Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Three Steps for Challenging Ambiguity

Today's Top Story:
At the time of this posting, 848 US soldiers have died in Iraq.

(Why is this "The Top Story"? This has got to be more important than "American Idol". See my earlier post on comments about the Iraq war by Gen. Anthony Zinni.)

Today's Feature: Three Steps for Challenging Ambiguity

In my earlier post about the comments of General Anthony Zinni, I got on a soap box.

It is easy to rant about "the Administration" and "the war" and to advocate some action that no one of us can effect on our own (like "Let's start by firing Donald Rumsfeld"). As much as we each might like to see that happen, it's doubtful that any of us have the responsibility or latitude to do that as part of our work plans. (However, Mr. Bush, if you're reading this and are considering "lowering the boom", I'd be happy to give you ten or twenty good reasons to do so...). It is easy to rant, easy to comment at the "100,000 foot" level, easy to gloss over the messy details of pragmatic action.

In short, it's easy to get lost in the ambiguity. You can feel good for raising the issue, without any feeling of responsibility for participating in the solution. It's even better when you can raise it in a company of friends over a coffee or a beer.

But commenting at an abstract level without personal commitment is just whining. It misses the point. Remember "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem"?

It is harder to provide a set of concrete suggestions to the urgent question, "What can I do, NOW, to make the world a better place?". Much harder. I started this posting two weeks ago, and got to the "here goes" part below...and drew a blank.

In the interest of combating ambiguity where it lives...of speaking directly to the heart of the issue, hear are three concrete actions that any of us can take. Here goes:

Number 1. Talk to your neighbors. Start the dialogue, even if it's just saying "hello" to someone you see every day but have never met. Don't assume anything about their beliefs or opinions. Ask. Years ago there was an ad for a non-profit humanitarian organization that used a tag line that stuck with me -- "You can't change the whole world...just a little part of it." Start with your little corner. Conversation leads to familiarity, which leads to understanding, which leads to trust. The fearmongers of the world would prefer that we remain huddled inside, insulated from each other, with our paranoia fed by the Department of Homeland Insecurity reports of nameless, vague (yes...ambiguous!), but somehow "credible" threats. Are there bad people in the world? Absolutely. Do they live next door to you? Probably not.

Number 2. Call your elected officials. Let them know what you think and where you stand. Most US Senators and Representatives have voice mail, so you can do it after regular business hours. (One exception: The last time I called the White House, there was no voice mail. You can draw your own conclusions - mine ranged from "They really don't want to hear" to "G-dubs couldn't make it work".) Leave your name, address and phone number. Tell them you are one of their constituents, and that you are calling to express your opinion about . State your case succinctly, in 3 or 4 sentences. (Make a few notes before calling if you feel better with a script.) Be sure to close with a "thank you". Need some facts to help bolster your case? Visit or The Daily Misleader. You'll find plenty of material.

Number 3. Volunteer. I know, you're busy. Really busy. Too busy. Me, too. But if we don't make the time, who will? There are plenty of options available to you, no matter where you live -- local political campaigns, food pantries, tutoring programs. Find an hour. Make a difference.

That's my three. What are yours?

Today's Final Note In an earlier post I mentioned that I had enjoyed reading Denny Coates' Book of Life blog. Denny recently announced that he is giving up blogging to concentrate on writing a novel. His site will be archived after June 30th, so if you haven't visited it yet, you'd better hurry. I will miss reading Denny's posts. They were insightful, humorous, inspiring, and usually made me smile. They also provided a benchmark for good writing that I aspire to reach. Thanks, Denny. Good luck with your book.

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