“The Lights of Learning and Reason”


In the undelivered speech he intended to give at the Dallas Trade Mart on November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy wrote, “In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

We live in a complex and difficult world but we should realize that the world has always been complex and difficult.  Historically, when people feel that the challenges that they face in their own generation and lives are becoming insurmountable they tend to look for a cause for their pain, dissatisfaction, hurt or difficulty.  They often decide that the cause is some “other person” or group of people and they become susceptible to believing the “simple solutions to every world problem” that those who confuse “rhetoric with reality” put forward.  

Kennedy went on to say, “There have always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternative, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable.

But today other voices are heard in the land — voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without policy, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will “talk sense to the American people.” But we can hope that fewer people will listen to this nonsense.”

We now live in the world that Kennedy foretold.  The problem with that world is that leaders who are not grounded in reality and the possible put forth simplistic solutions that frankly, will not work.  Complex problems are rarely, if ever solved with simplistic solutions. The issues that our communities, country, and world faces can only start to be addressed from a foundation of reality and resolved only through cooperation and compromise.  Yet our leaders reject reality, cooperation, and compromise in favor of ignorant tribalism and demonizing any who opposes their entrenched positions.  Worst of all, more, not fewer people listen to this nonsense.  This isn’t a Republican, Democrat or Independent problem, it is a problem in all of politics.

What a different nation we would have if we all acknowledged that there are good ideas and solutions on both sides of the divide, if we admitted that people on both sides believe they are acting in good faith and none are intrinsically “evil.”  When was the last time we turned off cable news and actually tried to understand the content of opposing views and looked for any points where compromise and conciliation could take place?  

We face an election in a few short weeks.  It is an opportunity for each of us to stop listening to the nonsense and to put away the hope that solutions that are simple and disconnected with reality have any chance to work.  It is up to each of us to carefully consider how our individual representatives and (where they are running for reelection) our senators view the world.  Regardless of party, if they believe the messy, complex, and ever changing world can be addressed through blaming the “other person” or implementing solutions that are little more than pablum; they should be tossed out in favor of serious minded individuals who are willing and able to do the hard work of devising solutions through negotiation and compromise.  

We get the government that we elect and therefore deserve.  Our clear lack of satisfaction with the Congress and the occupants of the White House over many years means we are not choosing wisely.  Most Americans vote along straight party lines and that is just not rational.  It is not possible that all Republicans are better than any Democrat or all Democrats are better than any Republican.  There are good and bad choices on both sides.  We have been choosing leaders who unfortunately are not guided by the “lights of learning and reason” but rather those whose calls to tribalism and mindless adherence to party have led us to where we are.

Southside Ultreya Address – Summer 2018

UltreyaLast evening I gave a talk to the Atlanta Southside Ultreya gathering.  I was asked by several members of that group to post my remarks so that others in their group could hear them.  The talk can be found here: Southside Ultreya TalkIt was an honor to be asked to address this wonderful group.

Pope Francis: The Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone

For many years I have been a big fan of TED Talks.  I find that the talks generally live up to the TED slogan “Ideas Worth Sharing.”  I don’t agree with every speaker and I don’t find all of the talks equally stimulating; but I usually learn something, find a unique perspective or discover a new way to think about the world that we all live in. 

This week in something of a surprise, Pope Francis gave a talk to TED 2017 that was entitled The Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone.   In a world that is increasingly divisive, nationalistic, partisan, and fearful, the Pope makes a strong argument that each person can be a messenger of hope and all of our individual “yous” can be come a collective “us” to address the needs of our world and time.  Regardless of your faith tradition or no faith tradition his talk is compelling and worth a 17 minute investment of time.  If you would prefer to read his comments rather than listen to them they may be found here: His Holiness Pope Francis at TED2017

Hostility and Cowardice are Not American Virtues

The Captain of a Greek Coast Guard Ship aiding refugees in the Documentary, “4.1 Miles”

#Refugees who are fleeing persecution or the violence and destruction of war deserve to be welcomed.  As I have stated before, it is in the National DNA of the American people to come to the aid of those who are in need, oppressed or desperate for safety.  When we have failed to live up to this National instinct, we have found ourselves on the wrong side of history and later spoke of our profound regret.  Take for instance, our country’s rejection of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.  After turning them away, many ended up dying in concentration camps at the hands of those they were trying to escape from.  We recall that time and action with shame.

Hostility toward people in need is  not an American characteristic or virtue.  Neither is cowardice.  Historically, Americans are willing to not only speak for those in need, but we have been willing to take risks to protect them.  I like to think of our country like the man who is willing to take a personal risk and step into difficult situations to protect those who are more vulnerable.  It is the country that we have tried to be in my lifetime.  But things are changing.

President Trump’s ill conceived, poorly executed, and legally questionable Executive Order barring refugees seeking safety in the United States, is an act of both hostility and cowardice that is antithetical to our American tradition.  Americans should be appalled, but for some reason 30%-40% of us are are not.  We should ask ourselves, ‘Is the extremely low probability of a terrorist entering the country a fair balance against the pain and suffering of millions of people?’  My answer is, ‘It is not.’  To let people suffer and die because we might have the slight risk of harm is not an American virtue, it is cowardice.

For a real look at the “dangerous” people that so many Americans are so very afraid of, take the time to view the documentary: 4.1 Miles.   It was made by Daphne Matziaraki and has been nominated for an Academy Award.  After watching it, just ask yourself, do these people deserve our hostility or should we really have such great fear of themI hope your answer on both questions is a firm NO!  Let’s tell our leaders that we can do more, bear more and be welcoming and brave Americans.

First Fruits

Purple Bumble Bee Tomatoes

There is just something wonderful about the first tomatoes from the garden each year.  These are the first of what promises to be a large crop from our garden.  Don’t let the green stripes fool you, that is what this variety Continue reading “First Fruits”