Category Archives: Live It

The Accidental Activist

I worked for many years in higher-education as a professor and as a fundraiser. The financial markets were rising, and so were transfers of wealth by generous individuals to nonprofit causes including education and hospitals. But by the close of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, things began to change. The earnings of the middle class had been stagnate since the 1970’s, but now it was beginning to show in the decline of discretionary giving. And although wealthy individuals could and often made large donations, it was the middle class who made up the bulk of annual giving dollars. And they were on the decline big time. And then came the 2008 Great Recession.

 That’s when I realized that the economic world we once knew had shifted quite dramatically. Pointedly, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton came out with a big, bright red “Reset” button. There were and are still many who are profiting nicely during the ongoing economic crisis, but there are far more who are not. I realized the economic crisis is vastly different than the ups and downs of recession that we had known before. It is global: what happens in Greece has an impact in America; what happens in Japan has an impact in America.

So I began to look for a way to understand this “new normal.” And much to my surprise it was fun and easy. I found and watched terrific programs that helped me understand the policies, laws and regulations that were being discussed in the desire to balance what we want for ourselves and what we want to achieve together as a nation. The headlines began to make sense. I found individuals and groups who are having fun bringing together helpful information. Before, I downloaded apps that entertained but didn’t inform, now I download apps that keep track of Congressional voting and legislative bills under consideration. I comment on blogs that discuss the balance between our individual desire to have cheap goods and the social consequences of those decisions. Each day brings excitement and fulfillment as I recognize that I have a profound role to play as a citizen.

 I’m more joyful and content. I’m a participant in this democracy in ways that are meaningful and heard. It’s my key to happiness in these unprecedented times. With this new re-alignment in thinking, I’ve gained community and peace of mind. Now when folks ask me, “Whatcha doin’?” I say, “Participating in democracy and letting my voice be heard.” “Whatcha doin’?”

Teachable Moment: Moral Panics, Anthony Weiner and Seal Team Six Insights

Can we separate political ethics and morality from personal ethics and morality?  This seems to be the question America has been struggling with for some time.   “Moral panics” are what George Lakoff refers to them in his book The Political Mind Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain.

America likes to gossip about the personal details of a public person’s life—the more outrageous, the more perplexing, and the more morally confounding the better. Such talk is considered “juicy” and America could talk about it all day long.

Representative Anthony Weiner is at the center of the current moral panic.  Should he resign?  Should his wife divorce him?  Can he be trusted as an official elected to represent the voters of New York?  Is he “true” to them?  And if he indeed walks his political talk, should his actions within his marriage matter?  Can we separate his morals and his ethics?

We can make a distinction between the two that I think is useful.  Ethics refers to a theory or system that describes what is good and, by extension, what is evil.  Morals refer to the rules that tell us what to do or not to do.  Morality divides actions in to right and wrong.

Ethics are more theoretically focused:  How do we judge white-collar crime versus violent crime?  How do we allocate health care when demand and costs out strips resources?  Mythology and theology are the oldest sources of ethics, though philosophical systems are often more discussed today.

Ethics are about theory, while morals are about practice.

Morales are the rules you live by; ethics are the systems that generate those rules.  Morals have to do with your personal life:  What is appropriate behavior on a first date? Is taking a ream of paper from your job home for personal use a crime?

Teachable Momemt: SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper author Howard Wasdin said to Jon Stewart on the 6/9/2011 Daily Show, that although he is a republican and did not vote for President Obama, Wasdin would consider doing so in the future because the President had it right on three accounts: keeping the mission operations secure, burying binLaden’s body at sea, and not releasing the pictures.  Wasdin admired the President’s political actions.

Should we really care about a politician’s personal actions?  Some say we should, for it gives insight into that person’s theory or system by which they judge good and evil and thereby decide what to do.

Stay tuned.  As we enter another presidential election cycle, the major weakness of ballot-box elections will once again become glaringly apparent:  the voters decide on a candidate by making an X rather than by exploring what it means to be the best candidate for the job.

The influence of smear campaigns, misleading political ads or the force of party-line habit voting, will make it a struggle for voters to possess a deep understanding and consensus on policy issues and thus elect the best candidate for the job.

Attack on Religion or a Call to Discovery?

 I have a friend, a learned scholar, who brought this engaging exchange to my attention posted at The Science Network.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson

It’s a talk by  Neil deGrasse Tyson basically saying that religion is what some early scientists turned to when they could not explain the unknown and was used to fuel their creative thought.  The talk is lively and fun.  Tyson tells us to keep in mind that some of the greatest minds that have preceded us expressed notions of  intelligent design  when faced with the limits of their knowledge. “Science is a philosophy of discovery, intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. “     He encourages us to acknowledge that people are feeling at the limits of their knowledge when they invoke the notion of intelligent design.  He also encourages us to be self-aware of when we are at the limits of our knowledge and not let our belief systems limit our creativity, our search for knowledge.   Fun, fun, fun.

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Michael Shermer

Dr. Tyson is joined on the panel by speakers including  Michael Shermer, author of “Why People Believe Weird Things.”  Michael Shermer takes a social scientist’s point of view, asking the question:  what are the different variables that go into a person’s belief system?   He states that smart people believe weird things “because they are better at rationalizing beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.   Which is to say that most of the beliefs that most of us hold we arrived at because we were raised that way, or we were influenced by peers or mentors.”   It’s human nature to want to find reasons to justify what we believe. 

Another panalist states that business interests understand that science and innovation is important for the economy but they don’t particularly care if there is a large number  of uneducated people.  However, from the public policy and government affairs  point of view, it is critically important that citizens are educated.  In the United States, elected officials are tasked to represent and put into law policies and practices that the voters want.  If the people are uneducated on the most basic of human affairs, bad policy and government will result.  Business and government need educated people–business may need a few, but good government requires many more.

I started this blog to encourage myself and others to challenge beliefs.  First, acknowledging and modifying beliefs in light of new discoveries (“Own It”).  Then, acknowledge how the updated beliefs make us feel (“Feel It”), put those new beliefs into daily practice (“Live It”), and then be happy with our lives (“Love It”). 

It’s worth the 75 minutes to view the program because it makes you think about religion and beliefs in a different way. For me, this program was a reminder that wisdom (religion, philosophy, psychological) is a means for people to seek a deeper human experience and be encouraged to press forward, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming confusion, doubt, and unknowns. I felt both hopeful that public policy will balance the teaching of science and intelligent design in schools and happy that there is a role for belief in play in people’s creative lives. Watch the program and let me know how it made you think about what you believe, if it made you modify what you believe and how that makes you feel as you deeply connect with people and the world around you.

Kirsten Gillibrand on Daily Show – Garnering Trustworthiness?

Kirsten Gillibrand 2006 official photo cropped

Kirsten Gillibrand, United States Senator for New York was credited by Jon Stewart for helping pass legislation that included health benefits for the September 11, 2001 first responders.  Wisdom says, “You can tell a tree by it’s fruit.”  Perhaps Ms. Gillibrand is showing signs of someone who is trustworthy…

Who Can You Trust?

We all have beliefs, ideas, and concepts that influence our understanding of the world and behavior– whether they’re aware of it or not.  Understanding  the beliefs of others is a step toward trusting their opinions and decisions.  Check out this article   http://pdfcast.org/pdf/trust-the-importance-of-trustfulness-versus-trustworthiness  I found it interesting that first, we need to understand the difference between trustful and being trustworthy; and then, second, how being untrustworthy tends to make us less trustful/trusting. 

Here at the Educating Gossip, we’re going to have fun looking at our personal degree of trust in government and other public institutions estasblished to advance the public good.  We’ll explore actions by public agencies regarding issues such jobs, wealth creation and health care.  We’ll discuss what we believe is impartial, honest and competent.  We’ll have fun doing what is good for our selves, our community and the world.  We are what we believe and we will: Own it, Feel it, Live it and Love it!