A Field Guide to Pedestrian



Well, 2017 is officially on the calendar and if you’re like me, 2016 seemed like a bruiser of a year, even if you didn’t personally lose a loved one, job or sense of purpose. Since my last posting I’ve been sitting on my butt, either watching movies, reading, or driving while something called the holidays got in the way of my productivity. I apologize and I hope to maintain a regular schedule of blogging in the new year.

One of the books I’ve been reading is Thank You for Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman. There are a lot of chewy nuggets to digest and share about his book, but the one most relevant today is his rules for blogging, or in his case column writing for the New York Times.

Friedman says that in his profession he is either in the “heating business or the lighting business. Every column or blog has to either turn on a light bulb inside your reader’s head—illuminate an issue in a way that will inspire them to look at it anew—or stoke an emotion in your reader’s heart that prompts them to feel or act more intensely or differently about an issue. The ideal column does both.”

In order to do this, Friedman says that you should mix three basic ingredients:

“…your own values, priorities and aspirations; how you think the biggest forces are shaping events; and what you’ve learned about people and culture—how they react or don’t when the big forces impact them.”

I want to share with you my values, or world view as I like to call it. This world view shapes my writing and is the cornerstone of my beliefs and helps focus my priorities. These values include but are not limited to:

1-Bias. The first thing I learned in my journalism class, right before I dropped that major in college, is that every news source has a bias. I extrapolate that to mean every person has a bias. Kind of like everyone believing that they are funny and smart—right?! That is not a judgment call. It just means that it is our job as readers to understand the bias of what you’re reading or hearing and to approach it accordingly.

2-Pendulum. So after I dropped my journalism major I ended up in the history department and took enough classes to graduate with a double major, one of which was history. If nothing else, I took away from my lessons that the arc of history is a pendulum. Movements that start in one extreme are often pulled to the opposite. My hope is that each time we have a new swing, the setting for a new center ends up a bit more progressive. Just think of our story regarding African Americans. The Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Black Lives Matter and many other movements, thoughts and ideas have been debated, legislated and fought, but it’s obvious that we moved to a new center from where we began, we no longer have slavery.

3-Nuance: I live in the grey zone. There are few issues and ideas that are so black and white to me, that I’m absolutist on them. I seek context, and above all nuance. This doesn’t mean that I’m like the quote Hamilton lobs at Burr in the most excellent musical Hamilton, “If you stand for nothing Burr, what will you fall for?” I stand for many things, but I also argue that the story is more complex than it seems.

4-Kindness instead of snark. Back in the days, I used to confuse being snarky for being witty, smart and hip. Snark has a bite, it’s a defense mechanism for not feeling up to the situation, so it is easier to cut down a person, place or thing, rather than actually think of an alternative. I try to be less snarky these days and go about the world with the mantra, “do no harm.” Kindness is the tool that best ensures no harm. This doesn’t mean I won’t be critical, or even biting at times. I think people mistake kindness for weakness, or being oblivious. That’s not true. Criticism can be kind when it goes after the results, not the person. This is especially important when dealing with creativity and I hope to explore this further.

5-People have the power. Whether it’s for good or bad, I believe the power is in people.

6-Like Mark Twain, I firmly believe that travel is fatal to prejudice, which is why I can act like a religious zealot when I start talking travel. The desire to see the world is at my core and thus, the center of most of my choices and has literally become my world view.

Kind of like being a jack of many trades, a master of none, I’m more like an expert on few things and an opinion holder on most. Perhaps this will be a helpful field guide when navigating the ramblings that make up my blog. Onward towards the new year.

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