Facts, Leaders and Opinions

20160627_120650Facts are important. The truth is sacred and inflexible. Everyone has the right to an opinion.  Not all opinions are worthy of analysis. True leadership steers a course of hope.  It does not maneuver in response to fear.

Dear Alexandria and Mary Ellen,

Finally, the frantic process of getting hired at a new airline, trained on a new aircraft and qualified to fly the line during those first few awkward feeling revenue flights is complete.  What was a well charted course forward, each with its specific hurdle to be surmounted, has now ended in the doldrums of boring uncertainty.  It was always going to be this way, for whenever you start as a bottom seniority pilot at a new airline you are relegated to a status known as “reserve.”  Reserve means you sit and wait.  Maybe you’re needed.  Maybe you aren’t.  Since I am based in Miami, far from our North Carolina home, I sit in my small South Beach hovel (shared with many other pilots also confined to this scheduling purgatory) for a call that often doesn’t come.

Well, it is summer.  The scenery is nice, there are good places to run near the shore and the Cuban coffee is as strong as my love for you.  There are worse places in which I could be serving out my sentence, waiting for the day that my seniority will hold a precious actual schedule.  The idle time will hopefully be converted into words on the page for you to read.

Whenever it is down the road that I give you these words, I wonder if you will read them and wonder why it was that I didn’t recount more about the current events of the day.  You will remember, especially you Alex, that current events were often the subject of discussion during a long car ride or while washing dishes.  Until now, I have refrained from writing much about current news and the political realm; you know my mind on these issues and you are both bright girls.  You both have a way of making up your own mind, and you do so with an eye for compassion and fair play.  For that trait, I am eternally grateful.  This work is mostly about what was going on between my ears during your years under our common roof; I want you to be able to experience the “why” behind my words and actions—even those words and actions that I might later regret.

All of that being said, I think the events of the day and how we have collectively reacted to those events provide a not too subtle backdrop for a few points that I feel you need to bear in mind:

Facts are important. The truth is sacred and inflexible.

Everyone has the right to an opinion.  Not all opinions are worthy of analysis.

True leadership steers a course of hope.  It does not maneuver in response to fear.


As I write these words, it is June of 2016.  A Presidential election is underway, and I don’t think that I need to remind you of who the candidates are.  You know who won (a fact that makes me stand in awe of time even as I write this).  I hope it all turned out ok, for our country and for you.

I think we are witnessing the convergence of three forces that, when combined in full strength, have the capacity to lead to truly horrific things:

First, we are a nation that is in fear:  Fear of terrorism, fear of change, fear of losing God, fear of finding Him, fear that we don’t know who we are anymore.

Second, we are living in a world were facts no longer seem to matter; in the age of the internet, any person with access to bandwidth and some basic knowledge can put together a convincing “news” site.  This is the paradox of the information age:  We hold in the palm of our hands the means to access nearly the entirety of human knowledge, but instead of truth we seek validation and agreement.  Facts that challenge our most deeply held convictions are quickly cast aside, replaced by official looking internet links that bolster our preconceived notions.  We don’t seek to be convinced, we seek to congratulate ourselves for being right.

Third, we have lost our ability to compromise.  Every time America has failed to compromise, we have found disaster.  The Civil War was a perfect example of that.  In compromise, we don’t find that we sacrifice our precious ideals; rather, we find that we are able to steer a pragmatic course that appeals to “better angels of our nature” (thanks, Abraham Lincoln).  Steering a middle course isn’t a sacrifice; it is good governance that allows the long arc of history to bend toward justice, as surely it must (I am paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King).

In an environment such as the one we live in now, morality can be turned on its head and even the unthinkable can become conceivable.  We have reached a point where facts are completely irrelevant, where intellectual thought has been replaced by shrill voices proclaiming monolithic categorizations, hate, and solutions to problems that are at once both nebulous and grandiose. The emotion rules the day, entrenched in catch all terms like liberal or conservative or Republican or Democrat—forgetting, of course, that within those broad characterizations are all manners of people who would rightly be called Americans.  All of this is being played out against a backdrop of fear, some of it warranted and some of it not.  We don’t seem to be able to judge the validity of “threats” anymore; all objectivity has been lost to partisan hysterics.  Here is where my thoughts on opinions come into play:  Opinions are valuable as long as they are carefully considered through analysis, are open to re-evaluation and are delivered in a way that is respectful and loving.  Hysterical notions that aren’t based in reality or that are contrived to elicit a reaction are not worth your time—and make no mistake about it, we live in hysterical times.  Conventional wisdom holds that all opinions are worthy of respect.  That is not true.  Opinions that are not grounded in love or that do not seek a path of justice are not worth your time.  I guess what I am saying is this:  Don’t be fooled.

Speaking of being fooled, I remember a conversation from my early teenage years that demonstrates my point.  I don’t know that either of you recall my German grandmother; Alex, you may but Mary Ellen couldn’t possibly.  Anyway, my grandmother came of age during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930’s.  One day, apropos of nothing, she said to me, “Hitler was a very bad man.  But you must understand, the Czechs were coming across the border and killing German babies.”  It struck me as startling that a woman who was otherwise caring could still hold fast to such a bald faced lie.  Was it rationalization?  I don’t think so.  In her heart of hearts, I think she really believed that happened.  That is the power of an idea.  A notion doesn’t have to be valid for it to change the world.  When people are afraid, they will cling to nearly any lie that validates their fear.

I guess that is why I am a little bit afraid now.


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