THE SYSTEM IS NOT BROKEN?

Protestors in Chattanooga
Protestors in Chattanooga

As I listened to Minnesota’s Governor Walz’s June 2nd news conference, I was dumbfounded to hear him say at the beginning of his opening remarks, “…This isn’t about a broken system. This is about a system that’s functioning absolutely as it was designed, unfortunately that’s meant to exclude some from it.”   

Wow, I don’t recall ever hearing a politician talk like that. My shock propelled me into listening to news conference and reading a copy of the transcript several times and then writing this post.

Until a few days ago I didn’t know the name of or anything about the governor of Minnesota. However, this changed after watching the news conference that may become recognized as an important event leading to sweeping changes in the institutional, social, and economic structure of the United States of America. 

To be clear, I still know nothing about his political record or what he did before entering politics and am basing the following opinions solely on his June 2nd press conference. I believe that the conference was an example of the  leadership our country needs especially in these turbulent times. 

Note that this view is informed by values and assumptions that form the groundwork of our book, Bring Out The Best In Others. Although there are several qualities that truly great leaders emanate, a crucial one is that they have the ability to bring out the best in the citizens they govern. The June 2nd news conference suggested  that Governor Walz has the ability to do this in Minnesota, as well as being a model for leaders nation-wide and even world-wide. Here is why I believe this. 

In his opening remarks, Governor Walz appears to listen to everybody and doesn’t reflexively turn a deaf ear to those he disagrees or cannot identify with. And it seems he listens with empathy and humility. He admits his limitations, one of them being that as a white man he cannot really know the full extent of pain of the black community. He calls out unacceptable behavior without resorting to personal insults or wild and damaging speculations about others. He focuses on systemic and individual behavior change instead of vilifying others’ character or intelligence. 

Throughout his remarks, Mr. Walz stressed the necessity of forming a stronger sense of community between law enforcement and citizens. It seemed clear that his intent was one of unifying, not dividing. He was clear that he believed peace in communities cannot be maintained by stronger shows of force but by “addressing the systemic issues that caused it in the first place.” Although he does not devalue the need for law and order, he implies that building safe communities where all citizens are given equal opportunities to pursue their own conceptions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness requires a partnership between police and the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect. 

Specifically, Governor Walz announced that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights was filing a “charge of discrimination to launch a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).” This investigation will include reviewing the MPD’s policies and procedures during the past ten years to determine if the department has used systemic and discriminatory practices toward “people of color”. 

The Need For a Sense of Community

The Governor stated that this will be one of many efforts to restore trust between the police and the citizens they have sworn to serve and protect. Although the announced civil rights investigation will be limited to the MPD, his remarks made clear this was a nation-wide issue. It was also evident from his statement that reforms beyond policing policies and practices are needed. The following short quote says a lot.

“I’m listening and one of the things I need to do is use that ability to change and build coalitions to make this situation that has become intolerable across the nation, that will not go away with tough talk and more people on the streets in uniform. It will go away with the sense of community you see being displayed on the state capitol lawn today with law enforcement and the people that they serve seeing themselves as neighbor in the same society and the same opportunities for their children.”

The recognition of injustice for minorities has remarkably and, I believe encouragingly, gone beyond Minnesota. A recent Wikipedia entry lists over 500 American cities (including cities in several American territories) that have had protests fueled by the killing of George Floyd and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Compare this to the protests and riots in 1967 and 1968 in which at about 100 American cities were involved. Wikipedia also reports that similar protests have occurred in at least 40 countries which represent every continent except Antartica. 

Issues Deep and Wide

It also should be becoming clearer to everyone that these issues have deep and long-standing roots that go way beyond the Minneapolis Police Department. Racial biases have flourished in social, economic, and institutional domains since before the birth of America. One could argue it goes back thousands of years, but going back 400 years is a good start. Although the Governor’s address focused on the MPD, he hinted at other social, economic, and institutional factors but did not provide specific plans to address them. 

However, I believe the Untied States and probably most of the world will need to acknowledge and address the laws, regulations, government procedures, and social and individual beliefs and attitudes that foster inequality for many, if not most, members of minority communities. This is truly a Herculean and multifaceted task which will require hearing voices from representatives of everyone who is a stakeholder in this process. And, I believe that every American, as well as every person on the planet, has a stake in this process. It  will likely take years and change will likely seem to move too slowly and incrementally for some. And of course almost all changes, even the those viewed positively by a huge majority of people, will present new challenges. 

A Model News Conference

At the end of Governor Walz’s ten minute opening statement, he briefly announced the speakers that would follow, including the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor. The other speakers included the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety and the Executive Director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, 

The speakers amplified the governor’s remarks while providing some additional details. I was struck by the coherence and consistency of the messaging during the entire news conference, including the question and answer period which followed the speeches. The whole news conference lasted about one hour. 

After the other speakers had finished, Governor Walz thanked them and concisely and cogently summed up the main points of the news conference. In doing so, he again revealed his humility, empathy, ability to listen and understand, and his determination and persistence in moving forward on these issues now. A slightly edited transcript follows.

“I’ve heard so many people tell me the anxiety they’re feeling from COVID-19 and how this was unbearable and that children and adults are dreading when the sun was going down. What’s going to happen, pins and needles. If I watch the news and wake up in the morning, what happened? And they’re so hoping they can go back, which we want to get to that sense of security as part of community so you can make the choice to get up in the morning and go for a run, go golfing, spend time with your family, go out to eat and do your job or whatever. That sense of not feeling anxiety. 

Then I had a lot of community members tell me, you know, that sense of anxiety you have, I get it driving my car because I’m black and get pulled over. I have that sense of anxiety all the time in certain situations because of how I’m viewed. 

So if we stand and say why does this matter to us? Just restore order and everything will be fine. For some. That is our whole issue here. Until we can make this state, this country and our society one where that anxiety goes away because everybody feels the same sense of security and the system is there to serve them, that is the only way we prevent this from happening again. 

I pray to God that no governor in the history of Minnesota from now on ever has to mobilize a force to be on the streets to put out fires and to stop what we saw happen. And the only way i’m going to ensure that doesn’t happen for everybody who follows is to take this moment and make the systemic change. That’s one step today, but let me tell you, it is one step of many.”

________________________________________________________________

Transcript of Governor Walz’s Opening Remarks

Below is an excerpted and edited transcript of Mr. Walz’s opening remarks. (If you’re pressed for time, read the passages in bold.) The entire news conference can be viewed, along with a transcript at this link: https://www.c-span.org/video/?472707-1/minnesota-governor-launches-investigation-minneapolis-police-department

…We saw thousands gather in front of the beautiful Minnesota governor’s residence that my family and I have the privilege of occupying for a short time. The pain of the families that were there was visceral. The anger of a system that seems to continue on. A group of people that know very clearly this isn’t about a broken system. This is about a system that’s functioning absolutely as it was designed, unfortunately that’s meant to exclude some from it….

But I think all of us have come to understand we’re not going to restore peace on our streets by having a bigger group of national guard show up. We’re not going to establish peace on our streets by keeping a curfew in place all the time. We’re going to establish peace on our streets when we address the systemic issues that caused it in the first place and that is what every voice on the capitol is saying, voices in front of my house is saying, that’s what Terrance Floyd is saying and that’s what we need to start saying. 

Whether it was from the colonial period through Jim Crow, it’s still with us… This will not go away once the fires are put out and there’s a lull… So I hear you and I’ve listened to community leaders and we together have seen this. City council members and others and are asking for structural change, specifically things that we can deal with and today, I’m here to talk about the structural change that needs to start with the Minneapolis police department and I can tell you this, I have talked to countless officers, I saw them take a knee out of respect in front of my house yesterday. Although there weren’t a lot of people there happy with them, but they did it because there’s not one of those officers I talked to that wasn’t sickened to the core about what they witnessed, knowing that when you’re part of an organization the culture permeates all of us. A culture that allows things to happen. A culture where the public cannot trust. 

We know that this is systemic, not just in Minneapolis and Minnesota, but it needs to start somewhere. It needs to start where we know things happen. And I know what organizations look like when you’re serving. I have served in some of the finest organizations whether they were public schools or whether in the national guard. And the leadership and the type of things you’re committed to make a difference. And they can be generational. We know that deeply seeded issues exist and the reason I know it is we saw the casual nature of the erasing of George Floyd’s life and humanity. We also know by the reaction of the community. They expected nothing to happen and the reason is, because nothing did happen for so many times…. 

So Minnesotans you can expect our administration to use every tool at our disposal to try to deconstruct systemic racism that is generations deep and we need to do it with the community, but I think the thing i’m hearing from the protesters is, we’re not watching and we don’t care what you say. We care what you do. 

So today as a step towards that deconstruction of systemic racism the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is filing a commissioner’s charge of discrimination to launch a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. The investigation will review MPD’S policies procedures and practices over the last ten years to determine if the department has utilized systemic discriminatory practices towards people of color. 

This is the first time the state is launching a civil rights investigation into the systemic discriminatory practices of the largest police department in the state. It is also the only investigation surrounding the killings of George Floyd how focussing on the policies and practices implemented by the Minneapolis police department. 

When the Minnesota department of human rights finds civil rights violations they seek change to prevent it from occurring again. They will seek an agreement with the Minneapolis Police Department to implement interim measures immediately in advance of long-term measures to address systemic discriminatory practices. 

This effort is only one of many steps to come in our efforts to restore trust within those communities who have been unseen, unheard, and believe that those that are charged to serve and protect not only don’t do that, they work against them. 

And I say this as a white man who walks through life with pretty much relative ease. I can’t ever know the pain of that black community members but I hear you. I’m listening and one of the things I need to do is use that ability to change and build coalitions to make this situation that has become intolerable across the nation that will not go away with tough talk and more people on the streets in uniform, it will go away with the sense of community you see being displayed on the state capitol lawn today with law enforcement and the people that they serve seeing themselves as neighbor in the same society and the same opportunities for their children. 

________________________________________________________

Amazon’s Jack Ryan and Evidence of The Cultural Divide

by Rick Volweider

Introduction

Last Monday night I finished semi-binge watching Amazon’s new production of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Following a recently formed habit, I then began reading some of the over 5,000 reviews of the eight-part series. As I read I began seeing manifestations of the cultural divide in the United States and other countries.  

Confirmation bias, which we discuss in our forthcoming book, Bring Out The Best In Others, is the tendency to only see what you already believe and to discount any evidence that doesn’t conform to what you believe. I believe the cultural divide is an increasing problem but I try to be vigilant about overestimating its frequency and intensity or seeing it where it does not exist. I sometimes find that I have been misled by my own confirmation bias.

For example, When I first read a sampling of the reviews it seemed to me that whether a person really liked the show (gave it a five-star review) or detested it (gave it a one-star review) was mostly determined by their position on pressing political, cultural and social issues. When I carefully reread these reviews I realized I had overestimated the impact these issues had on the ratings. In reality, there were a number of other reasons the reviewers gave for either liking or disliking the show. 

As of noon, Monday, September Third, 5006 reviews of the series, which premiered only three days earlier, had been posted on Amazon. 65 percent were five-star reviews, while 14 percent were one-star. I examined 34 five-star reviews and 76 one-star reviews. A majority of the reviewers who most disliked the series and gave it a one-star review commented that the series was not faithful to the books in portraying the main characters’ current qualities and circumstances as well as their backstories. Some of the one-star reviews did not like the profanity and scenes of sex and nudity. 

After careful analysis, about 30 percent of the five-star reviews and 20 percent of the one-star reviews were primarily based on apparent differences in social/cultural worldviews. 

A Sample of Five-Star Reviews That Appeared to be Based on Social/Cultural Perspectives 

Ten of the 34 five-star reviews that I read generally appreciated the complexity of the story and the characters. One said that the characters were not “black and white” and often walked in the “grey region”.  Another noted that “life is complicated” and they felt the story, while not trying to justify the actions of the characters, did ”give fair play to both sides of Jihadi versus the West conflict.”

A third reviewer noted that the series portrayed the bad guys as humans who sometimes questioned their own judgment. Another reviewer appreciated that the portrayal of the main terrorist was “a real extremist born of circumstances and desperation, not some 2-dimensional bad guy…” Another reviewer noted that the depth of terrorist character made his actions even more terrifying. 

A sixth, five-star commenter spoke about a subplot where a US drone pilot had killed an innocent man based on incorrect intelligence. The reviewer added, “It is a glimpse into the mental distress of military soldiers trying to do the right thing and accepting the consequences.” They also noted that this subplot showed how these actions affect families. 

A seventh reviewer acknowledged that others’ complaints about the show blurring who is good and who is bad were “spot on”.  They added, “The world is a nuanced place. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.”  Another reviewer commented that others were complaining the series put a negative light on the consequences of US policies and actions. They agreed with this and added that US actions, along with those of other countries, against Muslim countries have led to bad side effects. They went on to say that there likely is no perfect policy that would not have unwanted side effects. 

A Sample of One-Star Reviews That Appeared to be Based on Social/Cultural Perspectives

I examined 76 one-star reviews and found 14 that appeared to base their disatisfaction on issues we might broadly refer to as the cultural divide. The other reasons for viewer dissatisfaction are given above. Below is a summary of the reviews that seemed to be related to the cultural divide. 

The first reviewer noted the show was “disgusting” and made America look like the main cause of the problems presented in the series. Another reviewer was “nauseated” by the guilty conscience of the drone pilot who was “ridding the world of murderous terrorists”. This reviewer did not mention that the drone pilot was mostly upset about killing a presumed innocent person due to the incorrect intelligence he had received. 

A third reviewer expressed that the series involved, “Liberal politics shoved down your throat at every turn.” Another reviewer seconded this thought by announcing the series was “leftist propaganda.” A third reviewer commented, “…Makes America out to be the bad guy once again, the creator of all evil.” They added that they were “weary” of media that made America the scapegoat for the evil done by people in the Middle East.  

A fourth reviewer called the series “AWFUL” and said,“The only relatable, human characters in the whole show” were the terrorists and their families.”  This reviewer also was upset by the depiction of the US drone pilot being “deeply wracked by guilt over killing Jihadists.”  Another viewer called the series, “Just leftist propaganda.” Another echoed, “PC propaganda disguised as a movie”. They added that there are sadly many who will watch the series and not see what was really going on.

A seventh, 1-star reviewer said that humanizing the terrorist was “garbage”. Another mockingly said that Muslims were “warm, family loving victims” of Western aggression; while US Intelligence and military were “riddled with self-doubt and guilt”. 

An ninth reviewer also called the show “political garbage” and “disgusting”. They added it was full of racism of white people and hatred for anything Western. The reviewer went on that the show portrayed white men as evil and stupid, Islamic men as heroes, all women as smarter and better than all men, and “other degenerate things.” 

A tenth reviewer wondered why Amazon would think a straight white man would want to spend money on a prime membership. Another reviewer was sick of the “uber-balanced” handling of the “Terrorist Threat”. They continued by expressing their dismay by the “excessive” time the series spent on “justifying” the “poor terrorist’s motivations”. The balance of these selected reviews basically expressed the same issues given above. 

Discussion

The Main Points

I have three main points I’d like you to consider. 

The first point is that we can find evidence of the current political/cultural/social divide all over the place if we are looking for it. As illustrated above, you can find strong evidence for it, even in reviews people write concerning a fictionalized TV series. I also clearly see them in the comments of readers and viewers of internet news stories. We will explore this further in subsequent posts. I challenge you to start looking and listening around for evidence of our cultural divide.

The second point is perhaps a caution concerning the first point. Once we begin looking for something in particular, we may start seeing it everywhere. Sometimes we might interpret it being there, when in reality, it is not there at all. More frequently we might exaggerate the number of occurrences of what we are looking for. As discussed at the beginning of this post, I initially did this concerning the cultural divide references in reviews of the Jack Ryan series.

The third point is that the viewer’s enjoyment and assessment of the series was partly determined by their political/social/cultural worldviews, as evidenced by their ratings.

A Short (but Important) Side Trip

During the 2012 election cycle, I became a bit obsessed watching political coverage on TV. I would switch back and forth from FOX to MSNBC. I often saw the same video clip, along with the host’s commentary, on both networks. I became fascinated how the various hosts’ descriptions and interpretations of the same video clip were significantly dissimilar. It often  seemed that they must have been talking about two completely different clips. I was both intrigued and disgusted by how easily I was drawn into one and then the other interpretation, which often expressed diametrically opposite viewpoints. These commentators were pros at their jobs.

In a similar way, while reading the various comments of Amazon’s Jack Ryan series, I often felt that the reviewers must have watched different shows. And in a sense, they had. 

Our preconceptions influence every experience we have. It is like we have formed circuits in our brains that filter raw sensations before we consciously perceive them. These filters magnify some data while completely ignoring other data. Instead of conforming to the popular phrase: I’ll believe it when I see it; our brains function more like: I’ll see it when I believe it. It’s not only that different people interpret the same events differently, they consciously perceive them differently. 

Operating with beginners mind—without preconceptionsis impossible for us mere mortals because we simply can’t remain a beginner for long. So what can we do to better see things as they are? The first step is to accept that these filters are operating in us all the time. A second step is to get more familiar with our own filters. We discussed this in our soon-to-be-published book, Bring Out The Best In Others and will address this in future blogs. We also hope you will join the conversation.

One Last Point

If you strongly react to how others “seethe same things so differently than you do, consider that you both are actually “seeing” or experiencing things differently because your preconceptions and filters are radically dissimilar. You might think you should be able to get the other person to see things your way by merely presenting them with the “true evidence”. But you soon find yourself perplexed, discouraged, and maybe even angry that they just don’t get it.

We think that the divergent ways that our conscious thoughts and life experiences have programmed our filters goes a long way in explaining the current political/cultural/social divide that many believe is increasing in the States as well as many other places in the world.   

Again, we hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post. We plan on opening a more formal forum soon to facilitate discussions of these issues. 

Embracing Change

by Sheila Volweider

The transition from living and working in the United States to traveling and living full-time in Central America was substantial in many different ways. The intense emotions involved with bidding farewell to friends, family, familiar surroundings and nearly all possessions made the last few weeks challenging indeed!

Traveling in Costa Rica and Panama for a few months provided opportunities to meet people from other countries, especially Canadians and Europeans. Since the 2016 elections had just occurred, they frequently brought up politics in the USA. Being away from the United States, I found my social media sites increasingly important for me to feel connected. I succumbed to voicing my political opinions frequently and reposted provocatively insulting and satirical posts to emphasize my points.

Meanwhile, the “other” side was posting away with the same type of cannon fodder but with opposing views. Feeling frustrated or infuriated when I would read that material, it had not yet dawned on me that I was being as divisive and negative as they were. And I was not changing anyone’s mind.

Upon a subsequent visit back to the United States, I had access to TV and realized how completely dominant and crazy the political news cycles were. I felt exhausted by it all. (Since we don’t have a TV in Panama I had relied on the Internet to stay informed.)

It took a tremendous effort to step back and take a wider view and a deeper look at myself and my actions. Reading the publication, Trump and a Post-Truth World, by Ken Wilber was especially helpful to me in self-evaluating my own motivations and actions. When I realized I was contributing to the divide, I consciously reduced my politically leaning postings. I also worked on writing more informational and less inflammatory posts. This proved to be difficult.

As I met other expats living here in Panama, I learned they responded to politics as differently from each other as people in the states do. Some absolutely avoided it like the plague while others intensely represented one side or the other.

It was interesting to me that despite very different political leanings, I found common ground and made a number of new friends due to the fact we were all ex-pats with a similar sense of adventure and a shared enchantment with our current surroundings.

I also appreciated seeing how the Panamanian locals and gringos connected, despite the differences in their culture and language.

I am now cultivating my skills at better understanding different perspectives instead of writing them off as incomprehensibly idiotic. I am also working on being less reactive while trying to better listen to and understand other viewpoints while looking for common ground. In doing so, I hope I am doing my part in healing the divide.

An Origin Story

OUR BOOK –IN THE BEGINNING…

Two years ago today was a Sunday. We were frantically throwing out stuff we had collected during our twenty years living in the farmhouse a few miles southwest of Haven, Kansas, a small agricultural community. We were working on our fourth dumpster; each had been 8 feet wide, 8 feet high, and 22 feet long. Sheila saw this as a freeing experience while Rick saw it alternatively as exuberating and gut wrenching. 

We had started out months ago with carefully packing and documenting the contents of every box we would keep in the storage unit and thoughtfully deciding if a particular item should go to the unit; be given to family, friends, or the local thrift store; or be tossed in the dumpster. Now we were in a frenzy, throwing stuff in any box we could find or, more preferably, into the dumpster. We still had many things left in our two-story home; an outbuilding originally designed to shelter several tractors, implements, and supplies; a large old barn; and a carriage house, the size of a one-car garage. A few months earlier these buildings, except for the barn, were loaded to near capacity. 

About nine-months before, after returning from a brief Thailand vacation, we mutually decided to retire from our conventional working lives, unload most of what kept us attached to a particular place, and move on to new adventures. Although we were stepping away from our careers and the community we had lived in for 20 years, we both had a strong desire to continue to serve others in some form. 

We imagined being able to use all of our combined life experience, including Sheila’s work with youth and adults suffering from severe and often chronic mental health problems, teaching management skills to well-functioning adults in the corporate world, and helping both average and delayed learners in the academic world. She had directed a community mental health center program designed to support chronically mentally ill persons obtain and hold on to jobs in the community, worked as a para-educator at all grade levels in the public school system with behaviorally disordered, speech and language challenged, and learning disabled kids. She also facilitated group training to advance interpersonal and management skills for large corporations and social work agencies.

Rick’s career began as director of psychological services for developmental disability services at the state of Arizona, Phoenix division. He then worked in public and private group practices as a clinical psychologist for about 20 years, starting and conducting a solo private practice during the last 11 years of full-time work. Rick specialized in working with youth and adults with behavioral and academic difficulties, including those diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional-defiant, learning, and anxiety disorders. He increasingly realized the importance of various relationships in the lives of his individual clients and worked to bring them into the therapeutic process in some way. This included immediate and extended family as well as societal systems, especially the schools. He much enjoyed the teaching and writing opportunities that have presented themselves during his career.

We left the states on December 1, 2016, arriving in San Jose, Costa Rica in the hot, late afternoon. We stayed in San Jose for ten days, getting acquainted with Latin American life in general and more specifically with the delightful proprietor of our Airbnb lodging, as we organized and made reservations for our first month’s adventures. During that first month, we generally enjoyed every experience, both those expected and unexpected, and both the delightful and challenging ones.  

As we continued to travel, we began to wonder why nearly all of our experiences with others were delightful and often meaningful, even when (or maybe especially when) exterior circumstances were not going as planned.  In contrast, a number of our new friends did not share the same consistency of positive interactions with others, especially when things got tough.  

Over some time, we began to see that our shared beliefs or assumptions about the world and other people, along with a number of skills we had picked up from both our professional and private lives made all the difference in both our perceptions and the actual situations we found ourselves in.

Rick has always believed that every single experience in his life has led him to this moment for a reason. And if he can’t find some God-sent or cosmological reason; he will find or invent one. Sheila sees her life as one long and sometimes meandering learning curve filled with new and unexpected adventures every day. 

The idea of using our combined experiences—those gained through parenting two girls (now amazing women in their late 20s), living both in large cities and a small rural community, our various education and training, our careers, relationships with our extended family, and our ever-morphing relationship with each other—to serve others continued to brew as we travelled. 

About two months into our travels, still considering how almost all of our experiences with others had been meaningful and gratifying, a phrase came to mind. We had been doing our best to bring out the best in others.  In doing so, we were usually bringing out the best in ourselves.

The idea for our book was born.