Don’t Get Spun, Fighting Words

We all have seen them, the stories from different news outlets or bloggers with contradictory stories on the same topic. Sometimes these are simply reporting different perspectives, but other times the facts are coated in a nice thick layer of polemic speech.

Them’s fightin’ words…

Polemics are the language of war. They are arguments that incite people to violent passions. This kind of speech has always been popular in propaganda during times of war. Now these arguments based on emotional manipulation are everywhere, and used in virtually every political argument turning every issue, large or small, into a life-or-death struggle.

This isn’t primarily a right or left issue, polemics can be found on both sides of the political spectrum. Which is why it is so important, for civil discourse, that we can recognize inciting language and not allow it to shape our opinions and actions. How do we sort out what are the facts and what may be skewed by a certain point of view?

Look for inflated language.

Words matter. When someone wants to use emotion to shape your opinion, they will use bigger, inflammatory terms. If someone is covering a group of people gathered to express their disagreement with something, they can use different words to describe that group. Protesters. Crowd. Riot. Demonstrators. Each of those words carries a certain emotional weight. There is a guaranteed right of free speech and assembly in the Constitution. Gathering is not illegal, nor is expressing dissent. You can often find out more about the author’s viewpoints in their choice of language than those gathered to exercise free speech. Sometimes an author will even use different language for two different groups expressing their opinions publicly within the same article.

“The protestors gathered to express concerns over issue A, while across town crowds rioted in reaction to issue B.” (Clearly the author feels more sympathy with issue A.)

Look for crimes being described differently. Shoplifting vs Robbery. Fist fight vs Assault.

Look for action words. Marching. Walking. Gathering. Crowding. Supporting. Protesting.

Look for fallacies like the straw man, setting up a weak version of the opposing view in order to knock it down, or ad hominem attacks, coming against the person instead of facing the issue at hand.

Read different perspectives.

People take different paths when they come face to face with contradictions in the media. It is really easy to subscribe completely to the thoughts and ideas expressed by a particular media outlet and dismiss anything that contradicts those views. That certainly is a simple road to follow, but it may not lead to the truth. Instead, it allows us to insulate ourselves from anything that would challenge what we hold dear.

It is important to read and listen broadly if you want a more complete picture of any issue. This can be uncomfortable. It often means hearing the other side’s polemic which by design counters the polemic we are used to hearing. It puts us on the defensive. It makes us angry sometimes. It is really easy to see their flawed arguments and their inciting language. Sit with the discomfort. Understand that to someone of the opposing viewpoint, this is what it feels like to read articles expressing your side of the issue.

You might, if you can get past the initial reaction, see a little of the other perspective. This is not just important for your personal understanding, but may allow you to self-censor when speaking with others about your point of view. In recognizing the tactics, you can refrain from using them yourself and maybe even have a civil discussion with someone who holds different opinions.

Find the facts.

Skimming the articles for the facts and bypassing the descriptive language all together helps us form our own opinions. If you can read articles from 3 different news agencies, a conservative, a liberal, and an international, and find the common ground, you will most likely have the facts.

Facts are important. If we can focus on the facts in any story, we can often begin to see that it is possible to interpret them in different ways, to spin them to fit a certain political or philosophical framework.

Facts: people gathered to express their views, police gathered in response to perceived threat, looting occurred, police presence escalated, the people felt threatened, there were clashes between police and gathered people, many were arrested

This scenario may bring to mind specific situations, but truly describes a myriad of protests and demonstrations dating back to the French Revolution. It is a common enough set of facts. What you will read or hear in the media will rarely present just the facts. You will have pro-demonstrator media decrying police overreaction. You will have pro-police media decrying protestors wreaking havoc. You will have pro-business media outraged that no one protects their interests. You will have as many perspectives as you have players in the game.

Expect it, and look for this kind of spin in everything you read and hear from media outlets. It is no longer a tactic used for wartime, or even for campaign season, but has become standard operating procedure.

The use of polemics is undermining our ability to have civil discourse on virtually any topic today. Unless we can recognize and sidestep the invitation to allow emotionally manipulative language to shape our views, we will find ourselves immobilized and unable to accomplish anything except lobbing verbal bombs at the other side. This is already happening in much of our government at State and Federal levels. Politicians are so busy fighting each other that they have let the good of the nation go by the wayside.

You do not have to buy in. You can choose to be a fact-finding sleuth and form your own opinions on the issues of the day. You might even be able to sort out a solution that would benefit everyone.

Sidestepping polemics to become part of the solution.

Now that’s ReFreshing!



Things we learned along the way

This week, we celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. Our marriage is now old enough to drive a car, though thankfully none of our children are. Wise words of wisdom, here are Sixteen things we learned on our way to sixteen years of marriage.

1. Give each other the benefit of the doubt. Not everything that annoys or hurts us is intentional. Think misunderstanding or ignorance before deciding that they have bad intentions.

2. Communication is seriously a key. You have to communicate your needs, your dreams, your hurts. Communication is not always fun, sometimes it is hard, but it is worth the struggle. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful are all important to share.

3. Speak the truth in love. How you communicate is just as important as the transmission of information. Don’t hide how you feel or what you think, but don’t use your words to inflict pain.

Mvc-057s4. Pursue their good as well as your own. Listen to their dreams, help them develop their skills and pursue what they love. AND share your dreams, ask for them to participate in pursuing what you love. You might have to take turns, but you are both valuable people who deserve to have your day.

5. Do not intentionally wound them. Just don’t. Not with words, not with actions, not by cutting them off emotionally, or by withholding sex.

6. Spend time together. Play together. Hang out. Even if you just sit in the same room, you are forging bonds that make it easier to trust.

7. Live in the present. Don’t drag up the past, and don’t wish for someday when things will be different. If there is something that needs addressing, fix it now so you have a someday to look forward to. If they did something last week or two years ago, let it go, especially if you have offered forgiveness. If something happened that you didn’t already discuss and it continues to be a problem, go ahead and address it. Then move forward.

RIch and Charity Hep Cats8. Have their back. Be a team. Don’t undermine them with the kids, your family, their friends, etc. This does not mean pretending like they are perfect, but a little discretion goes a long way.

9. Brag about them to whoever will listen. Again, this does not mean pretending your spouse is something they are not, but saying the actual positive things about them out loud to another human being helps to remind us and reinforce the notion that we made a good choice.

10. Keep the checkbook open. Be honest and take the time to communicate about the state of your finances. It doesn’t matter who keeps the books as long as both parties know what is in them. Decide together how to set your priorities, and don’t make big purchases without discussing it first.

11. Touch each other. Hold hands, sit with your thighs touching on the couch, put your arm around them and snuggle in. Physical touch helps build intimacy, even when you aren’t being sexual. And it might help stir up some sexy feelings later.

12. Sleep on it. Don’t make big decisions impulsively. Consider the pros and cons of big moves, career changes, child-rearing, etc. Talk about it. Find a way toward consensus if you disagree. Remember these things affect both of your lives.

DSC0016313. Make new friends, but keep the old… You need mutual friends as well as friends that are only yours. Spend time hanging out together, but leave room for a ladies night or a guys night out.

14. Remember your spouse is your best friend. Don’t share things with anyone that you won’t share with your spouse. This is a dangerous road that can lead to secrets, lies, and in some cases affairs of the heart and more. Even a platonic friend shouldn’t be privy to concerns and dreams you won’t reveal to your spouse.

15. Be careful who you invite into your disputes. Don’t rope others in to fighting your battles for you. Keep your kids out of any argument. Don’t call your mom or his/her mom. At the end of the day, your enemy is this challenge you need to face together, not your spouse.

16. Be fair, but walk in grace. I know, seems contradictory. As far as it is possible, divide responsibilities and rewards evenly. Work out a balance, write it down if you have to
(2 toilets scrubbed = taking out the trash and recyclables, etc.). Try to bring fairness to the forefront, knowing that not everything can be evenly divided. (Except ice cream sandwiches, which can always be divided fairly and over which the fairness rule must always preside.)DSC00927

This is not, cannot be, an exhaustive list. One thing we did not include, because it has been there from the beginning, is that we built our marriage on the common ground of faith. We have committed to follow God above all else, and to love each other with the love that Jesus modeled. We are imperfect, but through the years we have learned that Divine Love lived out in our marriage looks like the practices above. I hope you find refreshment in them as well.

Sixteen years of marriage, working life out together.

That’s refreshing!

Back to Basics

As I get older, it seems as though the number one obstacle I face is life’s increasing complexity. There is an ever-expanding set of things to keep track of, worry about, and take action to improve.

I worry about getting things right as a parent, as a wife, as a pastor, and as a follower of Jesus. There are always new articles being written about the effects of discipline, rewards, activities, reading, isolation, electronic media, nutrition, bullying, and whatever they publish tomorrow, on a child’s development. I can’t scroll through my news feed without being reminded to encourage my husband by speaking positively, communicate my needs honestly even if it means confrontation, respecting his job, leaning into my own, sharing parenting and household responsibilities, and of course never nagging. As a pastor, I can affirm to you that if there are 20 people in a room there will be 25 different opinions about what I should be doing and how I should set my priorities. As a follower of Jesus, I am being told to stand up for my faith, not be controversial, be honest about my struggles, never doubt, always do the right thing, never judge (except when I should)…

I have to tell you that as an introvert, it makes me want to hide in a cave. I also have the unfortunate struggle of being a people-pleaser, and it makes me feel pulled in 100 different directions. This is when I have to remind myself to go back to the fundamentals.

Cover Image graur razvan ionut  FreeDigitalPhotos.netAs a follower of Jesus, my first obligation is to love God. That is primarily what God wants from me, and from each of us. Loving God means that I trust in what he communicates, and believe that the Holy Spirit is with me to guide me into all truth. I can walk in confidence, knowing that while danger exists and difficulties will arise, God will not allow me to wander over a cliff without a warning.

As a pastor, my first job is to love the people under my care. If love guides my biblical study, messages, counseling and prayers, I know I will first do no harm. I will seek to be faithful to give the truth and not my opinions. I will offer grace and healing, reconciliation and peace to all who are seeking.

As a wife, my first priority is to love my husband. If I love him, I will communicate with grace and honesty. I will listen with interest and concern. I will want to help him, I will seek to meet the needs I am capable of meeting. I will trust him look to God to meet the needs I cannot. So much of what I read in “wifely” advice puts all of the burden for a man’s feelings and actions on his wife. It isn’t fair to women, and it doesn’t give much credit to men. I will love and respect my husband, and trust God for the rest.

DSC00889As a parent, my first responsibility is to love my kids. If I love them, I will feed them (though not always organic), clothe them, and make reasonable efforts to care for their needs. Almost everything else is extra, or at least amendable with therapy years from now.
At some point as a parent, I have to do my best and let the rest go.

I am sure there are those who look at this and say it is not enough. It may not be perfect, but it is doable. It is also just a starting place. In sports training, coaches push the fundamentals, not because they are the only components of the game, rather they are the foundation for everything else.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40

Knowing I can return to the basics, letting the rest fall into place,
That’s Refreshing