Tag Archives: election

How Could You NOT VOTE At This Point???

“Every election is determined by the people who show up.” –Larry J. Sabato, Pendulum Swing

Hello friend,

I turned 18 in the Autumn of 1990, exactly three weeks before the mid-term elections. I had no clue. Were mid-terms important back then? If they were, no one ever told me so. I would guess that my parents voted in them, but I don’t recall them ever saying so or encouraging me to get to the polls. It was little old North Dakota, so I don’t know how much of consequence we had on the ballot. We did have our one House of Representatives member, of course. At any rate, that November of my senior year of high school, voting was not on my mind. I don’t know when the first time a mid-term election was on my mind. “Voting,” to me, meant voting for President. And sure, you filled in the ovals for the other races on the ballot. But come on, you were there to vote for President.

Gosh, I hope today’s teens and 20somethings are more awake and civically engaged than I was!

I shake my head now at my blissful ignorance of politics in my young adulthood. As fired-up as I get today about almost every issue and candidate, you would never guess at how thoroughly clueless and unengaged I was back then. Thank Goodness for evolution!

As a straight, White, middle-class male in America, I could pretty much go politically blindfolded through life and be none-the-wiser. Even though the system is set up to primarily benefit the rich, it takes pretty good care of people that fit my description, too, no matter which party is in charge. That is called privilege. I could choose to not think about it and get away with it.

My sisters are that way–claim to not have time for it or not understand the different sides or just don’t care to step into the potential minefield by having an opinion or taking a stand–and of course they are not alone. It is obviously a dicey time in our country to try to have a meaningful political discussion, so I understand the inclination to maintain neutrality through ignorance.

But the more I think of this rationale and the privilege that makes it an option, the more disgusted I get. If you have so much privilege that you can afford to not even educate yourselves on the major issues of our time and the people who are competing to run our country, then I would argue that you are even more obligated to educate yourself and find a way to empathize with the people who are most vulnerable and affected by these policies and elected leaders (i.e., the ones who don’t share your privilege). With great gifts come great responsibility, right? If you don’t feel compelled to raise your awareness and take a stand on issues by casting a vote, you are shirking your responsibility. Shame on you for that.

But I am not writing today simply to appeal to the most apathetic among us, hoping to get their lazy butts out to vote in the upcoming election (or any election in the future; I hope what I am saying applies to the end of time). I am appealing to everyone!

Of course, I had a funny moment of weakness as I initially thought of this plea to make your voice heard at the ballot box. It went sort of like this in my head: “Why do you want to appeal to EVERYONE? What about just to everybody who might vote the same way you vote? Isn’t that the point: to get all the people who think like you to the polls and none of the opposition? You know, so you can actually WIN. Isn’t that really the result you want?”

Ahh, that does sound delicious, doesn’t it? Arouse my fellow liberals and pacify the conservatives, making sure only the invigorated side votes while the other side sleeps smugly through Election Day. I was tempted, I admit.

But as awful as I have felt these last two years under unrestrained conservatism–cringing with my LGBTQ friends and friends of color as rights get restricted and hate crimes rise, cringing for the loss of environmental protections, cringing for the poor and people with pre-existing conditions, cringing for the press corps under attack and the judicial branch losing its independence, cringing every time I hear the word “Tweet” on the news–the insatiably curious side of me has been so looking forward to this mid-term election (as well as the 2020 race for President) just to see how we would react and who we would decide ourselves to be next.

Now I am desperate for every single eligible voter to cast a ballot. I need to know exactly who we are.

The Republicans now control the White House, both houses of Congress, and the judiciary. The conservatives who may have felt squeamish about Donald Trump’s vulgarity and his struggles with the truth during the Republican primary season of 2016 voted for him to be President anyway. Some did so wholeheartedly, others (I want to believe) imagined that the office would temper him and that he would become much more “Presidential” once he became President. He has certainly delivered the conservatives their Supreme Court justices that will shape America for the next half-century, at least; I am sure that is appreciated on many fronts. But there is also a reason that he is the darling of White supremacist groups. To my eye, the man told us all exactly who he was before the last election. But even if you couldn’t believe that then and assumed we would know more later, well, I don’t believe you could have any doubt as to who this man is now

I know, I know, Trump isn’t even on the ballot in this election. It’s a mid-term! But let’s be clear: almost to a person, every Republican Congressperson has toed the Trump line for the last two years, and few have so much as raised an eyebrow (much less a voice) in the face of their leader’s most repulsive acts and words. Everything he has done has required approval–through silence and votes–of the party leaders and members. So, whether you were initially in denial of this or have embraced it all the way, make no mistake: the GOP is the Party of Trump. If you want to keep it that way, get out and vote Republican!

As for the Democrats and other more-liberal-minded folks, these people have had two full years of sheer outrage and dismay. Lots of “THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE!!!” and #NotMyPresident type of stuff. Pick an issue, any issue–health care, the environment, gun control, LGBTQ rights, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and a seemingly daily barrage or racist and/or misogynistic dogwhistles–and the liberals have been kicked in the crotch with it for two straight years. Suffice it to say that if there was ever a time a Democrat or liberal-minded person should want to vote, that time is now!

I also very much want the “independent voters” and third-party voters to show up to the polls in droves. For the third-party folks, this feels like a wonderful time to show the system that there are sufficient numbers of you to make a difference (I actually think this is the perfect time in our nation’s history to dissolve the two-party system and create several, as I wrote to you a few years ago) and that your ideas are good ones. As for the independents, or “swing voters,” as they are often called on Election Night coverage when the pundits tell us that these voters are the ones who decide elections, I cannot imagine a time in recent history when the lines were more clearly drawn between the two major parties and you are not splitting hairs to decide between them. Sides must be taken, even if you are not pledging permanent allegiance. I hope your conscience calls you to the polls to make your vote count.

And finally, to those privileged folks I mentioned earlier who don’t like to get mixed up in politics and choose not to educate themselves about the issues of our time, if you are thinking your chosen ignorance and silence mean that you bear no responsibility for the outcomes (near and far), I offer you this quote by Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel: “Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” If you don’t want to speak up in the town square or on Facebook, the least you can do is slip behind a private curtain and cast a considered vote.

Because I really want to know.

I want to know who we are in my city. I want to know who we are in my state. I want to know who we are in my beloved country.

I have already filled out my ballot and sent it in. I know where I stand, and my position will be counted. But the only way I can know for sure where my world stands is if all those who are eligible actually vote.

And I really, really want to know.

How about you? Can you think of any possible reason why you–or anyone–might not want to vote in the upcoming election? Open up your journal and explore the country as it is and how you would like it to be if you could cast the deciding vote on everything? First and foremost, will you be voting in the upcoming election? Which races on your ballot are you most passionate about? Are you more engaged now than you normally would be for a mid-term election? Why? Is it because you see your values being threatened? Would you be more excited about voting if you believed more in the actual politicians? Are there any politicians out there–on your local, state, or national level–that make you think, “If only they all had this person’s character, intelligence, and wisdom, we would be in a much better place as a country?” Do you think that about anyone on your ballot for this election? How do you feel about people who say, “I don’t like either candidate (e.g. Trump or Clinton), so I am not voting at all!” or “Politics disgust me; I’m not voting!”?   Is that simple practicality, folly, cowardice, or something else? Is voting an act of patriotism?  Which issues are the most meaningful to you when it comes to getting you to the polls to vote for measures and for candidates who share your view on the topic? Has that priority list changed over the years? Are the people in your social circle more or less likely to vote than you are? Do you talk to each other about it–not necessarily about the issues but about getting out to vote? If you have not voted in the past, what were your reasons? Why do you think America has, historically speaking, had such a poor voter turnout? Should Election Day be a national holiday so that we all have a greater opportunity to get to the polls? How much truth is there in the “My single vote doesn’t really count anyway” argument? How much value do you place in voting your conscience even when your vote probably won’t sway an election to your side (e.g. in 2000, while living in North Dakota, I voted for the Green Party’s Ralph Nader for President, knowing full well that Republican George W. Bush would win the state’s electoral votes)? Is voting for third parties “wasting your vote?” What advice would you give to someone who supports a third party candidate in a race that is neck-and-neck between the Republican and Democrat in the race? Should they vote the third party, or vote for the one they like better out of the Republican or Democrat? Does it make your blood boil–as it does mine–when you hear stories of people (such as Native Americans in North Dakota or African-Americans in Georgia) being denied or made to jump through hoops just to exercise their right to vote? How does it strike you to hear that women have been allowed to vote in America for less than 100 years? Does it increase your desire to vote? What else would it take to get you to the point that you will absolutely vote every time? Is this crazy moment in American history enough? Leave me a reply and let me know: How could you NOT vote in this election?

Claim yourself,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it on your social media channels (and soon!). Let’s all rock the vote!

P.P.S. If this way of self-reflection captures your attention, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

How Well Is YOUR Country Doing?

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” –Alexis de Tocqueville

Hello friend,

I need to tell you about an old friend of mine. He has been so much on my mind lately, and I need to know what to make of him. You see, I have been watching this old friend–let’s call him Tom–not only the types of successes he has been enjoying financially and in his career, but also the decisions he has been making and the way he has been treating the people in his life. I have been taking it all in, and my gut is screaming out one way, but I would like your read on him. So, please indulge me and thank you in advance for your wisdom.

Tom lives in a big, beautiful house in an upscale neighborhood. He owns a very successful business–employs a lot of people and makes a lot of money–and also has made a killing in the stock market in the decade since the recession. Financially, he is sitting pretty. The rest of his life is less pretty. Tom has had some alcohol-related incidents lately, including a DUI and an assault and disorderly conduct charge stemming from an incident at a local bar. Also, after a back surgery last year, he became addicted to prescription pain medication and has not been able to kick the habit. It has had enormous ramifications in his relationships. He has become physically abusive with his wife, to the point where she has had to be treated at the hospital. After the latest episode–just last week–in which her collarbone was broken, she filed for divorce and moved out of the house with their two middle-grade children. He has not harmed either of the kids physically, but his emotional abuse has been quite traumatic for them both and they were deeply relieved when their mother moved them to the hotel. He has given up his long-held spiritual beliefs and alienated nearly all of his family and friends (though he claims his dealer is a “real, true friend”). He has been able to maintain his thriving business and financial well-being through it all–and he claims that that is the only proof anyone needs that he is “doing just fine, thank you”–but from my angle, it seems like that is just about all he has going for him right now. He seems adrift, bitter, and depressed. A lost soul. If I didn’t know anything about his finances, I would say he is at rock bottom.

What would you say? How is it going inside his world right now? Rate his life for me on a scale of 1 to 10.

I am going to pretend, until I hear otherwise, that you see life in a way that is somewhat similar to the way I see it, okay? So, I am saying that you gave him a low score. Somewhere between 1 and 3. Definitely not above 5. Right? That seems like the rational human answer. When your soul is lost, money isn’t enough to make it found.

I thought of this guy a lot last week as I followed the big news stories of the day on NPR, CNN, and Facebook. Two comments struck me the deepest and got me in my Pondering Mode (which usually leads to a letter to you). The first one came when I was watching CNN in the immediate aftermath of the first vote for the Supreme Court nomination, which happened to coincide with the day that America’s unemployment numbers were released, revealing our lowest rate in 49 years. One of the guests on the show was a Republican strategist–seemingly a clear-minded guy–and after opining on a few different issues, his summary, as it related to the President, was essentially this (I am paraphrasing): “Even if you are like me and find his personality and comments distasteful, based on delivering two conservative Supreme Court justices and the stock market and unemployment numbers, you would have to say that as a President, he has been a resounding success. The country is doing great.”

I am fairly sure that I drooled a large puddle onto my shirt as my jaw dropped onto my chest. He was being completely serious, and my eyes were bugging out of my head, in the same way they might if I had gone to my doctor for a check on a persistent cough and she told me that the diagnosis was simple: I had monkeys flying out of my butt.

I had to pause and collect my mind. After all, I had just written to you in my last letter about how little we know what is in each other’s minds. This pundit forced me to confront the possibility that his read on our President and the state of the union, though preposterous to me, could be a common one. I just hadn’t ever thought of it before, as everything I read and watch seems to be indicate that we are in a historically bad place in our country, led by a man that is historically unpopular.

Anyway, it was in that pondering state that I was looking at Facebook the next day and came across a post from my friend who is notorious for stirring the pot by putting out probing or controversial questions that draw dozens of comments and debates from her large and vociferous Facebook community. She asked something about the Supreme Court fiasco. Amidst all of these folks bashing the Republicans in the Comments section, there was this one woman who stood up for the conservative cause by saying, essentially, “Look how great the country is doing financially, so all is well. (And go Trump.)”  

Again I was staggered for a moment, but there it was, that same sentiment: If the money stuff is good, then we are definitely a healthy and successful country. We should just keep doing what we are doing. If you want to know if you live in a good country with good leaders, look no further than the stock market and unemployment numbers.

As I gave this idea a fresh spin around my brain to see the many ways it would strike me, a memory from my childhood came up. One of the very few things I can recall about politics or elections from that time was a candidate–it must have been Reagan–saying, essentially, “If you are in as good or better shape financially than you were four years ago, then the only logical vote is for me.” I understood where he was coming from and didn’t question his rationale, as I didn’t give politics a second thought at that age (my parents were big Reagan fans, and Republicans were winning, so I just figured they were cheering for the right guys).

But I give it a second thought now. And a third and fourth, too. I am quite interested, actually. (Sometimes I think I should even go into politics, but I wouldn’t survive, as I take the arguments too personally.) So, when I read that woman’s Facebook comment and listened to the pundit, both saying essentially that our strong economic indicators mean that the country is in great shape and our elected officials are doing a swell job, I was stunned initially. Honestly, after the initial shock of each, I was waiting for the, “Alright alright, just messing with you!” type of follow-up. When I realized that they were completely serious, I had to gather my wits about me, realizing that I have been out of touch with a perhaps-commonly held idea.

Of course, I know that the President has his roughly 33% of ardent supporters who are sure he is making us great again. But do people really think that the country is in good shape? Does a good DOW score and low unemployment mean we are a healthy country?

Don’t get me wrong: I like a strong economy. I like more people having jobs and people earning on their investments. But what about our collective soul? The soul of the nation? Does that not count for anything?

The historians that I read and listen to–old guys like Dan Rather and David Gergen, veterans of many administrations and wars and movements and eras–say the country hasn’t been so divided and faith in our representatives so low in their entire lifetimes. Our standing in the world, from the polls I have seen, has never been lower. Speaking just for myself, I have never felt less “at home” here. And, just by the feel of the energy in the air–not very scientific, I admit–it just seems like dark times in America.

I would argue that that stuff counts, too.

So, I guess what I am saying is I don’t buy the glossy, “Look no further than your bank account,” standard when I assess how well my country is doing. And I resent it when someone offers up the obvious moral decay and corruption in our elected representatives in Washington, the damage to the environment and human rights abuses brought on by the policies of the current administration, and the rise in the level of acrimony amongst ordinary citizens as proof of a country whose very soul is in trouble, the response is basically, “Shut up and cash your check.” That attitude and method of assessment is just too shallow.

It’s too shallow to judge a nation this way, the same way it is too shallow to judge a person this way.

It reminds me of talking to my Mom after she has been to some kind of family reunion or had lunch with old friends.

Mom: I had a nice talk with your Uncle So-And-So.

Me: How is he doing?

Mom: He looks good. And I sat with your Cousin Such-And-Such at dinner.

Me: What is happening in her life?

Mom: She looks great! Her hair is so cute. And her kids are adorable!

Me in my head: Who are my real parents???

When I think about my friend Tom–yes, he probably looks good, too–I see his big bank account and want to think he is doing okay, but I can’t get through ten seconds of the thought without my heart feeling overwhelmingly sad for him and the state his life is in. If I had a vote to live in Tom’s life or the life of someone with less money but more kindness and happiness, I would go with the latter every time.

Similarly, I would love to say that America is in great shape and our elected representatives are doing a swell job just because stocks are up and unemployment is down. But I live here and am neither blind nor stone-hearted. I see what is happening in Washington and in my Facebook feed. The level of acrimony is disturbingly high. So many of our recent policy changes strike me as morally repugnant. When I hear from people across the globe that we have become more of a laughingstock than a leader, I can find no fault in their arguments. I love my country dearly, but I am horribly embarrassed and disheartened about its condition right now, no matter what the NASDAQ says.

Like I said about Tom, when your soul is lost, money isn’t enough to make it found. I feel like the America I live in today is as far gone as my old friend, maybe more. And that makes me sad.

How about you? How do you rate your country’s condition right now, and what do you base that upon? Open up your journal and make an honest assessment of the land you call home? I think it is important to be clear about what factors you include in your assessment. Do you stick to hard numbers, like statistics a politician might tout as proof of success? Do you mostly use economic indicators, like the unemployment rate or the DOW? Do you factor in our current reputation in the global community? How much of your assessment of our nation’s condition is based on what you hear or read from friends or your social media community, especially in gathering your read on the level of acrimony between people with different views? How much is based on the overall vibe that you feel with your gut or sixth sense? How do you think your view of our situation is affected by whether you are a supporter of the political party currently in power? Specifically, if you are conservative, did you rate the country’s health as GOOD in 2008 when President Bush was in charge, despite the fact that we were embroiled in war and our economy was in a free-fall, then rated it as BAD during the Obama years, and now GOOD again with your party in charge of everything? Does a country have a soul, at least in a figurative sense? That is to say, is a country bigger than a sum of its statistics? Is it fair to assess a country in a way similar to a human: as more than just their job, age, marital status, and income? If it is, do you agree with my reading that America is in a bad spot right now–its soul is struggling–despite some promising economic indicators? How adrift are we? Way gone or just a slight shift in our course? Leave me a reply and let me know: How well is YOUR country doing?

Live open-hearted,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. Let’s raise our consciousness.

P.P.S. If this type of self-inquiry appeals to you, I encourage you to take a deeper dive with my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, available at your favorite online retailers.

Dear Mr. President: an open letter

“In America, anyone can become President. That’s the problem.” –George Carlin

Hello friend,

Don’t you ever wish you could get the undivided attention of the leaders of the world and give them a piece of your mind? You know, just sit down over a beverage and try to get them to understand the world from your perspective or try to change their mind on a few things. Or maybe you imagine yourself as the principal and them coming into your office to sit while you stand over them and read them the riot act (my elementary school principal was a frightening dude, so this visual works for me!). Maybe you want to praise them for their wisdom and their class in handling a recent crisis, or perhaps you would rather berate them for the way they have let your country lose its place in the world order. Whatever your agenda, I bet you have imagined one of these conversations (or monologues) with some leader somewhere along the way.

Well, I am not sure if you have noticed, but the guy who lives in the White House these days seems to evoke some pretty strong sentiments from the citizens of the country he is charged to lead. I am one of those citizens.

I have read the Tweets and watched the press conferences. I have studied his appointees, his agreement withdrawals, and his proposals. I followed the seemingly endless presidential campaign very closely, and I have continued to follow the presidency.

It would be an understatement to say that I have an opinion on the matter. I can’t imagine that anyone in America with a head above ground does not have an opinion on the matter! But you know how delicate, emotional, and often combative political discussions can get. It can be hard to be fully honest and feel safe. And sometimes, just for our sanity, we try to bury our heads about what is going on, right? Because with one dramatic turn of events after another, to fully process them all just might be unhealthy.

So I was thinking this week that with the news cycle a little more off politics and onto other disasters, this might be just the time to think a bit more clearly about how we might address this polarizing character at the head of our government. And what better way than our journal, of course! The safest depository for sensitive or inflammatory ideas. It’s perfect! And so, a letter to the President….

Dear Mr. President, 

I am writing to you today because I would like to get some things off my chest. These are just from me. Though my political bent is definitely to the liberal side of the spectrum, I don’t affiliate with any party and don’t wish to speak for anyone but myself today. One voter, one citizen.  

I’m actually a deeply concerned citizen. Frankly, I don’t appreciate your style of leadership or the direction you are steering our country from a policy perspective.  

As far as your personal leadership style and the way you come across as the figurehead of America, I am a deeply embarrassed citizen. I have followed several Presidents in my lifetime and have disagreed with many (sometimes most) of their big decisions or policies. I never deluded myself into thinking any of them were saints. I don’t need my President to be a perfect soul. However, your words and actions have failed just about every moral test I can imagine.  

I often think of this stuff in terms of my children and how they would see it or be affected by it. Up to this point in my life, I can imagine thinking it would be really cool if the President—from either party–were to come to their school to address them or to come by our house for dinner. Despite our political differences, I believed the President would act with class and grace and be a good example to my kids. Now, if given those opportunities, I would keep my children home from school that day and deny the dinner request. It wouldn’t be worth the risk of what you might say or do. That’s a shame.  

I find it disturbing and disheartening how often I hear or read or think of your actions being characterized as “beneath the office of the Presidency.” I don’t need to make the list—it seems that you follow your press clippings closer than I do—but again, it is enough to make me feel bad for the kids. “The Office” seems to be now permanently diminished for your successors. With so few things left in the world to feel some reverence for, it saddens me that you have singlehandedly robbed all the future kids of our nation of something special.  

And again, it is not as though I was expecting a beacon of morality when you entered the office. Whether through your history of housing discrimination, the Central Park Five, birtherism, the Mexican rapists, the anti-Muslim stuff, mocking the disabled, and the Access Hollywood tape, it was clear long before the election that you were—both publicly and privately—anything but a model for social justice and inclusion. Still, I held out a sliver of hope that even if the presidency didn’t chasten you a bit, as others predicted, that it might just tone down the frequency and blatant nature of crassness and bluster.  

I probably would have settled for you just stopping the Tweets. But no, you seem intent upon throwing gasoline on any sparks you may have ignited and making volatile situations exponentially worse, doubling down on your missteps rather than walking them back (never mind apologizing). For someone who bragged so often of his presidential temperament along the campaign trail, your absence of wisdom, grace, and simple personal control is frightening.  

Probably by now you have guessed that I am not much of a fan of your policy proposals, either.  

If you hadn’t already lost the respect and support of people around the world by the time you pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement—if you recall, the polls suggested you were already vastly unpopular globally—that was certainly the moment, for me, that it felt absolutely obvious that the United States was no longer to be considered the leader of the world, and maybe not even ONE OF the leaders. It seems that in trying to “put America first,” you ended up placing America last and all by itself. The feeling I came away with was, again, embarrassment.  

Your recent plan to revoke DACA, your anti-Muslim travel ban, your pardon of civil rights violator Joe Arpaio, your encouragement of police to be more rough with suspects, your ban on transgender people in the military, and your wink-wink “denouncement” of neo-Nazis and White supremacists following the nightmare in Charlottesville—not to mention the many things you said and did prior to becoming President—have all created an atmosphere in which so many more people in our country today feel unsafe and unsupported.  

I am not here to argue about whether or not you are a White supremacist, but what I do want to make perfectly clear is that your words and your actions have helped create an atmosphere in which White supremacists feel increasingly emboldened and comfortable as a part of our everyday, “normal” society. If you truly are not a White supremacist, I hope you are appalled by that. It seems that you are not.  

One of the things I have noticed since you became President—and for a long time I could not quite put my finger on it—is that the country seems to be suffering from a form of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. There is this extreme sense of apprehension in the air, like we are constantly worried about which calamity will show up in the next news cycle. Who will you have offended? How will you embarrass us next? Who is getting fired? Which of my loved ones am I going to have to comfort? Who will I have to march for? Are you going to be impeached? Are you getting us into a war? 

With your itchy Twitter finger and your raw nerve of an ego, we just don’t know what madness will await us when we wake up the next day. This state of heightened anxiety, multiplied by that that awful feeling of vulnerability for so many of our citizens based on your actions, is perhaps your most damning legacy.  

So yes, it’s true that a small part of this is just that I wish we had elected someone whose political leanings were more like mine. I am disappointed that the environment is under fire, that climate change is being denied, that your return to “law and order” is leading to increasing injustice, that solid contributors to our society are being sent away, that you cannot find a way to get more people access to health care at a lower price, and that you seem intent on widening the gap between the rich and poor. I am fairly sure I would feel much of that disappointment with anyone from your party in office. I am used to that sense of loss; I can deal with that.  

So you see, Mr. President, my takeaway feelings from your time in the White House are not direct results of you and I not sharing a political party. No, instead I get two overwhelming sensations when I think your effect on our country. The first is embarrassment. I feel such shame that during the campaign you showed us exactly who you are, and we still elected you. We have lost our place in the world as result, and for me, I have lost any sense I had that we are a country to brag about and that others might look to for an example, that “shining city on a hill” that one of your predecessors often described.  

The second overwhelming sensation that overtakes me when I think of your presidency is sadness. As I mentioned earlier, so much of how I view these things is as a parent and a teacher of future generations. Growing up, I always thought of the President as someone who, in public at least, spoke and acted with class and represented America in a dignified way. The kids today get a guy who mocks the disabled at campaign rallies, famously talks at work about sexually assaulting women, and frequently calls people “losers” in public. It doesn’t seem fair to the kids.  

It saddens me that you are the guy that this generation of kids has to see as the example of what the President acts like, and it embarrasses me that the world is watching us and that I have to explain to my own kids that their fellow citizens knew who you were and still elected you. That is a difficult conversation. The embarrassment is for me. The sadness is for the kids.  

So, Mr. President, I wish I had more words of praise for you, because I would much prefer to be doing that right now. Despite all of this, however, I am still hoping, as I was the day you were inaugurated, that you will find a way to temper yourself, to control your ego, and to act in a way more befitting of the leader of a great country. I am still hoping that you will open your heart and your mind to the greatness of the people of this country—ALL of the people: not just the White, male, straight, and Christian ones. I am still hoping you will choose words and policies that make all of us feel safe and respected and welcome. And finally, I am still hoping that you will close your Twitter account. I wish you and your family good health and happiness. 

Sincerely,

William

How about you? What would you like to say to the President? Open up your journal and unload your thoughts. Remember: it is a safe space; no one will ever have to read it but you. As is the case every week, I only shared mine as a jumping off point for you. My guess is that your letter will look a lot different than mine. But how? Is your letter more complimentary? What specific things would you like to praise him about? What about the other side: what specific issues do you want to berate him about? Charlottesville? The Wall? The travel ban? Dreamers? Health care? Climate change? Would you like to address his character and the example he is setting for children? How much of what you would say is driven by what you were expecting when we was elected (whether you voted for him or not)? Has he disappointed you relative to your expectations, or has he been better than advertised? What do you want him to do more of? Less of? Would you share some personal stories of how his presidency has affected you and your loved ones? How can your words help him? If you are mostly angry, how can you find words that are both a release for you but also helpful to him? Do you think there is anything you could say to bring about a positive change? I dare you to try! Ask yourself: What would you like to say to the President?

Speak Truth to Power,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please pass it on. Let us help each other to use our voices for good!

Bury Your Head or Go Insane? Dealing with the Flood of News & Social Media

“I wonder if being sane means disregarding the chaos that is life, pretending only an infinitesimal segment of it is reality.” –Rabih Alameddine, Koolaids: The Art of War 

Hello friend,

I lost my temper on social media this week. I feel ashamed of it now as I think of the moment. Not ashamed of what I said—in fact, I wish I had said more to make my point more clear—but rather, ashamed that I let what is happening on the news and in social media cause me to boil over in rage.

I am a mellow, happy guy and have a habit of very deliberate processing with my journal that allows me to deliver measured, thoughtful responses to most issues that arise in my day. I don’t fly off the handle. My opinions may ruffle feathers, but not usually my delivery. Because I don’t lose my temper. I don’t write angry. Until Tuesday….

Probably like you, I followed the big story of last weekend—the ban on refugees and travel restrictions from certain Muslim-majority countries and its subsequent protests—on the news and through social media. The nature of the ban, as well as the criteria for selection of the nations involved in it, was deeply disturbing to me and only the latest in a long line of red flags being raised in my conscience regarding the new administration. I admit to being highly sensitive to the reputation of America internationally being dragged into the mud, and also when I feel the government does things that increase the gap between the ideals that America supposedly represents and the reality we are representing in practice. So, I was already edgy going into the new week.

After the election, I had mostly removed myself from social media until around Christmas. And though I kept tabs on the news, it was a much-needed break from the idea circus that is Facebook and the like. After the holidays, I slowly inched back onto my apps and, not surprisingly, became progressively re-addicted. I use social media as much for news as to see what my people are thinking about and doing. If I watch CNN on television or listen to NPR on the radio, then I subscribe to them on social media. So, I get a mix of real news and then my friends’ interpretation and reaction to the news (mixed in with some fun photos of their kids and their food, and an occasional cat video).

If you have been alive with your head above ground these last couple of weeks, you probably know that all is not running so smoothly in America. If you only watched reputable news channels and didn’t even know what “social media” meant, you would know that. Likewise, if you were a social media nut but didn’t care a thing about “serious” news outlets, you would also be aware of the tension that currently defines us at this point. And if, like me, you have both regular news and social media, well, you are swimming in it!

By Tuesday night, I definitely needed some goggles and a snorkel.

I had watched in horror as the Executive Orders came down. I heard the stories of people unable to return to their jobs and families here in America after visiting relatives in banned countries. I thought of the many Somali families in my own community—classmates of my children—and how they would be affected. I thought of the refugee family that my church is sponsoring—we had their apartment all set up with furniture and supplies—who was supposed to arrive this week from Somalia that is now stuck in Kenya (the mother has been in the refugee camp there for twenty years, her children never knowing any other place). That part was particularly heartbreaking.

Meanwhile, of course, I wondered about the fate of our schools as the Senate seemed about to confirm someone who seemed wholly incompetent to be in charge of them; and about the future of free speech in America as even the most neutral, even-handed news outlets are being warned and belittled by the administration; and about the environment and climate change scientists as they come under attack; and about whether our next Attorney General would actually stand on the side of the law and the Constitution; and on and on and on. There was no shortage of stories, no shortage of crises.

In the midst of all of the news and reactions Tuesday evening, as my blood pressure seemed to rise with every post, I read one from a childhood acquaintance, a long rant (her word) about how President Obama had just done this same ban on Cubans two weeks ago, and where was the liberal media then, and angrily on and on. This is when I should have checked myself, turned off all electronics for the day, and taken some deep breaths. But no. I let it make my blood boil, the effects of too much time in front of the screen taking hold. Even though her whole premise was based on a falsehood, making the argument completely unsound, I couldn’t just laugh it off. I was on the very edge of writing a reply to her and setting her straight, but I gathered my wits just enough to recognize that with some people, there is just no talking sense into them (another lesson from my short time on Facebook).

And just as I began to think I had done well in resisting a fight, I scrolled down and hit the one that sent me over the edge. It was from someone I wasn’t even sure I knew, but I think she was in my brother’s class in school. Anyway, it was a meme—of course it was a meme, it is always a meme—with a picture of the plane hitting the World Trade Center on September 11, saying something like “For all of you whining about the ban on Muslims, a little reminder for you.” I almost screamed. I was absolutely livid! I could not let it go. So, against the better judgment I had just applauded myself for a moment earlier, I clicked on the “Write a comment…” space. I typed the first thing that came out of my head (after the swearing, I mean): “Are you serious, Sheila? Perhaps we should post a picture of the KKK performing a lynching and call for a ban of all Christians.” Return. That was it.

As I sat there fuming, I thought of other things I wanted to say to her, such as “Interestingly, none of the nineteen hijackers on September 11 were from the seven countries banned by the President. They were from four other countries, all of which the President has business ties to.” And I almost hit the Comment box again, but thankfully, I found my senses again. But I didn’t let go of my outrage. I was still stewing about it late that night, tossing in my bed as I tried to sleep.

I knew it wasn’t just this one stupid meme that was tormenting me. It was all of it: the Executive Orders, the incompetence, the acrimony on both sides of the political aisle, the nonsensical responses on Facebook and Twitter, the fear that my friends feel and that I feel for them, the embarrassment on behalf of my country, the shame that I am not doing more to speak up and resist, and so much more.

I confessed my anger and my torment to my wife the next morning. I told her I was torn. On the one hand, I liked my several weeks away from social media and just a small but sufficient amount of regular news on a neutral news app. I was less stressed, riding the “Ignorance is bliss” theory. It made me think of a conservative friend of mine, whom I had spoken to just after the election and who knew I was bummed about it. She said, “I don’t even watch the news about this stuff. But at least I’m happy!”

It is hard to argue with happy. On the other hand, I don’t just want to bury my head in the sand and pretend this isn’t happening around me. As uncomfortable as it is, I think it is necessary to wrestle with that discomfort and figure out my place in its midst.

I feel like the biggest danger to us is indifference. Not caring. Not speaking up to support what our cause or idea is (or worse, not caring enough to even have an opinion). Just quietly letting it happen to us. I think of my hero Martin Luther King as he was considering his greatest obstacles to progress, well aware that it was not the Ku Klux Klan or other extremists but rather the masses of polite but silent white people allowing the violence and oppression to continue. “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

I think that appalling silence comes more frequently when we bury our heads in the sand, allowing denial to rule. It is a pleasant denial, but I am seeing now that in our most divisive moments, that pleasant denial is mostly cowardice. That conclusion doesn’t sit well with me. I think again of Dr. King, who reminded us, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of controversy and challenge.” There is a slippery kind of comfort and convenience to tuning out the world in times like now. Just turning off the news and social media. It is so, so alluring. Tragically so.

But how much is enough? That is the question that is torturing me now. I am determined to maintain my composure, to not let myself get as livid as I was on Tuesday night after too many hours of accumulating news stories and social media opinions. But I want to know the truth about the world, too. I want all the facts. I know I will be outraged by some, and I think it is probably time that more of us were outraged and moved to action by events in our world. But under control! I am not going to lose my temper. I am going to channel it the right way. But not in denial!

ARGH!!! This is hard! What is the right balance of intake versus processing, of reality versus sanity? That was my question to my wife.

Her suggestion: “Just pick one time per day—I think morning is best—to do a quick look at social media. Then, if you still want a regular news show, listen to something neutral, like NPR. But nothing more. Quick and done! Otherwise, you are sucked in!” That seems wise.

I have been attempting to follow her advice the last few days, mostly successfully. I sometimes, out of sheer habit, unconsciously turn on my phone, open Facebook, and start thumbing through. But then I catch myself and turn it off. I am just trying to be more conscious about it, to give myself permission to look only at a certain time of day for only a certain number of minutes. It is hard to resist, but I can tell my spirit is getting stronger for it. Not in denial, either. Facing reality, but not swimming in the rot. It is a delicate balance that I will no doubt be wrestling with for all of my days to come.

How about you? How do you balance denial with peace and sanity in these tumultuous times? Open up your journal and examine your level of engagement. This goes for everyone on every side of the political spectrum, and even those completely off the political spectrum who are simply trying to decide how much news of any sort they want to take in. Let’s start with your current habits. What are your news sources? Do you watch your local news? Cable news? Do you use news apps or subscribe to news pages on social media? If so, do you tend to choose more neutral sources or ones that skew toward your particular side of the spectrum? Do you read a lot of the “news” things that your friends on social media share? How about the radio, like NPR? How much time do you spend with each on a daily basis? How much time do you spend on social media in general? For both news and social media stuff, do you try to regulate the amount of time you spend per day? Are you addicted? How healthy is your relationship with all of this stuff? Does it ever feel like it is going to drive you crazy? Do you get angry? Is your anger and frustration more from the news in general, like the political strife or violence that always seem to lead the headlines, or from particular things that your friends share, like memes or rants? Do you comment and engage people you disagree with, even if you know it won’t change their mind? Does that make you feel better or worse? Have you found the right balance for yourself with the amount of time and energy you can devote to this stuff and still feel authentic and at peace? Are you more on the “Burying My Head & Smiling” side or the “I’m So Engaged I’m Going Crazy” side? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is the right balance of news and sanity for you?

May Peace be always with you,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you take a fresh look at this and find some clarity, please share. Perhaps together we can find a way to be both sane and engaged. Cheers!

A Peaceful Transfer of Power: Ruminations on the New Presidency

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” –Mark Twain

Hello friend,

It is Inauguration Weekend in Washington, DC. Amidst a wide array of celebrations and demonstrations, only one thing is certain: we have a new President. What comes next is anybody’s guess….

I think that the range of internal reactions to this event and this unique period in American history runs the gamut among our fellow citizens. We are emerging from the most unusual political campaign imaginable, but in some ways, we haven’t emerged much at all. Drama has continued unabated, on every conceivable topic. As with any drama, there are a million different ways to react to our current events, depending upon your personal history and the interests you have vested in the players on the stage.

I have seen jubilation, and I have seen devastation. I have seen relief, and I have seen dread. I have seen hope, and I have seen fear. I have seen smugness, and I have seen humility. I have seen eagerness, and I have seen panic. I have seen joy, and I have seen profound sadness. I have seen triumph, and I have seen abject loss.

Through all of those reactions I have witnessed while out in the world or inside my home–seeing them through the news or social media—I have sensed a unique undercurrent. It is almost indescribable. Maybe the best word I can come up with is UNCERTAINTY. It is not exactly in people’s words—and I mean people on all sides of the emotional and political spectrum–but in how they deliver them and how they are received. It is in people’s body language, in the structure of conversations and news reports.

There is a sense of wildness out there. The Wild, Wild West. There is the feeling that, even though it is not written anywhere, the old rules don’t seem to apply anymore. The term “post-truth world” has become popular in the press, and I think that is this feeling in the air. Like, “I think I will just say or do something untrue or illegal or outrageous, because something tells me I will get away with it now, though I never could before.” It just feels willy-nilly in the atmosphere to me, like we are at some strange portal in the Universe, and none of us knows if, when we take that next step, the regular laws of gravity and thermodynamics and such will still apply. It is as though a huge experiment is beginning, and some are starting with the attitude of “Let me see what I can get away with,” while others just want the rules to be posted, and still others are scared to death.

I know I am not explaining myself well here, but suffice it to say that I sense a really awkward vibe in the air. Uncertainty. As I said at the beginning, what comes next is anyone’s guess.

I, of course, have gone through my own process with the whole campaign, election, and the transition period, a process that is still evolving now as I write to you. 

I followed the Presidential campaigns with great interest from the very start (crazy that that was nearly two years ago!). I am very liberal but am fascinated by both major parties as well as a few minor ones, though I don’t belong to one. I assumed from the start that whomever the Republicans selected would win, especially as it seemed clear that an unpopular Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic contender. But when the Republicans made their selection, I thought the Democrats were back in it with a decent shot.

The end of the campaign and the election itself left me gutted. I am an optimist, and I have a perhaps-naïve faith in the goodness of people. Recent years have brought what seemed like so much social progress. After all of the ignorance, hate, and general smallness on display daily through the campaign, I did not want to believe that the millions of independent voters in this country could, in good conscience, step into the voting booth and, in effect, give an okay to those ideas and undo the momentum we had built toward open-mindedness and equal treatment. Of course, I was wrong, and painfully so.

I felt like I woke up to a different country after the election. It had nothing to do with which party won—I admittedly preferred the Democrat and Green Party candidates—but rather what the result said about what was inside so many more hearts than I wanted to believe.

After seeing the reactions on Facebook for a day or two and feeling worse, I stopped going on there for almost two months. It was too tempting to go down the road of defeatism and bitterness. I didn’t want to be swallowed up by that, because my world is too important to me, and I respect the gift of my own voice. I did not want to sully my spirit and be false to who I really am.

So, I laid low, retreated from the fray, and concentrated on other things. I peaked in on the news, of course, and followed things like Cabinet appointments and intelligence reports so that my head was not buried in the sand, but I allowed my heart some space to heal and prepare for this transfer of power and the uncertain years to come.

Where am I today? While I won’t pretend that I don’t still cringe at the Tweets, Cabinet hearings, and press conferences I see on my regular check of the news, and I won’t pretend I am not anxious about my loved ones’ sense of safety and belonging in my beloved country, I am doing my best to not let my energies be leached away from me in those directions.

Instead, I am focusing on how I can be a light and make a positive impact on my own little sphere of influence. I am not going to pretend I can just keep my eyes down and hope these four years pass as quickly as possible. I am not going to sit around and blame the President or the Congress for my lot in life and the way my community is (dis)connected. I am taking ownership for my share in it. I will speak up when I need to (which may be often). I will lend a hand when I can. I will be an example to those around me of the types of qualities I expect from them: compassion, decency, courage, kindness, open-mindedness, inclusivity, and hope.

That last one—hope—is so important to me now. As I said before, I am an optimist in my core. I believe in the goodness of people and the greatness of our future together. And I cannot help but look to the arc of human history and American history to bolster my belief. The greater story being told is one of progress. No, that progress is not always direct and steady—there is often a step back after a few hard-won steps forward—but the arc is no less clear. I have faith that, however this step we are now taking becomes defined by the history books, it will not stop the greater march of Progress. I am not willing to surrender that optimism simply because we have a new temp in the Oval Office. Onward and upward!

How about you? How are your heart and mind as we transition from one President to the next? Open up your journal and give yourself a little check-up. How has this election and transition treated you? How closely did you follow the seemingly endless campaign season? Did your favorite candidate become a nominee? Did your favorite nominee win? By the end of the campaign—not the election–how disgusted were you? What bothered you most? Was there anything you particularly liked about the campaign process? How about the election? What was your reaction to the results? How has that changed during the transition period leading up to Inauguration Day? Where are you with it now? Start with your heart. What are your emotions as the new administration gets under way? Now to your head. How are you expecting things to go in the next four years? How do you think this leadership will change your life, if at all? How have you decided to think and act in the process? Do you plan to get more involved in your community? Do you plan to speak up more about your beliefs or about injustice? Are you preparing to lead with Love? What can you do to best bring about the world that you wish to live in? Leave me a reply and let me know, “How are you processing our country’s changes?”

Choose Love,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated or helped you along, please share it. Let’s own who we are and rise from there. Blessings!

From Gripes to Grapes: Finding Your Way to THANKFUL

IMG_1667“Be thankful for every mountain, because it is the mountain top that will give you the best view of the world.” –Gugu Mona

Hello friend,

Last Sunday at my spiritual gathering, the minister explained that the collection for the day would go entirely to the refugee family that our congregation is sponsoring and who will be arriving in a couple of weeks. We were also collecting household goods—beds, sheets, lamps, cleaning supplies, etc.—to get them started on their new life in America. Well, one person in my row was paying attention to the minister.   So, when the basket was passed around, I pulled out my wallet and grabbed more than I usually do. My wife looked over, her eyes got big, and she whispered, “Whoa! Big spender!” I whispered back my defense: “It’s for the refugees.” An “Ahh” and a look of recognition appeared, followed by a nod of approval and a thumbs-up.   In that moment, I suddenly felt so grateful for something that usually has me either worrying or complaining: my bank account.

You see, as I alluded to in my letter to you a few weeks ago (see “How Much Is ENOUGH?”), I tend to be gripped by dread and insecurity each time I open my wallet. I hate spending money, and wish I had more of it so I wouldn’t be so obsessed by it (at least that’s how I explain away my worries and stinginess). So why was I suddenly feeling grateful for the money in my wallet and so willing to part with it?

Because I realized that I have a lot more of it than the entire refugee family has, and I actually have a bank account to fill my wallet up again when it goes empty. And in that moment, I realized that that was called good fortune.

In this time called Thanksgiving, I think I am usually like most people: I take a moment to give thanks for my family and friends, my health, clean water, a roof over my head, and warm food in my belly. Those thoughts humble me, and they connect me back to my Creator and what is really important in this world. I love Thanksgiving for just that reason: the humble reminder.

But as I thought about my sudden burst of gratitude concerning my old nemesis, money, something struck me about my usual Thanksgiving moment of gratitude: I am letting myself off easy.

Think about it. How about much work does it take to be grateful—on a day that we get to take off of work for the specific purpose of giving thanks for our blessings—for the things that are so obviously good in your life?

That’s why the money incident got my attention. Money is just not something I am used to being overwhelmed with gratitude for, or believing I have in such abundance that I should always be feeling grateful for. I really should, though, because I realize now that I do, indeed, have enough.

But I don’t always feel grateful. Instead, I worry. I gripe. I clamor for more. I get a little bitter. Those aren’t good feelings. I don’t want more of them.

I truly enjoyed the experience of feeling grateful for the money I have and that I could give some away. Of course, I am a big fan of an unexpected joy and a boost of gratitude. So, I started thinking of the other things I am most hung-up about in my little corner of the world. You know, the things I tend to complain about, fear, or be depressed by. These last couple of days, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can change those downers into things I can be grateful for. I’ve come up with a few ideas.

I am not a Winter person. I never have been. I don’t like the cold. I don’t like shoveling snow. I don’t like the consuming darkness. And I despise the inconvenience of putting on so many clothes before leaving the house. It’s just not me. I’m a Summer guy. So, as these cold, dark days have been descending upon me following a lovely Autumn, my tendency is to get the grumbles. Misery loves company, and there are people everywhere I go who are willing to complain about Winter if I give them a little nudge. But today, I am flipping the script. Today I am focusing on the fact that the cold, dark days of Winter are usually the time when I get my most and best writing done. Of course, I love that. So, come on, Winter! I am already grateful for you!

One nice thing about this process is that I am realizing that I don’t have a lot that I consistently complain about, no anchor in my life that always brings me down. I am grateful for that all by itself.

I have to admit, though, that I have been carrying around a weight of sadness since the election, and even in the months leading up to it, as I watched my country be revealed as a place I had been blindly hoping it was not. I confess to a silent resentment toward my many family members who voted for this person whose success translates into other members of my family and my friends living in greater fear for their physical safety and the potential loss of their civil rights. I have had a terrible time reconciling that. I don’t want to feel that anger toward these people that I love. So, today I am trying (with all my might) to let that resentment go. I am deciding to focus on the fact that they are otherwise loving, decent people who have always treated us, on a one-to-one basis, very kindly. I am grateful for that, and I will keep working hard to focus on that kindness.

On a less personal and more broad scale, I have been fairly devastated by what has felt like the loss of the country I thought I had been living in. Though I had been dispirited by the entire year-and-a-half Presidential campaign and its recurring themes of racism, misogyny, and religious intolerance, I was somehow still hopeful that my fellow countrymen would, when they and their consciences stepped into the voting booths together, make a bold and decisive stand against that brand of ignorance.

Of course, my optimism was shown to be shockingly misguided. My psyche has been ravaged as I have watched the ensuing expressions of hate in our schools and streets, as well as the celebrations by white nationalist and white supremacist groups about the election results and the Cabinet appointments that have followed. I have listened to my loved ones who aren’t straight, white, Christian, American-born males express their fears and share the bad experiences they have had due to their identities. I’ve been feeling so stupid because I believed something about my country that turned out to be untrue, and then I have felt sick about the truth. I have to be honest: as a guy who tries to practice and preach Gratitude and always searches for the silver lining, I have had a hard time finding it on this topic these last couple of weeks.

But then I was standing in my kitchen on Thursday evening, looking out over the Thanksgiving meal being enjoyed at my dining table and family room sofas by a small gathering of friends and family members. There was lots of laughter, but there were also interesting discussions about a wide range of topics, including faith and social issues. After listening to some specifics in the few small groups, I pulled my view back a bit further and saw something different, something that changed me.

Here in this one room in my home was a microcosm of the America I had believed in just a few weeks ago. There were white people, Christian people, straight people, able-bodied people, American-born people, and male people, of course. But there were also black people, multiracial people, Muslim people, nonreligious people, gay people, disabled people, immigrant people, and female people. They were just enjoying each other and strengthening the bonds of community and humanity by learning more about one another. It was a little, one-room Utopia.

So, despite all of the legitimate fear and worry that these people feel with the recent election results, and despite how down I have been about living in a country that voted for this fear by voting in the intolerance and bigotry that causes it, my table reminds me that I can still do something about it. That we can still do something about it. It may become more difficult in the next few years, and we may be doing a lot more comforting in our gatherings than we would like. But if we are intentional, and if we keep Love at the forefront, we will not be broken by this setback. The arc of the Universe inevitably bends forward, toward progress. It is not always linear, but the long course of history shows it to be steady. I am thankful that the people who gather at my table just as they are—as equals—will be the keepers of the flame, the ones insisting on progress despite formidable obstacles in our path. I am so, so thankful for that.

And I needed the reminder.

How about you? What are the things in your life that you usually complain about or that drag you down that you are willing to try to turn into things you can be grateful for? Open up your journal and peruse your pattern of thoughts. What do you complain about? Is it big stuff or small stuff? Is it worthy of your effort it takes to complain? What is the stuff that annoys you but that you hold your tongue about? What kinds of things really depress you or otherwise drag you down? Do your issues tend to be constant or recurring things—like money or Winter—or unique issues that come up once, like an election? Pick an issue. What can you do today to change your mind about that issue to the point that you are grateful for its existence? Try that question with progressively bigger hang-ups, going as deep as you can with each to come up with something positive about them that you can be thankful for. How hard is this for you? I think it is easier sometimes to imagine how you will see these “problems” twenty years from now, because from that point-of-view you might be able to see how these issues were actually blessings helping you get to where you need to go. But maybe not. Do you have anything that you absolutely cannot spin in a grateful direction? Is that due to a lack of imagination or effort on your part, or is it just so dark and bad that there is no lens from which to look at it and find something to be grateful for? Does this quest for gratitude make you feel better and help you to see light where you didn’t before? Is this a natural habit for you or something you need much more work to develop? Leave me a reply and let me know: Can you find your way to THANKFUL? 

You are a gift,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you to move toward an attitude of gratitude, or if something else resonated with you, please share it. Gratitude is worth spreading!

Whatcha Watchin’?

dsc_0687“I think I’m always so much more happy with books and movies and stuff. I think I get more excited about well-done representations of life than life itself.” —Richard Linklater

Hello friend,

I’m sure most of you young people have gotten in on this new fad that people are calling the “Worldwide Web.” It also goes by the name “Internet.” It’s been out for a few years now, so even old guys like me are catching on. I have been sending the electronic mail and even printing out directions for my next roadtrip with a slick new program called Mapquest (you should try it; if you have a printer, that is). Anyway, the technology these days is way better than the old Commodore 64 and Apple IIe, so you might want to check into the upgrade if you haven’t. It’s all happening!

Well, I am about to let you in on a little secret about what I believe will be the next thing you will be hearing about around the old water cooler. Are you paying attention? Okay, here goes: you can now watch your favorite TV shows on your computer! I am serious. Movies, too! It’s the craziest thing you ever heard of, but I am telling you, it’s true. You just type in the name of the program you want to watch, and there it is! It’s like all of your favorite Beta or VHS tapes are right there inside your computer waiting for you to choose them. Like a jukebox! You can start watching on your computer, pause it, then turn on the same show on your telephone (if you have one of those mobile kinds) or electronic tablet, right where you left off. I know that sounds outlandish, but I am telling you, it will catch on! It is called “Netflix,” and it will be even bigger than “Simon” or the “FreeCell” some day. Some day…..

But seriously, I just discovered Netflix last week. Honest to God! Yes, I had heard of it before—and I have also heard the name “Hulu” and am now guessing that is probably magic, too—but never actually knew how it worked. The last I heard, they mailed you a DVD, and after you mailed it back, you could request another one. Wasn’t that Netflix? I could be thinking of something else. Anyway, I have now seen behind the curtain, and let me just say, IT IS AMAZING!!! You actually just type in a show and it’s right there! I know I sound like an idiot right now, but I’m not kidding: this thing has blown my mind away, almost as much as when the iPod came out (that thing still impresses me, by the way). Netflix!

Now I wish I had the time and priorities to be a TV and movie guy again. I used to be a huge movie fan and carved out the time to watch them. I had a few regular television shows, too, and otherwise whittled some mindless hours away channel-surfing. Those days are gone now, with the kids totally dominating the television at my house and my priorities having switched to writing blogs and books and such. I recorded (and loved) the series “Parenthood” until it ended a couple years ago, and haven’t made the time to find a show since. And movies are just too long for my tired and otherwise-engaged mind. As much as I love them, they make me feel antsy about “wasting” my time when I could otherwise be writing.

So, I am not really a watcher of anything anymore (and also, if you could not tell, not at all hip or aware of pop culture). And, as much as I think of myself as a book-lover, I haven’t exactly been blazing through those lately, either. If I am riding the machines at the gym, I read. Otherwise, it is at bedtime. And after a long day, that iPad usually smacks me in my dozing face after about a paragraph or two. Try again tomorrow.

But then came the election. After a night in front of the television and then the next day of trudging through the muck on Facebook, this old guy’s system decided it needed a little break from reality. I decided to take the rest of the week off of social media and perhaps seek out a few things that would take my mind to a different place. I quietly gave myself permission to read during the daytime and do whatever else was needed to decompress, including turning on the television (but NOT the news!).

Enter Netflix.

My wife had signed up a few weeks ago for the free trial month, and my kids quickly figured the whole thing out and have been watching all things animated. Being a little slow on the uptake myself, I was astounded when I realized how much stuff was on there, and that I could do it on my iPad. What a revelation!

Anyway, my point is not to impress you with my technological grandpa-ness, but rather to share a bit about what I have been watching and reading lately. Hopefully by comparing notes on, we can enrich each other’s lives (did I just say that about television?).

As for screen time, I have been a little bit all over the map (that Netflix is like a candy store, I tell you!). The first thing I watched (at full blast while giving myself a haircut) was “Good Will Hunting,” which I haven’t seen in ages but still adore. During a lunch break from writing, I watched the first two episodes of “The Office” for more giggly nostalgia. I even watched the first couple of scenes from “American Beauty,” which is another favorite that I haven’t seen since Bill Clinton was in office. Some day I will make the time for the rest.

Other than those old classics, though, I watched a few newer documentaries that I am here to recommend. My dear friend suggested I watch “Before the Flood,” about Leonardo DiCaprio’s world travels learning about climate change (and our impending doom). It was fascinating and seriously disturbing. I then searched for the one thing I had specifically wanted to watch when my wife said she was getting Netflix: Ava Duvernay’s “13th.” It is also deeply disturbing but so eye-opening. With all of the ignorance in our country about black-white relations and distrust of law enforcement, I think this film would help so many people gain some perspective and compassion. After watching, I recommended it to my friend who had put me onto “Before the Flood,” and lo and behold, she responded with another assignment for me. “Hate Rising” with newsman Jorge Ramos was–you guessed it–deeply disturbing. Important, but disturbing. I love a good documentary! (Oh, I am such a nerd.)

With all of those awful visions of melting icebergs, overcrowded prisons, and burning crosses, I probably could have used a few more episodes of “The Office.” Instead, I got my levity and inspiration from the books I have been reading of late.

Typically, I try to keep only one book going at a time—usually an autobiography–but I am spread pretty wide these days, so my mood can dictate what I grab at the moment. I just now finished Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please!, which I checked out only because I had seen quotes from her that appealed to me. I like her attitude and the style of the book (and now will probably look up “Parks and Recreation” on Netflix!).

In the meantime, my sweet sister recently gave me two books that have my attention. I am nearly done with Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass, which is a sassy, self-help manifesto that I find highly motivating (the only downside: I had to explain the word “badass” to my children, who quickly spotted it like hawks). The other one, which I have honestly only read a handful of pages in but seems promising, is Bob Goff’s Love Does. I like that title.

I am also now returning to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of The United States, which I took a little hiatus from because I was so slow with it. If you ever have an inclination to learn the real story of this country—not the one you learned in school—you must read this one. In a wonderful piece of synchronicity, even Matt Damon’s genius title character in “Good Will Hunting” recommends this book (Netflix does it again!). Oh, and I almost forgot! I am deep into the Harry Potter series—now in the fifth book—which I read every night with my daughter. It is a fun departure for me, something I wouldn’t pick out on my own. And I love to share my book love with my daughter, who now reads way more than I do (I am jealous!).

All of these titles of movies, television, and books have been a godsend of late, a way for me to take an emotional vacation, even if some of the topics have been scary and sad. Now, as I try to return to some normalcy with my schedule after a few days with my head in the clouds, it is my challenge to keep a small slice of vacation in my days, a little window to allow these books and shows to spirit me away. Just yesterday, I found myself reaching for my iPad while I brushed my teeth, hoping to catch a few more minutes of “The Office” and one more laugh for the day. I’m telling you, those Netflix folks are onto something! If they got me, they can get anyone. I guess I need to add a few more minutes to my day or a few more eyes in my head. (In my best Jerry-Seinfeld-gritting-his-teeth voice:) “NETFLIX!!!!”

How about you? What are you watching and reading? Open up your journal and think about the information and entertainment you consume. Are you more of a book person or a TV/movie person? Do you mix those pretty well, or are you pretty solidly in one camp? If you are all about the screen, are you more into TV series or movies? What do you watch on television? What shows do you want to watch? I hear people raving on social media about so many different shows that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. If the last good comedy I watched was when “The Office” was on, do you have any recommendations for me? Are there any good dramas that will make me cry every week like “Parenthood” did? What about movies? Are you more inclined to watch new ones or old ones that you have seen before? Does having access to them on your phone or tablet make you more likely to watch them but less likely to really concentrate on them? I ask that because I normally like to fully immerse myself in the cinematic experience and soak it all up—no distractions, sitting in the dark—or else not watch at all, but as soon as I discovered Netflix, there I was watching “Good Will Hunting” while I was cutting my hair.   I still enjoyed it, but the overall experience was of a lower quality. Do you find that is becoming more normal for you with all of this access? What movies would you recommend for a guy who kind of fell off the planet about eight years ago (and who is kind of snooty about movies)? How about books? On a scale of one to ten, how book-crazy are you? What have you been reading lately? Is this normal for you, are you trying a new genre? Is fiction or non-fiction more your thing? What recommendations do you have for me? I am open to anything! Whose memoir or biography would you most recommend? Which of these three—TV, movies, or books—do you spend the most time with? Which do you desperately wish you had more time for? Do you consider yourself a connoisseur of one of them? What purpose do these three serve for you—escapism, entertainment, education, inspiration, stress relief, or something else? What are the top three items on your wish list for your next open window of time? Leave me a reply and let me know, “Whatcha watchin’?”

Enjoy your life,

William

P.S. If you liked what you read and thought about today, feel free to share. Everyone loves a recommendation! Cheers!

This Is NOT an Election Article!

dsc_0566“Accepting all the good and bad about someone. It’s a great thing to aspire to. The hard part is actually doing it.” –Sarah Dessen

Hello friend,

Imagine a group of college-age friends who grew up together. They are all figuring out what their path in life is. Nearly all of them, of course, are going the conventional routes: business, teaching, medicine, technology, trades, and the like. They want to be respectable, earning members of the workforce until they retire. Generally speaking, you would say they are a group of very stable people.

There are two outliers in their group, though. One friend has decided that she wants to follow her passion for the arts and become a painter. She’s not exactly sure how she will make it work financially, but she is a dreamer and has faith it will work out. The other friend has decided he is going to become an estate lawyer and make a fortune scamming old people out of their money. His goal is to make money, and he doesn’t care about the human cost.

How, then, does their stable group of friends react to these two who are straying from the conventional path?

As for the artist/dreamer, they are concerned for her but don’t dislike or distrust her for her decision. They dismiss her, in a way, as being too whimsical, not sensible enough, foolish for choosing the unstable path. They warn her about the starving artist lifestyle she is choosing, reminding her that she will be without health insurance or a 401K plan. The stable crew feels a little bad for their artist friend, even, as she “just doesn’t get it” and “lives in a fantasyland.” Her heart is in the right place, though, so they don’t dislike her. But they also don’t take her seriously and are relieved there aren’t lots more like her. She is a bit dangerous to their stability. Lovable, but dangerous.

The scamming lawyer, on the other hand, is now viewed by the friends as dangerous but unlovable. It is clear that his heart is not in the right place. A moral failing has entered the picture, and their sensibilities are offended by that. They are disappointed. They realize they can no longer trust him the way they thought they could. A wall has gone up in their relationship, one that is probably too steep to climb in order to build that relationship back to whole again.

The artist’s flaw, according to the group, is that she feels too much, she lets her heart guide her. The lawyer’s flaw is that he is heartless, callous. The artist can be forgiven for veering off the path of the rest of the group, but the lawyer cannot.

You are probably wondering why in the world I am having you think about these people. Well, lately I have been doing a lot of thinking about the individual people in my life, how I interact with each, and whether they seem more like someone who I want closer to me or someone who I need to distance myself from. I am oversensitive to just about everything, but especially to the prospect of spending time with people I think poorly of. I am repulsed by that and have left jobs and relationships because of it.

With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, we have this magical way of reconnecting and staying in touch with so many more people than ever before. People from your past—high school and college friends, former colleagues—and even people whom you have never met in person. You can actually learn a lot about some of them. Sometimes more than you want to.

As you well know, it is political season. And while many of the people I know–whether intimately, in person, or online–tend to reveal little to nothing about their political views, there are certainly others who really put themselves out there for their candidate or cause. They reveal their positions on some topics that truly matter to me. That’s where it can get uncomfortable.

As I have watched other people’s interactions and tried to understand my own reactions to people on the other end of the political spectrum from me—I am quite liberal on just about all of the big topics—I see patterns emerging. So, I am developing my own pet theory on how a relationship between a liberal person and a conservative person plays out when their views are made known to the other. (Keep in mind that I am well aware that the people of the world hold a zillion varieties of viewpoints, and that the liberal and conservative in my theory are, by necessity, caricatured people that are to the far left and far right, respectively.) Check this out and be ready to help me tinker with my theory by sharing your personal pattern of reactions.

Remember the artist/dreamer of the friend group? Well, in my developing theory, the way the group viewed the artist is the way my conservative character views my liberal character. He (the conservative) sees her (the liberal’s) flaw as her “bleeding heart,” always thinking the government should help everyone and right wrongs. In his eyes, she is leading with her heart, which is foolish and impractical, because of course we can’t foot the bill for other people’s problems. Her insistence that we can is more annoying than anything. But at least her heart is in the right place, so he can’t despise her for that. He tolerates her.

To the liberal, on the other hand, the conservative is looked upon the way our friend group reacted to the scamming lawyer. She sees him as having abandoned his heart in favor of his pocketbook. His is a callous perspective, ignoring the plight of others and even basic human rights (I have been using universal health coverage in my ponderings, but we could use things like capital punishment, women’s health issues, LGBT rights, or the Syrian refugee crisis, too). He has taken moral issues and turned them instead into economic ones, ignoring hearts and souls in favor of financial calculations. This is incredibly disappointing—even hurtful—to the liberal. Her feelings are hurt by the seeming callousness of the conservative’s positions. Her sensibilities are offended. A trust has been broken. There is a “How could you?” in her reaction, as in, “How could you devalue human life this way?” The liberal does not want to believe someone’s heart could be so cold. It is a devastating realization. She is effectively done with him.

So, at the end of it, it looks as though the conservative would be more tolerant of the liberal than the liberal is of the conservative. The conservative sees the liberal as a failure of reason and practicality, whereas the liberal sees the conservative as a failure of character and conscience. Her failure is acceptable; his is not. He can continue with her in his life, just as the stable group of friends could keep the artist. The liberal, however, no longer feels any interest in fraternizing with the conservative, seeing him as the friend group sees the scamming lawyer: morally bankrupt. With the trust broken, for her, the relationship is as good as over.

So, that’s the theory at this point. Like I said, the positions are probably a bit extreme for most people. But I have to admit, the liberal side is mostly a projection of stuff coming up from my own heart in these situations. I recognized the feelings I was having in response to all of these political posts as well as my conversations with different people, and the theory emerged from me trying, mostly through my daily journal entries, to make sense of the feelings. I wanted some clarity, which is what journaling has always brought me.

This process has helped me to better understand my internal workings, as well as my evolving relationships with family members, friends, and online connections. I have to admit it is a bit disturbing to see the final product being a desire to end, or at least pull back from, a number of relationships that I had once enjoyed and valued, even if on a more superficial level. But I can’t fake it, either. As I mentioned early on, it is a weakness of mine that I am oversensitive. Another one is that I am stubborn. That combination makes me tough to hang with. If you break my trust, I don’t easily let it go. (And yes, I recognize the irony in the fact that despite seeing my political positions as more enlightened and compassionate than the other side, I am the one who ends up being more intolerant in the actual relationship. I guess personal boundaries come with a cost.)

I suppose I hope for other people’s sake that they can make peace with people who hold vastly different views more easily than I can, that they can either forgive or compartmentalize their politics. Maybe it is like my theory—the conservatives can do it better than the liberals can—or maybe it is only me. In any case, the theory-making helped me to know myself better. Even if the results have shaken me a bit, I am glad I took the dive.

How about you? How would you categorize your reactions to people whose views are starkly opposed to yours? It is probably helpful to start by locating yourself along the political spectrum. Are you fairly far in one direction overall, or pretty moderate? Is there one particular issue that you hold an extra-strong opinion about? Can disagreement on that issue trigger an emotional response from you? If you are on the conservative side of the spectrum, does my proposed theory resonate with you at all, i.e. do you find yourself being dismissive of liberals because their “bleeding hearts” make their proposals too impractical and expensive for your tastes, even if you tolerate them because they mean well? If that is not how you experience it, what is your reaction to someone you know who proposes a liberal idea? Do you find that the liberal ideas fail your test morally, or is it more logically or practically? If you are more left-leaning, does my theory resonate with you? Have you had the experience, in talking with conservatives about these issues, of being so dismayed—even hurt—by the callousness and lack of compassion in their positions to the point that you no longer wish to socialize with them? Have I gone too far in that side of the theory? Is your experience more like I described for the other side: it is frustrating that the conservative disagrees with you, but that has no bearing on how you rate their character and how much time you want to spend with them? If you are someone who is kind of in the middle on the issues—conservative on some, liberal on others—do you find yourself still leaning toward one side in terms of which friends you like or respect more, or is it also a pretty even mix? Is there something more morally upstanding about one side or the other? If you had to choose between spending your time with someone who is hopelessly impractical or someone who is immoral, who would you choose? Do you mostly try to avoid political discussions with people in your social groups so you aren’t forced to make these kinds of character evaluations and relationship changes? I think most of us do that at least some of the time, because let’s face it, it’s risky to wade into these waters. Is that an unhealthy denial, or is that simply a wise way to make life bearable in your little corner of the world? I am dying to know how you navigate this stuff! So please, leave me a reply and let me know: How do you handle your relationships with people who differ from you on important political issues? 

Claim your amazing self,

William

P.S. If today’s letter got you examining your relationships and how your political opinions shape your friend group and your tolerance for others, I hope you will share it. If you want these letters in your Inbox as soon as they are published, I invite you to sign up for the email.  Peace and Love, my friend.

Who Do You Wish To Be?

DSC_0042“To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.” –Kahlil Gibran, The Madman

Hello friend,

Thanks mostly to the upcoming election, we find ourselves today in a uniquely character-driven moment in social discourse. Not character like, “Oh that Trump, he is quite a character.” But rather, character in terms of “Who are these people at their core?” Oh sure, character comes up at some point in lots of major elections. When attacks on an opponent’s policy positions or voting record don’t move the needle, a candidate takes a swipe at the other one’s character, trolling into their past to find some event that might portray them as unpatriotic, corrupt, or cold-hearted. But this election is unique, I think, in that it seems like almost all of the ads and the rhetoric are about character. The candidates are, in lots of creative ways, branded as lying, bigoted, demagogic, ruthless, misogynistic, cold, arrogant, cowardly, greedy, buffoonish, self-serving, hateful, criminal, and so much more. Each side seems to want only to disqualify the other by virtue of all of these terrible characteristics rather than declaring their own case based on their own virtues and positions. Even though I am very tuned in, I must say the approach from both sides has me very turned off.

What I have realized this week is that two of the big reasons I am troubled by this campaign are coming together in a perfect storm that is raging against my natural wiring and leaving me wanting to address my own core qualities.

First, I am heavily inclined toward associating myself with positive, aspirational type of people. I don’t like to give my time and energy to thoughts of all of those negative qualities I mentioned above, and I am not drawn to people who possess them. Well, it’s more than not being drawn to them, though; it is more of an inborn repulsion that I feel. Negativity and shiftiness repel me; I feel a natural disgust in my bones in their presence. I do my best to be tapped into my intuitions and natural inclinations as I go through the world, and I try to honor them by following their lead. It is the best way I know to remain authentic and at peace.

With the characters we have trying to become President this year, I can tell that I am at war with myself over character issues that seem to plague both sides. I am not saying that I think it’s a toss-up as to which candidate feels more despicable to me—because I don’t—just that it is not a straightforward “Good vs. Evil” question when it comes to personal character. I like my elections—especially the ones for the highest offices in the land—to be between two (though more would be nice!) candidates who seem like good, solid people who just happen to hold different beliefs about what will make our country work best. Then it’s easy: just vote for the one whose vision is most similar to mine.

But it’s nice when the “Who This Person Is” part is not something that is troubling me, is not part of the equation when I step into the ballot box.

The second part of the storm that rubs against my personal grain is the “Focus on what’s so bad about the other/Show them who I’m not” tactic that has characterized the advertising and stump speeches of this campaign. Other than the fact that we have already had the scandals, slurs, and shortcomings rammed down our throats for months and months on end–and I am tired of that–my nature is to want the other side of the coin. I want to know about you, the candidate. I want to know what you are about, what you aspire to, how your life and your record reflect that, and how you think we can best move forward. That is the kind of political ad or speech that draws me in. (I have been proven wrong in my thinking that that is what they would want to tell us, too.)

Not coincidentally, that is the kind of stuff I like to wonder about the people I meet in my day-to-day life, too. I don’t enjoy small-talk, and I don’t enjoy complaints about how bad other people and things are in your world. I want to know what matters to you, what lights you up, who you want to be, and what you are doing to become that.

Actually, that’s exactly what I want to know about myself, too. It is the kind of stuff that makes good fodder for the pages of my personal journal. I might not address it head-on in every one of my daily entries—I am currently filling my 53rd volume–but it is part of the core of what my routine as a journal writer is about.

So, it is time to put my money where my mouth (or rather, pen) is! I told you that I am averse to hearing about how awful these people are from each other and how each will destroy us all. I told you how my gut draws me to aspirational people who are about telling their own truth. I told you how I long to hear about who a person is striving to be, what compels them. So, to Donald and Hillary, and especially to you, this is who I wish to be:

I wish to be a person who inspires others. I wish to be an example of how sincere self-reflection and an open mind can allow you to know who you are and what your purpose is. I want to be an example of how that self-knowledge, far from being something to fear and find shame in, is something that can grant you the deepest peace and gratitude, basking in the beauty that is your Truth. I wish to share the stories of people who are doing the daily work of lifting others up, providing the rest of us with living examples of empathy, courage, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and social justice. I wish to be a person who brings people together to learn from each other, help each other, and enjoy each other. I wish to expose injustices where I find them, to give a voice to the voiceless. I wish to enlighten the most powerful among us in hopes that they will use their power for good. I wish to be an example of loving kindness for everyone I meet. I wish to be an example for my children of integrity and authenticity. I wish show my loved ones how valuable they are to me. I wish to embody Gratitude every day. I wish to be relentless in the pursuit of my dreams. I wish to be unapologetically me, all the time. I wish to be Peace. I wish to always be mindful of the Divine in me, and the unity of us All.  

That’s who I wish to be. Boy, do I have a LONG way to go! Oh well, at least I have a destination in mind.

How about you? Who do you wish to be? Open up your journal and your imagination. What do you see when you imagine the best version of you? In most of our minds, the quickest leap is probably to what describe what we are doing in that vision, but if you can, try to focus today on how you are being in the vision. What sort of character traits would you display while being the person you wish to be? What qualities would you embody? In general terms, in what areas do you see yourself being that ideal vision? In what positive ways would you like to affect people’s lives? How would you think differently about yourself? How would you treat your loved ones? How big do you envision your sphere of influence? Just how great is the best you? Does this aspirational thinking come natural to you? Are you generally more inclined to spend your energy kicking yourself for your character flaws and failings, accepting where you are now (the good and the bad), or envisioning your best self for the future? Write it out. Then leave me a response and let me know: Who do you wish to be? 

Shoot for the moon,

William

P.S. If this pushed you to think bigger about who you could become, please share it. Let’s challenge ourselves and encourage each other to rise to the occasion called Life!

Third Party, Anyone? The Case for a Libertarian President

DSC_0061 2“Sometimes there won’t be a right choice, just the best of several bad options.” –Sarah J. Maas, Queen of Shadows

Hello friend,

I was tooling around on Facebook recently and came across a friend’s post sharing his results from one of those quizzes. You know the ones I mean: Which career are you best suited for? What is your personality type? Which celebrity might be your soul mate? Which TV show is most like your life? There are a million of them. In just a few minutes of multiple-choice questions, you can have the answers to all of life’s deepest questions. Then you can share your results with the Facebook world so that they can take the test, too.

This particular friend’s shared quiz led with his results: “I side 97% with Bernie Sanders.” Being slightly addicted to presidential politics, I couldn’t resist taking the quiz myself. It asked questions on several different issues—the economy, immigration, social, healthcare, crime, education, foreign policy, etc.—and then spat out the percentages with which you agree with each candidate. There were options to make more nuanced responses to each and to rate how important each issue is to you, too, but I basically took the fast track.

I think I was so curious to get my results for two reasons, roughly equal in importance. First, I wanted to see if my responses would suggest I align more with Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. Second, seeking a little amusement, I wanted to see how close to zero was my alignment with Donald Trump.

So, when the scores popped up, I was not at all surprised to see how the top and bottom of my list shook out:

  • Hillary Clinton—99%
  • Bernie Sanders—99%
  • Donald Trump—9%

While I was shrugging my shoulders at those numbers, though, I was suddenly captivated by the two names that appeared between them.

  • Jill Stein—97%
  • Gary Johnson—59%

Hmmm…. I love a new wrinkle to consider!

Like many of the rest of you, I have spent the better part of the last two weeks following the dramatics of the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The tone of the two conventions was so starkly contrasting, making it seem that your choice for President (and probably the other public offices) could not be more easy to decide. You were either obviously voting for Trump or obviously voting for Clinton. The difference in message and tone made it seem quite clear that there is no likelihood of waffling between the two. Your choice is clear, right?

Or is it?

Judging from what I see at these conventions and from the multitudes of posts on social media, it seems clear that large numbers of ordinary citizens are having a difficult time with this one.

On the Republican side, the absence of so many party luminaries—H.W. Bush, W. Bush, Romney, etc.—from the convention, as well as the non-endorsement speech from Ted Cruz, made it quite clear that not everyone was on board the Trump bandwagon. Similarly, I have seen more than a few social media posts and comments to the tune of, “As a Christian and a Republican, I am really having a hard time with this election…..” (It is true that the usual conclusion is, “But we can’t let evil Hillary get in!”)

On the Democratic side, as much as Bernie Sanders is trying to get onboard the Clinton bandwagon and rally his army of loyal supporters to do the same, it is clear that many of them are experiencing more than a little hesitancy in jumping on. Will they decide to stay home in November, or will they swallow a bitter pill and check the Clinton box, thinking the same way their opponents are: “Because we can’t let evil Trump get in!”?

Both sides, despite their candidates’ obvious differences in philosophy, experience, and temperament, are not exactly embracing their choice. I sense a lot of “I’ll just take the lesser of two evils.”

But what if that is a false dichotomy? What if there were really more than two real choices?

Guess what? There are!!!

Remember those two other names in the middle of my list: Jill Stein and Gary Johnson? They are real candidates from real parties. Stein is from the Green Party (remember Ralph Nader?). Johnson is from the Libertarian Party. And while Stein is polling only in the low single digits currently and is not likely to make much of a dent this year, Johnson and the Libertarians could actually sneak into this thing.

In order to qualify for the three national debates with Trump and Clinton, you have to average 15% in the leading polls. Johnson has been quietly creeping up and is now in double digits. Translation: He has a real chance to be heard. If you hear him, you just might like what he has to say. You may even decide he could do better than the lesser of two evils. Imagine that!

So, what in the world is a Libertarian? And who is this Gary Johnson guy?

Almost completely ignorant on the topic, I hunted down my one Facebook friend who I know to be a Libertarian. He told me that the motto is “More conservative than a Republican, more liberal than a Democrat.” So, of course, I was totally intrigued. This is what I learned:

While the actual party formed in 1971, the Libertarian movement began more as a philosophy of very limited government and maximal personal freedom, basically a “hands-off” approach. The federal government exists to enforce the Bill of Rights and not much more. To quote from their website LP.org, “Each individual has the right to control his or her own body, action, speech, and property. Government’s only role is to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud.” 

This is where that motto begins to make sense. It definitely fits with the Republican idea of smaller federal government. Economically, they favor decreasing taxes, cutting government regulation of business, and no government welfare (preferring charitable welfare instead). They plan to be debt-free, figuring that, when capitalism is left alone, it will balance itself out naturally.

And the personal freedom angle has fascinating liberal ramifications in social issues. With its “live and let live” core principle, the Libertarian party does not seek to legislate what goes on in your bedroom, who you marry, what you put into your body, or how you worship.

“In a nutshell, we are advocates for a smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom.” 

And what about this Gary Johnson guy? After building a multi-million dollar construction company from scratch, Johnson went on to be elected—as a Republican—governor of New Mexico for two terms. As governor, he used his veto power at record rates, reduced the size of the government, and left the state with a budget surplus. He is also a triathlete and has climbed Mt. Everest. (And he gets a free point because he was born in my hometown!)

Sounds like he would be an interesting dinner guest, anyway. And with that many distinct policy positions, I think he would find ways to poke both Trump and Clinton on the debate stage. I am all for stirring that pot!

Listen, I am not writing to you today to say that this guy should absolutely be your next President. Frankly, some of the ramifications of the “hands-off” policies he endorses really don’t sit right with me. For example, I would like the government to lead on environmental issues rather than just letting it sort itself out. I would like the government to help out the people who, whether from centuries of systematic oppression or simply bad luck, regularly get left out of the benefits of the American ideals. I would like our senior citizens and veterans taken care of. I would like the government to enact some sensible gun laws. I would like to ensure some standards in education. So, it is no surprise that my quiz results showed me with only 59% agreement with him, compared to high 90s for Clinton and Stein. I am more comfortable with their positions.

But even with all of those misgivings, I think there are Libertarian principles that both Republicans and Democrats would find very appealing. And as far as I can tell in my brief research, Gary Johnson seems like a pretty solid guy character-wise. If character is your real beef with the other candidates—it seems to be for many—then I truly believe the Libertarians are worth a second look for you.

Honestly, in this election, I would not be at all shocked if something swung the voting wildly. The two primary candidates just aren’t that well-liked. So, perhaps one of them is going to do something to make himself or herself look even worse, or another candidate could step in and totally shake things up. The only viable option for that is Gary Johnson. He is going to be on the ballot in all 50 states, so that groundwork has been laid. Now he just needs to get that 15% in the polls to get on the debate stage so that everyone gets to know him and the Libertarian platform.  He may not get my vote, but I want to see him have a shot at everyone else’s. I think his presence on the big stage would be a good thing for America, both in the short-term (for this election) and the long-term (for a potential break-up of the two-party system that I think is long-overdue). I am all for a chance to hear another voice.

How about you? Are you open to considering a third party candidate? Open up your journal and explore your ties to the two big parties and what might sway you to jump ship. How tied are you to your current party of choice? Does your party’s candidate inspire confidence in you with their leadership style, character, and positions on the issues? If you had to stick with just the two major party candidates this year, do you feel like you are mostly voting for your person or mostly voting against the other? If you feel like you are in the “lesser of two evils” boat, which characteristics are making the one less evil than the other? If you are in that boat, how open are you to a third candidate? Before today, did you know anything about the Libertarian Party or Gary Johnson? What do you think of the Libertarian philosophy? Which side of their platform do you prefer: the fiscally conservative side or the socially liberal side? Is one side of their philosophy so extreme that, even if you love the other side, it is more than you can stomach? How much would it improve the Presidential debates—and the overall conversation around the election–to have a third candidate involved? Even if you weren’t sure you would vote for him just yet, would you be willing to tell a pollster you favored Johnson in order to increase the likelihood that he makes it into the debates? Even if you truly favored him over Trump and Clinton, would you only vote for him in the election if it looked like he had a real chance to win? Does voting for someone who is not likely to win effectively “waste” your vote, or should you vote your conscience regardless of the situation? Will we ever get to the point where we have a handful of legitimate political parties contending, where compromise will be a necessary and normal part of our political interactions? Are you ready for that now? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you open to another party joining this race?

Be a light unto us all,

William

P.S. If today’s letter taught you something or made you look in a new way, please pass it on. Let’s search for a better way forward together!