Communication without bias?

A few days ago, a friend of mine made a comment that went something like this: It’s very difficult to communicate today…there doesn’t seem to be any communication without bias.

I think he’s right.

Sometimes the bias is very intentional and obvious. But sometimes we think we’re posting from a “neutral” position–but someone else may read (or hear) what we’re saying and feel that we’re communicating from a specific perspective and attacking a particular statement/policy/belief/person. I’ve experienced that myself–from both sides.

I think it is possible to work at avoiding intentional biases if we really want to communicate with someone else.

But I’m not sure that we can ever avoid all bias when we are sharing. After all, we are each speaking from what we’ve experienced…what we’ve grown up “knowing”…what we’ve learned from our parents or our faith traditions or our political understandings… And all of that has impacted us and made us into who we are.

So how do we get past that? How can we learn to truly communicate with each other?

It’s not going to be easy.

It’s going to require each of us to take an honest look at ourselves…our language…our word choices. It means sometimes taking a deep breath…looking beyond the words to what someone is trying to share…asking for clarification. It means trying to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Too often we don’t want to do that. We are convinced that what we have said is clear–if someone else just listens. We don’t want to take another look…and consider that we may be part of the communication problem.

I know. I’ve been there.

Taking an honest look at oneself is uncomfortable. It’s much easier to blame someone else for not understanding what we think is so very clear.

I don’t think communication without bias is ever completely possible. But if we’re aware not just of someone else’s biases but also our own, we might find ourselves being able to communicate in spite of our biases. I sincerely hope so.

I’m tired…

I am tired…emotionally and spiritually. And it’s not the kind of tiredness that can be resolved by a good night’s sleep.

It’s a tiredness that is deep in my soul.

I’m tired of our refusal to acknowledge our part in creating the hostile and violent environments that many people are fleeing, hoping to find a better future for themselves and their children…only to be met here with violence and separation.

I’m tired of all the gun violence. I’m tired of the news opening up with how many murders have taken place overnight…

I’m tired of wondering when the next mass shooting is going to take place…how many people will die…how many families will be destroyed.

I’m tired of “thoughts and prayers” that aren’t linked to a willingness to have the hard discussions about ways of making weapons less available…of common sense ways of decreasing the violence, even if it doesn’t stop it.

I’m tired of the anti-intellectualism that says that people who have studied areas of science for years somehow really don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m tired of the refusal to make changes that will help our earth heal.

I’m tired of the hatred of “the other”…of anyone who doesn’t look like us…doesn’t speak the same language we do…doesn’t worship the way we do…doesn’t love the way we do.

I’m tired of the ideologies that place one race on a pedestal built on the backs of another race…that says that only one color of people have rights.

I’m tired of women’s health concerns being negated…of others making decisions for them who have no ideas of the struggles they are going through.

I’m tired of the domination of those who call themselves pro-life…but who are comfortable cutting the programs that would help support women during pregnancy…and babies and families after birth.

I’m tired of hearing the God I worship being used to attack others…a God of love who created all of us in God’s image. I’m tired of having my faith misused by those who would claim that “God hates…” (insert any one of a number of groups there).

I’m tired…and sometimes I want to just give up. It seems so difficult to open up any kind of dialogue, because we seem to live in completely contradictory world views that don’t have anything in common.

But I can’t give up. If I give up, then I’m letting the hatred…the division…win. And because I believe in a God who gave us minds to use…a God who wants us to work together to heal the world’s wounds…a God who calls us to be good stewards of what God created…a God who has given me the choice to be a divider or a healer…I have to continue trying to build bridges.

I don’t know if I will succeed. I may never know that. But all I can do is keep trying…because I follow a Carpenter who builds bridges.

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.

Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work,” he said.

“Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence – an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day.

The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.

About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped.

There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge… a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work handrails and all – and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.

“You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.

“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build.”

Called to accountability

One of the most challenging lessons we as parents try to teach our children is the lesson of accountability…to help them understand that words and actions have consequences–and that if they are going to use certain words or take certain actions, they have to take responsibility for what happens.

It’s not an easy lesson, and some never learn it. Sometimes because the parents never learned it themselves. Sometimes because the parents think they are loving their children by shielding them from taking responsibility–or because they want to “fix” everything for their children. Sometimes there are mental or physical health issues that play into the whole situation.

But most of us understand–at least partially–what it means to be accountable.

If we have a job, there are certain things expected of us. If we choose not to meet those expectations, then there are consequences. We are accountable for our decisions.

It’s not easy to hold each other accountable. It’s especially difficult when we deal with that in the political realm. We each have strong feelings about the party and individuals we choose to support–and when someone else raises questions about their actions / policies / words, we tend to jump to the defense of the party and/or individual and believe that those we support are under attack.

But what if we were all able to stop and take a deep breath before responding? What if we were able to recognize that we all have the responsibility of being accountable for our actions and words–and appreciate someone else challenging us to consider the results of those actions and words?

What if we believed that it really does take a village? because each of us has a different perspective on life issues and we need all those perspectives to be able to discern the best way forward?

Accountability doesn’t mean that we ignore things we disagree with. It sometimes means making difficult decisions to challenge what someone else is saying or doing. Not the individual themselves, but their actions and words…hopefully helping them (and all of us) understand the cost of those words and actions.

Calling someone to accountability isn’t a personal attack. It isn’t hatred. It isn’t a knee jerk reaction to something someone disagrees with. It’s a responsibility all of us have–especially in our democracy.

If we become afraid to challenge…afraid to hold our political leaders (and ourselves!) accountable for words and actions…believing that those challenges are always attacks…then we are traveling down a road that may very well lead to the end of democracy.

Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.-  Atifete Jahjaga

 

Words matter!

There was a book by the great science fiction writer Robert Heinlein that I loved to read. Methuselah’s Children was originally a story which was expanded into a novel. It was the story of an incredibly long-lived family and the struggles between them and the “normal” people who believed that the Howards had discovered a secret of long life and were keeping it from them.

Ultimately the Howards were forced to leave earth…partially driven out by the subtle use of words. The words in and of themselves were not problematic, but when they were put together in specific ways, they were weighted in a way against the Howards that built walls and created separation between members of communities.

We have found out again tonight that words matter. Twenty people have lost their lives–and more may yet die.

Why?

We don’t have all the information yet, but it seems that the young man was angry about what he saw as a Hispanic “invasion” of Texas and hated the thought of “race mixing.” Where did he get those ideas?

When the president of the United States calls people with non-white skin rapists, vermin, criminals…when he separates children with non-white skin from their parents and puts them in cages…when he calls the countries occupied by people with non-white skin “shithole countries”…when he tweets concerns about people with non-white skin “breeding”…he is setting a mood and establishing a perspective that says that people with non-white skin are somehow “less than.”

When he refuses to specifically disavow ideology that raises people with white skin to a superior position over everyone else…when he says that there were “good people on both sides” at a rally where people were killed protesting that ideology…when he refuses to shut down a chant of “send them back” towards women with non-white skin who are American citizens…he is signaling that white Americans are more important than anyone else.

He–and we–cannot have it both ways. The words that we use matter, and when individuals use our words as a reason to harass, assault, or kill any other person simply because of their ethnicity or race, gender or sexual orientation, or religious belief, it is hypocritical to then send thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims and the survivors.

Our words matter…and we have to take responsibility for them. That responsibility starts at the top, but it also includes us. If we do not speak out against those words that build walls, that raise one group of people to a superior position over another, then we are also culpable when someone takes those words to heart and decides that those who are “less than” should be killed.

In the words of a leading Jewish rabbi of the 20th century:

Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.

We can choose to make our words end in good deeds…or they can end in tragedies. Which will it be?

Jesus wept…

The shortest verse in the Bible (in some translations) is just two words long: Jesus wept.

Why? Why did he weep at this time?

Jesus had some devoted followers–male and female. Some provided financial support…some shared his message…some gave emotional support…and others provided a place where he could pause and be refreshed.

Lazarus, along with his sisters Mary and Martha, seemed to be among those who provided a place for renewal. And Lazarus had died. We don’t know what caused his death. But the Bible shares an interesting point–when Jesus had gotten word that Lazarus was sick, he didn’t hurry off to the house. He waited two days.

When he arrived, Martha and Mary scolded him for not coming earlier, and also heard their friends asking why he didn’t do something? He wept–and then he went to the tomb…where he returned Lazarus to life.

In our English language, “weeping” carries deeper connotations than merely “crying.” It implies a reaction to an experience that has reached deep inside us–that has touched our hearts and souls.

So…Jesus wept. He wept for the loss of a friend…for the inability of friends to trust him.

But this wasn’t the only time Jesus wept.

He had also wept right after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, earlier in the week.

Why? People had acclaimed him as the messiah…had cheered him and flocked to him. So why weep?

Luke says that he wept because the people of Jerusalem didn’t really understand who he was…didn’t realize what they needed to do to bring / have peace. He wept because he saw the devastation that would come upon them. His soul was touched in deep sorrow for the people he wanted to reach–but who didn’t understand.

And I wonder…today, is Jesus weeping?

When there are children separated from parents and kept in cages without even basic sanitary supplies…

When children of God are called by vile and hateful names simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity…

When other children of God are seen as “vermin” to be exterminated because of their ethnic origin or country or skin color…

When the rich become obscenely richer while the poor struggle for food and shelter…

When we ignore climate change because we don’t want to make necessary changes to slow it–because those changes might make us uncomfortable…

When so many innocents are caught in war-torn nations with no hope of a better future…

When politicians are more concerned about being re-elected than about working together to deal with real problems that affect real people…

When gun violence continues to take lives and all we offer is “thoughts and prayers”…

When words of division, hatred and violence have become the default political language…

When we are unable to see the face of God in everyone we meet…

Then yes, I think Jesus is weeping.

Not an enemy of the people

“Enemy of the people.” That’s a phrase that has become a favorite of Donald Trump when he doesn’t like something in the news…and it’s a phrase that should concern each of us.

A free and open press is not the enemy of the people. In fact, it’s the opposite. We might not like what someone reports–but without the ability to question…to challenge…we are limited to what any particular administration wants us to know. And that is not democracy; it’s what authoritarian governments do.

Do I think that all reporters are neutral in their questioning? No. They’re human beings like the rest of us–with biases and warts. But by and large, they are doing their best to help us (the people) know what’s happening in our government…how our tax dollars are being spent…the stories behind the decisions that we hear about.

You can find a list of what are considered the most credible and least biased news stories here. It’s a long list–and there are probably a number of them that you’ve never heard of. I know that’s true for me.

I also know that I don’t have time to go through all of them. So I try to at least be aware of the perspective of the news sources I do look at–and try to look at the news from different sources in order to get a more balanced view. Here’s a graphic that might help:

But I think it’s extremely important for all of us–whatever our political leanings might be–to push back whenever we hear newspapers and other news media being called the enemy of the people. That’s the phrase of someone who wants to be able to do whatever he/she wants without being held accountable to we, the people–and that’s not democracy!