Monday, February 25, 2013

Social Media, Free Speech, and New Anti-Harassment Laws

Free Speech is costly, but worth the expense.  We should never underestimate its value.  It’s the one thing a free nation cannot afford to lose.

Our new social-media matrix is testing the limits and boundaries of free speech.  Email, texting, IM, Skype, You Tube, blogging, Twitter, Facebook, streaming video, smart phones, iPads, and so-on, provide us with quick and immediate ways to stay in touch, communicate, have a say, get the word out, make a statement, express ourselves; which also can get us into a whole lot of trouble.

Most adults have long learned that if one speaks first and only thinks afterwards, one will often regret what one has said.  However, young, energetic, excited, and in-the-moment youth tend to do exactly that—do first and only afterwards consider the consequences.  When mom or dad asks with intense frustration, “Why did you do that, what were you thinking?!”  The most honest answer a teen could probably give in response is something like this:  “I don’t know why I did it.  I wasn’t thinking at all.  I just did it.  I did it because I felt like it; it just felt right at the time.”

Now add the new power that social-media gives to our youth today: the power to ‘harass’ fellow classmates, or even teachers for that matter, by posting fake photos, assigning anonymous Facebook pages with slurring and insinuating falsehoods and slanderous innuendoes, leading to malicious gossip.  WORD POWER!  By now we have all heard stories of vicious, biting, mean-spirited and slanderous Facebook postings about a person, which directly or indirectly led to that same person taking his or her own life.

Suddenly, Local and State Legislators are feverishly writing new social-media harassment laws to reign in such behavior and pronounce immediate and severe harsh consequences to these social-media hooligans.  In some States students will now be accountable if their online speech are the cause of physical or emotional harm, or causes a fellow student to fear such harm.  They will be punishable if their online messages or comments create a hostile environment for a fellow student in the school.  The intent is good.  Sounds fair and just, but can these laws go too far and suppress our basic and fundamental first amendment right of free speech?

This new communication dynamic forces us to address both the cost and the value of Free Speech: What it is, and what it is not; and, when the line has been crossed between the two, what are the proper and just consequences for having done so.  We can only hope that there is balance, justice and fair play, on both sides of the equation.

For example: Should schools have the ability to “take action” against an offending student, if their communication was done off school grounds?  If a student is caught “defaming” a teacher online, “just for fun, a mere teen-age prank,” how severe should legal or criminal punishment be, if any?  What if the content of a particular posting about an individual is true but personal, and obviously made public with malicious intent?  Should the person who put it “out there” be censored for saying something that is in fact true, regardless of intent?  What is the nature of speaking the truth in such a context?

As is always the case, Legislatures, and others in authority positions, tend to overstep or fall short.  Many times, school authorities either underreact, “Boys will be boys, they were just fooling around, no harm done”; or they overreact, “We have a zero tolerance policy in this school, and you will be punished by the full extent of the law for this violation, period!”  It seems that it is very difficult to find a balanced mature response between these two kinds of knee-jerk reactions.

School bullying, especially by means of the new powerful social-media channels, needs to be nipped in the bud.  But legislative laws must not overreach.  The First Amendment right of Free Speech must be maintained, though it may be costly to do so.  We must move forward with careful and deliberate intentionality in both protecting one another, especially our youth, from vicious and malicious cyber-media bullying, but we must also be just as protective of our right to free speech, for it is the lifeblood of a truly free society.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Minimize the Making of Bad or Poor Decisions

We’ve all done it.  We’ve all made poor choices.  Bad decisions that we’ve lived to regret.

Is there a way to minimize these?  After all, we can only hope to minimize them, since none of us can ever completely avoid them.  We’re just too human.

For example, ever been in an auto accident—your fault?  You go, and in a split-second, you knew!  You shouldn’t have.  But you did anyway.  Why?  Stubbornness, impatience, irritability, you were just too tired to wait, to hold yourself back.  It was a split–second, hair width, calculated decision, a choice, but a bad one.  And only afterwards, when the damage is already done, do you regretfully admit to yourself that it was also a very stupid one.  And you say, “Why oh why did I do it?  I should have known better.”

There are many factors that go into the making of poor decisions.  Perhaps it might help to consciously be aware of them.

We often make bad decisions when for example:

A.    We are angry, irritable, sad or hurt, defensive, or impatient. 
B.    We are hungry, tired, sick, feeling physical discomfort or pain.
C.    We become arrogant, stubborn, selfish, and willful. 
D.    We suffer from any combination of the above.

Breaking it down further:

A.    Our state of mind is directly affected by our emotional state.

We tend to make very regrettable decisions when we are emotionally distraught.  Better decisions are made when we know what we feel and how we feel.  Believe it or not, many of us are out of touch, even out of sync with our deepest feelings.  Furthermore, we not only should be in touch with how we feel, but why we feel as we do.

Fear and anxiety, for example, are great hindrances to making good decisions.  Undefined worries and perhaps even feelings of powerlessness, nudge us toward “giving-in” to a decision that our deepest instincts are actually shouting “no” to.  When we’re fearful, we are often most vulnerable to unwise influence and un-insightful suggestions.  Facing our fears and dealing with them appropriately will help us make much better decisions.

Hurt pride and/or the desire to please others or to look good in the eyes of others is another example.  Worthy decisions are made on the bases of real issues and concrete factors regarding the question at hand.  Sometimes we make a decision, not because it is good or right, but because we know someone or other will be pleased with us for that particular choice.  We are hooked in a very bad way when critical decisions are made on the bases of gaining the approval of others.

B.    Our physical condition also has a direct effect on our mental acuity.

Our emotional wellbeing and our physical wellbeing affect each other.  Sadness drains physical energy.  Exercise perks up feelings of happiness.  Our physical condition also influences our ability to think well.    If possible, when called upon to make a critical decision affecting self, family, friends, relationships, business, what have you, it’s best to do so after you’ve eaten, had a good night’s rest, or recovered from an illness.

C.    Our self-will can often hinder us from making a wholesome decision.

Sometimes we want what we want, and that’s that.  We don’t want to hear cautionary advice to the contrary.  We all have our stubborn moments when we get selfish, egotistical, and demanding of our way—no matter what.  This is when a very bad decision is most apt to occur.  No one can talk us out of it.  We dash forward, refusing to consider others’ opinions, feelings, or thoughts on the matter.  Only later, we are so very sorry and full of apologies, sometimes even life-long regret.  What happened?  We got pigheaded and willful, like a terrible two-year-old throwing a temper-tantrum stamping his feet repeatedly saying, “I want, I want, I want…I will!”

Lack of will can be just as harmful when called upon to make a choice.  We may be full of self-doubt.  We may not want the responsibility, not wanting to shoulder the blame if things go wrong.  So, we choose not to choose—usually a poor decision indeed.  This is inverse willfulness.  It’s stubbornness in the negative: “I don’t want, I don’t want, I won’t!”

We cannot escape.  We all make small, medium, and large decisions on a regular basis.  Obviously some of us are in greater positions of responsibility than others.  Still, none of us are without any responsibility at all.  We choose and we decide.  And every decision, small or great, has its impact—on self, and others.  A mature adult knows this and graciously accepts it with courage—and attempts to make the best of it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Personal Vision, Building a Future, Defining Success

We all have dreams.  Especially when we are young; but how many dreams become reality?

Reality Bites!

The young fresh dreamer is ready to conquer the world and then some.  He believes!  S/he says, “Yes!  Yes I can.  I will.  I must!  The world is before me.  I can have it all, and I will.  It’s ‘do or die’.” 

The tired, the old, the defeated, say, “Forget it, won’t happen, can’t be done.  Get real!”

Who’s right?  The crotchety old sour-faced fuddy-duddy with bitter spirit, or the starry-eyed idealist who believes s/he will conquer the world?  Which one is more in touch—with Reality?

Perhaps neither is.  None of us can or will ever ‘do it all’ or ‘have it all.’  So, what is success?  What does it actually mean to ‘make it’ in life?  It depends.  Perhaps the following principles may be of help?

To be successful in life

1.    First be true—to self.  Then be true to others.  Know who you are.  Especially know what kind of person you are becoming.  Know how you affect other people and why they react to you the way they do.  This presumes good healthy and keen self-awareness.  We change.  That’s a given.  Choose to change for the better.  We also remain the same.  Keep what is good, your strengths.  Know what makes you tick—the good, the bad, and the indifferent—and then deal with it accordingly.  Change what needs changing but always remain true to your core being.  Overall, seek to leave this world a better person.

2.    Act, don’t just Re-act.  Take charge.  Choose.  Yes, there are many, many events, circumstances, and dynamics over which we have little control.  But we control self.  No one makes us sour, we choose to be sour.  No one makes us grateful, we choose to be grateful.  No one makes us quit.  We choose to quit.  Take ownership of self.  You and only you are responsible for self.  Be pro-active.  Take the first step.  Move on and move forward.  Don’t wait for a shove or push.  Go.  And do.

3.    While you are going, look.  See where you’re heading.  Get perspective.  Look over the horizon.  Anticipate twists and turns and forks in the road before you get to them.  Develop foresight.  Create a map.  Know where you are heading, where you want to be when you get there, but most importantly know why you want to get there in the first place.  What you will do, once you arrive.  (This is not as easy as it sounds.  Many of us are self-deceived and have hidden motives, which we will often unconsciously avoid coming to terms with.)

4.    Count the cost.  Time, money, energy, family and friends, and other relationships and resources, are all part of the cost.  There’s always a cost to pursuing one’s dream.  And that is often the first hurdle.  Five hours spent in one activity means five hours less in another.  Many simply will not pay the cost and thus will never fulfill their dream.  Sacrifices are necessary in the pursuit of any dream or goal in life.

5.    Respect time.  Time is neither a friend nor an enemy.  In one sense, you have all the time in the world.  In another sense, you have only now, today, this hour, this very minute.  In short, you have no idea how much total time you really have in life.  So use your time wisely, but don’t serve time.  Speed up and slow down as needed.  Pace yourself.  Eat, sleep, work, play—it all takes time.  So find balance in your spending of time.  Time well spent is always a great feeling: catch up on sleep, play with your children, relax with friends, accomplish a fruitful task, or simply sit and meditate.  No one single activity should have a corner on the market of time—especially the so-called “time is money” view of time!  The time-is-money mantra will cheat you of so many other deeper and richer uses of time (unless money itself is your god).

6.    Develop a plan.  Learn.  Understand what is needed and wanted in order to make the plan work.  Tweak it.  Modify and renew it.  Trash it and start over if necessary.  Nevertheless, create a plan and use it.  All good builders follow a blueprint.  Oh yes, and fit that plan to a time-table.  Good planning includes good timing.

7.    Say “No” when necessary.  You are kind and generous.  You are polite and giving.  You are supportive and caring.  You are service oriented.  Thus, you will be used.  And that’s quite acceptable within limits.  Give, serve, and do for others.  But avoid becoming an extension of someone else’s life, doing someone else’s agenda, living for someone else’s game plan.  Sharing is good, entering into partnerships on the pathway toward life-fulfillment is even better (e.g., marriage).  But living solely to fulfill someone else’s life or dream or goal in life can be deadening—unless, of course, that is your self-defined purpose or goal in life (sort of like being Don Quixote’s Poncho).

8.    And finally, stay grounded.  Be Real.  For, when all is said and done, it’s actually more about the journey than the destiny.  Whether you’ve succeeded or not, in reaching your goals, accomplishing your dreams, completing your agenda, the critical issue is what has become of you in the process, in the attempt.

And here we are, back to the first point: YOU.  In the end, it’s not about what you have done, or about how much money you’ve made, or about how famous or infamous you’ve become in the annals of history.  It’s about who you have become.  What kind of person has the journey made of you?  Learn this in life and you will have had quite a successful one.

Footnote: this eight point list says nothing about God or our relationship with God.  But the working assumption is that God created us for this very reason: to become fully human (in the best sense of the term) and to succeed in becoming all that He intended us to be.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Man with Good Political and Economic Advice…

He is a nobleman, a statesman, a sage and a philosopher, and he reminds rulers of their obligation to provide for the common people.

He is an advocate of humane government.  He concedes that most rulers are more interested in power rather than in the welfare of the people over whom they rule.  Still, he tirelessly speaks to these rulers even though his good counsel mostly falls on deaf ears.  His social, economic, and political message is especially unpopular to power-hungry rulers—despots.

What is his message?

A. Government is to provide for the welfare of the people in two respects: (1) material conditions for their livelihood and (2) education—which is to include moral guidance.

B. Government must have realistic programs that help build up economic sufficiency for all the common people, not simply for a small elite group.

Thus, he advocates light taxes, free trade, conservation of natural resources, welfare measures for the old and disadvantaged, and a more just and equitable economic system that effectively spreads wealth, rather than funnels wealth into the hands of a few powerfully rich.

It is his fundamental belief that when people have a steady livelihood, they will then also have a steady heart.  He believes that the rule of moral power is greater and more effective than the rule of force and intrigue.  He also believes that rulers are answerable to Heaven for how they rule.  He says: “The people are the most important element in a nation; the spirits of the land and grain come next; the sovereign counts for the least.”  (The North Korean Government should take note.)

This man became known as a champion of the common people and an advocate of democratic principles in government.  His advice sounds current and he seems to deal with contemporary issues.  Who is he?

His Latin name is Mencius, from “Meng-Tzu,” also known as Meng K’o or Tsou Kung (Duke of Tsou).  He was born around 371 B.C. and died about 289 B.C.  He was given the title the “second Sage” because of his development of what has now become known as “orthodox Confucianism.”

He spent much time traveling, visiting princes and rulers offering his advice and counsel, encouraging them to govern by 'jen' (human-heartedness).  His advice fell on deaf ears.  The times in which he traveled and taught were chaotic, with increasing moral and political disorder.  The period in which he lived became known in Chinese history as the period of Warring States (481-221 B.C.).

Truth, wisdom, and good counsel are always apropos, regardless of source, time, place, or person.