I swam with Muslims in The Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee at sunset…Looking west

Us versus them.

Right against wrong.

Accept the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. Wag your finger and reject it outright.

Far too often in our beautiful, colorful, chaotic and profoundly interesting world, political and moral arguments are reduced to simple either/or choices. My side good. Your side bad.

In his White House address, President Trump used harsh words about the Iran deal. Instead of suggesting a way to work with European allies and craft something better, he called the deal “horrible” and “disastrous.”

No doubt Trump’s rhetoric will be matched by his opponents. The day after his brief address, members of the Iranian Parliament burnt paper U.S. Flags and chanted “death to America.”

Increasingly in our debates, nuance and compromise— all needed in any realistic or interesting dialogue involving different interests and points of view— are tossed out in favor of dogma and name-calling.

We are all the poorer for it.

Narcissistic name-calling from politicians, pundits and celebrities on cable TV, talk radio and in social media silos only reinforces this sorry trend and confines us to our information silos.

There are much better ways to move forward, have a conversation and learn from others. We’ve learned this on “How Do We Fix It?”, when my co-host Jim Meigs and I ask guests about solutions and what works.

Understanding begins with listening. Growth can come when we change our minds or at least challenge pre-conceived beliefs.

This lesson is almost always reinforced by travel.

During the past two weeks, on a trip to Israel, I was in the happy position of being the least informed person in the room. Normally talkative and full of opinions, I had to listen and ask questions.

What I learned surprised and impressed me. This determined, enterprising, dynamic, inventive and youthful country is far more diverse and pragmatic than I had expected.

Israel is a Jewish state, but it is anything but monolithic. While Orthodox sects play a prominent role in public life, especially in and around Jerusalem, secular Israelis are in the majority. People have come from all over the world. They’re confidence and pride in being Jewish is obvious, even to this first-time visitor.

Back home in the U.S. we hear only about the negatives: a frozen peace process and bitter conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

None of this is to deny that the violence at the Gaza border or the yawning gap in living standards between the two peoples are distressing facts of life. But they are not the only factors to consider. The suffering of many Palestinians is undeniable, but so is the determination of people in all parts of the region to go to work, raise their kids and live their lives.

Arab-Israelis make up almost one-fifth of the population in this small country that is size of New Jersey. While visiting northern, western and central Israel, I saw prominent mosques and minarets, and heard the Moslem call to prayer.

Islamic and Christian religious sites and traditions are treated with respect.

During a brief stay at a resort on the Sea of Galilee (not really a “sea” at all—more like a medium-sized lake), not far from where Jesus started his ministry two thousand years ago, I sunbathed and swam next to a group of young Arab men and women, who, like me, were on vacation, enjoying the warm weather.

For most people normal life goes on. Weekends in Tel Aviv are celebrated on the beach, in restaurants and cafes.

The threat of war is no less real than I had imagined before my trip. And yet that possibility may well add to the appreciation of quotidian rituals.

At a time of ongoing tension, the flame of hope is not extinguished.

Richard Davies is a #podcasting consultant and host of the weekly solutions journalist Podcast “How Do We Fix It?“. DaviesContent designs, edits and makes podcasts for companies and non-profit clients.

Advertisements

Beyond outrage and anger… Solutions. A podcast for our times.

We’re gearing up for another great year with more independent-minded, contrarian guests — kicking off this week with Claire Cain Miller of TheUpshot, the New York Times and economics site.

After all the recent anger and outrage over sexual harassment our podcast team decided to do a show about how to reduce bullying and harassment in the workplace. What works? What doesn’t?

Employers are paying lip service to the need for change, but until now there has been little coverage in the media about solutions and training: how to make this a teaching moment.

At “How Do We Fix It?” here’s our un-resolution for 2018: What we do NOT want is the obvious: opinions you’ve heard a hundred times in other places and podcasts.

We’re fired up about solutions — ideas to make the world a better place, topic-by-topic.

Future episodes this month will include the well-known author and skeptic, Michael Shermer, who explains why pessimism is a threat to all of us. Michael also takes apart the human zest for utopia.

Stanford University Politics professor Mo Fiorina is also on our dance card. He will tell us why Americans are less partisan than many think — Fascinating subject for discussion and debate in this time of political flame-throwing.

Please weigh in with your ideas, responses and suggestions. And if you have the time, spread the word about our show with lots of likes, shares and retweets on iTunes, Stitcher and social media.

Here’s hoping that 2018 will be the best year every for humankind and that more of us will throw our pebbles into ocean of progress.

How Do We Fix It? 2 Cheers For Compromise 

  
Ready for a word that Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders would consider to be an obscenity?  

Compromise.

Insults, anger and disgust are in, while deal-making, compromise and governance are so old school.  We’re all too busy having a national hissy fit to sit down and do the boring, important stuff. 

My friend Mark Gerzon, author of the fine new book, “The Reunited States of America“,  puts it this way. “We can’t solve any of the problems we face if we’re tearing each other down the whole time.”

Ratings for the Republican debates shot up this year and cable TV networks are loving the slugfest. Watching candidates exchange insults can be entertaining, even if we are appalled by the spectacle. 

But the news media obsession with clashes, controversy and contests only get us so far.  If politics is a permanent campaign, when is it time to govern?

“There’s a whole America out there that’s not getting any news coverage. And that’s the America where Americans work together,” Mark tells us in the latest episode of our podcast, “How Do We Fix It?

He’s right. My years of business reporting taught me that when successful executives face four bad quarters, they throw out the old rule book and re-think what they’re doing. Flexibility and pragmatism are essential to their survival.

Only if Congress would do the same.  

For the past 4, 8, 16 years, mainstream politicians have been fighting over the same old stuff. Their goal is simply to score points at the expense of the other guy. 

No wonder we’re fed up.  

But outrage will only get us so far.  What’s really constructive in the messages and speeches that we’re hearing from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?   Beyond talk of building walls or making health care and college free, how will these “outsiders” turn their promises into reality? After all, the nation’s founders did invent separation of powers with checks and balances.

The first step to radical reform of government, Congress and our political culture is to reform ourselves. The most radical thing many of us could do right now is to ask questions.  

In business it’s often called brainstorming.  

“Do you want to get drunk on being right and enjoy that feeling of being with the people you agree with and bad mouth the people you don’t?,” asks Mark. Maybe yes. But a nasty hangover may be the result.

Perhaps we’re at a national turning point. It’s time to sit down and spend time with those we disagree with.  Listen and learn from the other tribe. Not declare and defame.

Smoke filled rooms, anyone?  

(If not, maybe vape-filled rooms would do.)

Travel To a New Place: What I Learned About Life and Politics at the Alhambra 

 

A view of the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain.

Gazing up in wonder at the mighty AlhambraI knew that coming here, even for just a few days, was a good move as well as a excellent photo op.

Travel is food for the soul, and wandering through alleyways and ancient buildings in Spain’s Andalusia has been a wow! experience.
I’m far from alone in raving about the place.  In 1832 Washington Irving published his classic collection of essays and stories, “Tales of the Alhambra,” and called Grenada it “a most picturesque and beautiful city.”
 
A palace and battlement inside The Alhambra 

This great fortress built high over Grenada was an imposing castle. But inside its walls there was a small town, beautiful palaces and intimate spaces with intricate and beautiful mosaics: A place where the Islamic Moors of Spain ruled this region for nearly eight centuries.
Before they were finally thrown out of Europe in the momentous year of 1492, the Moors presided over a land that has been praised in recent years for its many accomplishments and relative tolerance – at least compared with the  brutal standards of the Middle Ages.  In Andalusia at this time the classics of antiquity were studied. Jewish scholars wrote in Arabic.  Physicians, astronomers, horticulturalists and thinkers from three great religions exchanged knowledge and inventions.
Both The Alhambra and The Mezquita in the ancient Andalusian city of Córdoba, are surviving examples of a great civilization.

Columns and arches in Great Mosque at the Mezquita in Córdoba, Spain.
“In Al-Andalus, for eight centuries, communities of Moslems, Jews, and Christians lived side by side or intermingled the one with the other,” writes Steven Nightingale in his fine new book, Grenada, which celebrates
this long overlooked culture.  “There was no precedent for so extended an experiment in the history of Europe, and it has not been equaled since, for daring, brilliance, or productivity.”
After a centuries-long war, the Moorish era came to an end with the surrender of the Alhambra, and victory of Spain’s Queen Isobella and King Ferdinand.
After the initial Christian triumph, what followed in the 16th and 17th centuries in Andalusia was a long and slow decline for the region, largely caused by religious zealotry and the overreach of the monarchy and Church.  The Spanish Inquisition was responsible for the systematic, brutal, and cynical expulsions of Spain’s Moslems and Jews.
 
A narrow street in Grenada’s Albayzin barrio.
The lesson that I think I learned in the tender, scented narrow old alleyways of Grenada is that the relatively open-minded cooperation of the convivencia proved to be of more lasting value than the bombast of later centuries in rigidly Catholic imperial Spain.

Today, in a time of deep political divisions and dogma from the left and right in the United States, as well as growing cynicism over business, political and civic leaders, reaching back and learning some lessons from history is worthwhile. 

Soaking up other cultures and looking at the world from different points of view are great ways to put yourself in a new place, removed from the little dramas and hassles of everyday life back home. 

The author soaks up some local vino, with The Alhambra in the background.
Photos by Richard Davies

Shutdown Dysfunction – It’s Far From Over!

Obama_meets_with_congressional_leaders_20090513

President Obama discusses healthcare with Congressional leaders in calmer times

So maybe you’re relieved that the US Government stepped back from the brink and did not default on its debt.  A return to more civilized debate perhaps?

Um…  no. Sadly, this mess is far from over.  The harsh partisan divide, with both sides talking past each other, drags on.

While some like to portray the Tea Party as representing the views of a mere two or three dozen members of the House of Representatives, the truth is quite different.

After 16 days of government shutdown, a battered economy, and massive disapproval in opinion poll ratings, 144 House Republicans – two-thirds of their members – voted against the Senate compromise.

They’re proud of what they’ve done, believing  that their stand against funding the government and risking an unprecedented US debt default was worth it.

“You know it isn’t about winning. It’s about were we on the right path,” says Congresswoman Michelle Bachman.

A defiant Representative Ted Poe of Texas argues: “We should be talking about cutting spending before we start raising America’s debt ceiling and that’s just the way it is.”

No compromise there.

Some members of Congress are clearly exhausted, and a ceasefire has been declared for now, but the this deal is only a short-term band-aid.  The resolution passed by Congress only funds the government until January 15th. And without a new bill the debt default threat will return in early February.

The damage to the economy is already becoming clear. Retailers worry that the recent drop in consumer confidence will drag down holiday spending. Car sales fell last week compared to earlier in the month.

America’s standing in the world has been damaged. China and other US critics will use this standoff to their advantage.

So how to fix this?  We have to change our national conversation.

After years of frosty relations, the face-to-face meetings by Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell in the past few days were a start.  But they are only two men.

It’s about all of us, not just “them”.

Just as Americans celebrate diversity of religion,race and ethnicity,  it’s time to welcome different points of view into our own political discourse.  Those who denigrate others and hold on to a rigid ideology should occupy a much smaller space in the public square.