Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Purple State of Mind

I watched an old documentary recently. In Purple State of Mind, two guys filmed themselves having four conversations thirty years after they’d roomed together in college. During the year they cohabited, one guy found faith and the other began to lose his.

It’s an interesting film, especially for those that are interested in what motivates faith. Most striking to me this decade later was the political aspect of their discussion. They referred to their present moment, 2008, as the “most divisive time in American history.” The country was “polarized.” Just in the 2000s we’d had an election that was too close to call, a major terrorist attack, two wars, and an economic collapse. We survived the bug and Y2K+ was still hard.

Now I look back on it with nostalgia. Remember George W? I feel like I should have been nicer to him. Maybe it was how we made fun of him that caused the country to elect a real clown.

No matter how it happened, we’re here ten years later with a country that can best be described with the same adjectives. Only it’s angrier. Hateful even. How can so much time have passed only to bring us back to the same point?

The documentary addresses the political divide in a way that I’m sure I wasn’t able to embrace back in ‘08.
“This nomenclature of left and right, red and blue... it’s not helpful right now,” says the guy that found faith in college.
“It’s not meant to be helpful. It’s meant to do exactly what it does,” says the guy that lost it.

That much is easy to see. Nothing will ever get done as long as ideas are rejected simply because of their source. Neither side has a monopoly on truth. The answers are somewhere in the middle. But how can you filter good ideas out of all the shouting? Is it possible to create lasting change with a purple state of mind?

Here are a few strategies I’m trying:

Pick your cause(s). After November 2016, my daily level of outrage was at a personal high water mark for my 30-some years on the planet. Every news story was worthy of my wrath. Everyday there was a breaking story worse than the day before. It didn’t take long for my brain to become overloaded and my spirit to feel drained.

This level of stress isn’t sustainable. Especially for an obscure author in the north hills of Pittsburgh. My level of activism is restricted by an overwhelming desire to never leave my home. There was no outlet.

I had to pick a cause. The world is too big and broken for one ordinary person to worry about all of it. I realized that remaining stirred up everyday was going to leave me with nothing left when something came along that’s really worthy of my outrage. I cut back my news consumption and sought out information about causes that are truly important to me.

Mind your sources. Former President Obama was skewered a little for a comment he made on David Letterman’s new show on Netflix. Fox News viewers are “living on a different planet” from people that get their news from NPR, he said. This, of course, was taken to mean that Fox is wrong and NPR is right and everyone got all offended and then why would you watch Obama or Letterman because they had their time and maybe we should all cancel our Netflix!

I made that last sentence up, but people were pretty angry at this newfangled suggestion of media bias.

But you have to know that news reporting is inherently biased. Slight changes in details and imagery can tell the same story in a plethora of different ways. Reporters are human. The tv doesn’t give much in the way of facts anymore, instead splitting the screen into nine boxes to give a variety of opinions on perceived happenings.

It’s more difficult to figure out what’s actually happening than ever before. You have to do the work. As much as I’d like there to be a list of publications to trust, the media isn’t an establishment worthy of faith. They make mistakes and ultimately, they’re in it to make money. The only way to guard against bias and misinformation is to use a variety of sources. Read news stories from a lot of different media outlets and commentators. It takes a little more time, but you’ll be able to see past the spin. Maybe you’ll even find actual facts.

Remember the other side is made up of people just like you. Sure, you’re programmed to think they are idiots. If they weren’t morons, they’d be on your side, right?


Really cool logo from No Labels by Hudson Pacific (

Left or right, red or blue, people are just trying to live a happy life. There are morons and geniuses, lazy people, hard workers, nice people and jerks. On both sides. And when you meet people, one on one, at the deli counter or in church or waiting for an oil change, it’s a rare thing to be able to identify their political leanings. They’re just folks. You hold the door open for them and use manners and lend a hand if they need help.

You act like a decent person.

Now imagine that deli counter guy thinks the opposite on every issue that’s important to you. Are you going to throw ham in his face and run away? Are you going to find a different deli? No. You act like a decent person because you don’t have to agree with a person’s ideology to buy ham from them. You don’t have to agree with a person’s ideology to live in the same country with them.

Perhaps re-training ourselves in basic decency will give us the ability to respectfully discuss our differences and find common ground. I think this can happen if we all get into a purple state of mind.