongs of the world. If we don’t know any different, how can we think any differently?

Next time:
Loaded Inheritance: Exploitation

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Big Short F-Bombs

I watched The Big Short this week, a movie based on the events of the housing market crash of 2007-2008. It explained in a simple way the complicated events that caused the financial collapse leading to the “Great Recession.” I highly recommend it, for its entertaining, engaging way of telling the story of mass irresponsibility.


However, the script is needlessly obscene. It seemed like about 40% of the sentences in the film included some form of the F-word. I don’t hang around Wall Street investors, but I have never heard such foul language in any context—sporting events, airports, coffee shops, housing projects, racing events, even construction sites. But I have heard plenty of it on cable TV programs. And that’s it. The movies and cable TV are the only places I hear such relentless pursuit of verbal shock value. I never hear it in real life. In The Big Short such language did absolutely nothing to advance the plot, and it genuinely distracted me from it.

I wonder how the actors feel, shoveling such verbal manure. What would their children think? Or their mothers?

And I wonder why the producers wanted to include such language. Are they trying to normalize the use of the word? If so, society will have to coin some other word for obscene emphasis. If Hollywood sets the tone for society, then we are heading for a raunchy world of limited vocabulary and shallow thought.

Yeah, I know, it sounds like whining. It’s really more of a lament.

Friday, February 10, 2017

What Happened to Trust?

Warning: I'm going to talk about another crisis. Scrolling through Twitter this morning, I saw a recurring theme: a lack of trust. Think about it.

  • You can't trust those scientists because you-know-who pays their salary.
  • You can't trust the government, because it's full of corruption.
  • You can't trust that political party because they are funded by that billionaire, and they just want to control everybody or help their buddies on Wall Street.
  • You can't trust big corporations because they just want your money.
  • You can't trust those high tech companies because they are mining all your personal information.
  • You can't trust lawyers because, well, they are lawyers.
  • You can't trust your doctor because he's peddling products by the big pharmaceutical companies.
  • You can't trust the news media because they are pushing their own agenda, and you know what that means.
  • You can't trust people different from yourself because they are up to no good.
  • You can't trust religious leaders because they are after your money.
  • You can't trust every news outlet because of all that "fake news."
So who can we trust? Patrick Lencioni says lack of trust is one of the "Five Dysfunctions of a Team." With no trust, every communication is suspect and loaded with incendiary content. But when trust is high, communication is almost effortless.

So, if we are going to recover trust, we have to be trustworthy. You go first.

But seriously, we need to be willing to take a step back from the toxic climate of public discourse, and listen to "those people." Even if they are nut-jobs, they may still have a point. Running people down and dismissing them does nothing to help us have a better society.

Let's have a conversation, folks.