One of the worst bits of advice I ever received was, “Consider the source.” Yeah, it seemed like great advice when the car salesman said he was giving me his best price and the real estate agent said it was the perfect time to buy a house and the Secretary of Mining from Nigeria said I could trust him to send me the money. Beyond the obvious stuff, though, that once-great rule isn’t working for me anymore.
The problem, not surprisingly, is politics. My tribe good. Your tribe must die. You get the picture.
A few weeks ago, a reporter for a cable network asked an embarrassing question about someone’s behavior during the pandemic. There’s absolutely no question about the hypocrisy of the exchange, especially when we consider the way that network has responded to similar behavior by the people they support. Still, the question was legitimate, because it’s legitimate to ask whether a leader is upholding the same standards that leader demands of others.
No one will be surprised to learn that the answers started to divide along party lines. And absolutely, positively, without any shadow of a doubt, we will not be surprised to learn that nobody actually answered the question.
Because we are considering the source.
We’re being pretty stupid these days, at our great expense. We aren’t fixing the weaknesses in our economy, we aren’t inoculating people fast enough, we aren’t reducing violence, we aren’t improving our kids’ education, we aren’t making government more responsive or effective or efficient or transparent, or or or… We aren’t making progress, in large part, because we cannot and will not discuss ideas. We identify the source, support or reject accordingly, and then move on to our next post.
In The Time Before, I went to a program about the way elections are handled in the United States, a session that covered everything from voter registration to gerrymandering to allocation of Electoral College votes. The speakers raised some good points about the ways our system fails to reflect the will of the people and they offered some solutions for our consideration. When the meeting ended, the guy sitting next to me leaned over and said, “He sounded like he might be a Democrat.”
That was it. The conversation was over. My neighbor doesn’t think his views are represented in government, but he wasn’t going to consider any solutions that might be offered by Democrats.
He was considering the source.
He didn’t care about the ideas, just the team that owned them. Four years from now, he’ll still be complaining that the government doesn’t respond to the will of the people, but he’ll be glad to learn that no Democrat solutions will be imposed.
And that kind of reaction makes him a chump. He isn’t alone, of course. Our leaders have learned how to deflect blame and responsibility and refuse to make progress for the nation by simply labeling ideas as socialist or populist or fascist or leftist or radical or Republican or Democrat.
You know why we aren’t making any progress in this country? It’s because we talk about sides instead of ideas, tribes instead of visions. We’ve decided we’re okay with suffering, as long as the other guy suffers more. We’ve decided we don’t care about leaving a better world for our kids if it means the world will be better for our rivals’ kids as well.
We have met the enemy, as Pogo said, and he is us.
Because we are considering the source.
Dad Writes subscribers will be the first to know when all this tribalism crap disappears and we’re singing Kumbaya around the campfire. Doesn’t that make you want to click here to subscribe?
I showed up at the final exam about half way into the class, dropped my books and started digging into the essay. After the instructor called time, I told one of my classmates I was late because I had run out of gas on the way to the test.
“Well, you won’t make that mistake again,” he said, and it made me cringe, because it was the second time I’d done it.
It wasn’t the first time, and certainly it wasn’t the last instance of me repeating a stupid mistake. Over the years, I’ve found a way to do the same dumb thing over and over, always vowing and always failing to know better the next time.
Somehow, I am not as bright as a lab rat.
We all like to think we learn from our mistakes, but most of us find a way to resist the wisdom life throws at us. I laugh at the guy who keeps falling for the latest investment craze, but I still think I’m going to get home faster if I get off the expressway and take the side streets. I shake my head as a friend tells me about a new relationship that sounds identical to the last hundred blow-ups, but every so often I’ll think it’s a great idea to split tens at the blackjack table.
I’m intrigued by my uncanny ability to absorb some lessons instantly and emulate a box of rocks about others. What is it that makes us both brilliant and chumps at the same time? Whatever the deep meaning behind our foolish consistency, it’s just another way for God to keep us humble.
We like to think of ourselves as wolves, always learning and always surviving the threats around us. More commonly, we’re dogs, repeatedly running into the patio door. Unfortunately, we never seem to be quite as happy as the family dog appears to be.
My own journey is a triumph of hope over experience. This time will be different. This time I’ll avoid the trap. This time I’ll make it work. Now that I’ve figured it all out, I’ll break the pattern. Ultimately, it turns out, my most infallible skill is my ability to fool myself.
There’s some comfort to be found in knowing that I’m not alone on the journey. As good as I’ve become at recognizing my own destructive tendencies, I’m even better at spotting those patterns among other people. Of course, it goes without saying that their repeated missteps are excessively irritating and impossibly obvious. Meanwhile, I’ve found, my own consistency of errors is charming, possibly even endearing.
Why are my flaws more cuddly than theirs? Hard to say, really, but it’s absolutely true. Regardless, I’ll try to find a way to tolerate all of their failures while making an effort to, um, refine my own charming idiosyncrasies.
I’ll give it more thought later, but meanwhile I have to polish off this pizza and finish a few more beers before I head back to the casino. I know that worked out badly for me in the past, but this time will be different.
It’s never a mistake to subscribe to Dad Writes by clicking here and, even if it was a giant error, it’s one of the most charming mistakes around.
Apologies to my neighbors and also to my grandchildren, but that 31-year-old birthday boy gets no atonement from this old guy…
My mom gave me a bunch of mail to look over and I was very, very impressed. Little did I realize that she is one of the most influential people in the country.
It must be true, though, and the United States Postal Service has delivered the proof. Every day, she gets a package with “Official Documents Enclosed” and an urgent request for her views on matters of national importance. And it’s all be hugely confidential, as evidenced by the warning that, “It is a FEDERAL OFFENSE for anyone other than the person listed below to open this letter.”
Clearly, she is so influential that companies are willing to offer her big bucks to give them her advice. Here’s an offer of a $100 gift certificate if she merely stops by for lunch--free!!--and shares her opinion about the newest in hearing-aid technology. I’m not sure why they need to ask, since the letter says 100% of patients are approved for these new devices, but clearly my mom’s opinion is just that important.
And so many checks, she must be in the 148% tax bracket by now. Here’s an envelope with “retirement benefits documents enclosed,” and you can see the check right through the address window. It turns out it’s just a picture of what a check might look like if she signs the petition and returns it before the deadline, but when her signature sways Congress, it’s raining Benjamins at her place.
Actually, there are a ton of letters like this, alerting her to the urgent crisis that could lead the federal government to reduce her Social Security check or fail to increase her Social Security check or delay sending her Social Security check. All is not lost, though. If only she signs the petition and returns it with seven bucks, or $25, or agrees to have her credit card dinged for a monthly contribution, or puts me into an apprenticeship program.
Here’s an urgent plea for a response and a donation of at least $15, “because some people in Washington are talking about cutting your Social Security benefits.” Well, I don’t know who those “some people” are, but they are a clear and present danger to say the least. Golly, I wonder if these fine organizations are reaching out to other elderly Americans, or if they are just relying on my mom to handle the burden?
Either way, I have nothing but admiration for all the groups protecting my mom from the financial catastrophe that awaits if she fails to sign the petitions, and I know it comes at a great financial cost to those organizations. One guy is courting bankruptcy, apparently, by springing for the postage-paid reply envelopes that accompanied his letter.
I really felt bad for him when I read, “The extra postage is an expense I really can’t afford right now,” In fact, he continues for several paragraphs about the burden of paying for return postage. Later on, though, he says a donation of $14.55 will enable him to send another 26 petitions to 26 other seniors. So, that’s 56 cents per envelope? Well, no wonder he’s going broke on this crusade. Some other guy sent a survey and he says he can send out more petitions for only 45 cents each. Maybe they could compare notes.
It’s heartwarming to know these selfless individuals and organizations are working tirelessly to take care of my mom and, I suppose, millions of other retired people. Obviously, they are in it for the public good, not profit, as shown by their willingness to lavish her with gift certificates and postage-paid reply envelopes. Anyone who doesn’t believe in guardian angels should just read my mom’s mail and they will see the light.
Please forgive us for spending so much time bragging about how popular mom is. We promise not to do it again if you’ll just click here to subscribe for future, less boastful posts.
It was the first day of spring and the mercury hadn’t hit 50 degrees yet, but the restaurant wasn’t serving indoors and I needed some pancakes. So I sat outside in my winter coat and absorbed whatever warmth I could from the propane heater near my table, congratulating myself on how tough I’ve become and how well I can cope with dining al freezco.
Then it occurred to me that I’m not really that tough at all. For the people who live under the expressway at North Avenue, this is every meal, every night’s sleep, every new dawn. Braving the cold is a temporary discomfort for me. For them, it’s Tuesday.
As I raced to finish my breakfast before the syrup froze, I became increasingly grateful for the daunting experience of eating outside on a cold day; grateful for my usual good fortune in bypassing what is “normal” for too many others. I was cold and uncomfortable, and I ended up being grateful for both, thankful for the lessons provided by my temporary suffering.
Increasingly, I’m finding, gratitude is most meaningful on the downside. As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well, but the deepest connections come from the setbacks.
During the winter, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in a couple of emergency rooms, an operating room and a hospital bed. The treatments extended over more than two months and there’s no question I would have been happy to avoid it. Still, I ended up grateful for the journey.
I was grateful for access to good medical care, of course, and grateful for the commitment medical workers were making for my safety. I was grateful for the fact this was only a temporary setback that would end at some point, rather than a chronic situation that would accompany me through life. And I was very, very grateful for Medicare, which processed more than $100,000 of medical bills, whittled the total down to $2,600, and left me owing just a few hundred bucks.
Finally, I was grateful for some valuable perspective about the minor nuisances that somehow command a huge portion of my attention, nuisances that disappeared from my awareness when something really serious took control. I was grateful for the opportunity to experience the pain and the discomfort that made me more aware and more pleased about the times when everything is fine.
It takes some work and a definite shift of perspectives to become truly grateful for the crap life can throw at you. Gratitude doesn’t make the bad things good or the hard times pleasant, but it does provide some added meaning to life, a bit of a payoff for the negative experiences. I’m just learning how to do it and the learning curve is far from smooth, but I’m finally starting to reap the benefits of my new education.
For which I am very, very grateful.
And while we’re on the subject, I’d be even more grateful is you’d click here to become a subscriber.
We hold these truths to be self-evident:
One of our greatest skills as human beings is the ability to hold both of these views at the same time, often within the same conversation, sometimes within the same sentence. If mental gymnastics was an Olympic event, we’d qualify for Team USA.
In reality, though, each of us is a sample size of one. That makes each of us unique, but it also means none of us is an average Jane. We’re all empowered by and trapped in the circumstances of our lives and our journeys, so we all see things a bit differently.
In my corner of the world, the Coronavirus is real, the state is woefully behind in managing the vaccination rollout, local businesses are suffering along with their landlords, and very few people are arguing about masks. When I’m writing these posts, that state of the world is part of my foundation, even though it might not be a match for a good number of readers.
Many of you live in areas where the economies have stayed open almost nonstop or in places where wearing a mask, or not, is cause for a confrontation. For all of us, our sense of how the pandemic is unfolding will draw more from what we see in our personal lives than from the news. Yes, we’ll read the stories and check out the videos, but the sources we pick and the way we interpret the news will depend heavily on what we, individually, think is the reality.
If we know people who have battled Covid, or lost the war, we’re more likely to take the whole thing very seriously. If we don’t know anyone who has had to deal with the situation, it’s more remote and less threatening. There are tons of exceptions, because each of us brings unique combinations of experience to the conversation, but all of us tend to focus more on our own friends, our own communities, our own challenges.
That’s the crazy part about all our interactions with other people. We think we’re talking to someone else who is like us, but we might be mis-communicating about almost everything. We’re usually aware of it when we’re talking to a doctor or a lawyer or some other specialist whose language is clearly different from our own. The gaps are less obvious when we’re engaged with someone who looks and sounds like us, but brings a whole different set of baggage to the journey.
Sometimes the differences are small enough that they don’t get in the way. Other times, you and your conversation partner are both fluent in English, but you’re speaking a totally different language. We can’t find a way to make our points effectively, because we don’t see the other person’s filters.
Before we can understand someone else, and be understood by them, we need to know a bit about what makes them unique. Otherwise, we’re just talking to ourselves.
As we enter our fourth year of the Dad Writes experiment, we hope you’ll sign up as a subscriber and that you’ll join in the conversation. We know we’ll benefit from your unique perspective.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.