Greetings fellow citizen,
Welcome to the first issue of No Easy Answers, a curated newsletter for curious, courageous thinkers. My goal is to boost meaningful signal in a world full of noise, and inject nuance into the oversimplified narratives that divide us.
Let's get started.
Yesterday, as I was walking through my neighborhood in northern Tucson, I stumbled across a rather disconcerting artifact of our times.
Now, I don't know the circumstances that led to this. But it doesn't matter.
What's clear is these two citizens—two neighbors—are deeply distrustful of one another. Each seemingly believes the other holds views that threaten the fabric of this nation.
My fear is that barring some sort of intervention, the bad blood on display here won't dissipate after the election. It'll linger and fester. It'll create a downward spiral of further distrust, alienation, and fear of the other.
If anything will undermine the ideals and vision of the United States, it won't be some dystopian government policy. It'll happen in our communities. On our streets. In our invididual psyches.
The promise of this nation dies when neighbors can't trust one another.
For me, this was a stark reminder of why this newsletter exists, and the work that lies ahead.
Anyhow, here are the stories that brought me hope, and that hint at what some of that work might be. Let's dig in.
In high school and college, I was a fairly progressive guy. I wanted to be on the side that was striving to make the world fairer, the side that sought to uplift people without a voice. It felt like the obvious moral position to take.
But after the 2016 election, I found myself increasingly pushed away from the left.
There were numerous reasons, but amongst the biggest was the increasing frequency of bad faith pile-ons for anyone who slipped up or dared question progressive orthodoxy. It's a cruel spectator sport—one that's become increasingly frequent and vicious.
If I were a betting man, I'd put money on these spectacles repelling far more people that just me—people who are broadly sympathetic to the cause, but refuse to align with those who demand moral purity, lest you be attacked.
Anyhow, this is all leads up to this refreshing (and surprising) piece in the New York Times about progressive activist and educator, Loretta J. Ross. Chances are, she and I don't see eye to eye on many policy positions. But we deeply agree on this fundamental point.
If we want to build a better world, we can't ridicule and exclude. By making pariahs out of those who don't share our beliefs, we virtually guarantee they'll never see our side, and double down on their own.
Here's the key excerpt from the piece:
Professor Ross thinks call-out culture has taken conversations that could have once been learning opportunities and turned them into mud wrestling on message boards, YouTube comments, Twitter and at colleges like Smith, where proving one’s commitment to social justice has become something of a varsity sport.
“I think this is also related to something I just discovered called doom scrolling,” Professor Ross told the students. “I think we actually sabotage our own happiness with this unrestrained anger. And I have to honestly ask: Why are you making choices to make the world crueler than it needs to be and calling that being ‘woke’?”
The antidote to that outrage cycle, Professor Ross believes, is “calling in.” Calling in is like calling out, but done privately and with respect. “It’s a call out done with love,” she said. That may mean simply sending someone a private message, or even ringing them on the telephone (!) to discuss the matter, or simply taking a breath before commenting, screen-shotting or demanding one “do better” without explaining how.
Calling out assumes the worst. Calling in involves conversation, compassion and context. It doesn’t mean a person should ignore harm, slight or damage, but nor should she, he or they exaggerate it. “Every time somebody disagrees with me it’s not ‘verbal violence.’” Professor Ross said. “I’m not getting ‘re-raped.’ Overstatement of harm is not helpful when you’re trying to create a culture of compassion.”
I found Tangle in the days leading up to the election, and I wish I'd found it much, much earlier. Journalist Isaac Saul truly is doing the lord's work with this independent publication.
For those of you striving to understand the issues at the heart of our democracy—instead of just reacting to headlines—there's nothing better. Here's the pitch in a nutshell.
The first and most important thing about Tangle is that it’s going to get you out of your bubble. This is not your Twitter feed or your Facebook feed or your friends’ group chat. You will be absolutely incapable of escaping views that you don’t like, and that’s going to be very good for your brain and your soul.
Every day, I tell you four things: the general facts of the big political story being talked about by the chattering class, what the left is saying, what the right is saying, and then my take. You will not find charlatans and grifters in the pages of Tangle. Instead, you’ll find the best arguments from across the political spectrum, that I find most intellectually honest and most compelling — from conservative and liberal giants, and everyone in between.
For some recent examples, his piece examining the many claims of fraud from the Trump campaign is one of the most thorough I've seen (and devastating to the narrative that the election was "stolen"), and this piece on Biden's potential student loan forgiveness policies is top notch.
Last but not least, we have one of the most profound podcast episodes I've heard in a good long while.
Deeyah Khan is a Muslim woman and filmmaker, who has embedded herself in both jihadi groups and with the white supremecists who marched at Charlottesville.
In fact, she befriended one of the leaders of the Charlottesville march. And in the years since that incident, he's renounced his role in the group, largely on account of this one strange, but genuine relationship.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Anyhow, the podcast digs into the story, and comes with plenty of profound lessons for how to interact with those we disagree with.
Here are my biggest takeaways from this conversation.
- Real change takes time. In fact, it may take years. But if you care about the person, and about the change, it's time well spent.
- Be genuinely curious about why the other person believes what they believe. Often, that's where you'll find shared values and motivations.
- You can disagree with someone profoundly, and still love and respect them. In fact, that's where the seeds of change are planted.
Thanks for reading. Hope you found something here that'll serve you in the challenging months and years ahead. We can get through it, and come out the other end stronger. But only if we work together.
P.S. Want to support what I'm doing with Citizen Within? Consider becoming a paid member. I'm still working out some cool perks for members, but there will be Zoom calls where we discuss the issues of the day, additional premium content, and you'll be able to leave comments on the site to tell me when I'm wrong. 😂