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A Growing Voice in a Growing Valley

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Top US scientist on melting glaciers: ‘I’ve gone from being an ecologist to a coroner’ – The Guardian, July 21 2012


The other day I was contemplating the state of our nation; its political divisions, the societal divisions.  It seems that every facet of our nation is divided.  And I had a thought:

“Civil discourse cannot return to our society until you and I can disagree on policy without that disagreement becoming a moral judgement on the other.”

“Well now”, I thought. “I have the solution to our problem so how do I convince the other side to agree with me?”  Feeling quite smug and pleased with myself, I sat about musing on my clever path forward.  I soon recognized (with the gracious insights provided by my supreme being) that there are four types of individuals with whom I may have disagreement.

Type 1

An individual who is secure enough in their own North Star to entertain other viewpoints without losing their own path but can see the validity of another’s viewpoint.  When this is the situation, the two individuals can discuss a difference of opinion and find a mutually agreeable solution that does not compromise either North Star. This person will comprehend both logical and emotional reasoning and, while not necessarily agreeing, will not be threatened by the reasoning.

Type 2 

An individual filled with single-minded zeal, especially for a religious or political cause (a fanatic).  I believe that there are individuals who are not secure in their North Star but need to cling to it for various reasons, primarily perhaps to maintain their place within their chosen tribe.  These individuals will argue that their position is moral and therefore inviolate.  If one is taking a moral stand, then compromise cannot occur because that would be seen as compromising one’s morality.  So, if I disagree with your position, am I questioning your morality?  Have I made a moral judgement concerning your moral judgement?  If I have now made a moral judgement about your moral judgement how do we come together for a civil discussion when we are both taking a moral stand?  How can we decide together, because it will take both of us to move to a position of civil discourse that one or both of us believe would violate our moral position? 

Type 3

An individual who does not have an opinion other than that of total power over all others.  There is no logical, moral or emotional argument that can sway them unless you can convince them that agreeing with you is beneficial to their power.  The only possibility of overcoming them is through strategic planning and execution.  The positive to this type is that their position is clearly evident.  There is no deceit, no subterfuge.

Type 4

An individual pursuing power but cloaking their motive in morality.  Think of a Pharisee praying in the temple. This is, perhaps, the most dangerous of the types.  An individual that evinces the rigid stance of a Type 2 while reaching for the raw power of a Type 3.

Now that I have, with guidance, identified these four types, what do I do with them?  How can I approach each type and hope for civil discourse?  Let me digress.  At one point in my working career I taught the Fundamentals of Negotiation.  I had identified three levels of negotiation.

Level One

You have a goal that needs another entity to accomplish.  You may have a history with the other party but you want/need to maintain an open, honest, ongoing relationship into the future with the other party.  The two parties can agree on a common, complete definition for the goal. Both parties are willing to be open and honest as to their respective needs and requirements to achieve the common goal. Now you can invite the other party to sit beside you and problem solve together exploring creative and mutually beneficial ways of accomplishing the common goal. (Think buying a vehicle from your BFF.)

Level Two

You have a goal that needs another entity to accomplish. You may or may not have a history with the other party but you want/need to maintain an ongoing relationship into the future with the other party; however, you understand that the other party is not willing to be truly open, honest and forthcoming.  You can agree on a common definition of the goal but the other party will remain on the other side of the desk holding their cards close to their chest as you agree to terms.  (Think buying a vehicle from a local dealer who you know casually in social circles.)

Level Three

You have a goal that needs another entity to accomplish.  You have no history with the other party and there is no need for any relationship going forward.  You can agree on a common definition but there is no trust between you.  You will both be going for the jugular. (Think buying a used car from a total stranger.)


Now let us explore how we would engage with each type.  Such engagement is assuming, of course, that we ourselves are truly a thoughtful Type 1.

With Type 1, unless you know the other party well, any interaction will probably begin at Level Two.  As the relationship matures and trust is gained then the interaction should move to Level One.  Type 1/Type 1 relationships have the greatest opportunity to achieve meaningful progress and goal achievement in a creative and productive manner.

With Type 2, the most that can be hoped for is a Level Two interaction.  You, as the Type 1, will have to couch your goals in a manner that appears to coincide with the Type 2’s morality.  Unless this can be achieved, no agreement will be reached.

With Type 3, we’re talking about a Level 3 relationship if any relationship is established at all.  Since the motivation is raw power, hopefully you can couch your goals in a way that appears to enhance the other’s quest for power.

With Type 4, tread lightly.  There will be no honesty in either logical, emotional or moral arguments. Hopefully you can isolate this individual where they can/will do a minimal amount of harm.  Do not expect any joint progress towards a goal.

Civil Discourse is hard. I believe that it has gotten harder over the last couple of decades.  I hear friends bemoaning that all of the moderates have left the political scene.  I agree and I will posit that all these moderates were all or mostly Type 1. They were either voted out in primary elections or retired because of the constant conflict.  How do we rectify this imbalance?  VOTE!! We the people still (so far at least) have the power to select our political leaders.  If we choose Type 1 representatives, then the nation will reflect that leadership.  If you do not vote then you have no voice.

We have all had school classes in American History. Many of us have had to take American History on multiple occasions. But were we really learning the truth and depth of American History? Or were we learning the portion of American History that our leaders decided we should learn?

When I was in school I never had the understanding nor the temerity to question what I was being taught in history. I assumed that our instructors were teaching us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  As an adult I learned the phrase attributed to Winston Churchill “History is written by victors.” More than that, we were taught the winners’ interpretation of history.  I also discovered the quote of George Santayana “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

I am going to list some dates (the dreaded dates from American History class) that I was never taught in school and I will venture a guess that you weren’t either.  However, I will argue that if we don’t know these dates and understand the circumstances surrounding them, then we do not truly know American History.

  • August 1619
  • May 27, 1637
  • May 28, 1830
  • February 27, 1851
  • March 3, 1859
  • December 17, 1862
  • October 24, 1871
  • May 6, 1882
  • September 4, 1907
  • August 17, 1915
  • January 28, 1918
  • May 31, 1921
  • January 26, 1929
  • February 19, 1942
  • May 4, 1970
  • February 28, 1993

If you are curious and want to start learning more of American History, below is a cheat sheet to give you clues on where and what topics to begin your exploration.

August 1619
The White Lion, an English privateer anchored in the James River, Virginia with the first cargo of African slaves.

May 27, 1637
English militia from Massachusetts and Connecticut launched a surprise attack on the fortified Pequot village of Mystic.

May 28, 1830
President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act.

February 17, 1851
Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act which created the Indian reservation system.

March 3, 1859
The Great Slave Auction – 436 men, women and children were auctioned off to pay the debts of Pierce M. Butler.

December 17, 1862
General Ulysses S. Grant signed an order expelling all Jews from Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky.

October 24, 1871
The Chinese Massacre in Los Angeles, California.

May 6, 1882
The Chinese Exclusion Act was signed by President Chester A. Arthur.

September 4, 1907
The Bellingham Riots in which a mob of 400 – 500 white men attacked a community of Sikh immigrants.

August 17, 1915
Leo Max Frank, an American Jew, was lynched by a mob after a court had overturned his prior conviction of murder.

January 28, 1918
Texas Rangers, U.S Cavalry soldiers and local ranchers attacked and killed 15 unarmed Mexican American men and boys in Porvenir, Texas.

May 31, 1921
The Tulsa, Oklahoma race massacre.

January 26, 1929
William K. Hale was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Osage women and men.

February 19, 1942
President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing Japanese Relocation.

May 4, 1970
The Kent State Massacre

February 28, 1993
The beginning of the Waco Siege.

I have always been proud of my country but after learning this list and the many, many more examples of events that I was never taught, I realize that my view of America has been through the rose colored lenses of being a white male.  If my skin were another color or even if I had been born female, my opinion of American History would be much different.  It is time to take off the rose colored glasses and view the reality of this Grand Experiment.

I still love my country.  I just have to see her with her blemishes.  As with many friends, we love them not because of who they are but in spite of who they are.  I ask you to study these dates, learn the full history of America and then strive to make America the nation she hopes to be.

Let’s establish that a Warrior is not a bully.  Nor is a bully a Warrior.  A Warrior does not desire nor seek domination over others, nor does a true Warrior strive for power. True Warriors live to serve a King (or Queen) and do not seek the throne for themselves.  A true Warrior lives a life of service, protecting those in need of protection and, as far as possible, living a life of peace.  True Warriors cherish and treasure peace.  They will resort to war only as a last resort.  But if they do resort to war, they will fight to win so convincingly that the war will never, ever have to be fought again.  True Warriors strive to follow virtue. 

And virtue is hard.  It is difficult.  It can be lonely.  Conversely, it is easy to be a bully.  This is why there are so many more bullies than Warriors.  Most bullies will not understand the life of virtue and very well may consider it to be a life of weakness.

As for myself, I will pledge my sword only to a ruler that rules justly and righteously.  I am a Warrior and below are the virtues by which I strive to live.

Courage comes in two types – physical and moral.

Physical Courage
Physical courage is the choice and willingness to confront danger or the risk of pain.  Bravado is not courage. Courage is recognizing risk and then planning for ways to mitigate the risk.  As an example, wearing good, appropriate safety gear while riding a motorcycle is risk mitigation.  Riding while wearing no shirt, shorts and sandals is bravado. The individual who slams three brewskies and then screams ‘NO FEAR’ is not courageous. That individual is foolish.  (The two most common words following ‘no fear’ are ‘oh, crap’.)

Moral Courage
Moral courage is the choice and willingness to stand for what I believe, even if I stand alone.  It is the decision to face public ridicule, derision and, yes, attack for what I know to be right and true.  It is the acceptance of consequences for courage.

When I speak, the words will be truthful as I know it to be true.  There are times when I choose not to speak because my words would be unnecessarily hurtful to another for no good purpose.  When I speak, I will speak truth.  If I cannot speak truth, I will not lie.

When I make a promise or swear an oath, I will fulfill that promise or oath without exception.  Even if so doing causes me pain, anguish, discomfort or even death.  (I have an ancestor who swore an oath to a king.  The king fell out of favor and was replaced.  The new king asked my ancestor for his loyalty.  My ancestor was beheaded for refusing to violate his oath to the first king.)  The making of a promise or swearing of an oath is only done after careful consideration.  If it is done casually or without thought, there will come a time when two promises or oaths come into conflict.

I cannot proclaim myself to be honorable.  It would have the same impact of proclaiming myself to be humble.  Honor is something that others hopefully see in me attesting to my courage, truth and fidelity. I see honor as living to
a) do right, b) live bravely and c) fear nothing.  Fearing nothing is not foolish bravado (see Courage above) but recognizing that the worst that can happen is that I die.  And if I die honorably, I will be greeted by my brothers and sisters in Valhalla or whatever Warrior heaven you believe.

The willpower to accomplish what needs done when it needs doing.  And the ability to discern both the activity and the timing.  (This is, perhaps, my weakest virtue.)  I strive to commit the necessary time and effort to meet the deadline but sometimes I fall short.  The public will not notice, my friends may suspect, but I know in my heart that my effort was lacking.

This is the evidence of a generous spirit. As the Heavens* provide, so I shall share with others.  My home is a place of peace, comfort and protection.  The more I share the largess of the Heavens, greater are the blessings from the Heavens.

I will look for internal validation, not external validation.  If I cannot see the value of my actions then I should not listen to others. If I cannot or do not see the positive or negative energy of my action, then I should not listen to unsolicited advice or review from others.

My efforts will be conducted carefully and considerately.  Busy work is not diligence. Sloppy efforts should not be tolerated; however, the care exerted must match with the care required.

I will continue working towards my goals until they are accomplished.  A word of caution – beating my head against a brick wall trying to break through is not perseverance.  Sometimes perseverance requires stepping back to reexamine the goal and determine a better path towards it.

Gentleness towards those weaker or less capable is, perhaps, the greatest virtue. The ability to be gentle with a child, an animal, yourself, is a virtue few can find.  But woe to anyone that interprets my gentleness as weakness or softness and seeks to take advantage of the perceived weakness or softness.  There is an iron fist in the velvet glove.

In conclusion, if I am at peace with my God(s), if I am at peace with my community, if I am at peace with my family, if I am at peace with myself and today is when I am called to the Halls of Valhalla, then “It is a good day to die”.

*I have chosen the word ‘Heavens’ to reference whatever God or Goddess you follow and worship.  I cannot conceive of living as a Warrior without a supreme being as a focus of worship.

Charity – an almost archaic word in today’s world.  But what exactly is charity and how does it apply to us?  Merriam-Webster defines charity as “generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering…”  Indeed, Americans are generous.  In 2020 Americans donated hundreds of billion dollars to charities.  According to Neon One nearly 31% of those donations come in the month of December.  What could be more American than making a donation (thereby making you feel much better about yourself) with pre-tax dollars?  Unfortunately, every charity with which I am familiar struggles to find volunteers.  It appears, though Americans may be generous with their wallets, they are parsimonious with their time.

Nearly every ethnic group that helped form this nation brought a concept of charity with them. So let us explore the various concepts of charity arriving in the New World. 

The earliest settlers were Christian of one stripe or another.  Saint Augustine wrote “Charity is a virtue which, when our affections are perfectly ordered, unites us to God for by it we love him.”  The Christian charity is manifested in love for one’s neighbor.  Charity is typically understood as a spontaneous act and a marker of generosity.  Saint Thomas Aquinas said that charity is “the foundation or root” of all Christian virtues.  One would think that given this very specific teaching that there would be reasonable unanimity amongst the different settlements.  But the relationship with each other and with the Native Americans was strikingly different between the Puritans of New England and the Quakers of Pennsylvania.  One interesting aspect of charity between the religions in America is that it is voluntary in Christianity and mandatory or an ethical obligation in all other religions.

Jewish settlers were also early arrivals.  The first congregation was founded in 1658 in Newport, Rhode Island. The Hebrew word used for charity is ‘Tzedakah’ which actually means righteousness.  Tzedakah is the religious obligation to do what is right and just and is a vital part of living a spiritual life.  This obligation must be performed regardless of one’s financial capability and is mandatory even for those of very limited means.  

Muslims were in American by at least 1731.  Job Ben Solomon was an African Muslim brought to American as a slave in 1731.  We don’t know if any of the slaves who arrived earlier were Muslim.  In Islam the compulsory giving of a set proportion of one’s wealth to charity is called ‘Zakat’.  It is a type of worship and of self-purification and is the third Pillar of Islam.  Zakat does not refer to spontaneous, charitable giving out of kindness or generosity but is a mandatory, systematic giving of 2.5% of one’s wealth each year for the benefit of the poor.

Buddhism and Hinduism
Buddhism arrived in American beginning in the 1840s, with Chinese immigrants who settled in the Western states.  Hinduism was extremely limited until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.  Both religions have a mandatory action called ‘Dana’ which is donating, sharing, or selfless giving without anticipation of any return or benefit to the giver.  

Sikhs began arriving in Western America in the 1890s basically because they had been forced out of India by the British.  There are two key Sikh teachings that relate to charity.  The first is ‘Vend Chhakna” which is the generous sharing of what one has with those less fortunate.  This sharing is considered a duty because Sikhs believe that it encourages compassion.  The second teaching is ‘Sewa’. It is the selfless giving of service to the community.  Sewa is to be practiced in all areas of a Sikhs life.  “One who performs selfless service without thought of reward shall attain his Lord and Master.” Guru Granth Sahib

This would include Atheism, Pagan, Wiccan, Goddess Worship, Followers of the Red Road and others that I have forgotten or am ignorant of.  For those I apologize for the omission.  For these belief systems there is no formalized, written instruction book. Yet, anecdotally, everyone I have met that follows one of these beliefs has a generous spirit and a basic, fundamental code – “If I have and you need, then it is yours.”  Why are these individuals so giving?  Perhaps in the days of pre-history, sharing was a necessary act for the survival of the tribe and have survived in the individual belief systems of these worshipers. 

What has happened to charity in America?  What has happened to the “generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering…”?  Since America is predominantly, at least nominally, Christian, why does it seem that we, as a nation, have forgotten Matthew 25:40 – “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”

After much reflection, it would appear that there was perhaps a lack of charity amongst the settlers in New England.  That somehow, the Puritanical attitudes and leaders forgot that sharing with “the least of these” was fundamental for the health and wellbeing of the tribe.  As I look around today it seems that the current Christian attitudes owe more to the rigid, controlling Puritans than to the peaceful acceptance of the Quakers.

American charity appears to come from the wallet and memorialized on our tax returns. Until the sharing of our resources, including time, comes from our hearts without being written on the ledgers of our minds, we will never be a generous nation. Would that each of us could spontaneously find the goodwill and generosity that all of our belief systems teach.