DAVIDS DESK #118 – FLYOVER STATES
DAVIDS DESK #118 – FLYOVER STATES
Back in the days when I was regularly traveling to give lectures and workshops, I always tried to drive to wherever I needed to go. If time were an issue, then I would take a plane, but otherwise, I loved road trips. I loved seeing the various parts of the United States and getting to know my country from the ground up; after years of cross-country trips, there are only three States I’ve never had occasion to visit. The United States lives in me in my memory of all the different landscapes that I’ve seen. When I think of America, it’s all there for me, from Maine to California and from Washington to Florida.
As my family grew, my travel time diminished. I didn’t want to spend so much time on the road away from Julie and the kids. So, I began flying more. I enjoy flying, too (or I did when it was a more comfortable and less harried and crowded experience). There was a thrill to looking down and seeing countryside through which I had previously driven. Still, I missed the closeness with the land and with places and people that I experienced while driving. I had become a “flyover” person.
I don’t know when the term originated or started to become popular, but I became aware of it last year during the Presidential Election: “Flyover States.” These are the States in the middle of the country that air flights between the large urban centers of the East and West coasts regularly fly over. To be a Flyover State is at one level a simple description of a fact of life as more and more people live on the East and West coasts and take non-stop flights back and forth. But especially last year, the phrase took on additional meaning. Flyover States were the homes of the “forgotten Americans,” the ones whose opinions and activities were not as important when compared to what goes on in places like New York, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the large metropolises on either side of America. To be a “Flyover State” carried connotations of being ignored, overlooked, not seen, or even disdained as being of lesser importance. Certainly, if a person’s only view of America is from 30,000 feet, he or she is not seeing and connecting with the country in the way a person does who is driving from one coast to another.
There are commentators who describe one of the divisions in this country, of which there currently appear to be many, as that between the heavily populated and generally more liberal metropolitan areas of the Coastal States and the less populated and often more conservative Flyover States. I’m sure there’s a truth to this, and the last election would seem to confirm this, showing again the intent of the Electoral College to give political power to States with smaller populations.
However, when I think of Flyover States, it conjures up an entirely different image for me. It seems to me that one of the many challenges facing us in this country, and for that matter in the world at large, is how easy it is to step into a “flyover state.” Such a state is not a place but an attitude that can arise when we encounter someone who is different from us. This difference could be political, religious, ethnic, racial, economic, or something as trivial as a difference in hairstyles or clothing. Unless we are compelled for some reason to engage with this person, we can “flyover” them in our minds and hearts. We can fail to encounter the territory of their life; we can fail to make connection.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced this, both as the one doing the flyover and the one being “flown over” and overlooked. We all live at one time or another in our daily lives in a flyover state. The cumulative effect is that we come to know each other less and less, and spend more and more time clustered mentally and emotionally with those with whom we agree. “Flying over” pushes difference out of our lives or at least diminishes its impact. We see only what we want to see.
I believe that our hope lies in our ability to connect, and this requires that we walk into each other’s territory, at least enough to appreciate another even if we don’t agree with his or her positions and beliefs. Turning each other into flyover states will not help us going forward. The future depends on understanding. The major problems and challenges of the world are systemic and cannot be solved except through collaboration and cooperation. If we can’t go so far as to love each other, we must at least know and respect each other. This requires looking at our differences directly, up close and personal, and not dismissing or ignoring that with which we do not agree.
At this time, our country is embroiled in problems caused by our various differences. If we hope to solve them, we must work to connect and live in our hearts and minds in united states, not flyover ones.
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DAVID’S DESK #119 – DISCERNING NEWS
Since my last “David’s Desk”, a friend has died at the age of 117. We’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship for the past thirty-three years, but this past year, we’d gotten close again. The death came as a shock.
What died is our local newspaper, the Issaquah Press, which first started business in 1900. It was not like the New York Time or the Washington Post, but it was the voice of the community, a common source of news about what was happening in our town and in the region. When it needed to do so, it was also a source of good investigative journalism, keeping our local politicians and developers on their toes.
We shall miss it.
The death of newspapers is all too common these days as print journalism struggles to keep up with competition from all the digital media now available. It takes attentiveness to peruse a newspaper, taking time to think about what we’re reading rather than just responding to a tweet. Not everyone is now willing to spend that time.
What struck me this past month was that the death from financial anemia of our local paper came just as there was so much discussion and concern in other media about the proliferation and impact of “fake news.” While newspapers have certainly been instruments of propaganda, and I’ve personally seen instances where reporters and editors have gotten their facts wrong or misinterpreted what is happening, on the whole newspapers have been a valuable source of accurate information. Newspapers at their best can be an antidote to fake news. When the Issaquah Press died, I thought, “Well, there’s one less resource we have for finding the truth or for being informed about the issues of our community.” There are some roles and needs that digital media just don’t fill.
Thinking about the ease by which propaganda, misinformation, fake news, and out-and-out fabrications can now be generated and distributed to millions of people through digital media every day reminds me of a friend of mine back in the late Fifties and early Sixties. She was a terrific psychic and I remember her saying to me, “David, the time is coming when people will be challenged to distinguish between truth and lies, facts and illusion, and everyone will be living in their own private bubble of information.” With the arrival and growth of cyberspace over the past three decades, I’ve been watching her prophecy come to pass.
Finding truth is always important; decisions and actions based on falsehoods or misinformation can have damaging consequences. The first step towards truth is to be open to it, even when it means changing our minds. If all we look for is information that will confirm our own beliefs and biases, then we filter out anything that threatens or contradicts those opinions, even if it’s true and what we believe is not. We need to be willing to step beyond our private bubbles of information, as my friend put it so many years ago. Discernment becomes a survival skill in a world filled with daily attempts to manipulate our consciousness to someone else’s point of view.
My criteria for separating “true news” from “fake news” or propaganda, whether from the Left or the Right, is how much the source of the information wants me to see a limited, partial point of view that will engage me emotionally and stir me to conflict of some nature. It tries to convince me, stir my emotions, and bend my thinking, with no regard to my own sovereignty. It does not want me to think for myself but to accept without question the information and perspective being handed to me.
These days, everyone wants to turn me into a follower, it seems, even very worthy causes. In some cases, I’m OK with this, but I still want to choose out of my Sovereignty to support that cause. I do not wish to be coerced because they’ve made an emotional appeal or are trying to frighten me by telling me all the awful things that are happening or that will happen if I don’t support them.
When presented with news or other information, I ask myself if it adds to my understanding and compassion, making it easier to make connection with someone different from me, or does it seek to divide me from others, creating a feeling of “us” vs “them?” Does it make me resilient and more capable in my life? Does it enable me to engage the world in a loving and hopeful way? Does it open possibilities.
There is no doubt there are frightening things happening in the world. I can understand the desire to build walls around ourselves for safety and to filter out any information that threatens us. But our safety in the future does not lie in fortresses or the mentality that creates them. It lies in how we can communicate, understand, and cooperate with each other for our mutual benefit and the benefit of the earth around us. The future belongs to the collaborators, not the separators. Fake news denies this and works to keep us separate. The good news is that we can choose otherwise.
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