The other day, I realized this blog is now in the “double digits.” That means that for more than a decade, KitKat and I have used this space to vent, confess and—hopefully, at least occasionally—to inspire.
Of course, there was no acknowledgement of this momentous occasion from me back in early January when the Blogoversary occurred. That’s because over the last five years our contributions have been extremely erratic, if not altogether absent, and frankly, I just didn’t notice.
Let’s face it: We’ve all been through a lot. As a world population, we’ve survived a pandemic. As a nation, we’ve survived an attempted overthrow of our government. And on a personal level…well let’s just say that, KitKat and I have each dealt with some personal challenges as well.
For a long while now, nearly every time I’ve thought about writing a blog post, I’ve had Writer’s Block. Blocked by an inability to articulate what’s on my mind. Blocked by sadness and frustration. Blocked by my desire to adhere to our “brand promise,” which doesn’t include veering off into angry political tirades month after month. (And yes, I know there have been several instances when that anger slipped through anyway!)
To be honest, I’ve been depressed. I still may be depressed, actually, but I think that I’m finally, FINALLY starting to come out of it. What’s changed? Well, my fears related to the pandemic and political environment have eased somewhat, but more importantly I’ve returned to a fundamental belief that is key to managing my own frustration: The root of all suffering is attachment.
When I first learned of this principle while studying Buddhism in college, it was like a lightning strike to my angst-ridden brain. Of course! It was so OBVIOUS! But understanding something and internalizing it are two very different things, and Stormy and KitKat are both so notoriously bad at bringing those two things into alignment that they even named this blog after their perpetual struggle!
During an argument with a friend last year, he reminded me: “People will always disappoint you.” And I realized that truly was my problem—I was attached to my rather high expectations of 1) what others should be doing, and 2) what I should be doing myself.
As a result, I was being disappointed on the daily… And that’s no way to live… So it’s personal growth time for Stormy, once again.
A few years back, I wrote about Stormy 2.0… Well, to be honest, I’m not sure WHICH version of Stormy I am today. We’ve been releasing updates on a 2-week sprint cycle for several years now, with multiple patches being deployed as needed to address bugs. (That Stormy is one buggy product!) Let’s just say that the only constant is change. But here is what I can tell you about me, and this blog, going forward:
I’ll drag KitKat along for the ride, because she’s been on a completely different yet parallel journey, and I believe she also has some new insights to share.
It’s only natural that this blog will continue to evolve along with its authors, and if there’s been one recurring theme on this blog, it’s been this notion of constantly reinventing ourselves. But detaching ourselves from previous expectations—about ourselves and others—doesn’t mean that we can’t still have some fun along the way.
We must embrace everyone who is willing to vote blue in 2022 or we won’t have any independence to celebrate next year
I saw this on Twitter and thought it encapsulated the way a lot of us are feeling on this holiday.
It’s hard to celebrate our country’s independence when the Supreme Court has been taking a sledgehammer to Americans’ right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Everyone knows that we’ve gotten off-track as a nation, although people may argue on when we jumped the rails: Was it when Trump was nominated? When Trump won the 2016 election? When Trump falsely claimed voter fraud? When Trump incited an insurrection at the Capitol?
Maybe you think Trump was the culmination of something that began much earlier. Should we go back to “weapons of mass destruction” or Reagan’s “trickle-down economics” to pinpoint the beginning of the end? Should we go all the way back to when European settlers first stole land from Native Americans or to when slave traders brought Africans against their will to this country?
I’m sure a compelling argument could be made for any of these examples, but assigning blame isn’t going to solve the problem at hand. We’re in a full-blown constitutional crisis and what happens in the next few months will literally determine whether we continue to live in a democratic country or one that is ruled by a minority faction of Christian, white-nationalist fascists.
So, where do we go from here?
Here’s another recent tweet that spoke to me:
My goal isn’t to thoroughly depress everyone on a holiday weekend. We can still reclaim our country, but it requires working together to ensure that Democrats win as many seats as possible in 2022, so they can pass the laws needed to help shore up our fundamental rights. And then we need a repeat victory in 2024, to make sure it sticks.
To succeed, we must:
Make sure we impress upon everyone we know how important it is to vote blue. We need to make sure friends, family and acquaintances understand HOW, WHEN and WHERE to do that.
Encourage everyone to double-check their voter registration status. (Even if they’ve lived in the same place and voted previously, many people—yes, even in Minnesota—are finding that their registrations are disappearing as various communities clean up their voter rolls. Don’t take it for granted that you’re good-to-go.)
Accept anyone who is willing to finally turn away from the GOP to join in the fight for democracy. Even if you personally dislike them, think they are hypocrites, want to say “I told you so,” etc., refrain from alienating those who finally want to do the right thing. Welcome them back from The Dark Side and reinforce their decision.
Let go of individual objectives and get behind whichever democratic candidate has the best chance of winning a given race. In some races, this may mean that dyed-in-the-wool liberals need to back a candidate who is more centrist, since we need conservatives and independents to help tip the scales in our favor. We can’t have another presidential election like 2016 where Bernie syphoned votes from Hillary, because we literally won’t be able to recover from it. (And if you think Hillary wasn’t liberal enough to earn your vote in 2016, then you’re REALLY not going to like a Trump or DeSantis “presidency” that continues into perpetuity.) At the same time, we need to make sure that those we elect understand what’s at stake and will vote accordingly (unlike Manchin and Sinema, for example).
This Independence Day, it’s imperative that we (the sane, ethical majority) work to eliminate the current, imminent threat facing us before we go back to our petty bickering about what’s a fair tax rate for the wealthy, whether student loans should be forgiven, and how to get inflation under control. There will be plenty of time for arguing those finer points of policy after we’ve secured our basic human rights, but to do so right now is akin to rearranging the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic.
Those seeking power in the GOP have demonstrated a complete disregard for democracy, so it’s going to take all of us—working together—to ensure that we still have a free nation to celebrate next year and for many years to come.
I swore to myself that I would move on from politics and start posting about other pressing matters, but after last week’s siege on the Capitol as the grand finale of the #StopTheSteal rally, I had one last thought (or maybe it’s two thoughts?) that I wanted to share.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m deeply disturbed by the number of so-called Christians that have been supporting 45, particularly those who continue to support him even after last week’s insurrection. I understand that many of them claim their pro-life beliefs compel them to support the Republican party, and that the end justifies the means. But unlike the boats that sank in this summer’s Trump parade, that argument doesn’t hold water. At this point, supporting Trump for his anti-abortion stance is akin to excusing those who kill abortion doctors because they’re sacrificing one life for many. The right-wing violence demonstrated over the last week shows that these self-proclaimed pro-lifers are now aligning themselves with the very types of people they claim to oppose.
The end does not justify the means. Period.
The “Christian” segment of Trump supporters is led by the white, evangelical Christians. I’ve always been leery of evangelists, because in my experience many of them focus on the wrong things—turning evangelism into a contest for salvation points or, worse, using it as a get-rich-quick scheme. (Incidentally, for a really thorough and thoughtful discussion on evangelism, I recommend this article.) For my agnostic friends who aren’t inclined to read that, I’ll put it more simply: I believe that the absolute, most-effective method of evangelism is not just to share Jesus’s words, but to model his behavior. It seems obvious, but it’s rarely done. Instead, many Evangelicals focus on more obscure parts of the Bible to try to browbeat the “unchurched” into submission. Case in point: Do you realize that Jesus never said one word related to LGBTQIA-related issues or abortion? Nope. He did, however, very clearly instruct us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I don’t believe Jesus wants abortions to happen, but I believe he wants us to solve that problem through compassion and by taking care of one another—not through fines and penalties. He gave us the tools we need to solve the problem using cooperation, kindness and generosity. All we have to do is get to work.
This browbeating—which is increasingly being reinforced with physical violence—is one of the many ways that Christians who support Trump are actually driving people AWAY from Christ. And they will need to answer to Jesus for that, because that’s the exact opposite of what he commanded.
Granted, aspiring to live like Christ may be difficult task, but it’s also the only sure-fire way to draw people to him. His example on this earth—and the fact that he’s still such a large part of our daily conversation two thousand years later—is a testament to his “irresistibility.” The truth is, it’s hard to resist the overwhelming pull of compassion that Jesus demonstrated: feeling understood, being challenged to be the best version of yourself, yet knowing that you are forgiven for your short-comings and are still a beloved Child of God. Who wouldn’t be drawn to that kind of energy? The unfortunate reason more people haven’t experienced that is because most Christians are really bad about actually living Christ’s example. (I include myself in that indictment, although I continue to try my best.)
In other words, I think Evangelicals should stop haranguing people to accept Christ as their personal savior and start showing them what Jesus stood for instead. I guarantee they will win more souls for Jesus with that approach…no conversion therapy necessary.
It’s like the ridiculous, so-called “War on Christmas.” There IS no war on Christmas. Like Jesus, Christmas is too darned irresistible. That’s why you occasionally see Hindus and Jews capitulating to their children’s request for a Christmas tree. They may not embrace the Christmas story about a virgin giving birth to the Son of God (which, spoiler alert, didn’t actually occur on December 25th), but they often can’t resist the trappings: the lights, the tinsel, the carols, the sentimental movies and peace-on-earth-good-will-toward-men. The only thing that some non-Christians request of their Christian neighbors is to acknowledge that not everyone celebrates Christmas and to not react to the phrase “Happy Holidays” as though it’s a curse. Which, if you think about it, is not an unreasonable request to make of someone whose faith compels them to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
“America First” is a race to the bottom.
And there’s another corollary to this that applies to a troubling policy that many conservative Christians are embracing: (White) Nationalism. Jesus made it very clear that salvation was for all nations, not a select few. The USA isn’t “special” in terms of being God’s favorite—as much as it may pain some Evangelicals to hear that. Moreover, this line of thinking is short-sighted and stupid. The pandemic has shown us that no country can afford to stand alone during a time of crisis. It took researchers sharing information globally to identify the virus and how it spreads. Likewise, multiple vaccines could not have been developed in record time without international collaboration. Climate change is another example: We ALL will suffer its effects—no matter how many walls we build or security checkpoints we put in place in an attempt to secure our borders. Our economic stability is also dependent on global cooperation. In short, we need to be a nation focused on “win-win,” not “win-lose.”
“America First” is not only a misguided and dangerous philosophy, it’s also unnecessary. For those who insist it is needed to spread democracy throughout the world, I would respond that our Constitution is a beautiful, sexy thing… the envy of many. And the promise of what our democracy could be (but admittedly has not yet achieved) is nearly as irresistible—in terms of government—as Jesus is to religion. Therefore, if we can just model a democracy where all men and women are truly created equal, with equal protection under the law, and equal opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then we won’t NEED to sanction other governments in an attempt to move them toward democracy. It will happen organically. In the same interconnected world described earlier, other nations that are exposed to the freedom and justice of the United States will eventually demand the same. And the Vladimir Putins and Donald Trumps of this world will be limited in their influence and power.
We just need to focus on two tasks to bring about real change:
1. Love thy neighbor as thyself
2. Strive for equality and justice for all
The challenge before us is these are both “Easier said than done.” It may not happen overnight. However, if we rise to the challenge, I guarantee it will happen.
On May 2, 2011, Oskar and I were watching TV when programming was disrupted by breaking news: Osama bin Laden had just been killed in a secret raid. I turned to Oskar and high-fived him (!) and then I was immediately ashamed. I had just high-fived my husband over a man being murdered—what was wrong with me?
Like all Americans, I had been devastated by the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and viewed Osama bin Laden as Public Enemy #1. My gut reaction to his death was a rather base reflex triggered by all of the anxiety he had caused me and my fellow citizens. As a Christian, I condemn evil in all its forms, but I also know that it’s not my job to condemn another human being (even if that human being does evil things) OR to celebrate their death. I was able to forgive myself for what I considered a very human reaction, and I prayed that in bin Laden’s final moments as the raid was occurring, he somehow recognized his sins and was able to make his peace with God.
History repeats itself
Fast-forward to last night: I read that Hope Hicks, a close aide of Trump’s, had tested positive for Covid-19. My immediate gut reaction was a mixture of excitement and hope, thinking: “Maybe he’ll get it and this nightmare will end!” Then again, as with the bin Laden incident, I felt ashamed.
This morning, I awoke to the news that my wish had come true when my sister texted me, “Is it wrong to say I hope he dies? Or at least gets very sick?” I responded, confessing that I had had a similar thought the previous night. Then I reflected on the whether it was morally justified to wish for some kind of karmic justice… After all, Trump is not an innocent victim of the coronavirus the way that millions of others have been. He has had top epidemiological experts advising him, access to the latest data/research, any precautionary equipment (tests, PPE) that he could possibly need, and a whole team of sycophants willing to cater to his every whim, and he has willfully chosen not to utilize any of these resources in a responsible manner. Furthermore, as a result of his negligence and his lies, 200,000 people have died.
So, my thinking is that if the virus is among us and someone is going to catch it—or even die from it—then there is a certain poetic justice in it being him. But, looking at the situation from my Christian perspective, I can’t “celebrate” that, in the same way that President Obama never celebrated the death of bin Laden, even though he was the one who ordered the raid. Instead, I will follow the lead of both Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi who have exuded admirable class when they—honestly, I believe—express concern for those GOP members afflicted with the virus and pray for their recovery. Because that’s what decent human beings do in a civilized society. (Frankly, I’m not sure I would be able to display as much grace as they have, had I undergone the many personal attacks they’ve had to endure from Trump.)
Was I guilty of giving oxygen to hatred?
And that last sentence sums up my biggest issue with Trump. The thing that I hate most about him is that he has exposed my own hatred. I really loathe the man. I hate his policies, his greed and his racism, yes, but more than that, I hate the way that he makes a mockery of our democracy and plays Americans—even his most devoted followers—for absolute fools. And I hate the fact that he has done irreparable damage to my relationships with people who fail to denounce him. Because, by accepting (or even tolerating) his lies, his white supremacist ideology, his fascist dictator-like posturing, his condemning of the media, his threats of violence if the election doesn’t go his way—they have lost all of my respect. I can never look at them the same way or continue to have a social relationship with them.
And I hate myself for hating him so much. While I recognize that “hating the hater” is not the same as “being a hater” (after all, as we learned in math class the double negative cancels itself out) holding that kind of hatred in one’s heart is a poisonous proposition.
I realized earlier this week that I’ve been generally unhappy for a very long time. Yet when I examine my life, most things in it are going pretty well. I have a supportive spouse and family, I’m financially secure, I live in a comfortable home, have good health, etc. While I don’t like dealing with this pandemic any more than the next person, I’ll freely admit that it’s affected me much less dramatically than it has many people. In fact, I consider myself fortunate in many ways. So, it didn’t take me long to identify the source of my unhappiness: Trump. Or, perhaps more specifically, the hatred and chaos that he thrives upon and brings out in other people.
And then I had another realization: I have just one life and, for-better-or-worse, this is it. Yet each day I’ve been giving mindshare over to this horrible person who doesn’t deserve an ounce of my respect, let alone any of my waking thoughts. Consequently, I had been giving oxygen to the hatred that he thrives upon. Worse, I’d been letting him steal my happiness in the same way he’s been trying to steal the election. And then I got determined… I’ll be damned if I let him steal my joy!
Instead, I vowed to redirect my election anxiety into optimism and positivity. So, while I won’t wish a Darwinian death upon the cause of my unhappiness, what Ihope for—and will pray for—is that this experience does two things:
1) Wakes up the 1/3 of the population that thinks this virus is a “hoax,” “just like the flu,” or “will disappear” so that they start wearing their damn masks and stop undermining the rest of us who are trying to get this pandemic under control (so we can avoid further needless death and rebuild our economy), and
2) Gives 45 an excuse to bow out of the race (for health reasons). As a classic narcissist who is facing the near-certain humiliation of losing, this would allow him to save face. I don’t even care if he resigns while proclaiming that he has been the Greatest President of All Time. I just want him gone. Gone—so we can shore up our badly battered democracy, control the outbreak of this virus, begin to recover our economy, and provide basic human rights and justice for ALL Americans.
However, since we can’t be confident this will happen, we have to double-down on the original plan of making sure Biden is elected—and preferably by a landslide so as to minimize any post-election violence. My dream is to make this a reality:
If you have NOT yet voted, PLEASE DO SO. And vote EARLY, so there is time to straighten out any possible registration or postal issues. 2020 has been one for the history books. But we need to do our part if we’re to succeed in containing the chaos to just this one calendar year. If you have any questions about HOW to vote, WHERE to vote, how to register, etc., send us a message and we’ll help you determine a safe voting plan.
It’s nearly August and the Coronavirus continues to spread, largely unchecked, in America. Likewise, on social media, the mask debate rages on. (I bet other countries are surprised to learn that there even IS such a thing as a mask debate in this country. But that’s the topsy-turvy, Alice-in-Wonderland version of the US we’re living in, sadly, during this Trump administration.)
In 2015, I did a blog post on the topic of “Living Fearless” because that’s long been a motto that I try to live by. Which is why I get so annoyed by anti-maskers who believe that those of us advocating compliance with masking mandates are “living in fear.”
Basement dwellers and other myths
“I feel sorry for them, cowering in their basements…afraid to go out and live their lives,” they write…while congratulating each other for their bravery in “standing up for freedom.”
Let me just say: No, no and NO. This is not an accurate assessment of anyone I know who is an advocate of wearing masks.
Speaking for myself, I can assure you that I’m not living in fear of catching the Coronavirus. While COVID-19 cases range from asymptomatic to annoying to deadly, I believe that my catching it would be more likely to result in inconvenience than hospitalization. However, all of the evidence has shown that it’s quite contagious, can be transmitted unknowingly, and can have long-term and lethal consequences in some instances—particularly for people who aren’t as healthy as me. Therefore, I consider it a moral imperative that I take sensible precautions to protect others.
Let’s repeat them together:
Fear is not my motivation for these actions. But having a healthy respect for science and a willingness to be inconvenienced for the sake of other people? Guilty as charged. In other words, I plead guilty to being a considerate human being.
Let’s baaaaaaaaand together and beat this thing
Another annoying response to any online mask debate is the troll who will invariably respond with this gif:
Running a close second to the Haha emoji in its ubiquity, the implication is that those who follow these public health rules are sheep and not free-thinkers. Again…no.
Sure, a lot of respected leaders are asking people to wear masks. But do you know why? Because they work. And sometimes, knowledgeable people share their experience for the greater good—so others don’t have to learn the hard way. It doesn’t mean that the people who follow the lead of experts aren’t capable of making a decision on their own. It means they are exercising common sense. Take the old stick-your-tongue-on-a-frozen-flagpole gambit. You can ask 20 intelligent adults if this is a good idea and chances are not one of them will recommend it. So, are you a sheep if you follow their advice, or are you…maybe…just…wise?
(Spoiler Alert: Here’s how that would turn out for ya.)
I believe that what so many people are interpreting as fear or herd mentality is in fact exasperation and frustration. Most Americans were under a stay-at-home order from mid-March through the end of April and even longer. We collectively sacrificed our relationships with friends and family, our jobs, our children’s schooling, our ability to see our aging parents. We missed out on weddings, graduations and funerals. Lives were lost. Businesses were shuttered. It was a huge sacrifice, but we started to flatten the curve…and see the light at the end of the tunnel…
…But then we opened everything up much too quickly and in the span of a few weeks, erased most of the progress we had made.
Those who are advocating for the three common-sense measures (one more time for the guys in the back of the room)…
…are doing so, not because they are scared, but simply because they are tired of all this. They want to get on with their lives. They want to save our economy. They want the kids to be able to go back to school. And they want their friends, neighbors and relatives to lead long healthy lives. How to manage this pandemic is no mystery. Dozens and dozens of countries—even many third-world (or as Trump called them “shithole”) countries—have successfully handled it using the steps above.
In fact, people in those countries are somewhat confounded by the fact that America is doing so poorly when we have so much relative wealth compared to many of the countries that have beat this thing. They actually pity us for our poor leadership and our cut-off-our-nose-to-spite-our-face stubbornness.
So, to circle back to the theme of this blog, I ask you: Who is scared?
Is it the Frustrated, Exhausted Working Mom or Dad, juggling Zoom meetings and online classes, conscientiously limiting interactions with others, wearing a mask, and washing her hands?
Or is it the Don’t-Tread-On-Me Individualist defying public health recommendations and harassing shop owners who are trying to protect their employees and customers?
I contend that the true “Scaredy Cats” are the Don’t-Tread-On-Me Crowd. They are doubling-down on the mask issue because they are too scared to learn that all of their outrage and anger—at science, the media, and our liberal governors—has been misplaced. Too scared to discover that they’ve been contributed to the loss of lives and livelihoods for tens of thousands of innocent Americans.
If the latter group truly believes that this is all just a “plandemic,” and wants to refute my scaredy-cat claim, then let’s settle this debate with a Triple Dog Dare: There is a very easy way for you to prove yourselves right. Just follow the mandate for eight weeks and see what happens.
Many public health officials agree that with uniform compliance it would take only 6-8 weeks to turn things around. So let’s try it. If it doesn’t work and I’m proven wrong, I will be the first to admit it here. Go ahead, America, I dare you!
Have you ever known something but also not known it at the same time? That is, you intellectually know the facts around a subject, but emotionally or philosophically it takes you a while to connect the dots? I had that experience last week and when the realization hit me it was a revelation, so I thought I would pass it along to anyone else who might be struggling with this same issue.
Social Engineering via Social Media
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with social media since its inception. I have a very large family, as well as a network of friends and acquaintances that span the globe, so I love the ability to stay in touch via a simple and cheap communications tool. Cute baby photos, friends on vacation, funny memes from old classmates… that’s all lovely. I’ve also created group pages for my church, my condo association, and other families who have adopted from Blossom’s orphanage in China. I enjoy having a way to communicate with members of these various groups on topics of mutual interest. Lastly, as a marking professional, I also appreciate social media as an inexpensive advertising medium that lets you target specific audiences with ease.
However, what I HATE about social media is the way it turns seemingly rational human beings into abusive bullies and allows horrible people to connect with like-minded dirtbags who validate each other’s twisted views. And, when you add in Russian trolls and others who are actively and intentionally stirring up trouble in our country to divide the populace…well, let’s just say that checking one’s newsfeed becomes an exercise in blood pressure management.
Thankfully I have naturally low blood pressure, but the anger and vitriol spewed forth on Facebook have caused me to abandon my account several times in the past. I find it very difficult to not confront those spreading misinformation or abusive, racist statements, so I often find myself in a protracted online debate with someone whose mind I know will never be open to reason or facts. Yet despite this, I feel compelled to try. (Nevertheless, she persisted!) I feel that to leave these statements unchallenged is to appear to agree with them—the last thing I want.
These online conversations usually end with the other party giving me the “Haha” emoji (which I’ve concluded is the universal response for ignorant trolls who can’t think of any other way to counter a sensible argument). Invariably, these exchanges always leave me feeling drained, discouraged and, frankly, hopeless about the state of our country. At times it seems like the bad people far outnumber the decent people, which is a very depressing thought indeed.
And of course, that’s the point.
It was during one of these threads—about whether to mandate masks in our state—when a commenter posed a seemingly innocent question, “Who decides which comments are ‘most relevant’?” I believe they were noticing the default Facebook setting that displays relevant comments and implying that relevancy was determined by the “liberal elites” who manage our governor’s Facebook page. So, I ignored the implication and replied literally: “The Facebook algorithms.” This was followed by another baiting question, “But who designs those?” So I went into a high-level explanation of how the algorithms work. Now granted, algorithms are more complex than the explanation that follows, but I think it’s important for all Facebook users to understand the basics:
They’re in it for the money, honey…
Facebook is not free to use because Mark Zuckerberg is a philanthropist. The company makes money by selling ads to marketers (like me) to get them in front of potential customers (users like you). The beauty of the platform is it lets marketers target certain personality profiles and keywords based on information provided by the users—the groups you belong to, the pages you follow, the businesses or locations you “check-in” to, hashtags you use, things you post about, the comments you make on others posts, etc. The more specific the targeting, the more effective it is (and the more valuable it is for the advertiser).
If this strikes you as an invasion of privacy, you really shouldn’t be on Facebook. It exists to monetize your personal information. I know that and it doesn’t bother me. I don’t post truly private info, and if I’m going to be bombarded with ads online anyway, I would rather they be relevant.
Wallflowers need not apply
In order for Facebook to understand who you are, it needs you to engage. In other words, if you log on to Facebook and scroll through your feed, but never join a group, never like or comment, etc., Facebook has no real way to know who you are and subsequently can’t market effectively to you. (In other words, it won’t know what kind of ads to show you.) It’s the social equivalent of standing in the corner at a party.
Some people—KitKat for one—take this wallflower approach (ironically, in real life she is the first one on the dance floor). Because KitKat is also a marketer, she needs to understand Facebook, but she’s chosen to only observe on Facebook and never engages personally. Consequently, KitKat doesn’t stress out over social media the way I do. 😉
How to be relevant
Facebook wants and needs you to be an active participant in order to create the targeting data it needs to feed the algorithms. One way it does this is by trying to serve up the most interesting information, so you keep coming back for more. This is where the “Relevant Comments” come in. Although my troll friend wouldn’t believe it, there is no Democrat sitting in a Facebook cube that is marking every left-leaning comment as “relevant.” However, each time someone “likes” a comment, replies to a comment or tags the poster of a comment, it increases the relevance of that particular comment.
As I mentioned in the intro, I knew all of this already. But when I was explaining it to the online troll the understanding suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks: I had been making the problem worse!
Each time I replied to a negative comment or misinformation, I actually increased the relevance of that comment. In other words, I was directly contributing to the process that prompts the Facebook algorithms to deem a comment “relevant.” As a result, I was causing it to be shown to more people via their newsfeeds—which is the exact opposite of what I wanted to be doing.
If you’re an 80s kid, you might understand this analogy: “Feeding the trolls” is like feeding your Gremlins after midnight. It causes all hell to break loose.
But as the lightbulb went off in my brain, an even brighter realization occurred: I was overestimating the number of bad guys! There were far more “good guys,” but the nature of our collective interactions were giving the bad guys more visibility than they deserve! So, the question then became: Should I be addressing trolls at all? And if so, how? It turns out there’s an easy way to work around the relevancy algorithms and still fight for truth and democracy…
Never directly comment on a negative post. (I would make an exception for dangerous misinformation, but then only comment to discredit it—by linking to accurate information—not to start a debate.) If you see a negative comment on an otherwise positive or neutral thread (particularly if it’s a news source), don’t click on the angry face, sad face or the aforementioned “Haha” emoji. Also important: Don’t tag the person who made the negative comment so you are replying directly to them. All that will do is increase their comment’s relevance. Instead, click like/love on as many of the positive comments you can to increase their relevance and thereby drown out the negative voices.
Here’s a simple example:
Misinformation Marvin: Masks don’t prevent COVID-19. They increase transmission by 50%! Health experts agree!
Concerned Carly (clicks angry face on Marvin and tags him in reply): Misinformation Marvin, They actually DO help reduce the spread…Do you have a source for that statistic?
Having participated in conversations similar to the above, I can tell you that chances are Marvin’s next comment will cite a blog post by some obscure ex-professor who was fired from his teaching job for being a rabble rouser. Then, Carly will try to point out that it isn’t a credible source, and the exchange will go downhill from there until Marvin ultimately resorts to clicking on the “Haha” emoji.
A better approach…
Misinformation Marvin: Masks don’t prevent COVID-19. They increase transmission by 50%! Health experts agree!
Concerned Carly (does not click on Marvin’s comment or reply, but posts a new comment): I see that some people on here (like Marvin) are spreading misinformation; however, here’s a legitimate source that explains how masks actually DO help reduce the spread…[Links to reputable source]
As mentioned earlier, in addition to not commenting directly to Marvin, Carly should also click on every comment that supports her argument and/or cites credible sources. This will raise the relevance of those comments which, in turn, will increase the likelihood that they will show up in others’ feeds.
I call this approach “slaying Medusa” because the essence of it is to attack from the sidelines and not look directly into the eyes of the troll. It may be true that “eyes are the window to the soul.” But in the case of the typical troll, that soul is a black void—and you don’t want to view it directly, lest it turn your heart to stone. Commenting indirectly to trolls and reinforcing the positive posts directly is a simple way you can keep the focus of the conversation on fact-driven, compassionate, democracy-loving people and take the microphone away from those who are trying to damage our country and sew divisiveness.
By elevating the positive conversations and shining a light on true, factual information, we can inspire those who are on the fence about the next election to do the right thing for America. There are three critical months left before November 3rd. Let’s do everything we can to control the trolls—and particularly to get the “Troll in Chief”—out of office!
The proliferation of people calling out entitled middle-class white women—“Ok, Karen!”—has reached epic proportions lately. Granted, we’re all a little short on patience these days…what with the Coronavirus pandemic still raging across much of America, civil unrest that some days seems to be bordering on civil war, and a so-called “president” who denies the former and foments the latter. Really, it’s no wonder people are short-tempered. Yet, a lot of this tension seems to be being taken out on middle-aged white women named Karen.
Important Note: I’m not taking issue with calling out women who take their privilege for granted and use it to make life miserable for others. I’m taking offense with hijacking the name itself and turning it into a derogatory term.
The name “Karen” peaked in popularity in 1965 (the year I was born). As a result, I know a fair number of Karens and, truly, none of the ones I know embody the Let-me-speak-to-your-manager, anti-vaxxer/essential oil, racist soccer mom stereotype. So, when the trend toward labeling these women as “Karen” emerged, I would cringe a little each time I heard it—feeling bad for my friends that shoulder the burden of that moniker while thanking God for my own boring name.
What if we suddenly started calling every racist, “Amanda”? Or every homophobe, “Mackenzie”?
What’s surprising to me is that the negative branding of Karen has largely been at the hands of Millennials and Gen Z. These are the same generations who are quick to defend the underdog in nearly every situation. They’re generally more conscientious about political correctness than previous generations—using the right pronouns, including trigger warnings in their social media posts, and reminding others to not use the “r-word,” “gypsy,” or other violations of courtesy. Yet, the same people who would swoop down in an instant to defend a victim of body-shaming will think nothing of implicating thousands of innocent women whose mothers happened to choose a popular name.
As I mentioned earlier, I have no problems with calling out bad behavior or putting an entitled harpy in her place. If people referenced an odious fictional character in these situations (like using “Scrooge” to describe a cranky old miser), I’d be fine with it. Even the “Okay, Boomer” thing is different, because it’s directed at a whole generation. But to single out one name that so many women share—women who don’t necessarily act in the way that is associated with the name—seems unfair. What if we suddenly started calling every racist, “Amanda” or every homophobe, “Mackenzie”? I think there would (rightfully) be an outcry by the very same people who are so casually branding annoying women as “Karen.”
In the fast-moving world of social media, these kinds of cultural trends come and go rather quickly, so hopefully the whole Karen phenomenon is on its way out. And granted, in a world where black men are being murdered on video, wearing masks has become politicized, and our country’s leader encourages division while committing treason, the hurt feelings of some random women named Karen may not be very important. Those issues are far more serious and more important to solve. Like those Big Important Matters, it helps to put yourself in the other person’s shoes: consider racism from the perspective of a young black man, consider the pandemic from the perspective of an immunocompromised person, consider how your vote could help unite or further divide the country… But unlike those other problems, this one is super easy to fix: The next time you find yourself in a situation where you want to call out some middle-age, entitled white woman who is acting badly, go for it. Just call her by her own given name and leave poor Karen out of it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: After posting this blog, I read a suggestion online that these types of entitled women should be called, “Ivanka.” It’s brilliant. While Ivanka is not a fictional character, a lot of us wish she was—and she embodies entitlement in a way that few others will ever surpass. As far as I’m concerned, Ivanka it is.
A couple of months ago, I posted a blog about what I thought the Democrats needed to do to defeat Trump. That post was based on my career in marketing and proposed how certain marketing best practices could be employed by the DNC to strengthen their overall campaign against Trump. While writing the post, I knew it was lacking a specific course of action. However, I was interested in gaining feedback from others to further my thinking on the topic. To that end, I pushed the blog out via several channels—LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter—and as of this writing, it’s had over 500 views. (I think this is a solid number, considering it was posted to a brand-new blog I had created—one with no existing followers, SEO or paid marketing behind it.)
Given our contentious political climate, I expected lots of push-back from my post, but I didn’t get any comments from Trump supporters. This was disappointing, since I was interested in understanding their perspective. My social following tends to include many like-minded people (what Republicans would call the DNC Echo Chamber), so it’s not surprising that I did hear from numerous liberals. They nearly all agreed with my overall assessment of the situation and expressed a similar feeling of helplessness about how to reason with people who were supporting 45 in light of so much damning evidence against him.
An outsider’s inside view
However, the most interesting exchange I had on the topic was with a good friend of mine who is a 40-something white, male executive. This demographic is much maligned among liberals, but I think it’s an important group to understand because they still hold the most power in this country. I was particularly interested in my friend’s view because 1) He was born/raised outside the US where he experienced being a racial/religious minority firsthand, 2) he’s been in the US for long enough to be very informed about both politics and business and 3) he’s not a citizen, so therefore didn’t vote in the 2016 election. This gives him a uniquely objective viewpoint on what’s happening in our country.
We had a very spirited conversation via text. At one point in our conversation, I texted, “…I have no respect for Trump supporters for backing someone who is 1) so stupid and 2) destroying our democracy by ignoring the Constitution and colluding with foreign powers.”
His response to that really made me think. And truthfully, after reflecting on it overnight, it caused me to reframe the problem I identified in my earlier blog. He responded (paraphrased a bit for clarity), “The difference between you and them is that they also value not having a stupid president. They also value no collusion with foreign governments, they also value the Constitution, but they value all of those things secondary to the other values, like ensuring a conservative court, etc.” His opinion was that I likely had more in common with Trump supporters than I’d like to admit. But because they placed a higher value on certain issues, and then voted based on those priorities, we now found ourselves on opposite sides of a growing chasm.
It seems elementary in hindsight, but this discussion around priorities was really a revelation to me. My friend’s view, that perhaps Trump voters didn’t endorse his full agenda but just one or two key issues that drove their voting, gave me a glimmer of hope that our country may not be as divided as I had previously thought. After all, we all prioritize in that way. In a world with too many problems to solve, we all pick and choose which battles we want to fight. It just seems that when it comes to Republicans and Democrats, we view each other’s choices very differently.
The varying levels of commitment to a cause
Let’s begin by acknowledging that there are multiple ways to support any cause and that each requires a different level of commitment. For example:
Vocalizing your support or opposition of an issue in conversations with peers
Voting for policies that support certain causes
Donating money toward supporting a cause
Volunteering time or energy toward supporting a cause
Taking action in their personal life related to the cause
Let’s dive into a specific example—animal rights. Personally, I like animals, both
domestic and wild. I’ve had dogs, bunnies, birds and even a hermit crab for pets. I would never personally intentionally harm an animal and I don’t like for other people to harm animals. Yet, I’ll admit that I’m not a vegetarian. I eat meat regularly (as long as it comes from what I consider to be ethical farming practices). At the same time, I’m conflicted about hunting. I don’t personally hunt or like hunting. However, I don’t object to others who hunt (because the deer or duck hunters I know use the meat and it would be hypocritical of me to condemn that when I eat meat myself. However, I am disgusted by trophy hunting, which I classify as strictly killing animals for sport. Yet, while I profess to care about animal welfare, I will readily admit that I don’t regularly donate to animal rights charities because I prioritize other causes ahead of them.
You can see from this example that, although I believe in animal rights, my level of commitment to that cause is all over the place. And while I have friends who are much more dedicated to animal rights than me—they provide foster care for shelter animals and contribute time and money to related charities—I still get along fine with them. That is, they don’t condemn me for my relative lack of support of their cause.
The fact is, it’s human nature to prioritize issues that affect us or our loved ones personally. For example, I have a husband with a disability and a daughter who was adopted and is both gay and Asian. Because these people are precious to me, I tend to prioritize issues around Parkinson’s Disease, adoption, healthcare, minorities, immigrants and LGBTQ people more highly than I do many other equally worthy causes.
I think we all inherently understand that others have to prioritize their beliefs. You could take any issue Democrats collectively care about: immigration, healthcare, climate change, gun control, etc., and you would find the same varying levels of support and prioritization among voters. For example, it makes sense that the face of climate change, Greta Thunberg, is a 16-year-old activist. Her generation will have to live with devastation that won’t as directly impact your average retiree.
Liberals regularly extend slack to each other about which causes they throw their time and money behind, so long as they are all voting blue.
Yet, as a whole, Democrats don’t grant this same dispensation to Trump voters.
I’ll admit, I am 100% guilty of this. From my anti-Trump perspective, I believed that anyone who voted for Trump agreed with everything he stood for. Even though I personally have never agreed with every issue on either party’s platform but nonetheless have voted in every presidential election since I was 18.
How shared values can diverge in the real world
When my friend pointed out that, in all likelihood, Trump supporters were only concerned with one or two specific issues that they were prioritizing above all others (e.g., a strong economy or adding conservative justices to the Supreme Court), a light bulb went off. If Republic voters weren’t necessarily toeing the whole party line, then maybe there was hope?
I remembered a conversation from last spring when a Republican-voting relative of mine was diagnosed with cancer and debating where to go for treatment. His note included a little slam for his more liberal relatives: “Isn’t healthcare choice wonderful? Single payer? WTH?”
I was taken aback by his attitude, because when my husband had been given a devastating medical diagnosis years before, we had the opposite reaction. We, too, were grateful to have good insurance and choices in how to pursue treatment. But it drove home to us how awful it would be to face a similar diagnosis as one of the 27.9 million nonelderly individuals without health insurance.
In other words, my relative and I both shared the belief that “good healthcare is important.” However, he prioritized his desire to keep his affordable employer-provided insurance above the right of everyone else to have even a basic level of insurance coverage (assuming that extending insurance to everyone would result in higher costs or decreased options for him personally). Whereas I considered us fortunate to have good employer-provided insurance for my husband—and viewed that as a privilege that shouldn’t come at the cost of others being uninsured—he considered it critical to his personal survival and worth fighting for.
In voting for Trump, Republicans may believe that “the end justifies the means,” while liberals will argue that these same individuals have “sold their soul to the Devil.” However, once I wrapped my head around the idea that most Trump voters probably don’t support everything he stands for, it changed my view of the challenge facing Democrats.
Branding is what other people think, not what “the brand” thinks
Since this started as a conversation about marketing, I want to explain a fundamental principle of branding. That is, a brand only exists in the minds of the public. It’s the sum of everything a person knows about a company: its products, its services and its messaging about itself. Most companies spend lots of money to carefully craft a brand identity that will be embraced by their customers, but ultimately, the consumer is the one who will determine whether they are successful. If the company aligns to its brand in ways that extend beyond the marketing message, chances are good that the public’s perception of the brand will be close to the company’s intention. But if there is inconsistency, the consumer will put more store in the company’s actions—what they know to be true—than in its marketing message.
And the same applies to both Republicans and Democrats.
For example, while Democrats brand themselves as the compassionate party—the ones who are tolerant and care about others—many Republicans reject that branding because it goes against what they have experienced in their conversations at Thanksgiving Dinner or while scrolling through their Facebook feed. They see widespread condemnation of anyone who voted for Trump and consider the Democrat’s self-branding as the caring, tolerant party to be the height of hypocrisy.
Right or wrong, most Americans believe they are “good people”
Psychologists are aware of something called the “self-enhancement effect” which is people’s tendency to rate themselves “above average” when comparing themselves to others. While we generally cast ourselves in a positive light relative to our peers, above all else we believe that we are more just, more trustworthy, more moral than others. Consider the implications of this: If a Republican’s self-concept is that they are NOT racist, greedy or a white nationalist, how do you suppose they will react to the angry remonstrations of their family and acquaintances? In my experience, they will respond with bitter accusations of their own. The least likely reaction is that the Republican will undergo an immediate self-analysis and conclude, “Gee, you’re right. I AM awful for voting for Trump. I’m going to make amends by voting blue in 2020!”
Yet, most Democrats are just so darn angry about the situation our country is in that we WANT to blame everyone who helped put Trump in office. It makes us feel better in the short-term. However, to succeed in defeating Trump, I’m going to suggest another approach. Don’t engage in political discussions that appear to judge someone else’s priorities (even if you vehemently disagree with them). In other words, we need to resist from bashing Trump supporters. Instead, place all of your focus and attention on those who are being marginalized and help uplift them. Flip the conversation so that you’re appealing to your opponent’s self-concept of being a good person. For example, if there’s a new story that triggers your political ire, don’t launch into a diatribe blaming your brother-in-law and the other idiot voters who elected Trump. It might feel good in the moment, but it will only cause those individuals to further entrench themselves in their position. Rather, bring them into the conversation about how we as Americans can help those who are hurting.
We all prioritize our friends and neighbors—what’s happening in our own communities—above the suffering of others. It’s a human coping mechanism that allows us to function despite the many injustices in the world. But it’s also harder to ignore the plight of others when you begin to know them as fellow human beings. So, use that knowledge to get Republicans to see how Trump’s policies are harming others by personalizing the struggles of those who are negatively affected.
After all, if we’re going to live in a democratic society, we have to trust in the process. That means sometimes Democratic priorities will move forward and other times Republican priorities will prevail. At the same time, we still have a duty to protect the democratic process—so keep the spotlight on Trump’s impeachable offenses and on the victims of his policies. But do it without implicating or condemning those who—in their minds—were just choosing the lesser of two evils when they voted him into office. Even if you believe they deserve that condemnation, it simply won’t move us toward the end game of getting rid of Trump. So, with the new election year just a couple of short weeks away, we need to ask ourselves: Is it more important to get Trump and his minions out of office or is it more important to “punish” family and acquaintances that voted for him?
I believe that continuing to direct anger at Trump supporters is likely to make things worse for Democrats, not better. And despite my personal feelings on the issue, that’s a chance I’m no longer willing to take. Many recent polls have found that Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are troubled by how divisive our country has become, so let’s focus on fixing that problem…together. I believe that a new leader—one who doesn’t thrive off the chaos they’ve created—will naturally emerge as a result of all of us choosing to prioritize kindness and unity in 2020.
Postscript:As a strong believer in personal redemption, I wanted to suggest in this message that reframing the current political situation would allow those reading this to put aside their differences and once again reunite with estranged friends and family members this holiday season (visions of “A Christmas Carol” dancing in my head). However, I think the damage to our country— and to our individual relationships—is deeper than that and will take longer to heal. Still, much like Ebenezer’s nephew who invites Scrooge to Christmas dinner year after year, only to hear “Bah Humbug!” in response, I’ll keep trying. After all, eventually Scrooge said yes!
Last week’s visit by Donald Trump resulted in more news coverage than normal as well as lots of contentious Facebook posts from supporters and protestors. As someone who thinks Trump’s presidency represents a constitutional and moral crisis, it pains me to see so many people I formerly respected still supporting him after such clear evidence that he’s unfit. As a lifelong American Christian, it particularly pains me to see human rights violations being enacted in the name of Christianity and a complete disregard for the Constitution by those who profess to be patriots. Let’s just say, it’s put me in a bit of a funk.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to express my frustration, both to Trump voters themselves and to my fellow resisters who are floundering* in their efforts to have a rational discussion with irrational supporters. Having worked in marketing for the last 30 years, I tend to view things through a marketing lens, so I framed up my thoughts in a blog post and shared them with KitKat for her reaction (since she has nearly 20 years of marketing experience herself).
Because this is a serious topic, I didn’t want to hide behind Stormy’s identity. (Let’s face it, if you know me personally, you know my stance on this topic anyway… KitKat and I mostly just use our pseudonyms here to keep our respective children and spouses from becoming too embarrassed by our blog posts that mention them.)
As a result, I’ve posted this on my professional website and am sharing it via multiple channels. If you agree with the sentiments and are inclined to do so, I invite you to like/share/comment as well among your social channels. I really think that Democrats need to unify their message to succeed over Trump and his minions and believe that singular mission is more critical than advancing any individual DFL candidate over another.
I’ve been thinking about two of my favorite Christmas movies during this uncertain post-election season. Now, it’s no secret that neither KitKatnor I were rooting for our President-Elect to win. In fact, we were both plunged into a depression that required a fair amount of co-counseling—and wine—to overcome. While neither of us is resigned to a Trump presidency, we realize that we need to find a way to cope during the next four years and this post is my attempt at that.
KitKat and I are both members of the not-so-secret secret group, “Pantsuit Nation,” that’s comprised of Hillary supporters (or at least, non-Trump supporters). And in the days since the election, it’s been interesting to note that a shared conviction that Trumplethinskin is a narcissistic, evil Cheeto doesn’t necessarily mean that those who oppose him are lockstep in all of their viewpoints. There has been a fair amount of finger-pointing, liberal angst, fear and—alongside the shame and blame—also some impressive conviction and positivity.
Which brings me to my two favorite Christmas movies… These are Frank Capra’s masterpiece, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the musical “Scrooge,” based on Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol.”
The first time I saw “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I was 21. I was at a party on Christmas Eve and sat riveted to the TV. This was partially due to my introvert nature, but also because of the movie itself—I was entranced by Jimmy Stewart’s performance. I still watch it every year and love the quirkiness of the plot: The bravery and loyalty of young George Bailey. The sauciness of Mary Hatch. The unbelievable engineering of a retractable dance floor in a high school in the 1920s. The integrity of a grown George Bailey who turns down an impressive salary from the film’s villain (but still holds onto the high-quality cigar given to him by the same)… I love George Bailey because to me he represents the millions of decent people who do the right thing day after day with no expectation of reward or fame.
However, I think the most remarkable thing about the film is the fact that—in a very un-Hollywood-like twist—the villain never gets his come-uppance! In the movie, dastardly Old Man Potter nearly gets George sent to prison for embezzlement—and although George is saved by the contributions of his many friends at the end of the film, there is no indication that Potter is ever identified as the culprit who took the missing money. There’s no denouement where Potter is indicted and sent to Sing Sing. To the contrary, we’re led to believe that he remains unrepentant, despite George’s tribulations, and life in Bedford Falls goes on much like before. Except with a renewed outlook for George Bailey.
And for some odd reason, I like that. I guess because it smacks of reality. The lesson here isn’t to do good because some day “the bad guys will get theirs.” It’s merely to do good for the sake of being good. And this brings me back to the “Pantsuit Nation.” There are numerous posts by people who have encountered hatred and prejudice merely for being themselves—black, gay, Muslim, women—and they’ve turned around and responded with love and forgiveness: The father and son who shoveled their racist neighbor’s driveway. The woman who bought coffee for the homophobe behind her at Starbuck’s. And dozens more examples of people responding to hatred with love. And in a country where the haters seem more emboldened than ever, this is what keeps me going. This is what gives me hope.
My other holiday favorite, “Scrooge,” appeals to me for a completely different reason. Everyone knows the story: Over the course of his visits from three ghosts, a crotchety old miser comes to the realization that he’s been living his life all wrong. Redemption is a powerful thing and none of us are beyond the need for it. But to me the best part of the movie isn’t the fact that Scrooge has a change of heart—it’s how readily his acquaintances accept and celebrate his new-found enlightenment. They don’t say, “Screw you, Ebenezer—I’m not going to forgive the time you charged me 20% on that loan!” Instead, they all embrace the new-and-improved, forgiving, kinder Scrooge and rejoice in his better-late-than-never humanity.
If our country could internalize these two lessons, it would be a game changer:
Combat hatred with kindness—everywhere you see it. There is nothing that will disarm a hater more quickly than being responded to with love.
Readily accept any person’s attempts to be “better,” whether they are seeking to understand another’s viewpoints or making a small gesture of reconciliation—accept it graciously.
I’m not suggesting that we ignore or discount acts of hatred, prejudice or violence… It’s very important that we acknowledge these for what they are, but don’t let them be the last word. Let the last word be love.
God bless us, everyone!*
* Note: There is no disclaimer here. “Everyone” means everyone.