Rush to judgment

In our increasingly politically correct and bifurcated world, it seems the human instinct to pass judgment on people or events has only grown more acute. And, with that judgment, the punishment meted is often out of proportion—and possibly wrongly targeted– to the actual event, not to mention seldom without the facts being known or contemplated.

The things that trigger this response of outrage and anger are as varied as the human experience allows.

A prominent celebrity dies by his own hand. There are simultaneous outpourings of grief and vituperation.

A cop shoots a minority youth and the world rises up in arms.

A sports team owner is castigated and stripped of his ownership rights for uttering intemperate thoughts in what was thought to be a private—but turned out to be an illegally taped—conversation.

This is not to say that, in the case of racially or ethnically-charged incidents especially, people should merely accept the initial “official” version of events.

Initial statements regarding any occurrence should always be taken as simply putting out information as it is known at the time. The actual “facts’ invariably come later.

The inestimable Robin Williams died, an apparent suicide, while suffering from a debilitating mental disease. All manner of ill-informed commentary ensued as to his financial status, his well-known history of substance abuse, even the very nature of what depression is and is not.

In the same week, Michael Brown, a black youth, was gunned down by a policeman in a St. Louis suburb and almost immediately there were riots in the streets, death threats against the officer involved, and national protests against police brutality. Within days, however, details surrounding the shooting have made the events surrounding the incident anything but clear cut.

Donald Sterling seems to be everyone’s favorite sports mogul to hate. After all, he uttered the dreaded “N-word”—albeit privately—and for that reason, he can no longer own an NBA franchise. The concern other owners expressed over the relative severity of the punishment, and whether they could be similarly dealt with for unspecified transgressions was similarly demonized. The response was instant, and it was harsh.

I wonder who among us, on reflection, can say they have never made a bigoted statement toward any other person or group in private conversation? If we are honest with ourselves, I would say virtually no one has. Not right, perhaps, but reality.

None of this makes these reactions—and countless other, similar circumstances—right or wrong. But thorough review of facts paints a very different picture than what too many of us react to, or remember. Rushing to judgment seldom ensures a dispassionate or righteous outcome.

There has been a lot of talk in the past few years about “teachable moments.” I think the phraseology is wrong. Most parents and school teachers will tell you that it isn’t what you teach that is important or meaningful to the student. It is what they learn. I wish we would learn something from these events.

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Ballot-box planning

There is probably no better example of the flawed thinking that has driven the “land planning by ballot box” crowd than the vituperative back-and-forth now playing out over the controversially named “Open Space” initiative in Escondido.
This ballot measure is being floated by the would-be developer of the former Escondido Country Club site stuck in a quagmire of lawsuits and conflicting stories of outrage and deceit. Emotion has displaced logic and invective takes the place of reasoned debate. Lies and half truths enough to sink a battleship litter the conversation, and the voters of Escondido are being asked to navigate the shoals.

Of course, in this particular case, the stage was set for this by the city council’s caving in to an organized group of homeowners whose interests do not extend past the confines of their enclave.

I have been monitoring social media discussions on the proposed Specific Plan, and am astounded at the blatant disregard for factual representation of it. The most vehement opponents trot out red herrings at an alarming rate, either through ignorance or in an attempt to obfuscate and thus confuse those less fully engaged.

The developer is not blameless in all of this. Stuck in the Rough, the developer, has helped to create the emotional climate that now pervades the issue through a pattern of ill-advised counter measures in the wake of neighborhood opposition. And supporters of the proposed development have sometimes been a bit fast and loose with the facts.
That said, they have put on paper the plans and methodology for the project and they are technically sound. That the project could be better is the sad result of the city council’s decisions that essentially took the drafting of the plans away from themselves and their planning professionals.

While this measure is not being driven by the requirements of Escondido’s infamous Proposition S, the philosophy behind the move is essentially the same: people who are not familiar with the intricacies of government and land planning will be asked to decide what is best for the community rather than trusting the judgment of those they elected and the professional staff they employ.

The underlying premise is that the people we elect cannot be trusted to make the right decisions on our behalf, so therefore we need to do it. Huh?

If the electorate is too ignorant or disengaged in the process to elect the right people to represent their wishes, how can they be expected to make the right ones on such complex issues as land use?

The great fear on the part of homeowners in the Country Club area is that voters will not be sympathetic to their plight or not be interested enough in the whole thing, succumbing to the campaign efforts of the developer.

This issue should never have been put in the hands of voters, regardless of the outcome. That’s called kicking the can down the road. A process bringing all the stakeholders to the table to do what is best for all parties? That’s called leadership.

Where have the years gone?

I have made a number of mistakes in my lifetime, and done more than a few things of which I am not proud. One thing I definitely do not put in the mistake column, however, is asking Kaye to become my wife. That she said “yes” and ultimately bore us two children who are a source of boundless pride are the two greatest gifts a flawed man can possibly hope to receive.

This coming Monday marks the beginning of our fifth decade as a married couple. For forty-one years we have loved and hated; fought and collaborated; told truths and kept secrets from one another. In short, we have done the things—good and bad– couples often do while making their way through life together.

She has always been the steady one. Me—not so much. Not for lack of trying, but I have chosen career paths that have been extremely volatile and, as a result, she has been the rock upon which our marital foundation is based.

Our emotional temperaments are a study in contrasts as well. Her rational nurse’s demeanor in most situations clashes with my sometimes volcanic temper. To her credit, Kaye does not back down when she feels she is in the right.

While I rarely admit it, she has kept me from doing stupid things that I would otherwise do without her disapproving comments.

I have been by her side to offer advice when asked and to comfort when needed. She has never failed to do the same for me.

The fact that we have even a modicum of financial stability is testimony to her usually subtle—sometimes less so—input into our monetary affairs. It’s also a product of her fierce work ethic, something I am proud to say both of our children have inherited.

Some might wonder what the secret to our marital longevity is. In truth, I have no earthly idea. I suspect it is the result of many things, indicative of the shear complexity of challenges that life throws our way.

Without doubt, one answer is perhaps unsentimental: we’re just used to being around one another.
As prosaic as this may seem, this is the basis of many long-lasting relationships. There are worse things than being comfortable.

It seems that while marriage is hard work, staying married is even harder.

Lately, more than ever, I’ve come to realize we should not take what we have for granted. We’ve seen many long term marriages abruptly come undone and the factors that seem to lead up to these dissolutions run the gamut.

Merriam-Webster defines love as: “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.” I doubt anyone who is truly honest about a relationship as long-lasting as ours could ever attest to “constant” affection. I think it is more likely something that regenerates with the experiences we share.

What I can and will say on the threshold of our forty-first anniversary toast is: Kaye, I love you. Here’s to many more.

Gun violence: Enough

Enough. It’s time to move beyond the prevailing national conversation about guns and gun violence and get to work on solving an issue that is becoming a nightmare.
For far too long the debate has been boiled down to a presumption on two extremes that there is some kind of zero sum solution–“Arm everyone and the mass shootings will stop”– “Ban all firearms to end the killing.”

Taking away guns from law-abiding citizens raises the disturbing specter of government forces swooping into homes to confiscate weapons—something that should send chills through the hearts of conservatives and liberals alike.

And, of course, critics of the ban guns philosophy are correct in saying that if you take away the guns from the people who obey the law, only those who don’t will be armed.
Just as chilling to me is the rather absurd argument by the NRA and others in the pro-gun crowd that if we just armed everyone, the mass killings that seem to have become so prevalent lately would largely be a thing of the past. It should be noted that in one of the latest shooting episodes, one of the dead victims was an armed citizen trying to do just that.

If we are to believe the mantra that “guns don’t kill people…people kill people,” doesn’t it follow that, if you give more people guns, there will be more killing?

Many, if not most, of the vocal advocates for gun bans seem to come from the more liberal and densely populated East and West coasts of our country. For the vast majority then, police protection is generally minutes away and game hunting a foreign pastime.
In the rural West and Midwest, as well as sparsely populated regions of the two coasts, police protection can be considerably further away, and hunting is part of a lifestyle. City-dwellers presuming to impose their sensibilities on these people to solve a problem that, for the most part occurs only in the more densely populated parts of our country seems patently unfair, not to mention targeting the wrong thing.

Better mental health screening and stronger laws to keep guns out of the hands certainly seems a logical answer to at least one component of the problem but, where does the line get drawn and will more extreme measures to protect society from the mentally ill inadvertently keep some from seeking help? Would people suffering from conditions like depression and schizophrenia be tagged with a scarlet letter that makes them and their condition social pariahs?

And what of the possibility of violent video games having at least some influence on the behavior of young, impressionable boys and girls (mostly boys)? Video game makers—a multi-billion dollar industry, don’t forget—point to studies that absolve them of any responsibility despite what seems to be a growing frequency of shootings by young, disturbed shooters who played the games. Auto makers in the 1950s and cigarette manufacturers in the 1960s and 70s did pretty much the same thing. People with logical minds cannot be so sanguine.

It’s time people on all sides admit a complex, ongoing tragedy such as the one we are witnessing can only be solved by finally acknowledging we all have a stake in it’s solution.

Dissatisfaction with government: A new American pasttime

I’m not sure the word “dissatisfaction” adequately describes my complete and utter disgust with the entire political process in this country as it now stands.

Left or right, it doesn’t matter…the political discourse in the nation is dominated by finger-pointing, innuendo, and outright lies. There is no appetite or consideration for achieving concrete solutions.

This is not merely the fault of the political class. It is also a result of the sins of business, organized labor, and a citizenry either too caught up in their day-to-day existence (or too disinterested) to care…much less act…to change things.

In the case of the current crisis of unaccompanied, undocumented minors entering the US illegally, the right demands our President follow the law regarding immigration, then, when it is pointed out he is doing it, they demand he somehow change the law.

The President, for his part, ignored dire predictions of just such an outcome over two years ago if nothing was done, and, like so many other things under his watch…nothing is exactly what was done. We get the government we deserve. It’s up to us to make it one that our children and grandchildren deserve.