Sunday, July 15, 2012

An Appeal for Accurateness, Fairness, and Kindness

Like most of you, I often get forwarded e-mail messages that contain inaccurate, unfair, and unkind information. And also like you, I hear things being said on the radio or on TV that are of a similar nature.
Recently, I have received several forwarded e-mail messages from a friend and former colleague. A few days ago I responded by saying that I was disappointed in him. Since he is a minister, I wrote that I expect him not to forward e-mails that are inaccurate, unfair, and unkind.
I realize that from time to time I may express opinions on this blog that some of you do not agree with. But I have never knowingly or intentionally written anything that is inaccurate, unfair, or unkind. If any of you ever think that I have done that, please let me know. It is natural for people to have different opinions, but they ought to be able to agree on the facts.
Bernard Baruch (1870-1965) was an American financier and presidential advisor. You have probably heard his oft-quoted words, spoken in 1950, but here they are again: “Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.” (I am sure he thought that the same was true for women.)
Rotary International has an excellent “four-way test” that is often repeated at their meetings. This is the first of the four tests: “Is it the truth?” That is what Rotarians seek to ask themselves about everything they think, say, or do. What a difference it would make in society if we all asked ourselves that question and sought to say only that which is truthful (accurate).
Is it fair to all concerned?” is the second part of Rotary’s four-way test: Fairness is an attitude marked by impartiality and honesty; it is free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism. Fairness sees all people as being of equal value, so it doesn’t treat some people better than others just because they are friends.
And then there is the important matter of kindness. Someone has said, “Kindness is loving people more than they deserve.” That is probably true. Thus, unkindness is treating people worse than they deserve.
During this election season, I wish that our politicians, and their supporters, would only say things that are accurate, fair, and kind. But I guess there is little chance of that happening. Still, we all need to decide on whom to vote for on the basis of a rational evaluation of the positions the candidates take on the important issues of the day. Certainly our votes should never be swayed by inaccurate, unfair, or unkind remarks. And we shouldn’t seek to sway other peoples’ votes by that means either.
Good citizens and people of integrity will try never to be guilty of saying (or passing on) information (or campaign propaganda) that is inaccurate, unfair, or unkind. So let’s pledge that we will seek, as much as possible, to be accurate, fair, and kind in all that we say and do. And let’s encourage our politicians (as well as our friends) to do the same.


  1. Comments by Tom Lankford, a local Thinking Friend:

    Amen my friend! I would only add one more and that would be: What is the long term consequence of our actions for all involved? My dad and I were both Rotarians and he added this principle in many of our conversations because it speaks to the consequences of both greed and what he called "irresponsible charity."

  2. Leroy: This is a terrific column. Very important, and you've made the point clearly.

    Ultimately for a full discussion of political and cultural debate, we would also have to deal with the issue of distortion involving satire, lampoon, and hyperbole. Sometimes these are done simply for humorous effect--as by comedians. Sometimes they're done for political effect -- to point out the absurdity or bizarreness of some position, or to emphasize a point. The former is merely comedy. The latter is commonly a part of political or cultural debate. For example, recently I reposted on FB something to the effect of: "If Democrats came out in defense of oxygen, Republicans would quit breathing" -- an obvious hyperbolic distortion to underscore the knee-jerk opposition Obama has received from congressional Republicans. Satire, lampoon, and hyperbole are frequently used in propaganda and political campaigning. It's a much harder issue to tackle, but a complete ethic of communication would have to treat the responsible use of satire, lampoon, and hyperbole as well, unless one wants to call for their elimination altogether.

    That being said, nice column, Leroy, and a very important message.

    1. Anton, thanks for your significant comments.

      Actually, I originally intended to write something about comedy, satire, and hyperbole (I hadn't thought about lampoon), but the article got too long without getting into that.

      I certainly think there is a place for all the above, but much of it is probably divisive and ill-advised also. Even though I tend to agree with much of what they say, I don't much like "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" or "The Colbert Report" for that reason.

  3. This is certainly a good place to begin and I'm in favor of it (but would advise caution about pointedly sending it on to others).

    Not very many people view themselves as being inaccurate, unfair, and unkind -- we all feel that's something that applies to the other guy instead of us. That's a key point of a 2011 book by Max H. Bazerman & Ann E. Tenbrunsel called "Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do About It."

    The bigger challenge (which I see in mediations regularly) is when people sincerely and strongly believe in contradictory truths. In such situations it's vital to recognize that even if we don't view things the same way it doesn't necessarily mean the other person is intentionally lying. When one side accuses the other of lying, it is sometimes helpful to ask “What truth do you see that is not included in his statement?”

    Indeed, truth on the important issues seems rarely to be objective, crisp and easily provable.

  4. Another local Thinking Friend sent the following substantial comments (in a longer e-mail):

    "You may remember the article in 'Rotarian' magazine several years back comparing several statements of basic assessment from various cultures and centuries (millennia). It started with the 4-Way Test, but also included the Golden Rule. Any of them are a high bar, since we all have differences including foundational views (sadly this is even true within Christendom). The two biggest stumbling blocks to all seem to be arrogance and bitterness. One must be bold to find commonality, flexibility, and friendship, or to live to high standards."

  5. Another former colleague sent the following comments:

    "I couldn't agree with you more. Some of the worst emails in this regard are from minister friends or from so called 'good Christians.' No wonder many people don't go to Church where they will hear the same kind of opinions they hear on TV every day."

  6. And another local Thinking Friend (and Rotarian) wrote:

    "Good to read your comments and inclusion of the Rotary Four Way Test as a portion of the ideals to pursue in our conversations with one another as human beings. And, thank you for your Thinking Friends missives. Always interesting."

  7. Don Wideman, yet another local Thinking Friend, sent the following e-mail (with permission to post its contents here):

    "Amen, Leroy! Thanks for the appeal and I join you in this effort.

    "It really bothers me to read cruel and disrespectful things that are being forwarded. The polarization, rabid partisanhip and sometimes hateful things that are being said and sent make it difficult to discuss things rationally and civilly. What a contrast to the world that I grew up in! I pray that the Lord will bring us together and hope it will not take another tragedy like WW II."

  8. A brief comment from an esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky:

    "A timely word, Leroy. Rotary's four-way test sounds like a much-needed model."

  9. This morning another Thinking Friend in the greater Kansas City area sent this brief, but pertinent, comment:

    "Very good Leroy. Your words also apply to partial truth."

  10. A Thinking Friend, who is pastor of a Baptist Church in the greater Kansas City area, sent the following comments this morning. (He gave me permission to post this, and even use his name (but I decided not to do the lattter).

    "I agree that we need to be fair and accurate; unfortunately, the media in our culture (either side), no longer seem concerned with those worthy goals.

    "I do want to encourage and challenge you, though, as you post regarding differing issues of a political nature. In times past you have written articles that demonstrated that you had not read “the other side,” of an issue. I understand that it is oftentimes difficult to find a fair representation of both sides of an issue; however, seldom are issues as one-sided as they may seem.

    "If you are truly interested in a side of the news you won’t find on the mainstream media (Fox included), you can find articles on a website entitled; some of the regular contributors on this page are wackos, to be sure, but several do come from a solid background. It won’t take you long to figure out the difference, I’m sure!"

    1. I much appreciate these comments, and the personal challenge as well.

      While I am sure that I sometimes express opinions that this Thinking Friend (and other TFs) don't agree with, I am not sure that that is because I have not been aware of "the other side."

      I wish some specific example had been given; and when the same perception arises in the future, I hope he (or others) will share opposing (balancing?) viewpoints. As I said in the blog, I have never intentionally sent inaccurate information, and I urge you to correct me when you think I have been inaccurate or misleading.

      I fully agree that most issues are complex, not simply right or wrong, good or bad. And I try to understand those complexities, partly by listening to (or reading) people I don't agree with. I spend some time each week listening to Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, and others right-wingers. They present "the other side" quite forcefully. (I listen far more to the Right on the radio than I do to the Left--partly because there is little of the latter there.)

      I am not impressed with the recommendation of as a source of impartial information, though. It is primarily dedicated to conservative U.S. politics. It was previously operated by the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think-tank, but is now owned and operated by Salem Communications, which specialized in evangelical Christian and conservative political talk radio.

      If my Thinking Friend is going to be fair, in addition to, he also needs to read articles on and/or (I don't read much from these websites, either, for they are definitely slanted toward the left.)

      My previous posting (on 7/10) was somewhat political, as I sought to challenge the common evangelical position on (rejection of) "Obamacare." I think I understand much about the opposition to Obamacare; I have certainly heard and read a lot about it. So my criticism of evangelicals (or Catholics) is not because I don't understand their position. It is because I don't agree with their position.

      Well, this is probably enough for now, although there is more I would like to say.

  11. About an hour ago I received permission to post the following comments of Thinking Friend, and good personal friend, who wrote,

    "Leroy, we just have to face it! Our adversaries have by-passed these principles [of the four-way test] long ago and they are using these weaknesses against us. (Bet you will challenge this statement.)

    "Bottom line! They 'ain't' playing by these old rules. And while we must make every effort to be honest and truthful, I am convinced that being 'nice,' is not going to get us any place……as it hasn't.

    "I much prefer (No! I am convinced!) that we must 'Give 'em Hell,' as Harry Truman did. Wasn't his answer great. 'I'm not giving them Hell, I'm just telling the truth, and they think its Hell.'

    "Ya know, I'm like you. I get so much of this 'conservative crap,' I'm sick of it!"

    1. I certainly agree that many--probably many on both sides, but it sure seems like far more on the right--have bypassed important principles of civility, as you said. But you are right: I don't agree that those principles are weaknesses. Timidity, passivity, refusal to speak up and/or to get involved, etc. are weaknesses.

      I like the Truman quote, for speaking the truth is important, even though it may engender opposition or criticism--or make some people uncomfortable. Still, I think that for people of good will it is important to be accurate, fair, and kind in all that we say and do. But it is possible, and very important, to confront error, greed, dishonesty, etc. accurately, fairly, and in a kind (rather than vindictive) manner.

  12. The Four Way Test no doubt works well at Rotary meetings and similar settings of people of reasonably good will. But would it have instructed Joe Paterno to do something about reports of child abuse? Just as Sir Isaac Newton's majestic equations broke down in extreme physics, I suspect these four are not enough for prophetic challenges. As Jesus says in Matthew 18:6, "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

    We mostly speak confessionally. People either agree with us, or they do not. Most of the time that works well. Indeed, it works better than many of the alternatives. Yet, when we need it most, simple confession fails us. What is simple common sense to one side, is foolishness and abomination to the other. We not only do not agree with each other, we do not even understand each other. How do we discern the difference between what is evil and what is merely different? Political wedge issues thrive in this valley of confusion. Yet somewhere there is a core. If you know whether a person in America is a Democrat or a Republican you know with fairly good certainty that person's position on a whole host of emotionally charged issues. Yet how many of us could begin to trace the threads that hold together either side of the debate?

    Rational discourse is an acquired taste. We are naturally emotional being with metaphorical thought patterns. Political discourse is filled with far more style than substance. I mean, how did dogs get so important in the current election? That is just the way it works. Politics is loud, fierce and irrational. And you can ignore that at your peril. As "Michael Dukakis" asked on Saturday Night Live a few years ago, "I speak in complete sentences. How am I losing to this man?"

    1. Craig, thanks for your excellent comments. I thought the second paragraph was particularly good. I am not sure I agree with your first paragraph, though. If Joe Paterno had sought to follow the Four Way Test, I am sure he would have acted much differently than he did.