Inclusion Leads to Full Life

Dean Gilbert, proponent of Accept Culture, passes at 82.

My father passed away recently. His funeral service was performed by a close friend, Lois Olmstead, who also performed my mother’s service 10 years earlier. It’s a fascinating experience to see the lives of your parents shared by someone who may have known them better than you. As children we never really know our parents as unique individuals. They’re just mom and dad. Parents give and children take.

I’ve always known my dad’s childhood was tough from a very young age. He herded sheep across miles of hills and prairie alone with his brother, who was just two years older.  He was 7. Often, during winters of the school year, he would stay in houses with other families who lived closer to the school. In these cases, he went weeks at a time without seeing his parents. This was ordinary life we can’t even imagine now.

During the funeral service Lois spoke of my dad’s attitude towards people. He was open to friendship with anyone. He was involved with so many groups and clubs in his home of Livingston, MT. He was a member of the American Legion, Park County Pioneers, the Cemetery Board, and the Clyde Park Old Settlers. This last group was special because he was a founding member in 1978. Old Settlers still holds their annual event every September. As part of these organizations he collected friends along the way.

He was a fabulous storyteller. Everybody could listen. He was genuine and sincere. So many, including myself, will often embellish a story. Others will always come up with something to top any story you might have. Not him. He was a genuine Montana cowboy. Always a gentlemen because he knew of no alternative. Always the first to help if you needed it. A sincere man who included everyone in his circle of friends.

Being this kind of man gets noticed because there were many along the way who helped him too. There was always a shed to build, or fence to fix. Every time we spoke by phone, he told me of the projects he was working on and there were always friends around to contribute. Or he would tell me who he ran into at the Electric Co-op meetings, or at the Legion.

At the age of 82 he also attended the funerals of many of his friends. He was part of the Honor Guard at the Legion and he would perform the 21-gun salute for his fellow veterans who had passed. At his funeral, the Honor Guard Commander told stories of how Dean was always there, even in the worst weather, and he never complained. Even as some of the Honor Guard themselves were passing away and it became difficult to get the required numbers, he would show up ready on short notice. You did what you had to do, and you did it right. You PAID your respect, by showing up.

Maybe I’m straying from the subject. The point that I’m trying to make is that my dad was a man of inclusion, not exclusion. Today’s politics didn’t make sense to him because the polarity drove people apart. He couldn’t understand why politics decided who you could associate with. He might agree or disagree with you, but it NEVER meant you couldn’t be his friend. Where has that gone?

My dad’s name was Dean Gilbert. A condolence card I received said “He was the strong, silent type – A friend to everyone in Park County.” See that word there? They said he was a friend to EVERYONE. Another card said “What a gift to Park County. This giant of a man loved, protected, and served Park County and America. We were blessed to have shared moments in time with him.” What will people say or write about each one of us when we pass on? Will the words written about us be as gracious?

My dad had a full life. He loved his country, family, friends, and his whole community. He included everybody in that. He believed in unity and meeting in the middle. What will we become if we follow the current path of exclusion? There’s so much talk of cancel culture. The opposite of cancel is to accept. My dad believed in accept culture. By accepting others as they were, he lived a beautiful life surrounded by many, many friends. Let’s all practice ACCEPT CULTURE like my dad did. If we don’t, who will show up at our funeral?


Please visit the site of my dear friend Lois at www.timeoutwithlois.com. And please find a way to share the beautiful concept of ACCEPT CULTURE with your friends and family. To read more posts from Judson Gilbert in the future, follow our blog and visit our home page www.mitm4america.com.

Is Student Loan Forgiveness Wise?

Student loans should not be forgiven

Let me just start off by saying that colleges cost a lot of money and the return on investment for people attending can be good, or not so good.

Most people going to college don’t have a lot of money at that age, so they have to take out loans to attend. A college education isn’t cheap, and banks are there waiting for them, ready to charge them a lot of money for the right to borrow their money.

Let’s say a student goes to a state university. For the University of Massachusetts, the tuition and fees are $16,439 a year, and room and board is $13,595, so it’s $30,000 a year for four years, or a cost $120,000, plus interest.

The idea of helping relieve this unbelievable burden, of students nationwide steeped in debt, sounds good on the surface.

Never mind the fact that many students will graduate with a degree that does little to help them earn back all that money.

But a blanket loan forgiveness of between $10,000 to $50,000 to all students doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

What about all the people who wanted to go to college, but didn’t because they couldn’t afford it? Shouldn’t they also get $10,000 to $50,000 to put toward their education? At least they were the more sensible ones who didn’t overextend themselves and get themselves in more debt than they could pay for.

If this is a concern the government wants to address, it would seem that some other method, other than a check to people who owe debt on student loans, would be the best choice.

The government could easily increase the amount of Pell grants they give out, thus helping the most-needy students.

They could offer further discounts on loans, offer large enough loans to students at the government discount rate to cover the complete cost of education or require banks to offer lower rates.

In the end, any payoff would seem to be a somewhat crazy idea, but if the government wanted to do it anyway, they should look at the income of the students and pay off debt from those who need it, not those who are easily able to pay off their debt.

Always a Great Time to Talk About Mental Health

May is Mental Health Month, so let’s talk about mental health to EVERYONE. Reach out to your legislators and tell them we need more money for mental health and substance abuse treatment. Reach out to a friend and ask how they are doing? It doesn’t matter what you do, just don’t do nothing! 

I have been speaking to some of my military friends about mental health and suicide rates in the military. I am worried about the shift that is happening. I am hearing that yes, they are doing training, yes, they are educating, but when suicide happens its almost ignored. Let’s not even talk about what happens if you ask for help. In fact, it is still the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude. This is not right. All the education and training doesn’t do anything if the attitude and culture behind it don’t change.  

Like everything, it starts at the top, and if they aren’t trained to deal with people then nothing will change. We have young men and women who have left home for the first time and, during the pandemic, were told they could only go to work then back to barracks, alone. Don’t leave your room, don’t talk to your neighbor. They can call home but were not allowed to go home. The married military men and women were at least allowed to go home to their family. How do society and the military think this won’t cause mental health and substance use issues?  

If someone does have an issue or takes their own life, everyone else is told to move on. They offer counseling and support, but it is difficult to access. The mission must get done first, and that means “suck it up.” Let’s speak up for our service men and women! They deserve better. I know we all have loved ones that we want to see receive better care. If you have not asked your loved one how they are feeling, please do! Be sincere, look them in the eye, and ask, “How are you feeling today?”  

Don’t be afraid to ask the questions. It’s hard to think what we would do if someone told us they were depressed or even thinking about taking their life. Therefore, we need more funding and availability for mental health! As a society we have allowed ourselves to ignore mental health or make mental health and substance use a scary topic. (See my post about mental health Stigma April 14, 2021) Part of what we need is to find a way to educate people on how to talk about it. But if there is no professional available for help or questions it becomes a burden on the friends and family who don’t have the right experience and can’t escalate.  

In some communities, it takes 3 to 6 months to get an appointment to enter mental health or substance use treatment. This is outrageous. Why is this acceptable? Just like with physical health, if mental health or substance use is ignored, it can become dangerous. If someone is depressed and is not able to get help it can progress into suicidal thoughts and actions. This is an EMERGENCY, just like chest pain. I know the wait times are not acceptable to the mental health and substance use treatment facilities. The issue is that there is no money to hire staff and if there is money there is no one to hire. We need recruitment into mental health related fields and that starts with guidance counselors. Who is advocating for mental health professions? So again, let’s say something! Raise awareness! 

I have a suggestion for those of us who are not afraid to ask, “How are you?” or “Are you depressed?” First, if they say ‘not good’ or ‘yes’ or tell you they are struggling, don’t say you’re sorry and leave it at that. I watch New Amsterdam the TV show, and one of my favorite things the main character says is “How can I help?” It’s a hard question when you are worried someone is in a bad spot. But if you just say I’m sorry and leave, they are alone again, and the despair deepens. Sometimes all it takes is sitting with someone while they make a phone call, or telling them you will call them tomorrow to check in. If you didn’t care you wouldn’t have asked, so don’t be afraid to care!  

Finally, don’t be afraid to speak up and say that you think someone is struggling or know someone is struggling. It might save a life!  

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To read more posts from Nicole Gilbert in the future, follow our blog and visit our home page at www.mitm4america.com. You can reach out to Nicole Gilbert on FaceBook. Thank you!

How Australia Avoided Mass Shootings for 25 Years

 I want to start by saying I am moderately pro-gun; well, I’m more pro-do whatever-you-want to be more accurate, but I was thoroughly anti-gun for a while. Then I lived rurally for several years in various countries, and my opinions about guns slowly changed. I learned the necessity of owning a firearm for some, mainly for protecting livestock or providing food for the family. Still, one thing that hasn’t changed in my mind is how badly America needs further gun reform. When you go to the DMV to get your license, you have to provide proof of identification, a social security number, and evidence of your residential address, among other things, so why is less needed to purchase a gun in most American states?

In this article, I wanted to examine our Oceanic ally, Australia, and outline how they have managed to nearly eradicate mass-shootings in the last 25 years. While Australia has a small population for such a large country, it’s mainly due to its middle being a literal desert. Australia has several densely populated capital cities on its coast that rival some of America’s largest cities. If America annexed Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth, they would become the country’s 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th most populated cities. That means four cities in Australia are larger than every city in the United States except for Los Angeles and New York. That’s a lot of people! Yet, there were only 229 total gun deaths in Australia with a rate of 0.90 gun deaths per 100,00 people in 2019, while that same year there were 39,682 gun deaths in America with a rate of 12.09 gun deaths per 100,000 people. I also wanted to share these facts regarding mass shootings in America:

  • 31% of the world’s mass shootings occur in the U.S
  • Americans are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than citizens of similarly developed countries.
  • A 2014 study found that firearms injure or kill about 10,000 American children each year.

In the last ten years, 22 major mass shootings in America were responsible for 332 deaths (not including the shooters). It’s painful that little has changed regarding gun control during this past decade. In Australia, however, there have only been three mass shootings in the previous 25 years, accounting for 16 deaths, but why? 

In 1996, Martin Bryant was eating lunch at a cafe in the small historic town of Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia. Moments after he finished, he pulled a semi-automatic rifle out of his duffle bag and began a killing spree that would stain the country’s history as its deadliest mass shooting. In the aftermath, 35 people were murdered, with another 23 wounded.

Australian citizens and public officials were so horrified and shocked by the events that day; that what followed was a swift and unified passing of the National Firearms Agreement. The National Firearms Agreement banned all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, implemented a licensing and ownership system for firearms, and included a mandatory nationwide buy-back program for guns that were made illegal.

While it’s irresponsible to say the agreement was the sole cause, there were no mass shootings (five deaths or more) in Australia from 1997 to 2016. Many Australians still own guns. Australia has the 25th highest number of privately owned firearms in the world; however, some ingenious provisions were written in to ensure gun deaths remained low:

Establishing a genuine reason to own a firearm is essential when applying to purchase a gun, the two common genuine reasons to own a gun in Australia are for hunting or vermin control and recreational club sport shooting. Without a genuine reason, you would not be allowed to buy a firearm; each specific reason also requires its individual paperwork. When you purchase a firearm from a dealer, you are given a Serviceability Certificate. This document contains the details of the gun you bought and will be referenced in the licensing process. If you buy a gun secondhand, it will have to be sent to a dealer, so they can write up a certificate and store the firearm until you receive your license. Completing a Firearm Awareness Test is required to secure licensing, and obtaining a letter of support from your sports club or property owner is also essential. Once this is done, you can lodge your application for your gun, you must provide three various forms of identification to the post official. After several weeks, you will be required to send photos of your potential storage safe to ensure it is up to standard. 

While it may seem excessive to some, these laws have made Australia a safer place to live in and I believe can be easily duplicated at scale by the greatest country in the world. America will be a safer place for it.

To be a part of reshaping American politics please donate at ActBlue and help us expel The Seditious Six. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/meet-in-the-middle-for-america-1

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  •  Australia. 2020 ‘Underlying Cause of Death, All Causes, Australia, 2010-2019.’ Causes of Death, Australia, 2019; 3303.0 (Table 1.2). Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics. 23 September 
  • CDC. 2021 ‘Underlying Cause of Death, Results.’ CDC WONDER Online Database. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / CDC, National Center for Health Statistics. 27 April

Hmmm. Fox/CNN or The Daily Show?

In this post, I will discuss how late-night comedy shows became my primary news source.

My Journalism History

Before I took my first journalism course, my news derived from local television and radio outlets, rather than national networks. I lacked awareness of CNN or Fox, even though my household consistently watched a Fox affiliate news channel. As a child, listening to radio and television anchors taught me journalism principles through example, without most of the bias that I witnessed in national news coverage as an adult.

My Introduction to journalism college courses formalized the principles I learned during my childhood and exposed me to national news outlets. Reading the New York Times every day, as my professor highly recommended, demonstrated the differences between national and local news outlets. The more literary and biased language in its articles, not just the op-eds, first surprised and then worried me. Such language seemed counterintuitive to the goal of journalism: to objectively report on current events.

I’d eagerly discuss the news with my parents over dinner, to internalize what I had read. During one of these discussions, my dad introduced me to The Late Show with Steven Colbert. It tested my news judgment by presenting stories without the supposed objectivity of traditional news. The processes I learned in my journalism course helped me identify the show’s biases, and the truth behind its humor. The show itself attached emotional significance to current events.

The Pandemic

My news consumption habits remained stagnant until the shelter in place order began in California in March 2020. I moved away from digital news toward late-night comedy shows, supplemented by CNN. The New York Times morning and evening briefings initially provided a sense of daily routine, but after a few weeks, they lost their appeal. The constant stream of worsening news heightened my anxiety. Instead, I used shows like The Late Show and the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and CNN’s afternoon programming, as my preferred news sources. Even then, I hesitated to rely on CNN for information, other than the prior administration’s COVID-19 taskforce briefings, due to CNN’s liberal biases.

When the 2020 presidential debates began, I had grown tired of CNN’s overreactions toward current events, so I switched to using late-night comedy shows as my primary news source, supplemented by formal news when necessary. By this point, I understood that accurate knowledge of current events formed the foundation of late-night comedy shows’ humor. These shows delivered this information via well-written joke setups, and these jokes fulfilled the same purpose as national news networks, without the rush.

Once I understood this, I treated late-night comedy shows like traditional news: each show possessed its own biases and placed emphasis on different topics. Alongside The Late Show and The Daily Show, I began watching Late Night with Seth Meyers, Full Frontal with Samantha B, and The Amber Ruffin Show, to gain diverse perspectives on any given story.

Conclusion

Watching late-night comedy shows allowed me to apply my journalism training and develop my news judgment. Although such shows are nowhere near unbiased, they are a valuable source of information. If the viewer actively engages with the entertainment, then they can reap the benefits of watching news in a humorous way.

Americans Should Demand More from Elected Officials

Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans say they want more compromise and respect[1] in politics. Although they usually want the other side’s politicians to do the compromising and give their own party the respect. Polls also show that even on contentious issues such as trade, immigration, and climate policy, Americans have broad agreements.[2] A 2019 Civility Poll showed that 8 in 10 voters desire “compromise and common ground.”[3] The vast majority of Americans claim to dislike[4] the partisanship, rudeness, and lack of civility in politics.

And yet our actions do not reflect those statistics. They say the opposite. Politicians follow the cues their constituents send them. They engage in partisanship, refuse to compromise, spend time on Twitter or on television instead of legislating, and pick petty fights because doing so helps them get elected. Gerrymandering, partisan sorting, and primary politics all help make this behavior profitable for politicians. But another factor is us. These stunts work because we react to them. We give attention to controversy, and therefore greater recognition to the instigator.

Our actions encourage the very trends we claim to dislike: lack of compromise, partisan hyperbole and rancor, and politics played at a louder decibel with less content. We click on clickbait headlines. We get incensed by the latest controversy. Perhaps we post about it on Twitter. We retweet the latest Twitter fight. We give our attention to webpages and cable news channels that are filled with hype and anger. In our attention economy, this means ratings, better search rankings, and greater visibility. Some of us click simply out of curiosity. But even these clicks fuel the fire of controversy.

If we want to improve American politics and discourse, we must demand more substance from our elected officials. We need legislators to work on legislation and pass budgets instead of tweeting or going on TV. We need to have substantive debates about real issues, instead of bickering over insults and nonissues.

To do this, we must first begin to change our own actions. It is no use complaining about a problem, or about other people. We have to focus on ourselves and what we can control. We have to focus on what actions we can start taking (or not taking):

  • We can stop clicking on clickbait headlines.
  • We can step back from social media (or at least politics on social media).
  • We can step back from the outrage over petty issues and look at the larger picture. We can stop letting our outrage at the latest controversy immediately sort us into political camps.
  • We can make an effort to meet with people who disagree with us, and have respectful conversations that seek mutual understanding.
  • We can write our representatives and senators about the issues we care about, especially the ones where we believe compromise is possible.

That last one is important. We need to make our voices heard in substantive and civil ways. Apathy means that only the craziest and loudest voices will be heard. Some of the Republicans who voted not to impeach or convict Trump, and some of the ones who voted to decertify the election results, did so because they feared their own constituents. They may have known the election was not stolen. They may have wanted to impeach and convict him. But the only calls they received were from people who were upset, who believed the election had been stolen (or who were downright crazy). These politicians feared primary challenges, and they feared the hate and death threats they would receive if they took a principled vote. Liz Cheney, Peter Meijer, and other Republicans who voted to impeach and convict Trump have received credible death threats.

This is one example. It happens on both sides, right and left, Republican and Democrat. We need to support our legislators in taking politically unpopular votes. Otherwise, they only hear from the nuts and the disaffected. If we want compromise and civility in politics, we need to demonstrate it through our actions. We need to make our voices heard in the right ways, while not giving our attention to the wrong places. Compromise and civility start at home, in our local communities, and in engagement between citizens of different backgrounds and viewpoints. We sorted ourselves into two political camps. We can begin the process of meeting in the middle space between our camps, by engaging in thoughtful, substantive debate over issues that matter.

Thank you for reading our post by Ben Connelly. Please refer us to a friend or follow us in the area below or on Twitter @mitm4america.


[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/06/19/partisans-say-respect-and-compromise-are-important-in-politics-particularly-from-their-opponents/

[2] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-12-14/polling-shows-americans-agree-on-trade-immigration-climate

[3] https://politics.georgetown.edu/battleground-poll/october-2019/

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/americans-hate-all-the-partisanship-but-theyre-also-more-partisan-than-they-were/2019/10/26/e1f4abe2-f762-11e9-a285-882a8e386a96_story.html

Meet Me in the Middle

Photo by Matthias Cooper on Pexels.com

Quick hello to the #MeetInTheMiddle community. Thought I’d share this image of the beautiful Gateway Arch along the Mississippi River. As an alumna of Washington University in St. Louis, you’d think I would have taken the tram ride to the top by now. Alas, acrophobia plus claustrophobia have kept me away from this adventure. Still, I highly recommend you watch this 4:38 clip showing exactly how the two sides came together here, to create my favorite monument in the whole wide world. (Viewer discretion is advised if you are afraid of heights.)