Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fear and Falsity, Trust and Truth

Several years ago, during a staff retreat, one of our speakers said: "False beliefs are tied to ideology and are an extension of who we are. And we won't let facts get in the way of our false beliefs."

That second sentence has stuck with me: “We won’t let facts get in the way of our false beliefs.” 

On John Oliver's show Last Week Tonight, he shared this snippet of Antonio Sabato Jr.’s interview during the Republican National Convention (watch from 3:13 to 4:19)

As Oliver points out, Sabato implies that “believing something to be true is the same as it being true.” However, believing something to be true does not necessarily make it true. It does not necessarily make it fact.

Beliefs are feelings that something or someone exists, or that something is actually true. Beliefs may or may not be based on facts. 

Facts are not feelings. Facts are not beliefs. Facts are not opinions. Although there are times our beliefs, feelings or opinions are based upon facts, that’s not always the case. 

Facts are things that are indisputably true – the sky is blue, the Earth is round. Fact are things that actually exist or happen. Truth is based on fact. Facts are true pieces of information – if the information is false, then it is not fact, and so, it is not the truth.

All of this reminds me of something I read recently in 10 Signs You March to the Beat of Your Own Drum: "You can objectively look at both sides of an issue: Some say you haven’t earned the right to express an opinion until you are able to argue the opposition’s side better than they can. People who think for themselves are able to see multiple perspectives on an issue and realize that there are valid points on each side of the fence. Life is not black and white. People who think for themselves are able to see things in shades of gray." 

When we only socialize, talk and agree with people who share our beliefs, and we only ever read from biased sources, and we only ever get our “news” from one kind of media – be it “liberal” or “conservative”– then we likely are only ever going to hear and see one side of an issue or topic. 

And more than likely, we are only going to see the side we already believe in – our side. It’s a tight, self-serving circle – we believe what we believe, we seek out only those things that reinforce what we believe, until our beliefs eventually become our reality, our “truth,” our “facts.”

But just because we believe something to be true does not necessarily make it true, and it certainly doesn’t make it a universal truth. 

As hard as it can be to read and listen – with an open mind – to viewpoints that are not our own, it’s necessary if we want the whole picture, the whole story. And not just the picture and story that a particular news source, Facebook page or group, wants to feed us. When we absorb those viewpoints – whether or not they are our viewpoints – we must always, as my old-school-journalist father taught me, “consider the source.” 

Sometimes, when I'm watching The Walking Dead (TWD), I feel like that world is a bit of the world we're beginning to live in (minus the flesh-eating zombies, of course). Harsh. Divided. Cruel. I know, I know. It's just a TV show, and science-fiction/fantasy at that. But, please, indulge me for a moment.

Even as gruesome, grueling and egregious as Rick's group has to be at times, they are still good people and – depending on the situations they are in, and the choices they have to make – they persistently remind each other either: "that's who we are," or, "that's not who we are."

Those in the group who have endured or committed despicable acts are reminded by others in the group that “people can come back from this, people do come back from this, you can come back from this, you will come back from this.”

I especially like that Rick’s group is comprised of all different kinds of personalities, skin colors, beliefs, backgrounds, experiences, skill sets. They're diverse, they disagree, and they still call themselves family.

Perhaps one of my favorite lines is: "We can do this together, but we can only do this together." 

Our world is gray. Our country is gray. We’re made up of many different kinds of people with many different beliefs, cultures, skin colors, IQs, abilities, disabilities, values, personalities, qualities, wishes, desires and goals. 

Strong beliefs, opinions and values are good for us. They give us conviction. And being open to other ideas makes us tolerant, cooperative and broad-minded.

But when we fail to open our ears, eyes and minds to different beliefs, opinions and values, we become blinkered and obstinate. Or worse.

Call me naive, simple, a Pollyanna. But I wish that we (American citizens and residents, legal and otherwise) could accept one another, celebrate our differences, be open to hearing and respecting different viewpoints, and learn about people and cultures that are outside our typical circles. 

To live in trust instead of fear. 

Fear is frightening. Trust is enlightening. 

Fear makes us stagnant. Trust makes us flourish.

Fear holds us back. Fear drives us to our own corners. Fear makes us surround ourselves with only those who are most like us. Fear turns us inward. Fear creates anxiety, distrust, insecurity. It can cause us to believe things that are not real, that are not factual.

Fear changes us. 

Truth and trust can change us, too. 

Truth sets us free. Trust drives us out into the world. Trust lets us open ourselves up to people who have different thoughts, beliefs and values. Trust makes us tolerant and cooperative. 

Truth and trust enhance our sense of security, build our objectivity, quiet our dread. Truth and trust create confidence and acceptance. Truth and trust turn us outward.

Our country’s citizens and residents have endured and committed despicable acts of violence. We have endured and committed disgraceful acts of hate, intolerance, ridicule and fear-mongering. 

To paraphrase the characters from The Walking Dead: This can’t be who we are. This can’t be what we are. We can come back from this. We must come back from this. 

I'm not saying it's easy. I struggle almost every day with the anxiety and panic that fear and change, and even truth, brings to my life. But I have to find a way to grow, to trust, to drive myself out in the world so I can make a difference. 

We all need to do this. We can do this together. But we can only do this together.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

On Your 91st, Dad.

Today would have been my father’s 91st birthday. 

George L. Thurston was an investigative journalist and a pioneer in broadcast journalism in Florida. 

He was the first reporter in Florida to cover the Florida Legislature full time, year-round. He also frequently covered the Democratic and Republican national conventions back in the day. If he were here today, he would be horrified by our state and national government and deeply disturbed by the presidential campaign. And really, who the hell could blame him? 

To quote some of my brother Lee’s recent Facebook post, my dad often shared stories about truth and justice, or the lack thereof. Dad spent many days and nights following leads and paper trails of corruption in law enforcement, the judicial system, and in politics. 

He was a brilliant journalist who was unapologetic when his stories exposed systems, businesses and people to be unjust, unfair and/or untrue. In the '70s, he unearthed a racist speech by Judge G. Harrold Carswell. My father's story eventually cost Carswell his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The investigative work my father did before his death in 2001 helped lead to the conviction in 2003 of Dr. William Sybers, the former medical examiner for the 14th Judicial Circuit, for murdering his wife, Kay.

He followed trail after trail of corruption in Calhoun County, including the suspicious deaths of the Burke brothers, who allegedly just laid down in the road in the middle of the night and died. He exposed another murder cover-up in which a man allegedly committed suicide by shooting himself in the brain and then shooting himself again. An independent autopsy showed the first bullet killed him. 

Dad also exposed the influence of money in politics in a story -- “Florida’s Shadow Government” -- published in the Floridian magazine in 1970.

Those were the kinds of stories that kept my father up at night. 

He was notorious in the halls of Florida’s Capitol. He frequently pushed his camera cart around, pulling right up to gaggles of lawmakers quietly discussing some piece of legislation. He'd stick his microphone in their faces and whip out his laminated card he kept in his wallet that explained Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

He was known as a prankster at the Capitol, too. He once threw a string of firecrackers into his intern's bathroom stall as the man was doing his business!

While covering a story about city government, Dad’s editor told him to back off, that he was making the city commission look bad, to which my dad replied, "The commission is doing a great job of that; I'm just reporting the facts."

George was a great man, wildly intelligent, incredibly funny, a first-rate investigator and an exceptional writer. 

And although it wasn't always obvious, he was a great father, too. Patient, kind, compassionate, wise, and so accepting.

My teenage years all but destroyed our relationship. In my early 20s, my father stumbled across an essay I had written about our troubles and how I wished for a stronger bond. He read it all and wrote responses to all the things I'd questioned and wondered about. That was the start of a beautiful friendship. 

Our new relationship was rooted in honesty, mutual respect, deep admiration, quirky humor, our shared love of journalism and writing, and a willingness to let go of past transgressions and move ahead to savor the years we had left as father and daughter. 

As it turned out, we had 12 more years. I had the privilege of caring for him at home in his final days, and to hold his hand as he took his last breath. 

I miss my father. Frankly, I miss both my parents. The hole is always there now, and on some days, like today -- what would have been my dad's 91st birthday -- the void is intense. 

Today, like most days lately, I’ll reminisce about Dad and Mom and try to honor their lives by working harder to be the person they raised me to be. 

Thanks, Pops, for being the father and the man that you were.