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  • Thomas A. Wilson

A Tale of Two Kiddies

Nicholas Sandmann is a good kid, and so is Greta Thunberg. They both think that what some adults are doing to the next generation is wrong. Nicholas thinks that life is precious; a baby in a womb is just as sacred as a newborn in a cradle—or a manger. Greta thinks that people in positions of power have grossly mismanaged planet Earth; climate change bodes ill for everyone born after Y2K. But Greta and Nicholas aren’t grownups. They’re children, and they shouldn’t have to carry the burden of straightening out the maladjusted world.


Only in our convoluted age of polarization could being pro-life and pro-planet exist on opposite ends of a political spectrum. Mix in a little pro-family and pro-labor sentiment and the concoction becomes even more divisive. But it shouldn’t. Really and truly, it’s time to stop with the showboating and engage in difficult conversations like adults. It’s time for the radical middle to find its voice.


One of the things I challenged offenders with (during my tenure as Associate Warden) at Montana State Prison was modeling probable outcomes. For instance, when some angry offender was non-compliant to a lawful order, I would ask, “What do you think the outcome of your actions will be? Do you think that staff members are going to say, ‘Gee, inmate Smith is really upset right now. Maybe we should get him a nice cup of chamomile and come back later.’” Not likely. One way or another, the situation was headed toward resolution. The first rule of being arrested or incarcerated is go nicely. Even those engaged in civil disobedience should remember that one!


I have a friend who is really smart and really passionate about the state of the world. But he is constantly taking cheap shots at people with opposing views. He uses social media to pump his position and denigrate those who disagree. He lionizes and vilifies—just like the world did with Nicholas and Greta. Depending on one’s bent, these two kids were either hero or villain. Both were (and are) mocked and slandered. It’s pitiful that adults treat children so irresponsibly. And I’m not just talking about the negative. To make either of these two a poster child for some political agenda is equally inappropriate. Their lives will never be the same. Dangerous stuff, messing with someone’s destiny.


The answers to planet earth’s problems aren’t at the edges. The truth usually lies in the middle of extremes.


Bias creates a racket and rackets create a kind of gravity that self-perpetuates. Then, regardless of nuances worthy of consideration, people reject collaboration because they’re scared to death of the ultimate agenda at the far end of the issue. Many advocates of the Second Amendment reject any limitation on gun rights because they think if they give and inch, the other side will take a mile! I believe our current President is in office precisely for this reason. The losing candidate became a caricature of everything the other side feared. I’m not saying she deserved that jacket; I’m just saying that’s the way it is. If we continue with this kind of alienation, it won’t end well. Divided houses fall. I don’t know about you, but my Mandarin sucks.


Bias, the tendency to view information in the light of what one already believes, leads to reinforcing behaviors. It works like this. A complaint congeals into a behavior that results in an immediate payoff and long-term cost. My friend who fires salvos on Facebook gets a certain amount of satisfaction from being involved and making a point. But he is not changing anyone’s mind. If fact, he’s pushing people in the middle toward the other side. The cost of his posturing is a mobilized adversary! Not confrontation, not capitulation, not even dissatisfying compromise, the best answer is collaboration. Let’s find a way to change our tone and work together. The first step is to stop with the ranting.


Since Christmas is just 8 days away, maybe we should exchange the red of Nicholas’s hat and the green of Greta’s worldview for a nice red sweater and a forest-green tree. Maybe we should toast a cup of eggnog and do something constructive to bring about peace on earth and goodwill toward men.


And maybe we should take inspiration from Pink Floyd, turn to all the spin-doctors who presume to be teachers—who are pulling out all the stops to shape the minds of the next generation—and say something like my paraphrase:


We don’t need your so-called education.

We don’t need your mind-control,

Nor your sarcasm on our Facebook.

Teacher leave those kids alone.

You better leave those kids alone!


Let them enjoy their holiday, for God’s sake.


MANerism:

Humans have developed a fascinating number of distortions that help them get through the day. These biases relate to what we remember, when we act, how we filter information, and how we find meaning.


Affirmation of the Week: Since (like everyone) I’m prone to bias, I am intentional with my thought processes, and measured in my speech. I make the world better when I communicate.

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