Frustration, Fireworks, and Freedom


I don’t know an American who doesn’t have a sense of pride at the Declaration of 1776 and the freedom and democracy it  bequeathed to us. And I also don’t know anyone who’s not frustrated with today’s politics. The money already spent is sick. The distortions, flip-flops, over-simplifications and manipulations will abound. You could throw away the clicker and throw up your hands. Don’t.  Well, maybe throw away the clicker 🙂

The November election will probably be incredibly close. It will be hugely important. We face great challenges and honestly — real mysteries. We don’t know for sure what’s causing global warming, whether further stimulus spending will work, how to respond to the European debt crisis, how to bring our own deficit down, and what will bring jobs. Anyone who tells you they KNOW – and lots of people will – is lying to you or kidding themselves.  The combination of genuinely big problems and great uncertainty create this result: heightened anxiety.  And ungodly amounts of spending will generate ads aimed at fanning those emotions of uncertainty, fear, and anger.  Inevitably, candidates will exploit the emotions.  Who, but you and I, can bring light rather than all this useless heat?

How to Restore Sanity to Our Political Conversations: Reasonable Responses, Constructive Comebacks, and Powerful PhrasesAs everyday leaders — which is what democracy calls us to be — we want to be effective, we have got to be cool and strong.  The sum total of our discussions and debates will be important not only to determine winners — did I mention this election will be incredibly close? — but also for our democracy itself.  Our civility may help states keep from lurching from elections to recalls.  And our civility is critical to create an atmosphere where people regain patience and confidence with the tough decisions government must make.

Amidst the heat, the negative ads, the superpacs, and hysteria, we need to stay cool.  May I suggest a goal – simple but profound:  engage your own family, friends and co-workers in a way that contributes to a civil dialogue, the kind this great democratic republic deserves.

I recommend an absolutely wonderful book for this purpose. I invite you to buy it along with the flags, sparklers, M-80s, and Bud Lites that have come to symbolize the 4th of July.  Maybe read it before Labor Day and the national conventions; arm yourself!  It’s called How to Restore Sanity to Our Political Conversations.  Meryl Runion, the author, is brilliant when it comes to communication; you’ll learn or re-learn truly valuable lessons not just for political  communication but for any tense discussion.  But I think you’ll find it gives you hope about democracy and about your own ability to contribute to it.  At least “look inside” the cover as they say on Amazon and give it a chance.

Enjoy the 4th as you,

Lead with your best self!


  • Dan –

    I thought you’d enjoy reading the email I sent my family this morning. Who knows where this will go, but it was fun to contemplate. Thanks for all you do.



    It was so satisfying to have the whole family (minus one) all under one roof this weekend. What a blessing!

    As I’m sure we will all recall, our Sunday morning conversation around the breakfast table turned to The Affordable Health Care Act, and we somewhat boldly but uncomfortably stepped into a fairly serious discussion of a very important topic to us as a family and to all of us as a nation. I found us playing off of “sound bites” we hear or read about “Obamacare”. I must admit I feel wholly uninformed when it comes to these subjects because my knowledge comes from the extremes … Uncle Mike on one side, for example, and Rush Limbaugh on the other side. Its easy, I think, to pick one or the other extremes, and then just argue from the extreme positions. We probably *know* in our hearts that neither one of the sides is correct, but its convenient to take a strong position of “yes” or “no” and then replay sound bites.

    I found myself thinking during our conversation “Is this what we’ve come to as a nation?” Where even family members can’t have substantive discussions about important topics? Think how hard it would seemingly be to have the discussion we had on Sunday, if Uncle Mike and Uncle Brian were also there. Whew.

    Then I got this email this morning from my good friend Dan Mulhern (the former first gentleman of Michigan, and quite a gentleman he is). He recommends the attached book. If you think it worthwhile, I’d be happy to order a copy for everyone in the family (all six of us). At the very least, I think it would be fun to have meaningful conversations devoid of soundbites. Perhaps it won’t make a difference in the nation as a whole, but we aren’t responsible for the whole nation, just our piece of it.


    – Dad

    • Rich,
      Thanks for your kind and thoughtful response.
      One thing hit me when I read your piece: In this day and age we have no excuse for ignorance. Especially, when dad in this case is the president of a powerful software development company. 🙂
      Seems to me the key is to approach our political discussions trying to learn instead of to convince.
      If we sought to learn, rather than to convince, look at the tools at our disposal. With Google, you can figure anything out in 5 minutes. For instance, does the CBO say health insurance costs will go up or not under ObamaCare? Over what period of time? I see talking heads on TV yell two opposite conclusions, but we can go straight to the source, if we really want the truth – rather than wanting to be right. We can read what conditions they are talking about.
      Likewise, we can see data on global warning (rather than get all hot-and-bothered when the temp hits 100, or all cool and cocky when we have a colder month than usual). We could all stand to see the #s.
      I think some Socratic ignorance would serve us all so well. Don’t you?
      And what a gift if families could help each other clear up some of the confusion, rather than reinforce hardened positions that may not be built on real fact.
      I hope your family takes you up on the offer to read Meryl’s book.
      It’s well worth it!
      With great respect,

  • Dear Dan,

    I always enjoy your blog entries, and this one, in particular, struck a chord. I share both your pride and frustration. At the same time, we have reached a point when we really should stop spinning our wheels about what is causing climate change and begin the extremely hard work of planning for, and adjusting to, it.

    I’d love to believe otherwise, but it is highly unlikely that our present culture will make the hard choices necessary to slow (we’re way beyond halting, much less reversing) global climate change. And, while both the right and left are immersed in climate change politics–what’s causing it and why we need to know more before we can agree on what’s “sustainable”–there’s a larger…MUCH larger…crisis underway. To quote “recovering environmentalist” Paul Kingsnorth: “If we were to wake up tomorrow to the news that climate change were a hoax or a huge mistake, we would still be living in a world in which extinction rates were between 100 and 1000 times natural levels and in which we have managed to destroy 25 percent of the world’s wildlife in the last four decades alone.” (You can read more here:

    I agree. When it comes down to it, what difference does it make to continue the debate on climate change? Politics as usual isn’t going to help. In fact, politics must change dramatically for humans to do any good at all, even for themselves. Otherwise, politics (and much else) as we know it will be ending. What kind of world are we handing to our children and grandchildren? If we can’t fix the mess we’ve made, the least we can do is gift to them the tools to problem-solve, and dare I say it, *effectively* govern themselves, in the difficult decades that are sure to come.

    In a word, it’s time to stop worrying about the “cause” of climate change and begin planning a way for future generations to live through it.

    Thanks for lending an ear.


    • Tom,
      Thanks so much for your heartfelt comments.
      It seems to me that when we face issues like global climate change – and maybe it is THE key issue – it is absolutely critical that we release powerful everyday political leadership. The parties are so fiercely ideologically divided that the facts be damned. Nor can we trust journalism – overtaken as it has become by ideological and moneyed interests.
      Is it possible to have a Walter Cronkite moment, where the Viet Nam war is seen as unsustainable and wrong? Doesn’t seem so. The media has lost a sense of neutrality, caution, and being fact-driven. Even the New York Times and Wall Street Journal – arguably our smartest and best journalists – have rightly or wrongly been pegged as ideologically driven. And facts follow ideology instead of the other way around.
      I suppose if the WSJ or Fox or Rush said, “global warming is for real,” that would wake people up. But that seems improbable to say the least. So, on whom do we depend? Not folks like Current TV or MSNBC preaching to their choirs, and increasingly seen as biased. So we must look to people who can one-by-one influence the middle.
      I am encouraged by the sense that seems to have reigned when it comes to gay marriage. I don’t think we were so much led by anyone on high, or even by a coordinated movement (although the Human Rights Campaign and other gay activists certainly worked on the message, and the President’s stance was quite courageous in my view). But change seemed to sweep from below — where so many of us have gay relatives and friends, and they seek the same as heterosexuals do, and our opinions have changed, and politicians saw that.
      Maybe with a more civil dialogue and more concerted everyday leadership we can see the facts on global warming and act accordingly as well.
      So I hope.

  • Hello Dan:

    One of my classmates at U of D High, Chuck Kellett, has made all political discussion off limits when we are together, so as to avoid discussing political issues from polar opposite viewpoints.

    I enjoy reading and responding to political issues but find more often than not that the people I talk to are those who share my beliefs. I must be pretty obnoxious to those on the other side. I should probably read the book to see how the author handles this.

    Paul L, ’67

    • Paul,
      I get Chuck’s viewpoint. Who wants to cripple important relationships. My urging is inquiry, instead of persuasion. I think we’d do well to ask, “what makes you say that?” “What facts lead you to those conclusions.” So often, we get so personally entrenched in our views that when someone disagrees with IDEAS we take it as attacks on our SELVES. It seems like we would do well to consciously recast our discussions as about the world, rather than as do-or-die battles about our identities.
      Meryl’s book is really quite good on this.
      Good luck!

  • It is virtually impossible to assess fault/blame without knowing history. The issues that are at the forefront today are not unique. Repetitiveness is a cohesive element to objectives. Both of the left/right, Democrats/Republicans paradigms are intrinsic in value to the REAL POWER BROKERS. WHO are they?

    Read the book, authored by Alan B. Jones, titled “How The World REALLY Works” to know enough about the evil, manipulative greedy entities; you may become disheartened, but…….if enough people learn the truth, apathy may be overtaken by duty, with a resolve at hand.

    Once you know WHO, then you can assemble an affront to insure that this agenda is brought to a screeching halt!!!

  • I agree with Mark in so many ways. I wrote this book partly because of my own frustration about how off-point political conversations in my own life could get. I found myself put in a box before I finished my first sentence. “Judged, excoriated and dismissed.” I’m talking about people who proclaim they love me. I knew far more than I was able to communicate.

    The odd things is, once I learned to get past defenses, I found people whose initial reaction was hostile would discover that we have a lot more in common in our insights than they imagined. We had things we could learn from each other.

    I had just returned from being evacuated due to the Waldo Canyon Fire when Dan called to tell me he had posted this. Overall, people pulled together in the most remarkable ways to get that fire under control. I learned a lot about fire management in the days since that fire started, and I learned a lot of metaphors that can be translated into managing a political conversation.

    Of course, a big one is – it really helps to know what you’re doing. I hope this book helps readers with their heated and political conversations. Thanks so much, Dan, for remembering me and recommending my work.

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