Can We Find Common Ground?

We have opposing views.

Not just you and I, but “we”. The collective populace of these “United States.”

We see the world through different lenses. And we apply different filters to those lenses. This is nothing new. It’s been that way since…the beginning.

We have always been a country of opposing views on what’s right, and what’s best, but we have typically found a way to work through those differences and find common ground, and a way forward.

Today, however, it seems to me more often than not we would rather knock those proverbial glasses off the other’s face, crush the lenses, and do our best to force the other side to view the world through our own lens. The correct lens. Very little of, “I want to understand where you’re coming from,” but much more, “I want to prove I’m right.”

The world is changing at an amazing rate. A change-rate that I do not think our founders could have ever imagined. And that change-rate is not going to slow down. It’s likely to be ever-increasing, and we had better find a way to at least acknowledge and understand that change, if not control it. Social media, artificial intelligence, algorithms, and instant information always in our hands or pockets are fundamentally changing the way we communicate. And I’m not sure we have even begun to recognize, let alone deal with, the way these changes affect us on a daily basis.

With a nod and thanks to Bob Dylan, I’d like to suggest that there must be some kind of way out of here. There must be some kind of relief.

I’m very concerned that if we do not find that “better” way soon, we may lose the opportunity to correct course and save our nation.

BTW – it may not sound like it, but I’m an optimist. I firmly believe we can find the correct course. We can become the country the framers likely envisioned when they risked their lives to sign the Declaration of Independence, and while struggling through the long and arduous task of compromise to find a way through to our Constitution.

I’ve concluded over the last number of months, through my writing and social media conversations, that there is a vital first step that must be taken to move our conversations in the right direction.

I would like to suggest that we expend at least as much time and energy trying to find common ground, as we do trying to prove that our viewpoint is correct.

I believe common ground exists, and that this common ground is the only solid foundation upon which we have the potential to successfully continue this grand experiment we call the United States of America.

We simply must find a shared common vision that we can ALL work towards, or we’re going to spend all of our time fighting each other, and likely bringing about our own demise, thus failing the experiment.


What are some aspects of this shared vision? Most everyone I have talked to of late agrees on some form of the following:

Everyone should have access to high-quality basic healthcare.

The security of our country is a high priority.

Stable employment, safe housing, and opportunities for growth at an individual level are vital.

Individual rights are critical, as long as they do not step on the rights of others.

The founders got a lot right in the Constitution, but not everything.

Most politicians are more interested in staying in office than serving us.

To these…I’d like to add a few of my own:

We are extremely blessed to live in this country, we should act as such AND strive to make sure we ALL have access to the resources of this country.

Career politicians and the hunt for money that so often comes with that status, more often than not, leads to great harm to our nation.

The people we elect to represent us at all levels should actually represent US (the people), not US (the corporations and big money donors).


To find common ground, I have found that there is an absolutely vital, personal first step – if you’re willing to take it. And it can be a tough one. I believe one must be willing to spend the time trying to understand why the other side believes as they do. Not why are they wrong, but why and how have they come to the conclusions they have?

I have found the following questions to be helpful:

What has happened in this person’s life to lead them to their conclusions?

How is it that we see the world so differently?

What would it be like to wear their glasses for a while?

What challenges are they facing in life that I may not be aware of?

I will admit, there is a risk to this approach. If you sincerely take the time to understand the other side’s viewpoint, you may begin to realize that what you thought were absolutes, perhaps were not. They were opinions, and they might just be open to interpretation and modification. You might just find yourself changing your mind.

It can be an uncomfortable way to live life. Proving we’re right can feel very rewarding in the short term. Being open to and willing to change one’s mind can be scary.

But I believe it is a much more rewarding and fulfilling way to live. Even if it does cause moments of concern.


I believe we CAN do better.

I believe we MUST do better.

Working to find common ground, and taking the time to understand why the “other” side believes as they do, is a great place to start.

I will continue to write, in hopes that, together, we can find this common ground.

President Trump & Racial Reconciliation?

Once again, I feel this blog post calls for a preface, or perhaps a disclaimer:

I am not now, nor have I ever been, an expert, or even a solid student of issues related to racism. In fact, I have only recently realized the extent to which I have been almost completely ignorant of the issues, causes, and cost of racism in our country. I have, however, been for most of my life a seeker of truth, and someone who has been willing to spend the time studying, learning, exploring, and questioning my own beliefs. I know I run a risk by writing on an issue as divisive and complex as race relations in America in 2020, but as we approach the upcoming presidential election, I feel I must.


For most of my adult life, I have tried to do my best to remain open to new facts, new viewpoints, and new beliefs. When I find evidence that indicates my previous understanding may be off-base, I lean into that evidence and chase the truth as far as it will take me.

This is exactly what has happened to me over the last decade or so, as I began listening to those with other viewpoints regarding the state of race relations in the United States. For much of my life, I had been convinced that the playing field had been leveled and that any disparity in achievement, condition, standing, or status could be blamed on a lack of effort on someone’s part. I now know this is not only a gross oversimplification of a VERY complex issue but is also to a great degree untrue. The rules may have been changed, but the playing field is far from level.

As I began to think about how to write about this issue, specifically as it relates to our current president, I had in mind a plan to review all of his past actions, words, and tweets regarding his view on race. As you might imagine, that turned out to be a daunting task.

Recently I watched – somewhat dumbfounded – as President Trump summarized and highlighted his shortcomings regarding his understanding of the current condition of race relations in the United States, live on television, in a matter of a few moments.

As I listened to President Trump during the ABC News Town Hall with George Stephanopoulos, President Trump’s words pointed out clearly that he is either functioning from a completely false foundational understanding of racism in our country, or is unwilling to have a sincere conversation on the issue. Whichever of these conditions is true, I believe that President Trump is incapable of leading in a manner that might bring about racial reconciliation in our country.

At one point in the evening, Trump was asked by Pastor Carl Day the following question:

“You coined the phrase, “Make America Great Again.” When has America been great for African Americans in the ghettos of America? Are you aware of how tone-deaf that comes off to the African American community?”

Instead of answering Pastor Day’s question directly, President Trump was interested only in discussing how great his time in office has been for the African American community. This speaks volumes.

Either President Trump is not smart enough to understand the question (even though Pastor Day repeated the question two more times) – or he is unwilling to acknowledge that there is a racial divide in this country, and it seems to be growing under his leadership. Again, either way – this points to the fact that he is NOT the right person to lead us towards racial reconciliation.

This interaction brought the following questions to mind:

Does the President not understand that:

… life in this country is often very different for a person of color?

… simply saying “I’ve done the most for blacks” does nothing to improve a person of color’s day-to-day conditions?

… a history of slavery, imprisonment, Jim Crow laws, redlining districts, and generational discrimination has created a world of difference between races?

… as President he has not only the ability but also the responsibility to lead by his actions AND his words?


I found his answers to Pastor Day’s question offensive on so many levels. He chose to boost his own ego and point out how great he is, rather than engage Pastor Day in a meaningful way.

President Trump referenced African American unemployment numbers numerous times in his response. In fact, he seemed to hang his MAGA hat on this one statistic. In his own words:

“The best employment numbers they’ve ever had. If you go back and you want to look over many years…you could just go back six or seven months from now…that was the best single moment in the history of the African American people in this country. I think. I would say.”

Now I am certainly accustomed to politicians spinning facts to make themselves look good. It is commonplace. But this demonstrated a certain kind of brazenness and an appallingly narrow understanding of the facts.

A quick look at the numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed what I was practically screaming at the television: the unemployment rate may have been the best in a long time, perhaps ever, but the number for African American unemployment was not nearly as good as it was for whites. The unemployment rate for Blacks or African Americans (the Bureau’s official title for this category) in February 2020 was 5.8%. Yes – very low. But for whites, the rate was 3.1%. Put another way, the unemployment rate for blacks was almost DOUBLE that for whites.

And for Trump to claim any responsibility for the low unemployment rate just prior to the start of the pandemic, is a dramatic stretch. A quick look at the unemployment rates shown below clearly indicates this downward trend line had been established for more than a decade, and well before President Trump took his seat in the Oval Office.

I know the legend on this chart doesn’t indicate which line is the unemployment rate for whites, and which is for African Americans, but just take a guess which is which?

(Chart from US Department of Labor Statistics)

I believe Pastor Day asked an extremely important question. One that we all must grapple with, and come to terms with, and I’d like to slightly rephrase it here:

“When are we going to acknowledge that the history of racism and the current conditions in this country have NOT created a level playing field for people of every color, and when are we going to do something about it?”

The President made it very clear by his answers that he is not willing to lead on this topic.


This is not an easy topic to discuss, and I’ll admit…I’ve had a great deal of trouble over the years putting into words how I think and feel about this issue.

I recently heard an analogy that clarified this issue for me. I felt as if I actually heard the lightbulb click on in my own head as I listened to this analogy.*

Imagine a game of Monopoly. Everyone starts with the same amount of money, and the same number of properties. Let’s say three people start the game, and play for an hour or so. Most if not all of the properties are now owned. Houses and hotels have started to go onto the board. The money is no longer distributed equally, and likely one player has developed a strong advantage. The rents have escalated, and just getting around the board can be treacherous, unless you have a solid bankroll.

Now imagine a fourth player is invited to the game. The fourth player is bound by the exact same rules as the other three. And let’s imagine that the fourth player is also given the same exact amount of money the other three received at the beginning of the game. One could argue that the playing field is level. Exact same rules. Exact same board. Just work hard, and you’ll have the same opportunity as the other three players.

If you know the game of Monopoly, you know how absurd this sounds. The rules may be exactly the same for all players, but starting without property, and after the rents have increased, is certainly NOT a level playing field.

Yes – we now have anti-discrimination laws. By law, you cannot hire one race over another. You cannot pay a different wage based upon skin color. Yes – the laws are even. However, a just law does not guarantee just actions or just conditions.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was this country’s first attempt to level the playing field. If these laws had done the job and the issue had been settled, would we have needed the civil rights actions of the 1960s and 70’s?

If the actions of this country during the 60’s and 70’s had completely leveled the playing field, would we have the racial tension we have today?

Racial reconciliation is not an issue that will be settled simply by enacting the right set of laws. This is a heart-level issue, and it needs to be addressed by someone willing to be vulnerable enough to lead with the heart. Does that sound like our current president?

I truly believe he is incapable of leading well on this issue. This issue is FAR too important to the future of our country to rely on someone as incendiary and short-sighted regarding race as Donald Trump for four more years.


If you believe I am incorrect in my analysis – I certainly welcome input. I believe reasoned conversation is critically important these days, and we have far too much one-way pontification in the world. I seek conversation through my writing.

However, I would ask that you keep two thoughts in mind if you reply:

1: Regardless of where you stand on the issue of race in our nation, this issue touches close at home upon the lives of fellow Americans, and more importantly, fellow humans. As you write, please keep in mind that your words become more than just characters on the page….they become statements that may impact others in significant ways.

2: If you feel I have mis-categorized President Trump’s response to the race issue, I would ask that you consider this: can you point to one action in which the President effectively worked to de-escalate the tension in our country regarding race? I have not found such an occurrence, and would be very open to learning of such a step on his part.

—-

  • Credit where credit is due: I don’t know where this “Monopoly analogy” may have originated, but I heard it from David Pakman (www.davidpakman.com) as he was speaking with Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience – episode #1512 (http://podcasts.joerogan.net/ ). If you’d like to hear David lay out the analogy, the clip can be found on YouTube by clicking HERE; he dives into the analogy at 2:08.

Civil Conversations – Tracy Emery


A quick introduction for those who don’t know me. I am Darren’s wife of almost 25 years and mom to our three beautiful daughters. I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and trust in the power of the One who created me. I am a people-pleasing, procrastinating perfectionist. I love a good cup of coffee (particularly if accompanied by conversation with a friend). I struggle with conflict. My immediate, most common responses to dissension: silence, disengagement, and burying hurts in the deep recesses of my soul, where they fester and boil until I erupt over some random little thing – like a messy kitchen counter. I crave peace in relationships. I desire for my words and actions to be for the good of others – building others up instead of tearing others down. I’m learning to engage my voice instead of retreating to silence.

I closely follow the conversations that ensue after Darren shares one of his blog posts regarding President Trump. It is no surprise that emotions run high on this subject. Unfortunately, the conversations often turn contentious and, at times, caustic. On the off chance that others are created like me, I decided to step out from behind the editor’s screen and add my own words to the conversation…and perhaps encourage you to join in.


My post does not directly address our current President, his character, policy or campaign platform. Rather, it focuses on how we, as fellow Americans converse with one another about these things. I would ask you to consider the following: are you genuinely interested in meaningful conversation? Do you conscientiously review your words before you hit enter?* Do you think about the people on the other side of your screen? Will your words diminish or insult them? Will your words create a rift in a relationship? How will your words land on the heart of the person reading your comments? Will the “shock and awe” phrases you’ve chosen cause others to disengage from the conversation? Will your words fan the flame of grace-filled conversation or douse the embers, bringing the conversation to a screeching halt, just so you can have the last word?


We live in a time where many conversations are rife with disharmony – particularly political ones conducted on social media. Together, we can create a social media world where the “bouncing ellipsis” means the continuation of a meaningful conversation – where everyone weighs their comments on the scales of relationship (rather than beating others into oblivion with their harsh comments – causing others in the conversation to retreat into silence); a world where grace-filled conversation replaces harsh words.

If we expect our government representatives to cross the aisle and work together – then, how dare we not do the same. May we choose to speak the truth in love…remembering that we need to have everyone’s voices in the conversation. There simply must be a place for everyone at the table of civil conversation.

—-

*Darren & I often employ Google Docs to help with this. Rather than typing directly into the Facebook comment section, open a Google Doc and add your keystrokes there. Next – the most important step – let it sit for an hour or two, or even better: overnight. When you come back to it, review it with the potential readers in mind. Ask yourself, will my words advance this conversation, or are they better left unsaid?

Character Matters

I believe character matters. 

And for that very fundamental reason, I believe Donald Trump should not be our president for another four years. He has shown his true character during his time in office, and he has proven time and time again, that he is an ego-driven, self-serving, divisive man who is more interested in trying to prove that he is right than in doing the right thing for our nation. 

At a time when we need unity and cooperation more than ever in my lifetime, it is clear that President Trump is more likely to fan the flames of conflict, blame others, favor one group or type of person over another, and deny responsibility than he is to speak and lead in a manner that might bring healing to our nation.

Consider the following, if you will: 

When it became clear that our nation was facing a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases, and that a lag in testing was a failure on a national level, what we really needed to hear our leader say was:  

“This pandemic is going to be tough, and perhaps we were not as prepared as we should have been, but we can do better.  I’ll do my best to make sure we do better.” 

Instead, we heard: “No… I don’t take responsibility at all”. 

—–

At a time when our country is facing racial division and strife unlike anything we have seen in decades, what we really needed to hear our leader say was:  

“I hear your pain.  I understand you feel marginalized and downtrodden.  I know this must change, and I will do everything in my power to work for peace and justice for ALL Americans.” 

Instead, we read:  “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

—–

When our country is very clearly fighting for an understanding of its values and fundamental rights, and we are finding it so very difficult to have reasonable and respectful conversations, we have not heard our leader say:  

“I know we disagree on many topics, but I believe that together we can work out a path forward that is right for the American people.  I value your input and I welcome the conversation.”

Instead, we hear him refer to his political opponents as “Slow Joe” and “Nasty Kamala” – and call those who believe differently than he the “crazy left”

——

They say that tough times reveal a person’s true character.  I believe many of us had an inkling as to Donald Trump’s true character well before he became our president, but the challenges of a pandemic, and a dramatic escalation of the racial tension in our nation, has shined a spotlight on the true nature of the man. 

His words and actions do more to tear us apart than bring us together. I happened to be watching his campaign rally earlier this week and heard him refer to a good portion of this country as the “crazy left.”  Does President Trump not realize the people he refers to are Americans?   They may have very different views than he does, but the bottom line is – they are Americans.  He does not treat those who believe differently, or perhaps those who look or speak differently, as true Americans.  His words and actions make it clear – he views those who believe differently as “lesser than.”  

In tough times, we need a strong leader…a selfless leader…someone who is willing to put aside their own desires and preferences, and make tough decisions that are right for the people.  ALL of the people.    

Has President Trump called us together as a nation, during the pandemic? Has he worked hard to calm our fears, to settle frayed nerves, and restore hope to those who have felt hopeless for too long? Has he inspired the people of this country to work together?  Has he encouraged us all to look out for our neighbors and let us know that we can and will make it through these tough times?   

Quite the opposite.  He tweets and speaks anger, pettiness, and strife on a regular basis. 

He calls others names, much as a petulant child would during a temper tantrum.  

He bends the truth in any way he can to make himself look better to his base.

I believe a man with this many character flaws cannot be trusted to do what is right for our nation, especially in these challenging times.  

—-

The character flaws above, when taken as a whole, are in my opinion more than enough reasons to not vote for Mr. Trump.  But there is one final, fatal flaw that must be considered.  

He has, by his words and actions, made it clear that he believes he is always the smartest person in the room.  He brags about his intelligence.  He refuses to follow advice from members of his cabinet, his advisors, and experts in so many fields.  The number of resignations and firings that lie in his wake prove that very few can penetrate the inner sanctum of Team Trump, and gain the man’s ear in a significant manner.  I don’t care how smart he thinks he is – no single man knows enough to lead this country, and to some degree the world, as a solo act. To attempt to do so is not only a fool’s errand, but may turn out to be deadly.

More than any other of President Trump’s character flaws, this one scares me.  And it should scare you.  A man with this “superintelligence,” combined with an extra-value-sized ego that must be constantly fed and an unwillingness to listen to even his own military leaders, may just push our nation towards a catastrophic encounter.  If it were to arise, President Trump lacks the diplomacy and tact necessary to deescalate an international confrontation. 

Character matters.  In tough times it matters more.  

There’s no doubt…these are tough times. 

May we find our way through to better times. 

—-

This is certainly not the last word on this issue.  I sincerely hope it leads to more conversation.  Would you consider joining in? 

Why I “Checked Out” in 2015

PREFACE:

Before I post anything of significance to social media, I ask my wife Tracy to review.  Not only is she the best editor I’ve ever known, but she is also much wiser than I when it comes to things of the heart, and interacting with other humans.

For what I believe may be the very first time, she had no suggested changes from what you read below.  However, she did point out that the second to last paragraph is likely the most important.  I agree and have duplicated that paragraph here in the preface, in an effort to lead with my heart, as I know that some (many?) will take great exception to what I have to say in this post. 

BTW – I welcome all feedback.  But I do ask that we keep the conversation civil and hopefully productive.  I know emotions run very high these days, and what I’ve said here might seem like heresy to some. But if we cannot have important conversations, especially now, as our tension levels run so high and there is so much at stake, I fear we may be doomed. 

———–

At some point in the summer of 2015, I completely checked out of our modern-day news reporting.  More specifically I turned off all input regarding politics – lock, stock, and barrel.  

I was disappointed, dismayed, and more than a bit sad that in a country of roughly 200 million adults, we had pre-selected Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as our two candidates for our highest office.  These two were the bright shining examples that we collectively felt were best qualified to lead our country? Seriously?

I couldn’t bear to follow the campaign cycle to its conclusion, and I turned off all media input for what I thought would be a short while.  Turned out to be about 4 years.  

For better or worse, I’m back in the mix. I’ve been paying attention, thinking a lot about what’s going on today, and shaking my head.    

And I’m even more upset by what I see today than what was taking place four years ago.  Donald Trump has, for almost four years now, led us down a terribly divisive, antagonistic, and destructive path. It seems to me that boosting his own ego is much more important to him than doing what is right for our country.   

I’ve been a registered Republican since the day I could vote. I’ve pretty much voted the conservative ticket every time I’ve stepped into the booth.  But there’s simply no way I can vote for four more years of this mess. 

I can’t say I’m going to enthusiastically vote for Joe Biden.  But I will vote for Joe and Kamala. It seems to be the only reasonable choice. 

Yes, I’m concerned about where a Biden/Harris ticket might take us in four years.  I don’t agree with some of their viewpoints. But I disagree with almost everything Trump has to say.  He has been so caustic and divisive that I’m concerned about what four more years of Donald Trump as president might do to our nation. 

For the next eight weeks leading up to our election, I’d like to share some thoughts as to how and why I’ve come to this conclusion, and will for the first time in my life, pull the lever for a democrat. 

If this interests you at all, I’d like to encourage you to click the follow button below to receive updates via email.

BTW – I welcome all feedback.  But I do ask that we keep the conversation civil and hopefully productive.  I know emotions run very high these days, and what I’ve said here might seem like heresy to some. But if we cannot have important conversations, especially now, as our tension levels run so high and there is so much at stake, I fear we’re doomed. 

I don’t know that my writing will amount to much of anything, but I cannot be silent for another four years.  There’s too much at stake, and if nothing else, I want to be able to say, “I tried to make a difference”.  

Peace always,

Darren

Is it time for education to change?

Do we really need to know how to factor a quadratic equation?

I mean… do most of us REALLY need to know this?  Today?  In 2020? 

Those are just a few of the questions that were flying through my mind the other night as I was trying to help Megan do her Advanced Algebra II homework. 

Homework.  That word has taken on a whole new meaning these days, hasn’t it?

As a long-time homeschooling family, diving into a topic and trying to learn how to teach that topic just a few days (no – make that minutes ) before one of our daughters comes to the table is nothing new.  But now, in these days of COVID-19, schools being closed, and everyone learning what it’s like to do school at home, we’re all taking a look at what homework really means. 

As I struggled to remember how to break out the equation, I knew I had known this at one point, but it just wasn’t there.  So what to do?

Google of course. 

And in seconds (literally – less than 10 seconds) I had the answer, with a very good explanation of how to get there, on my phone. A bit of explanation to Meg, and she got it easily.  She had learned it the year before – just needed a bit of a kick start.

But I couldn’t help but wonder…do most of us really need to memorize, and understand how to break down the quadratic equation?  I had a hard time justifying the value of this work to Megan. The practice, the discipline to make yourself do hard work, the sheer joy of numbers … she didn’t really buy any of that. 

But – being the over-achieving student that she has turned out to be (must have gotten that trait from her mother) – she took it in stride and finished the work. 

School is changing before our very eyes. Work is changing every day. What it takes to be successful in this world is very different than it was just a few decades ago.  The days of “go to a good college, get a degree, and be almost guaranteed a good job” – those are but fleeting memories. 

How we navigate this changing landscape, how we chart our own course through life, how we try to solve big problems that affect many people –   I believe those questions are much more important than the quadratic equation.  

Unless, perhaps, you plan to chart a heavy STEM-related course through this world.

Or, if you want more than anything else, to be a math teacher.  🙂

I write…therefore I am.

The World Split Open – Great Authors on How and Why We Write – may end up being one of the most important books I read in my later years. 

Finished the book this morning.  And they saved the best for last, IMO.   What is Art For?  by Jeannette Winterson is HUGE.  Art is the medium by which we make sense of life.  We engage, explore, wrestle with, embrace, run from, and eventually learn to live with, our emotions through art. 

Our cultural economy has become, and has been, money, for centuries.  Money is measurement, and sterile because of this.  There is no soul, ultimately, in money. 

But art.  

We, if we take the time and allow it, we see our selves, our souls, our reason, in and through art. 

The painting allows us to “see” what is real. 

The song allows us to “hear” what is real. 

And story, allows us to “feel” what is real.  What our soul searches for from day one.  The word.  The story.  Who we really are.  We make sense of this world through story. 

I write, therefore I am. 

In the beginning was the word. 

And the word was life. 

Wow. 

Peace always,

D$

Why do I write?

My first book obsession :)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write. I think this desire was born from my absolute love of reading. Makes sense, write? (see what I did there?).

My first book of obsession? “The Monster at the end of This Book” – a Seaseme Street production, staring loveable, furry, Grover.

I made (asked, begged, pleaded, cried until…) my dad read this book to me every night, for I think more than a year. This might be a made up legend in the Emery family, but it feels right and real to me. And, I DID love that book. I can still recite it almost word for word, page by page, without the book in front of me