Let’s All Graduate To Better Thinking

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I attended a graduation at Texas A&M University recently. It was an abbreviated ceremony which actually worked out quite well, no long speeches from the Association of Former Students or politically leaning entities. The students were separated into groups of about 200 with eight guests each and the entire affair only lasted a tinge more than an hour. It was wonderful!

The interim president of the university was the main speaker and he walked a fine line down the middle road in his address. Of course he spoke of the bright future that each of the students will have in the world of computing but also alluded to the ethics needed for their work. Then he mentioned the divisiveness in our country today and expressed his hope that a unifying leader will one day emerge to bring us back together. He used the examples of John F, Kennedy and Ronald Reagan as models of the kind of electrifying individual who might unite us in the name of our country and one another. He hinted that such a person might even emerge from the ranks of the graduates. Sadly he remarked that our past year of unprecedented events should have been the catalyst for a national effort to work together and instead our differences seem to be more pronounced than ever. 

I found myself nodding away as he spoke and feeling the hint of sadness and disappointment in his words. He admitted to being seventy seven years old and hopeful that things will get better before he is no longer of this earth. He suggested that we start by setting aside our anger with members of our family with whom we differ and then reaching out to friends whose views deviate from our own. Perhaps if we can begin to have thoughtful conversations with one another a chain reaction cooperation will take hold even in Washington D.C.

I’d like to think that such a thing will eventually happen but I worry that it is still a long time coming. We seem unwilling to even listen to each other much less attempt to understand what those around us have to say. I suspect that only when “we the people” begin a process of legitimate healing, not by covering up problems but by admitting to their existence and working to solve them, will our nation be whole again. Our stubborn refusal to really hear the whys and wherefores of many views is a roadblock to progress forward. Continuing obstinance will only lead to more situations like people in Texas literally freezing in the dark and minorities feeling like outsiders in their own country. We have to be honest and know that it will not hurt us, but will make us stronger and more just. 

I sometimes think that right now one side is too generous with our taxes and the other is too cruelly stingy. We don’t want to disincentivize Americans from working but we also do not want to assume that those who need a helping hand are by nature lazy. The truth is that some people will unfairly take advantage of overly kind hearts while others are quietly suffering in a society that often looks away from problems rather than constructively addressing them. We have begun to debate too many issues with soundbites and platitudes rather than thinking outside of the box. We do not have to do things the way we always have. It is possible to make positive change without losing the essence of our democratic republic. 

Many thought that the introduction of Social Security was a first step toward communism. While the program is terribly imperfect, it along with Medicare have improved the lives of elderly in myriad ways. So too has the Affordable Care Act made it possible for more Americans to get the medical help that they and their families need. Both were positive steps to a more humane nation but perhaps with some tweaking here and there we can make the programs even more productive and worthy of our taxes. 

As the Texas A&M interim president suggested we can all do better and our efforts should begin with an unwillingness to spread false information. An educated electorate needs to check sources and seek truth no matter where it may lead. This is what we learn in our schooling and this is how we should be approaching the decision making that affects us all. If something sounds too much like a slogan then it would behoove us to do some honest research before we just fall in line with any group or individual. 

I like that our young people are being challenged to think critically and to seek truth. Too many today are behaving like lemmings rather than individuals. There is something wrong when entire swaths of a party sound exactly the same. We need to be able to discuss hypothetical ideas without getting personal or feeling angry or insulted. That is the way forward. We should all graduate to a higher level of thinking. 

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