Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Call for a Virtual Peace Corps

We’ve got a special treat for you today, some words of wisdom from a guest blogger. She’s a concerned mom and citizen, an all-around good egg (yes, I said “good egg” you know I’m about 100, right?) and, importantly and impressively, she’s also a published author. If you appreciate what she has to say or would like to have a return appearance, please comment and give her some love. It’s a win-win situation, I get to just lazily lie around and watch TV and you get the benefit of a new, intelligent and refreshing voice free of sarcastic Sarah Palin references, forced alliteration and Bobby Darin songs. Enjoy.

A Call for a Virtual Peace Corps

blog for your (political) lives!

Young people are, as they have been in every generation, our hope and 'salvation'. Young people are fresh, open minded, not stubborn or intractable like older folks. Because they are still forming their opinions, they are less opinionated.
If you believe that it's not guns - or bombs - that kill (although weapons certainly do facilitate); that it's people's beliefs and hatred that kills - then you may wish to be part of the solution: to change people's minds. Banning weapons is not easy - it's more effective to convince people not to use them.

Young people today have a bigger challenge than us Baby Boomers. My generation saw injustice and rallied against it - civil rights, women's rights, the Vietnam war; we protested and we won - we made great strides. It was a deeply satisfying feeling that we could and did change our world.
Now the world is faced with terrorism, of many kinds. Not just a clash of cultures and lifestyles, but of philosophies, with no geographical borders. Most alarming is the assault on rationality.

This generation has powerful tools for the spread of understanding - social networking. Reach out to those on the opposite side- exchange ideas and info. It's not as exciting as marching in the streets. It is appealing and rewarding to be part of a cause. Check out message boards and start a polite dialogue. Participate in exchange programs if you have the means.
Be a representative for good. Friend an extremist, or an evangelist, or a Tea-bagger. Avoid proselytizing - the last thing we need is digital missionaries. Get to know them, aim for mutual understanding. The world does need more reasoned dialogue.

It's time to discourage extremism and craziness (here and abroad). So how can we explain our viewpoint to someone who thinks very differently from us? More challenging - how can we explain how we think if we are interacting with people who are acting out of emotion or 'people of faith'?

Be respectful. People believe in all sorts of things, some people firmly believe they have been abducted by aliens, and would challenge you to prove them wrong.
Can we change someone's mind? It's almost impossible, since we are all products of our environment. People on the other side of the world grow up listening to their elders' teachings, people they admire and trust. They have been indoctrinated, just as we have been, with certain ideas. Why are people so inclined to mistrust? Partly because of isolation and lack of diversity. Fear of the unknown. Different does not equal scary.

Start with humility. We are not better. Our government does not necessarily make us more free than other citizens. One god is not more merciful or loving than someone else's god.
We're all on the same side. All members of the Family of Man. People who think differently are not our enemies. Different opinions are interesting, stimulating. We can discuss without arguing. Try to divorce yourself from your emotions, because no one can discuss things logically and effectively when they are upset.

Defuse the clash of civilizations. (Even if it's just Red State vs Blue state - Republican vs Democrat) A secular society does not equate to valueless. On the contrary, some believe doing the right thing simply because it's the right way to treat our fellow man, not doing so in order to gain a reward or avoid punishment, is more moral. Value rationality versus mythology. Extreme religion is an excuse for hatred, racism and violence. It's time to stand up against that. It's time to tackle extremism. Inflammatory rhetoric is the first step toward violence. Denounce hate speech.

Take responsibility. It's best to live in the present, plan for the future, but let go of the past. Old animosities lead to a cycle of recriminations. Other people do have legitimate grievances - sometimes about policies you may personally support. Especially in the anonymous online world, people will insult you and possibly upset you. Shed the anger. Don't stoop to their level. Live and let live.

Listen. Instead of changing their minds - maybe they will change yours - be open to that. Put yourself in their place. Ask questions abut their lives, our environment helps shape our beliefs. Some countries particularly suffer from unchecked population growth that leads to alienation. The unemployed will increase around the globe. Find common ground, like global warming or economic concerns. Share your interests: video games, fan fiction, TV shows; sometimes diversion is the best tactic (ask any toddler's parent). People need projects to feel useful and stay out of trouble, engage that energy.

Ask them for specifics. Why do they believe their viewpoint is correct? Check the facts - not just yours - but what they base their arguments on. Push them to think more logically, and not reach hasty conclusions based on one side of a situation.

Form informed opinions. Educate yourself. Curiosity about the world is the driving force for mutual understanding. People who read Steven Hawkins can converse more intelligently about the universe. People who have read Steven Pinker can discuss nature vs nurture with authority. Opinions should be formed on the bedrock of knowledge. Leaders who form beliefs based on listening to others without that intellectual authority should not be taken seriously. Steer people to objective, factual web sites for info - not sensational, biased media outlets.

Celebrate genius, talent and scholarly effort.
When did elite become a 4 letter word? Why do some people distrust intellectuals? We need to swing back towards sense, not sensationalism. Time to stop dumbing down – and smarten up! A large segment of the world is listening to the wild and wacky instead of the best and the brightest.
They're deciding who to trust based on symbolism instead of substance. Worse, deciding who to distrust based on rumor and misinformation.

Make a difference, even if it's tiny. As Edward Kennedy said in eulogizing his brother Bobby:

"Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, (you) send forth a tiny ripple of hope...building a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

It's worth a try. Take the country and the world forward.

-Sharon Long
author of A Kid's Guide 2 Politics


  1. Curiously she wants these young people to denounce hate speech but refers to the members of the Tea Party as 'Tea-Baggers'.

  2. She also said, "Form informed opinions. Educate yourself. Curiosity about the world is the driving force for mutual understanding."

    The verb 'tea-bag' was initially used by the Tea Party itself in a headline on Chad Peace's Tea Party website and was further promoted by Griff Jenkins of Fox News, quoting the website, "Tea bag the fools in D.C. on tax day."

    There were a lot of important and valuable sentiments in this post ... and here we are going back and forth on who invented the term tea bagger ...yikes! I'd say we should both spend more time considering the whole of her post and not just one hair to keep splitting ad infinitum.

  3. Well, a thoughtful, even respectful approach to politics. How refreshing. Must have been a child of the 60's who studied too much Philosophy. No Sarah Palin bashing? Where is the fun? But, as Ross Perot would have said "Now, there's your point!" Guess we're all in one camp or another, armed and ready to fight when what we need is an army of thinkig moderates actively engaged in this mess. Read an essay on Religion a while back (sorry can't remember the author - just a little CRS kicking in) which was essentially a call to action of the religious moderates around the world. The author's point was that the moderates of all faiths have a duty to take the lead in this time of turmoil so that they control the discussion as opposed to the militant radicals. In other words, religious conflict settles down through activism by the more thoughtful, tolerant moderates instead of the radicals. Similar thinking here. Guess it's time to get off the couch and go make a difference somewhere, again. Now if I can just get over my visceral reaction to pictures of Sarah Palin! Anyone going to the Sanity March?

  4. Yes, my daughter and I are going to the sanity rally. It's going to be huge. Let's hope the media covers it adequately. Perhaps I will add a blog about it here.

  5. It is very important to listen to others views and opinions, especially when different from our own. People should be given the same deference and respect that we would like to receive ourselves. In terms of "friending" extremists; that would be difficult. Attempts at understanding others, fine. A closer relationship? Sorry, I pass.
    Thanks for your insightful ideas but I think we do need to include some more sarcastic Sarah Palin documentary.

  6. I would very much like to have the link to this blog.....