Tag: Worldview

How To: Set Your Minimum For Progress

We all have specific desires that we want out of our political system, even if that desire is for everything to stay the same. The problem is getting our big, unwieldy system to move on our desires, particularly when there are people pushing in the opposite direction.

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So how do we get progress?

It is a really boring answer, actually: we start by knowing the least we’ll accept.

Think about planning out a birthday party or big celebration. We’d love to have our own fireworks show, a live performance by our favorite musical artist and a safely secured bouncy castle (don’t even look at me if you don’t enjoy bouncy castles). But we probably can’t afford to do that for every birthday. To be honest, we might not be able to do that for any birthday. Even if you have the funds to do something spectacular, you might find that not everyone you want can attend, or some last minute logistical issues have gotten in the way. So how do you deal? You set a bar in your head of what will make the day worthwhile, even if you don’t get every last thing you wanted.

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The same goes for getting progress in politics. Often you have big ideas about what the finished product will look like, but there are a lot of logistical nightmares, different people with different interests and frustrating negotiations to go through before that finished product might come to fruition. The key is to set a realistic, achievable step towards the ultimate progress you want to see.

Start by knowing your ideal outcome. What does progress look like when it has been achieved? Who is involved? How do we maintain the progress when it’s complete? Just as you’ll know what kind of cake you like, the music you love to listen to and who you definitely don’t want to invite to your dream birthday party, your political goals should have a clear sense of what could be involved and what definitely won’t be there. Have a sense of detail to make sure that you’re still moving along the right track towards what you desire and to convince others that your progress is the right progress.

Step back from that beautiful, somewhat detailed ideal, look at the present and ask: what is the first step from here to there?

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For your glorious birthday party, it might be the guest list or budget. Once you know where your starting line is, the obstacles ahead become that much clearer. Remember that the first step won’t necessarily complete the whole idea you have in your head. Realizing that you only want fifteen guests at your party doesn’t finalize the actual party, but it makes choosing the venue, setting the schedule and organizing the budget a much easier task than if you hadn’t picked a number.

That starting step has to be achievable though. Even if the time scale is years (like the Civil Rights Movement) or weeks (getting agreement that the neighborhood needs an updated playground), you have to keep the big idea in mind while focusing on the steps in front of you. The plausibility is also going to create pressure for your elected officials. If you expect the world of a representative, they’re going to dismiss you. They can’t possibly achieve everything you’re asking of them. But if you have a specific, reasonable, achievable objective, then your elected official knows that they have to get that objective achieved in office or face your wrath and the anger of the electorate.

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Once you know your vision, have your first step and see the plausible path to making it happen, you need one more thing to set your minimum for progress: a will of steel. Don’t back down from trying to make your vision reality. Partner with other dreamers who share or are inspired by your vision. Keep working to make that first step a reality. Keep talking to your elected officials and communities to let them know what your vision is and seek help for the future you want to create. Most of all, keep faith that even your minimum is enough to change the world. After all, a nice dinner with the people who matter most to you can be just as nice as a big party.

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How To: Avoid False Equivalence

Whether it’s politics, storytelling, technology or just our day to day lives, we love to find balance in things. There’s something so tempting about making things equal. It is an especially powerful temptation in our tribal politics. The more polarized we become, the more important it is to avoid being wrong, lest our opponents seize on the opportunity to undermine us. We begin to create equality and balance where none exist, for the sake of our agendas and egos.

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How To: Pick Your Politics (Part II)

Now that we’ve finished the easy part of choosing your personal politics, the real challenge is up next: turning those individual preferences into society-wide shifts. Now, this is the citizen’s guide to political activism, not a guide to becoming a major activist or world-changer on a huge scale. This won’t turn you into a Congressperson or political activist; it is only a roadmap to small, frequent political actions you can take for yourself to see if your political goals are being met.

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How To: Pick Your Politics (Part I)

This blog has done a lot of talking around already existing political fault lines. I’ve discussed how to trust, how to value your vote and how to maintain civil dialogue, but I’ve stayed away from directly influencing your politics. For good reason! It’s a sensitive issue that everyone feels very personally about, even if they don’t have a strong opinion and would prefer people don’t discuss it in their presence. Nonetheless, it is hard to make much of politics if we aren’t prepared to build or buy into a political philosophy, and there are a handful of non-partisan steps we can take to make sure that our information is directing meaningful action towards functional accountability in our system.

To start at the beginning: distinguish what is actually political.

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Sometimes it feels like every choice can be a political one, from the way we wear our hair to the brands of shoes we buy. And yes, personal choices are often reflections of a political philosophy. But that’s not really something that can be affected by voting. Answering a single question can easily let you know what counts: does the government (local, state, federal) have the power to affect this? The list that emerges is full of the big items that voters say they care about every election: the economy, jobs, health, food, safety, civil rights, security, education, immigration, transportation, environment, the judiciary, etcetera. This is the starting line for what we can affect politically.

Now that you have the big categories that government can affect (whether or not you want them to), consider which systems you interact with regularly.

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As a city-dweller, I am constantly interacting with transportation, and it’s a big local issue. If you travel frequently or have family in a foreign country, immigration law might be something you interact with regularly. If you or a loved one has dealt with serious injury, maybe you’ll interact more regularly with health care and insurance companies. Make a list of the stuff that immediately stands out to you, without creating any kind of order.

Ok, now you know what I’m going to say: rank the political areas that mean the most to you. Think about what engages you, what motivates you, what ignites your passions. What is something that makes you want to learn?

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Don’t be ashamed of your ranking or think that it’s unimportant. This is your list of what is essential to your politics. This is the stuff that will get you to the voting booth. You have no obligation to make your list look like others’ lists. Set the most urgent issues at the top, and go in descending order for whatever makes you pay more attention to your politicians.

Finally, you’re ready to think about results you want from these political areas. Instinct will have you cast your mind towards utopian scenarios where things are perfect and completely fixed. Avoid that impulse for a moment, and ask about something a little different: what is the least you’d accept as progress? If you want a local trash pickup that is environmentally friendly, would you accept publicly funded recycling bins as a start? If you think taxes are too high, can you think of a cut that would set your mind at ease that they’re going the right direction?

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Have an idea of the minimum results you’d accept from elected officials, and what would disappoint you.

The beauty of this process is that it is ongoing and versatile. If you’re practicing citizenship regularly, you’ll find yourself doing this process over and over again as old problems are addressed and new ones crop up.  It can be used on local issues like designating park area, designing bike paths and alleviating traffic problems, or it can function as a blueprint for national politics. It doesn’t require sharing, but this exercise should help clarify a worldview for you. It should help you determine what kind of results you really want from government and the consequences of those choices.

At the end of Part I, we should all have a strong idea of what government means to us, and what we think it should be doing, independent of what others want or say. And Part II? You’ll have to wait and see.

How To: Have A Civil Conversation

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As I was composing last week’s post about how we’re closer in purpose than it appears in our polarized time, I realized that I was also setting out (incomplete) guidelines on how to engage civilly. So it made a lot of sense to follow up with a How-To on not devolving immediately into screaming matches over politics, whether that’s online or at the family reunion this summer.

Warning: if you’re the kind of person who holds grudges, please do not start or engage in political arguments. This advice is only useful if you can…

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Myth Smack: We’re Polarized

It sounds counterintuitive to say that we’re not polarized as a nation. We see each other as almost separate countries.

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There are people from every state who say they are willing to tear apart their communities and save the “good ones” from the devastation, whether that’s snarky liberals on a blog or gun-toting secessionists in the Mountain West. It seems like we can never ever agree on things, and even when we do express some consensus, we’re all suspicious of the others’ motives.

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How To: Separate Real and Fake News

Separating fact from fiction is one of the most important tasks we have as citizens. Sure, there’s the high-minded political philosophy that we must seek truth to be whole, but I’m just talking about practical terms. Frankly, if we don’t know what is actually happening day to day in our lives and in the world around us, we’re going to make some really bad decisions. Maybe it’s deciding that we can perform field operations because we’ve watched a lot of Grey’s Anatomy. Maybe it’s deciding that we should try driving stunts because it looked super cool in the most recent Fast and Furious. Or maybe it’s sending thousands of servicemembers to distant lands to die.

Fake news isn’t dangerous because we disagree with it; it’s dangerous because it changes our reactions. It keeps us from seeing problems we need to fix, and turns things that are harmless into urgent issues. Indulge in fake news, and suddenly we’re tilting at windmills and ignoring bandits and thieves.

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