Unity is Unlikely: Here’s What We Should Do Instead

It’s been said, in many circles, that we stand a country divided.

At least, that’s what you hear if you pay close attention to the mainstream and fringe news media, or the cable talking heads: we are divided, and we need desperately to heal.

Years ago, I made a decision to follow the lead of author Tim Ferriss, and adopt what he called the low information diet. It is exactly how it sounds. The crux of it is to ignore news outlets for the most part, to not let them dominate your day or your psyche. He suggested, to still remain an informed citizen, scanning newspaper headlines on your way to work or running errands, or engage someone in conversation, asking, “what’s new in the world today?”

His interest lie in seeing how much information another person could relay back to you: what they retained after a morning or afternoon of being influenced by what Don Henley coined “dirty laundry.”

I Got the News Today, Oh Boy

I was pretty faithful to this way of life until the pandemic hit: when we all felt a civic duty to become more informed. Starting innocently enough with updates on case numbers, data and statistics. Which might segue into the evening national news, which would supplement COVID driven information with other bad news.

Pretty soon, you find yourself drowning in news content, going down the slippery slope of fear and despair. Exactly the plan, to rivet your attention to marketing to follow: so you can be sold pharmaceutical drugs, household cleaners, and new Toyotas.

Make no mistake, the primary function of the news is not to inform, but to sell.

Happily, I’m awakening from my stupor. Slowly weaning myself from it’s devil’s grip, and as future corona case numbers head south and vaccines are more prevalent, I’ll expect a cold turkey sabbatical: to watch for one reason only, as Paul Simon said, “getting all the news I need from the weather report.”

But lingering doubts driven by the talking heads still remain: are we divided, and what can be done about it?

I Don’t Need No Civil War

As you may expect, our political leaders call for unity. To some of us, these requests smack of pure rhetoric. Why unity? In their eyes, it equals votes. The objective is to ensure securing votes at any cost, to the end of making sure few changes transpire during the election cycle. Securing the thirst for power and influence they covet.

Having said that, let’s end there, with the attempt to keep this post as apolitical as possible.

Is unity, a unified human nation, a probable goal?

I’m going to say no. With so many differing ideologies, cultures, and beliefs – some probably instilled at a very young age – mass unity is a far fetched dream that will always elude us, no matter how feverish the chase.

Instead, I offer that we focus on what sales leaders call the low hanging fruit (i.e., sell the easiest deals first before moving to bigger challenges), or what legendary coach Vince Lombardi would refer to as the blocking and tackling fundamentals.

Let’s instead focus on increasing our civility towards one another. It’s not unity, but it goes a long way to creating a better time.

The type of civility I refer to is an example I was shown growing up: Italian immigrants, who although discriminated against and often with a challenging path up their personal mountains, still managed to display class and love for their fellow human being. I’m certain, at times, it wasn’t easy for them. But damn, they sure made it look easy.

The answer to my self imposed questions were clear: if they could do this, with lives that began in this country as an unquestioned fight for survival – why can’t we, while we’re enveloped in our lives of (mainly) modern comfort and convenience?

If you’re at all interested in more civility (I realize some of you may not be, and that’s OK; I’ll make a concerted effort to steer clear of you in public), there are many ways to increase awareness on how you treat your fellow human being, and as the immigrants did, display a little class in most every situation. I’ll highlight a couple.

Gimme Three Steps

Earlier this week, my company launched their annual sales kick off, albeit virtually. Although we missed the travel, and seeing friends from around the country, it was still worthwhile. There’s always a great keynote speaker, and 2021 was no exception: Shawn Achor, an author known for his advocacy of positive psychology, delivered the speech.

Amidst his citing of research and science, he emphasized to live with more purpose and feel happier, it helps to spend a minute each day thinking of three things you can be grateful for.

Just three things.

I’m taking this exercise to heart. My things today, that I noted in long hand earlier, included our recent polar vortex temperatures (yeah, it sucks at first: but man, you eventually feel alive!), vaccines (our parents with their first doses this week. Yay!), and push ups (brutal to perform at times, but I appreciate the fact that I can probably do more than most other 57 year old men).

To think of, and write this down, took all of five well spent minutes.

Secondly, it may also help to temper your social media consumption. Zuckerberg’s creation initially dubbed the facebook was a way for college students to stay connected, but has morphed into a behemoth, a poison well of easily shared false information. Compared to the rolling vitriol of Twitter, the facebook seems like a viewing of Mary Poppins, however. Take the poison of your choice.

Having said that, there are positives to social media: you just have to filter, sort, and curate your way to a better online experience. I’ll lose patience with that never ending battle, instead focusing on what I can share myself that might lift someone’s day. Which is something my Nonna taught me is pure civility.

Once you do modify social habits, if you choose, you may find an increase in positivity is apparent – a step forward to helping decrease the temperature of your own life.

Sure, things still piss me off. Absolutely. There was a time not so long ago I was a perfect candidate for anger management intervention.

However, it’s harder to be pissed when you’re not bludgeoning yourself over the head with the latest news, or falling down the social rabbit hole. The gratitude habit, however cliched, always helps, as well as exhibiting patience in stupid situations.

You’ll find as you lower the temperature, that it’s easier to have a measured conversation, avoiding shouting and hyperbole. Levels of empathy increase, as you find yourself standing in someone else’s shoes. You may, although you don’t agree with it, actually respect another’s opinion.

Wow moments, am I right?

Lowering the temperature doesn’t have to be hard. It can be radically simple: remembering that we can all think of each other as members of the same flawed human race, and aren’t really all that much different, despite what we perceive as differences.

Barriers can be broken down if you want them to be.

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“Make America Great Again?” – You Can’t Be Serious

“Politics is an easy place to go to avoid dealing with your real problems. In fact, many of the people who spend their time worrying about partisan politics do so as a way to avoid addressing what really needs to change in their life. The changes you need to make are not going to be addressed by any politician or government agency. While elections are important, they aren’t nearly as important as what you can do for yourself.” – Anthony Iannarino

As we steamroll into these final months of an election season – with heated debates that promise interest and entertainment – this is not going to be another internet political rant.

I don’t have an agenda against one candidate, or for another. That’s not my deal.

As a small town citizen, who would I be to bash anyone that is running a campaign to acquire the world’s most demanding job?

I do, however, have a small problem with the slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Albeit, the slogan sells. Look at the campaign rallies – the citizens have come droves to bathe in the rhetoric.

With smart phone at the ready, clutching a Starbucks or upgraded handbag in their one hand, waving their rally sign with the other.

I look at our country of today and think to myself, “are we really in that much trouble? Has America lost her greatness?”

This slogan, and perhaps the campaign itself, preys on fears that you have created that have no basis – fears that you should put on the shelf.

A Different Perspective

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My great grandmother, pictured here, could possibly have told you about the greatness of America, if she could speak any English. Arriving here in 1929, she stepped off the boat onto Ellis Island just in time for the greatest stock market crash our economy has faced.

She left the comfort and familiarity of her small town in Sicily, and if my facts serve me correctly, the first home in that town with indoor plumbing and running water. Truly the lap of luxury.

I would not blame her if she thought she left her homeland to travel great distances to a country with big problems.

Luckily, she had a rock steady family unit around her. Up against the odds and mighty struggles, that family turned out successful business owners, physicians, teachers, cooks, artists, and all around American success stories.

The secret to that success?  Embracing simplicity, values, and a never say die work ethic.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote a wonderful article about our 2016 Olympic athletes – but as I was reading his words, I felt he was talking about my immigrant family more than anything:

They had a drive more powerful… They swapped resentment for goals. And they worked. By God, did they work. We tend to marvel at their freakish gifts, but we should marvel even more at their freakish devotion. That’s what made the difference.

They invested hour upon hour, day after day. They sacrificed idle time and other pursuits. They honed a confidence that eludes most of us and summoned a poise that we can only imagine. They took risks, big ones.

And they pressed on, because there was this thing that they wanted so very, very badly and the only way to know if they could get it was to put everything on the line.

And herein lies the issue with modern America – everything is expected, and little is earned.

Should we be shocked most people don’t think America is great? How could you, when the perception is – the wolf is at the door, at all times?

We all need to leave our warm, comfy cocoons and come to one realization – the resident of the Oval Office doesn’t matter. In the end, you are responsible for your life.

Statistics bear out that we live in one of the safest, and most prosperous, times in our history. We have running water. Indoor plumbing. Plenty of food. Perhaps, too much food. Modern conveniences that have no purpose other than to make our unfit bodies more comfortable, within houses and property so opulent that the rest of the world may not be able to fathom.

And we need to “Make America Great Again?” Give me a break.

My Italians came here with little hope other than to live as poor immigrants. They made themselves great. We can all do the same.

Embrace your inner peasant, your inner Spartan. Start earning what you think you deserve. Make yourself a little uncomfortable in the process, on purpose, instead of searching for the convenient answer.

As Mr. Bruni wrote – sacrifice your idle time. Instead of resentment, embrace the work. Cultivate a freakish devotion. Put it all on the line.

That’s what your ancestors did, and what we can do. That’s America, and her greatness.