Common Sense​ - January 2017

by JJ McKeever

"A world full of ignorant people is a dangerous place to live."
Quiet Strength in Turmoil – the Lesson of the Mount

January 31, 2017

These are certainly heady times. I could take everything that happened the past two weeks and talk about each event, but this would turn into a book. Instead, I thought for anyone interested, it might be more constructive to talk about how to survive it. For anyone who has read my past columns and books, you know I am full of opinions based on experience on things like leadership and government. In fairness, I am giving the new administration and Congress a month for everything to settle down.

This past Sunday, I listened to the story of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus talked about those that are blessed. I know this is a Christian reading, but there is a lot to learn from all religions in and outside of their doctrine. As with many teachings in the Bible, I think that is true here.

You see, one of the teachings I sometimes get from preachers is that Jesus wants all of us to get along and love one another. This is too simplistic and the teachings of Christianity go much deeper than that. What always struck me about the Sermon on the Mount is that it celebrated quiet dignity. In today’s crazy world, there is neither quiet nor dignity. Instead, we have bullies, know-it-alls, arrogance, and pretend leaders. The rule of thumb seems to be if you say something loud enough or long enough, the people will believe it. It is almost as if many people running our country go by the motto, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (Believe me – I attribute this to both major political parties.)

At the end of this passage, you can read what Jesus said, but it celebrates dealing with the issues of the world with strength and humanity. Instead of going around with a chip on our shoulder, I think it is a good lesson for everyone. Maybe it is me, but the anger in America can be cut with a knife. People from other parts of the country can tell me what it is like for them, but I live in New Jersey. Half the population always seems to be pissed off about something.

By reacting as Jesus taught, you can make a difference. Anger only begets anger. Everybody has seen two people going at it. When you are mad and shouting at each other, it is like fuel on the flames. It can really get out of control and people can come to blows or worse. That isn’t the fault of any politician or the police or your parents who whomever gets the blame for the day. It is a person giving in to the darker forces that surround us.

Do you know what expels darkness? Light. I’m Irish and can have a temper, but some of the lessons I learned through others, experience, my faith, etc. has taught me to smile and talk calmly to someone who is mad at me or someone else. (For people who know me, this isn’t always natural.) 99% of the time, it diffuses a situation. The other person actually calms down and you can have a conversation and start working things out.

Look, everybody isn’t going to get into a big circle, sing “Kumbaya,” and all get along. However, exercising calmness and kindness one person at a time can have a positive effect that we might never fully understand.  Putting people down is easy. Building them up is harder.

I guess what I am realizing that we have a choice of being a part of the solution or part of the problem. (Putting your head in the sand comes under the “problem” category.)  America has always been a mixed bag of personalities, nationalities, races, and religions. In times of crisis, the people rallied around each other. That is what is missing today. It is almost like we don’t get a chance to rally because of our “leaders” or the media or the garbage we are exposed to on social media and television.

What strikes me about the Sermon on the Mount is that we have a choice to be one of those that are blessed, or one who is not. There is a lot of downside to not being blessed whether you believe in heaven, hell, karma, or just living an empty life. My hope here is that someone reads this and finds a moment of calm. Because without calm, the anger is just going to continue ratcheting up and I cringe with where that will end.

As related in the Book of Matthew, here is what Jesus said to those who came to listen to him one day:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
   Media Roulette

                                                      January 26, 2017

I am old enough to remember that when you wanted to find out what was going on in the world, you had limited choices. There were a handful of television channels with set hours for news, a couple of news radio stations, and newspapers. That was pretty much it. Something really big had to happen for the regular television programs to be interrupted, otherwise you had to wait for the newscast or the next day’s paper.

Now the news is 24/7. As someone who can periodically be a news junkie, I like that. At least, I used to. Now, I wonder if that is one of the problems that is tugging at the seams that keep our large and varied country together. You see, before the advent of 24-hour news stations and an incomparable number of social media outlets, a story really had to be news to get in front of the public. Now, everyone who can video on their phone or use their thumbs to tweet or post to Facebook can be a reporter. (This article could be an example, but in my mind, it comes under “opinion column.” They used to have them all the time in newspapers.)

What this has brought into almost any “news” is the reporter’s opinion. Almost anything written or produced is not just reporting an event. It has a definite slant. Now while this is certainly prevalent on social media, the more telling aspect of this change is evident in almost any commercial news outlet out there. I realized this when I did my own version of roulette. Instead of picking a number on a spinning wheel, I started to look at the newsfeed on the homepage I use on my computer. By looking at a story headline and then the source of the story, I figured out if I was reading something liberal, conservative, anarchist, satire, pro-Trump, anti-Trump…whatever. Because I am an avid follower of the news, I found out I was right 95% of the time.

You don’t have to be a genius to figure this out. And that’s the problem. Most people know who reports news that matches their own particular beliefs. Let’s use a 24/7 news organization as an example. It could be Fox News, MSNBC, CNN or whatever one you want to pick. If you religiously follow one of these, you are going to agree with their viewpoint, be outraged when they are outraged, and pretty much believe what they say as gospel. Then you are going to take that stuff and further spread the word on your Facebook page, maybe Tweet it, and possibly bring it up at work, church, whatever.

What you are NOT going to do is listen to any contrary point of view, and if you did, you just figure it is totally wrong and contribute it to fake news or using “alternate facts.” It doesn’t even matter if something is reported with all of the trappings of responsible journalism. If what you watch says it’s nonsense, that’s good enough for you.

Now, the “you” I am using here is not everybody, but based on how things seem to be working in the country, it seems to be a majority. I know bias in reporting has been going on since newspapers were invented, but with the speed and competition in the media, its effect multiplies across cyberspace faster than a herd of rabbits reproducing.   

While there is no sign of this ending, the thing I want to challenge anyone reading is to use your God-given brain not to take things at face value, whether it is the evening news on CBS or what someone says on a Tweet or on Facebook. I fear this blindly following certain viewpoints is a key reason we have such wide divisions in our country.

Look, nobody is always right, even me!!  Thoughtful debates and discussions on subjects often lead to the best solution possible. However, if people do not open their minds to how other people think about an issue, the only discussion you are going to have will be based on ignorance. That isn’t a thoughtful conversation…it’s just noise. Get out of your comfort zone and be active in what you are hearing and learning via the news. Otherwise, you are going to come to a day wondering why you are blindly following the lemming in front of you over the cliff.

The Truth Will Set You Free

                                                            ​January 23, 2017

In the Bible, the entire verse from John 8:32 reads, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus said these words and he was talking about himself. As the Son of God, he was the Truth and knowing him leads to everlasting life.
Now while this is part of my faith and I believe it, there are other positive aspects of this verse that are universal whatever your beliefs. The fact is that when you keep a secret, or lie to others, you create a stress deep inside of you that can affect so many parts of your life. (This doesn’t apply if you are a total psychopath or pathological liar. Fortunately, they are the minority.) Ask anyone who has tried to keep a lie going for a long time, or finally unburdened themselves with whatever secret was plaguing them. It is like a new lease on life. The proverbial 10,000 pound boulder falls off your shoulder and rolls away. You sleep better, you think better, and it is easier addressing a truth you acknowledge than a lie you were hiding.
If you are part of an organization or company, not owning up to the truth is only going to bite you in the butt at some point. You are going to lose credibility with the people you work with and for whomever you are serving by what you do. It is the rare secret that goes to the grave, so sooner or later a secret is going to come to light. And when that happens, if a person lies on top of the lie to cover it up, it is like pouring kerosene to put out a fire.
This brings me to the first weekend of the Trump administration. I am not going to go off on them completely. I want to see if they can reboot themselves from the constant foot-in-mouth disease they seemed to have. As you know, there were big debates on how many people showed up at Trump’s inauguration. (Why there was a debate, I don’t know. Look at the photos comparing the most recent inaugurations. Case closed.)
President Trump once again showed that there is no fact that can’t be exaggerated, even with evidence to show he was wrong. I really hope he can shed this thin skin of his and put on a heavier cloak. His whining is immature (the guy is 70, after all), and he cannot make something true just because he says something constantly and louder than anyone else. The campaign is over, President Trump. It is time to lead and not act like a spoiled child. You didn’t help your cause by double-downing when you told the CIA your attacks on the intelligence community were fabricated by the media. I mean, do you read your own tweets?
As for you watergirl, Kellyanne Conway, I never saw anyone use more misdirection than her. I am always surprised when she actually answers a question. Of course, saying there were “alternate facts” to explain your position on the inauguration numbers goes way past political spinning. I can accept that. Pure BS, not so much. Blatant lying and thinking the American people are stupid is not going to give you a honeymoon in office.

The truth will set you free, Mr. Trump. Stop giving into your darkside all the time.  Not everyone is going to like you. Get over it. Do you want to be liked or respected as our President? Because if you and your team don’t stop acting like a late night infomercial, neither will happen.
​America Abides 

​                                                                     ​January 20, 2017   

It is 12:30 PM in New Jersey on January 20, 2017. Donald Trump is now President of the United States. We didn’t have earthquakes, cities breaking into flames, or any other signs of the apocalypse. The country moves on.

That is the point I want to make here. Our country will survive…and hopefully, thrive. I am saying that as someone who did not vote for Mr. Trump, but as someone who is sick and tired of seeing all of the crap either for or against him. I foolishly thought it would be over after the election. Instead, everyone from the major news outlets to anybody who can type on their phone is able to give their opinion about what is right or wrong with the country.

One of our wonderful rights in America is freedom of speech. It’s great we can say what we are thinking. Technology gives anybody who connects to the internet the capability of saying what’s on their mind, even if the brain in question is a very scary and lonely place. The important thing is we can all exercise our freedom of speech as I am doing here.

This change in leadership compelled me to write a regular column again. As the slogan for Common Sense reads, “A world full of ignorant people is a dangerous place to live." Listening and watching the rhetoric of the past eight years and the gladiator style of combat in the election of 2016 makes me think the country needs to chill a bit.

First of all, if you voted for someone other than Donald Trump in November, you lost. I lost. That’s life. In a few week’s there is going to be a new Super Bowl champion. There will be a winner. Whatever team loses has to live with that no matter the injuries, bad plays, or questionable officiating they might have dealt with. They came up on the short end of the stick.

However, a good team will lick their wounds, dust themselves off, and come together to improve for the following year. They work at it. They don’t just talk and bitch and complain. They go to work.

Because you accept a loss doesn’t mean you have to like it. There are going to be people that voted for Trump that might not be too happy in six months. I don’t know. Nobody has a crystal ball. What we do have in this country are people who are not afraid of hard work. If you don’t like something, fix it. However, you have to know what you are doing before you can repair something.

If I take a combination of news stories and a bunch of the manure put up on social media by each side this past year, I don’t think most people understand how our country works. I am all for people coming in and changing how things have been going, but they have to have some knowledge of our government to do that. We have been around as a country for almost 250 years. Take the time to learn how our government works, what the political parties actually stand for, and most importantly, look closely at the people you vote for.

I hate to tell the people who put up stuff that is totally biased to one party or another: nobody cares! People who already agree with you are going to read it; those who think the other way are wondering why you are breathing. Come up with thoughtful arguments or evaluations. Make an effort to persuade with ideas backed up by facts; not reciting the party line because you drink the Kool-Aid.   

I do believe we are on a bumpy ride for the near future. Some things will get better; others, not so much. We have been through this before as a country. We started out as colonies and were the first to become a nation from that humble beginning. We survived civil war, world wars, depressions, good presidents, bad presidents, and any obstacle you can think of. We keep chugging on, and not always because of the leaders in power. Sometimes they create other leaders who come into power after them and clean up.

America abides and we will continue to do so. Remember, one person or one side is not right 100% of the time. Know what’s going on before you decide what is right or wrong for you, and for our country.
Video Archive