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The Pandemic, January 6 Hearings, Guns, Ukraine- Is Putin Saving The World?

If you have been following this blog, and thank you if you have, it should come as no great revelation that these events and so many more are connected by a theme that courses through each and connects them together. The details differ, but the theme is the same.


It’s not just that ideology, opinion, and ‘The World As I Want It Be’ run headlong smashing into the reality of ‘The World As It Is’. Rather it is the unwillingness, inability, or fear of confronting the divergence by believing opinion is the end point, rather than a starting point. Truth is that failure to adapt actually costs more energy in the long run because it so often results in a misguided choice that has to be undone at some point. It actually expends less of our precious energy when we keep in mind that there may be another option that slices the pie in another way that might better achieve exactly what you are after.


Humans have always bumped into these disconnects and will continue to do so. People have always resisted admitting a different view might serve them better. There has always been reluctance to question values, beliefs and opinions, discomfort in essentially challenging the very underpinnings that are the basis of self image and self worth. People have always taken bits of reality and filled in the missing pixels, hoping to form a picture that possibly explains what seems to be going on, at least good enough to provide a basis for action- until there is some catalyst, some event, some threat, that makes it clear there must be a better way. And as Tom Friedman wrote in a recent column, perhaps Putin is providing just such a catalyst. But bear with me and read on if you will.


The Pandemic- in my role as medical director for my county health department, I’ve had ample opportunity to encounter people with all kinds of views about Covid, vaccines, treatment, downstream effects, what we should do, what we shouldn’t do, on and on. What has come clear is this- people have their opinion, but stop short when confronted with the reality of what they are missing in forming that view. The conversation ends in 1 of 3 ways: ‘well, that’s just how I feel’; anger, vitriol, and threat; or silence. Most think of themselves as skeptical, open to debating and questioning everything, unless it is their own commitment to what they want to believe. And now, we see this as many choose a near total denial that there is a pandemic, or that there is anything we should be doing about it, or have to do about it- just move on- head in the sand.


January 6 Hearings- these are just getting started, but despite video documentation of the violence and how coordinated it was, there are many who want to deflect the conversation. US Representative Banks from Indiana did just that when asked for his opinion about the hearings. (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/rep-banks-on-republican-opposition-to-the-jan-6-committees-findings). He has a valid concern; it’s just not the core issue. Deflection.


Others attack the ‘legitimacy of the panel’- if you can’t counter the message, attack the messenger. Fox News did not televise the first hearing, but instead paraded commentators who dismissed what everyone could see with their own eyes, if they trusted their eyes. But then, to do that would contribute to their viewers’ confronting the very narrative Fox has spun.


Shootings- I am participating in an online discussion that revolves around those who hold the 2nd Amendment as an absolute right with no limitations because it is in the Constitution; those who are ambivalent given their experience in other countries where citizens were ‘over run by governments who had the guns’; and those who view gun violence through the lens of public safety. Everyone claims to be open minded. In fact one person, a committed NRA member, quoted Stephen Covey- ‘first seek to understand, then to be understood’ and Voltaire- ‘I may not agree with what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it.' It was pointed out that supporting the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment did not distinguish anyone in this conversation. Being onboard with the current iteration of the NRA does. For instance, how do they reconcile these: until the 1970’s, NRA was focused on hunting, target shooting and recreational uses and supported certain restrictions. Precedent and history have not supported an unrestricted view of the 2nd amendment. Protection from harm and safety are both worthy goals. Those leaning on Covey and Voltaire went silent.


Ideologies are fine as a guidepost; opinion is necessary to chart a path; ‘The World As I Want It Be’ is an aspiration. But each only avoids that misguided choice when seen through the lens of ‘The World As It Is.’


And so what about Putin? The world is full of unintended consequences. We are distracted by all these events. However one chooses to view a changing climate, no one can dismiss that greenhouse gas emissions are a factor - at least anyone willing to acknowledge what their eyes show them. Reducing fossil fuel use has been slower than many want. Enter Mr Putin. As he pursues ‘The World As He Wants It To Be’ and funds his war through the only means he has- sale of gas and oil- those most dependent on that gas and oil are pursuing other energy sources, divesting themselves of Russia, moving even more quickly away from fossil fuels. As Tom Friedman pointed out, like it or not, wars have always served humankind as catalysts for change. Maybe it will turn out that historians will look back at the war on Ukraine as the real catalyst that enabled an effective response to global warming. Talk about unintended consequences saving the day! (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/07/opinion/ukraine-putin.html)

Your thoughts are not who you are- just where you are on the trajectory of your life- the narrative crafted by filling in the missing pixels in the ongoing struggle to trudge forward into the uncertainties we must face. Ideology, opinion, ‘The World As I Want It Be’- all just thoughts.


If only people could take a breath, acknowledge there is no inevitability in all the ‘what if’s’ they worry about - and certainly not hold ‘what now’ hostage to those ‘what if’s.’ If each of us truly was the skeptical, openminded person we see ourselves to be. If we would take advantage of the great skill humankind has- adaptability. Wouldn’t it be something if people stopped being stuck in problem thinking and instead saw our issues through the lens of dilemma thinking; and stopped seeing the world as the zero sum game we fear it to be.


But then, that is not how our brain’s are wired.


On the other hand, people do change their minds; we do it every day. Fox is now airing the hearings, and some Senate Republicans at least acknowledge their deflection is no longer going to cut it.


As to just what is meaningful enough to be that catalyst - that makes it apparent that expending the energy required for change is the better path for success and survival - it is impossible to say, or predict, or manufacture. We can only foster the opportunity, be on the lookout for it, and cherish it when the time comes.


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