THE BLOG
04/15/2016 11:04 am ET

I Couldn't Disagree More With What David Brooks Said In His Article "How Covenants Make Us"

I typically agree with much of what David Brooks has to say. However, I'm afraid that he was way off the mark with his article "How Covenants Make Us."

Demographic diversity in the United States is a good thing. The problem has to do with the lack of integration and assimilation of demographically diverse communities. As the Editorial Board for the New York Times said in an article titled The Scrambled States of Immigration, "laws and policies that deny rights and promote exclusion have been the source of shame and regret throughout American history. Integration and assimilation are the core values of a country that is in danger of forgetting itself."

Consider the following comment from Shikha Dalmia's articles titled What India Can Teach Us About Islam and Assimilation that was published by Time Magazine on April 10, 2015:

"All of this suggests that if 150-million-plus Muslims have managed to 'melt' in the 'pot' of India's young and fragile democracy without boiling over into violence, they'll be able to do so in America even more easily, especially given that its democracy is stronger and more established, and their numbers are much smaller. What won't help, however, is anti-Muslim fear mongering based on a narrative knit from gaudy acts of extremism that fails to take full measure of the broader Muslim reality."

We have a very serious problem in the United States with self-segregation. We fear those who are different from ourselves and we aren't allowing for assimilation to occur. If we focused on our similarities rather than our differences, diversity would be a very good thing. Demographic diversity isn't a problem in those parts of our country where there has been both an integration and assimilation of diverse groups. However, it is a problem where such integration and assimilation has not occurred.

It is impossible to open up a newspaper or watch any news program without hearing about States that have enacted, attempted to enact or are attempting to enact "Religious Freedom" laws. However, so-called "Religious Freedom" laws increase conflict through isolation." For clarification purposes, isolation is the opposite of assimilation. Integration and assimilation are very positive things because they enable people to see other perspectives, which is the core of empathy.

Brene' Brown, Ph.D., LMSW's thoughts on this issue are as follows:

"We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can't have both. Not at the same time....

For leaders, vulnerability often looks and feels like discomfort. In his book 'Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us', Seth Goldin writes, 'Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable.... It's uncomfortable to stand in front of strangers. It's uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail. It's uncomfortable to challenge the status quo. It's uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle. When you identify the discomfort, you've found the place where a leader is needed. If you're not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it's almost certain you're not reaching your potential as a leader.'...

"Disengagement is the issue underlying the majority of problems I see in families, schools, communities, and organizations and it takes many forms.... We disengage to protect ourselves from vulnerability, shame, and feeling lost without purpose. We also disengage when we feel like the people who are leading us - our boss, our teachers, our principal, our clergy, our parents, our politicians - aren't living up to their end of the social contract.

"Politics is a great, albeit painful, example of social contract disengagement. Politicians on both sides of the isle are making laws that they're not required to follow or that don't affect them, they're engaging in behaviors that would result in most of us getting fired, divorced, or arrested. They're espousing values that are rarely displayed in their behavior. And just watching them shame and blame each other is degrading for us. They're not living up to their side of the social contract and voter turnout statistics show that we're disengaging.

"Religion is an example of social contract disengagement. First, disengagement is often the result of leaders not living by the same values they're preaching. Second, in an uncertain world, we often feel desperate for absolutes. It's the human response to fear. When religious leaders leverage our fear and need for more certainty by extracting vulnerability from spirituality and turning faith into 'compliance and consequences,' rather than teaching and modeling how to wrestle with the unknown and how to embrace mystery, the entire concept of faith is bankrupt on its own terms. Faith minus vulnerability equals politics, or worse, extremism. Spiritual connection and engagement is not built on compliance, it's the product of love, belonging, and vulnerability....

"Compassion: Recognizing the light and dark in our shared humanity, we commit to practicing loving-kindness with ourselves and others in the face of suffering.

"Empathy: The most powerful tool of compassion, empathy is an emotional skill that allows us to respond to others in a meaningful, caring way. Empathy is the ability to understand what someone is experiencing and to reflect back that understanding. It's important to note here that empathy is understanding what someone is feeling, not feeling it for them... We can fake empathy, but when we do, it's not healing or connecting. The prerequisite for real empathy is compassion. We can only respond empathically if we are willing to be present to someone's pain. Empathy is the antidote to shame and it is the heart of connection....

"The idea of 'do this or dislike these people if you want to be accepted into our group' emerged as a major shame setup in the research. It doesn't matter if the group is a church or a gang or a sewing circle or masculinity itself, asking members to dislike, disown, or distance themselves from another group of people as a condition of 'belonging' is always about control and power. I think we have to question the intentions of any group that insists on disdain toward other people as a membership requirement. It may be disguised as belonging, but real belonging doesn't necessitate disdain.

"A faith community can choose to be a place of hurt or healing. That is a binary. Those are the only two choices. There is no neutrality. That's it. If you're not healing, then you are hurting."

We have quite a number of politicians who use religion in the exact same way that Dr. Brown mentioned. What could be more dangerous than having religious extremist politicians who are "not living up to their side of the social contract"? Of course, since religious extremists lack empathy or compassion for anyone who falls outside of their particular religious worldview and since we live in an incredibly diverse society, they can't possibly "live up to their side of the social contract."

The need to belong and feeling of disengagement cause many people to join extremist groups.

Economic globalization is not creating inequality, but rather crony capitalism, corruption and the fact that politicians are in the pockets of the rich and powerful.

I agree with David Brooks that "over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics ... [which] has had a wretched effect on our democracy. However, when "politicians" are in the pockets of the ultra wealthy elite and don't give a hoot about the constituents who actually voted them into office, there's a serious problem. This reality has been going on for a very long time. We can blame it on Citizens United, but that merely worsened an already very serious problem. The problem ultimately lies in politics having become a career. That being said, it doesn't help that our politicians don't tend to have a thorough understanding of civics.

Regardless of how you feel about President Obama, he understands civics.

President Obama recognizes that the President of the United States represents the entire country. As he said, "whether that president is a Democrat or a Republican, once the debates have been had here, that he or she is the spokesperson on behalf of U.S." In that regard, the President represents all of the citizens of the United States, regardless of their race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, height, weight, genetic information, marital status, disability, or veteran status. This is something that the Republican leaders better come to understand because it is Civics 101.

It seems as though many of the Republican Governors and Congressmen currently in office or who have previously held office seem not to grasp the fact that it is their job to represent all of their constituents, not just those in their political party, those in the majority, or those holding their same views, but all of them! By the way, the same is true of some former Presidents. They should have learned a bit about civics before taking elected office. In fact, it seems that a great many of the problems we are having with our government in this country (federal, state and local) is that our politicians don't understand civics or just opt to ignore it, even though they work in that field. If someone runs for elected office, regardless of their politics, they better be ready, willing and able to represent all of their constituents. If someone is not prepared to take on that responsibility, they have no business running for political office.

Anyone running for President in 2016 better learn a a thing or two about civics. With power comes responsibility!

I'd like to share a proposed California ballot measure that would have all gays and lesbians put to death. It was submitted by a licensed California attorney. My point has to do with the damage caused by fundamentalist thought and teachings. Are people born with hate or are they taught to hate? If so, why and what can be done to cause the beliefs to change?

The following are the lyrics to Rogers and Hammerstein's song from South Pacific titled You've Got To Be Carefully Taught:

"You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!"

We have problems in this country with regard to persistent racism, anti-gay's running for President. By the way, that is the same as running for President and proudly stating that you are a racist.

The article titled How Gay Marriage Became A Constitutional Right that was published by The Atlantic on July 1, 2015 explains why this had to be decided by the Supreme Court one way or another. Consider the Affordable Care Act, for example. It was passed in Congress and has now been challenged twice in the Supreme Court based on Constitutionality issues and upheld.

It's not up for the people to decide. If that were true, we would have majority rule. Our governmental system was designed to protect people from majority rule.

The fixation with marriage being defined as one man and one woman has to do with confusion of civil marriage with religious marriage. With civil marriage comes the 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in Federal law. Moreover, according to a report done by the New York Times in 2009, the lifetime value of those benefits ranges from $41,196 to $467,562 per married person. We all pay taxes. Have you heard of "taxation without representation"? What makes anyone think it is Constitutional to have all citizens pay for those benefits and deny them to gays and lesbians by denying them the right to marry? That is what happens when things occur as a result of majority rule. The gays and lesbians get to subsidize the straight population, by denying them the opportunity to marry.

Before raising the issue of the marriage penalty for married couples, please note that there are far more taxes than just income taxes. For example, the DOMA decision from 2013 involved estate taxes due from the surviving spouse of a lesbian marriage that was legally recognized under State law, but not federal law. As a result, the surviving spouse was compelled to pay $363,053 in estate taxes that would not have been paid, had it been a marriage between a man and a woman. That inequity caused the provision in DOMA to be struck down.

While the gay and lesbian community now has marriage equality, there is a long road ahead. This article titled Tolerance Is Not Enough by Thomas Watson on November 7, 1990 describes cause and effect.

The most ironic thing about the Tea Party is the name itself, considering the beliefs held by the members of that Party. The Boston Tea Party and the ensuing American Revolution occurred as a result of "taxation without representation. Meanwhile, the Tea Party wants just that for U.S. citizens who happen to be members of the LGBT community.

Returning to David Brooks' article, the problem isn't the choices offered by the internet, but rather the fact that people don't know how to critically think and their attention span is less than that of a goldfish. Therefore, most people just seek out that which confirms what they already believe or want to believe - confirmation bias, among other things.

The problem also isn't "a culture of autonomy [that] valorizes individual choice and self-determination", rather the damage that's been caused as a result of people giving up their individual choice and self-determination. We do this when we allow biased judges and arbitrators to decide our disputes, rather than exercising self-determination.

Just yesterday, I learned that Christine Wolf, the ex-wife of Dick Wolf, the creator and executive producer of the Law & Order franchise, contended that "the law requires a mediator to be a person who is without bias." The judge disagreed.

No human being is "without bias." The question is whether or not someone is self-aware enough to be impartial. I'm afraid that self-awareness is an aspect of emotional intelligence, something most lawyers and judges have in very short supply.

We allow lawyers to destroy children, families, and the fabric of our society by playing win/lose games, which don't play out well when families and interpersonal relationships are involved. Mediation and Collaborative Law are processes used to resolve conflicts and disputes through self-determination. However, people are misled into believing that litigation is the answer because it is our primary means of resolving disputes in the United States. Other countries have changed that default to mediation and made litigation the alternative.

None "of these forces have...been bad for national cohesion and the social fabric."

I agree with the following: "The weakening of the social fabric has created a range of problems. Alienated young men join ISIS so they can have a sense of belonging. Isolated teenagers shoot up schools. Many people grow up in fragmented, disorganized neighborhoods. Political polarization grows because people often don't interact with those on the other side. Racial animosity stubbornly persists."

However, I completely disagree as to the reasons. My analysis was set forth in my article titled "The Need to Belong and Feeling of Disengagement Cause Many People to Join Extremist Groups."

Furthermore, as Brene' Brown says,

"When it comes to our sense of love, belonging, and worthiness, we are most radically shaped by our families of origin - what we hear, what we are told, and perhaps most importantly, how we observe our parents engaging with the world....

"Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted.Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are....

"Throughout the country and regardless of type of school, middle and high school students talk openly about the heartache of not feeling a sense of belonging at home.

"The important thing to know about worthiness is that it doesn't have prerequisites. Most of us, on the other hand, have a long list of worthiness prerequisites - qualifiers we've inherited, learned and unknowingly picked up along the way. Most of these prerequisites fall in the categories of accomplishments, acquisitions, and external acceptance.... Shame loves prerequisites....

"Are we sending them overt or covert messages about what makes them more or less lovable?"

Mr. Brooks is also concerned about fitting in and Brene' Brown is very clear about the distinction between fitting in and belonging.

I agree that "we want to go off and create and explore and experiment with new ways of thinking and living. But we also want to be situated -- embedded in loving families and enveloping communities, thriving within a healthy cultural infrastructure that provides us with values and goals." However, if you are mistaken as to the cause of the problem, you aren't going to develop "new ways of thinking and living" that solve it. If you ask the wrong question, you get the wrong answer.

Patriotism is also not the answer because today's problems are global problems and can only be solved by collaboration among countries, not patriotism for each citizen's own country. Furthermore, "love of country" does not "necessitate love of each other." The Republican party has always claimed to be the patriotic party. However, that party does not stand for liberty and justice for all, equal dignity under the law, or equal rights - quite the contrary.

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