Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Next Major Epidemic in America – The Inability To Express Ideas

Those who cannot understand how to put their thoughts on ice should not enter into the heat of debate. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. - John Adams

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. - Mark Twain

As was to be expected last night, the President’s State of the Union address produced mixed opinion.  However, I didn’t see clear lines separating the two sides as I would have expected, especially the line allegedly dividing the left and the right.  (I say allegedly because I often see people arguing for the same idea when they believe they are representing opposite sides to an issue).

The line I saw represented the difference between people willing to give the President a chance or to at least analyze the data / fact side of his proposals before commenting versus those who wanted to hate or trash him simply for the emotional sake of doing so.

I was discussing his speech with a friend of mine and the importance of fact checking his speech without blindly discarding it when a person I have never met tossed this interesting statement into the conversation, claiming that President Trump’s policies will adversely impact women’s health as well as clean air and water.

The statement in itself is fair enough – someone is using their right to express an opinion.

However, as past and current teams who have worked with and for me know, any statement or position provided to me will always be responded to with:

Why do you say / do / recommend / believe this?

How do you know?

In fact, they know that they should have the answers to these questions before presenting any statement or solution to me.

And so in that spirit, I responded with a request for data.

One never knows what one will receive on social media when requesting facts but I will always give a person a chance to explain themselves and their positions.

The person responded by saying that that President chose an EPA Administrator who wants to get rid of the EPA.

Fair enough.  When I again asked for evidence that this was the case and for evidence that women’s health issues would arise from the POTUS’ policies, this person responded that they feared the total elimination of the EPA.

Ok – we’ve already established that this is her fear but she cited the problem itself as evidence to justify the reality of the problem.

So after I requested proof that the EPA would be eliminated (her words), she indicated that no one could predict the future (but she had already done so by predicting the elimination of the EPA) and that asking for data was a ridiculous standard.

When I asked her why asking for data was a ridiculous standard, she fell back on an old trick, turning the debate around so suddenly I was supposedly the one who had made a statement that required supporting evidence.

So now I need to prove she is wrong, even though she hasn’t proven that her large claims have any data or evidence to support them.

But it was the final part of the conversation that caused me to realize that this “discussion” wasn’t really going anywhere useful.

When I pointed out that she had claimed that the EPA was dead (eliminated was her exact word), she responded with a denial that she had ever said such a thing.

When I sent her a screen shot where she contradicted herself by claiming it would be eliminated and that we were now in a circular argument, she vanished.

Meanwhile, someone observing the interaction sent me a private note telling me that perhaps I should stay off social media.

To this person, I ask this question:

Why – so that emotion-laden, rhetoric-armed, fact-less people can roam around, inject themselves into conversations, attempt to whip up hysteria / fear and then vanish when presented with a request for facts or proof that their alleged reality is mine also?

In other words ….

So that opposite sides to every issue will be eliminated by being whipped into silence?

I was curious who this person was and so I looked up her personal persona.

It turns out that this person is the Senior Director of International Compensation and Benefits at Visa (a very credible, respectable organization).  She was educated at Cornell so lack of education is not the issue neither does she represent the “bored unemployed directionless” group that some people suggest represents the bulk of anti-Trump folks.

So she has influence – the question then became “does she use this influence in a useful, effective way?”

In exploring her other public sharings about how happy she was to be marching against President Trump, I came upon this nugget that she shared

And so as I looked at her Facebook posts about all the marches she is participating in, her drive-by argument with me that produced nothing of any benefit to anyone and this cartoon, I realize that she is representative of something that is killing America:

The lack of ability or interest to use facts and data in the form of a compelling discussion that convinces someone else that their position / belief is worthy of exploration with an eye towards convincing someone else to change their position or at least encourage people to find middle ground on something being explored.

After all, that is how we grow, teach, learn and become better as a species and as a society as we seek common ground to make the world a better place.

When instead, we use emotion, fear (and for some, intimidation) only, we are less likely to convince anyone of anything and will produce little of any real, tangible value.

Meanwhile, the things we fear will continue to grow, either in reality or in our mind, since we are not actually offering solutions to problems real or imagined.

As for this person, if a person wonders out loud whether they are creating or destroying today, then I know what kind of person I am dealing with.

It’s a “my way or the highway” person.

The last time I checked, I haven’t discovered too many people who created a better world because they wondered which of two choices was best – creation or destruction.

How about you?

I prefer creation and collaboration towards a solution – perhaps I’m misguided.

The Bottom Line

The noise that surrounds the POTUS is not “his fault”.  America has been forgetting more and more over the years (and across many administrations) that we solve problems by offering a hand instead of a fist, by offering facts instead of emotion, by suggesting a position instead of playing “king of the mountain”, by listening instead of just talking (or shouting) and that respectful, fact-based, collaborative dialog is FAR more likely to produce a better world than merely folding our arms defiantly and telling everyone else they are wrong “just because”.

If we allow current trends to continue, where rhetoric-laden, fear-based shouting carries the day, we may at some point create a world that actually embodies everything that everyone fears.

And if that happens, shouting won’t matter then.

If that happens, we may not have a government that allows the sharing of opinions towards common goals.

In fact, we may not have a government at all.

And by then, people who like to complain can complain all they want.

The rest won’t listen – they will be too busy just surviving.

Is that the best we can create and the best way we can create it?

Is that the best role model we can present for our children as to how a better world gets created?

I don’t think so.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


PS People protesting against the POTUS’ policies “just because” like to quote people like Hillary Clinton or Nelson Mandela.  Perhaps these two quotes would serve of value to those people.

A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don't have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed. - Nelson Mandela

What we have to do... is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities. - Hillary Clinton

We need to take the high road together lest we all end up somewhere far less desirable that we want or deserve.

But to deserve better, we must prove it and work together towards it.

Otherwise, we do get what we deserve but it’s often far less than we desire.

Whose fault is that?


  1. Hit the mark again, Harry. The knee jerk reaction of our society is really annoying. Instant band wagon mentality without facts and data. Peoples current tendency to "look before they leap" by spouting off without getting proper information is mind blowing. In my opinion, it seems that they go out their way to pick a fight without being prepared to back up their mouths/texts/comments/opinions. Its like having that 15 seconds/minutes of fame/infamy just make themselves seem important or intelligent. In most cases, it makes them look foolish and dumb.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Darren. I worry where this inability to discuss things rationally / factually is taking us.

  2. Spot on Harry, thank you for presenting this observation in a form that initiates thought and reflection. I think we all can agree that solutions are loss in translation when we approach a debate with "my way, or the highway." In fact, if we continue to approach education from a passive, and hierarchical philosophy most will continue to regress into an emotional slavery. I pray we awaken from our slumber before it's too late.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Don. When I write things like this, I feel deep down that I am preaching to the choir and that the people who really need to change will not ... and that worries me. I also hope and pray that we will awaken before it's too late. My level of optimism / pessimism regarding this depends on the day.