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The Art of Disagreement

What happens when we disagree?

Not if we disagree, but when. Because we will always disagree eventually. Always.

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Is that bad?

It depends who you ask!

Disagreement, or lack of consensus, is going to happen whenever two or more of us are interacting. Why, then, has it become so risky, this perfectly normal opportunity to show our work or learn another point of view? Why are we so insecure we can’t tolerate the slightest disagreement? Are our egos so fragile we can’t stand to be wrong or rethink a position? Does our fear of moral condemnation outweigh our ability to consider ideas and information (facts) clearly and critically and speak honestly about our conclusions?

When did differing opinions become a matter of hate and violence, and speaking our truth start leading to such brutal consequences?

Do we no longer understand how to agree to disagree?

Will authoritarianism ever lead to true agreement, or is the best we can hope for a sullen silence and mandated obedience?

(Don’t forget the French revolution.)

Certainly, it appears more and more people value power over truth, rigidity over resilience, and mindless agreement over genuine collaboration and teamwork.

If we must be in agreement all the time, there’s no hope of true cooperation and we each remain locked in our own narrow impoverished bubble, interacting only with those whose bubbles look exactly like ours. Except I don’t know of anyone who has exactly the same bubble as another. But then we’re experts at constructing believable facades.

Insisting on 100% agreement all the time guarantees cultural collapse. We can’t do it. We’re not made that way. It’s a social dead end for humanity. We cannot thrive or even survive without a healthy complex social system among our own kind as well as with countless other forms of life.

The friction of disagreement, of difference, is essential. It keeps us flexible and demands we exercise our learning and listening skills as well as use our imagination and empathy. Disagreement is a sign of respect and caring, both for ourselves and our point of view and experience, and for others. If we care enough to disagree openly and peacefully, we’re signaling our willingness to make an authentic commitment and contribution. We’re not sitting back accepting brainwashing passively, but actively participating and engaged, examining, exploring, and asking questions about whatever is in our attention.

At least some of us are.

Others demand an environment of complete agreement with no questions asked. Heavy social penalties occur if someone steps out of line. There is no negotiation, no cooperation, no discussion, no new information or showing of work. You will agree and obey. Or else.

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Fortunately, we humans have a wide rebellious streak, some more than others. Certain people are never going to sit down and shut up. Certain people do not worship the status quo, especially if it doesn’t serve the majority. These folks disagree, and they say so. They provide information (facts) to back up their point of view. They ask inconvenient and uncomfortable questions. They shine the clear light of critical thinking on issues and ideology.

They don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Disagreement does not need to be a call to arms. It’s not hate. It’s not disrespect or intolerance. It’s not prejudice or bigotry. It doesn’t mean we have to cut perfectly healthy relationships out of our lives. Disagreement is a chance for connection and an expanded empathy. It’s an opportunity to learn. Disagreement is a sign of diversity, and a diverse system is a healthy one.

A system in which disagreement is forbidden cannot thrive, adapt, and grow. It’s brittle and stunted, just like the scared, shriveled human beings controlling it.

Want peace? Want tolerance, justice, and respect? Learn, demonstrate, teach, and support the kind and gentle art of disagreement.

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Manufactured Distrust

Trust: Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something (Oxford Online Dictionary)

Mistrust: General sense of unease towards someone or something

Distrust: Specific lack of trust based on experience or reliable information

Leo Babauta recently published a piece on practicing trust which has given me much food for thought.

Trust is an uncomfortable subject for me. For most of my life I’ve considered myself to be shamefully distrustful. As I’ve learned emotional intelligence, I’ve realized I have plenty of good reasons for my mistrust and distrust, but there’s still a part of me that feels I should be more trusting, more willing to give others a second, or third, or hundredth chance, less guarded, more open, more forgiving.

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Except I know intellectually forgiveness does not mean an automatic reinstatement of trust.

In my heart, I feel like a bad person, especially a bad woman, because throughout my life people who say they love me have appeared to be hurt by my lack of trust. Yet those same people have given me reasons not to trust them.

When I wind up in these confusing emotional cul-de-sacs, I blame myself. I’m being too dramatic (again). I’m being a bitch. I’m mean. I can’t love, or let anyone love me. (Does trust = love? Does all love automatically come with trust?) When I explain the specific events leading to my mis- or distrust, I’ve frequently been told the other party doesn’t remember saying what they said or doing what they did. This implies I’m nitpicking, ridiculously sensitive, keeping score, or even making it up. I wonder if I’m being gaslighted, or if I’m just not a nice person.

Years and years ago I made a rule for myself: give every situation or person three chances before deciding not to trust. It still feels fair to me. Sometimes things happen. We have a bad day. We say hurtful things, or don’t keep our word, or make a boneheaded choice, breaking trust with someone. I know I’ve done it, and I’d like to be given the benefit of a doubt.

The benefit of a doubt is fair, right?

I still follow that rule. It feels appropriately kind to others and like good self-care. Yet I feel guilt nearly every day over the people in my life who I want to trust, feel that I should trust, and don’t trust.

Babauta’s article specifically addresses signs of distrust of ourselves, and some ideas about practicing self-trust. I never connected problems with focus, fear or uncertainty, procrastination or indecision with lack of self-trust, but I can see they might be. If we don’t trust our priorities, resilience, or choices, it’s difficult to be decisive or take risks with commitments and problem solving.

If we don’t trust ourselves to cope effectively with sudden changes and reversals and frightening situations, uncertainty and chaos disable us, making us vulnerable to anyone or anything promising relief, certainty, or help.

The boundary between trust in ourselves and trust in others is permeable. If we define ourselves, as I do, as “having trust issues,” presumably that includes issues with ourselves as well as others.

It makes me shudder to imagine living with no feeling of belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of anyone or anything. How could anyone sustain such an emotionally isolated condition, not only from those around them but from themselves?

I do have people in my life I trust. Is it possible I don’t have trust issues? Is that just a polite, apologetic, and roundabout way of avoiding a direct “I don’t trust you?”

Do I have to answer that?

It’s true I trust far fewer people than I distrust.

But it’s also true I give people and situations a chance. Three chances, in fact. At least.

Why does it seem so cruel to tell someone we don’t trust them?

Trust, as I experience it, is not all or nothing. I might trust a person to be kind and caring but never allow them to drive me anywhere. I might trust a person with money but never trust them to be on time. I trust myself to be there for others, but I haven’t trusted myself to be there for me.

Consumerism is about distrust. We’re actively groomed to distrust ourselves. Yesterday I was laughing with a friend about articles on MSN. There was an article about trends and fashion in decorating, as though it matters. Shiplap is out. White kitchens are out. Accent walls are out. Then there was an article about how to properly fold plastic grocery bags. I’m not kidding. Did you know you’ve been storing plastic grocery bags the WRONG WAY all these years? How could you be so incompetent? A capitalist culture only survives as long as people buy things, and advertising (and a lot of other media) is about the ways you need to improve, do it right, be better.

Advertising is manufactured distrust. We’re inadequate, but a widget would make us better. We buy, and we discover we still don’t feel good enough, and another ad tells us we need a nidget. So we buy that, but then we see a gidget on sale that will make us even better …

Who benefits most from our lack of trust in ourselves?

I believe information is power. I believe education is power. I believe in science, data, and critical thinking. I trust those things.

Who benefits most from the breakdown of public education, the demonization and gutting of scientific organizations and communities, manufactured misinformation, manufactured disinformation, and “alternative facts?”

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The Center For Nonviolent Communication says trust is a human need; it’s listed under connection needs. When our needs aren’t met, our health (mental, physical, emotional) suffers. If we are unable to trust we’re wide open to conspiracy theorists, ideologues, authoritarians, and other abusers and manipulators. Predators happily gorge off the results of manufactured distrust.

This is a big, big, problem, because it stands between us and managing things like climate change. Which, depending on who you talk to, isn’t even real because science has been the target of so much manufactured distrust.

One day, sooner rather than later in the Southwest, a switch won’t deliver electricity and a faucet won’t deliver water. Scientists have been talking about consequences of climate change and drought in the area for decades. It was one of the reasons I left my lifelong home in Colorado and came to Maine nearly eight years ago. A combination of manufactured distrust, denial, and the misplaced priority of winning the next election have effectively stopped any kind of collaborative or cooperative problem-solving around water usage throughout the Colorado River watershed, and here we are, on the brink of multi-state disaster that will affect the whole country.

Trust is a choice we make many times a day. Do we trust our families, coworkers, and friends? Do we trust the headlines we read, the news anchor we hear, or the algorithms providing us with “information” on social media? Do we trust what lands in our Inbox or the unfamiliar number calling us? Do we trust the oncoming car will really stop so we can safely walk across the busy street?

More importantly, do we trust our own instincts, feelings, and capability? Do we actively teach our children to trust theirs? Do we encourage our friends and loved ones to trust themselves? Or do we tell people they have it wrong, it didn’t happen, they’re being ridiculous, they don’t understand?

Choice comes with consequences and responsibility. Choice is dynamic; do we trust if we make a choice that doesn’t work out the way we hoped, we’ll choose again? Do we trust ourselves to be wrong and learn something before we choose again? Do we trust our ability to problem solve, bounce back, and do the best we can most of the time?

I suppose somewhere between having no trust at all and trusting everyone and everything lies a fine line of willingness to trust. We could approach new situations and people with curiosity and an open mind, be big enough to give the benefit of the doubt, and have healthy enough boundaries and the self-trust to disengage when we have evidence and experience indicating our trust is misplaced.

The first step in rejecting manufactured distrust is building trust in ourselves and demonstrating our own reliability, truth, ability or strength as we engage with others.

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Skeptical Again

I’m doing it again. Dissenting. Doubting. Questioning the status quo. Looking for new or buried information.

Thinking critically, in other words.

I know unthinking conformity is convenient, but I’ve always been an inconvenient sort of person.

It’s lonely.

This time it’s about diet, and fat, and cholesterol.

I’ve written several posts on this subject before. Here’s the first one.

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I know it’s all wrong to eat meat and animal fat and stay away from plant-based food of any kind, but it solved my health problems.

I’ve had a lot of bad experience with doctors. For much of my life, I’ve been completely intimidated by doctors or anyone else in authority, especially men. I’m not afraid of blood draws and exams, but unable to speak up for myself, ask questions, or dare to fail to please in any way. Which means in and out of the office as fast as possible, making no fuss, not speaking except to answer questions succinctly, never disagreeing, and thanking the doctor extravagantly for their time and trouble, even if (especially if) I felt completely unseen, unheard and unsupported.

(Oh, and desperately minimizing any problems I do have so as not to be a whiner or come across as drug- or attention-seeking. Because it’s bad to need help.)

In short, fawning from the beginning of the appointment to the end.

This experience has meant I avoid health care, aside from well-woman exams and an occasional emergency visit for antibiotics or an injury.

When I have been to the doctor for things like chronic pain, insomnia, depression, and anxiety, I’ve been offered medication rather than information. I don’t want to take long-term medication. I want someone to help me understand what the underlying problem is, not slap a band-aid on it. That means I want to exchange information, which takes time, and ask questions. I want to be given resources and options.

Here in Maine I’ve found a health care provider I like and respect. She’s intelligent, personable, and doesn’t make me feel as though I’m nothing but a nuisance. With her help, I’ve caught up on all appropriate scans, screens, and tests. It’s nice to feel empowered to take care of my own health.

However, part of screenings and tests for women my age have to do with identifying risks for cardiovascular disease, and according to current standards of care I am at risk, solely because of my diet and cholesterol panel.

Current guidelines and standards are built on the longstanding lipid hypothesis, which states diets high in animal fats lead to atherosclerosis, which leads to heart disease. Other, equally longstanding evidence-based data from around the world over a span of decades suggests the opposite, not only that cholesterol is not an indicator of heart disease, but it’s actually protective against it, especially for women. Many doctors, Ph.Ds, and biochemists believe the lipid hypothesis is false and based on a severely flawed original study, which means all the current guidelines (diet and nutrition recommendations and pharmacology to reduce cholesterol) and standards of care built upon it are ineffective, at best. This is validated by staggering and rising rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems in the American public since the lipid hypothesis began to change diet and nutrition guidelines, food production, and medical care in the 1950s.

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However, the lipid hypothesis is enormously lucrative for Big Ag, Big Pharma, and food producers, and those entities have frightening wealth and political power, more than enough to successfully stifle any funding for unbiased studies, silence independent scientists researching diet, fat, and cholesterol, and corrupt or bury any data that does not support the lipid hypothesis.

I am not getting my information from Facebook or conspiracy theories. I’ve spent years researching and reading, both in books and online, about diet, fat, and cholesterol. I don’t take the position that current cardiovascular guidelines are wrong, but neither am I convinced they’re right. I don’t know, and I know I don’t know, but the evidence tells me there’s plenty of room for doubt. My experience tells me a high-fat, low-to-no-carb diet is the key to my own health.

I want to have a discussion about it with my healthcare provider. I want to talk about studies. I want to ask questions. I want to be allowed to have doubts and concerns. I want to weigh my overall excellent health and function against numbers that may or may not have much to do with heart disease. I want to share links and be given suggestions for research.

I want to consider the possibility that current standards of care are based on a hypothesis that is incorrect.

I scheduled a phone call to discuss some of my test results. My provider expressed her concern about one particular result and thanked me for an email I had sent her, containing several links and information sources I find useful and interesting.

She was polite. I was polite. But our previously warm and friendly connection had vanished. I don’t believe she read anything I sent. I asked a couple of questions about studies and different ways to assess cholesterol panel results, but she dismissed it all. Flat. Businesslike. Professional.

It was a disappointingly brief conversation. I was clear about what I would and would not do. We came up with a plan. We hung up.

I spent the rest of the day feeling like an extremely anxious, difficult, bad child, waiting for catastrophe because I Failed To Please.

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All healthcare workers are under the gun these days. I work in a hospital myself, and come in for my share of politically-motivated bullshit regarding COVID. Healthcare providers are understandably exhausted, burned out, and defensive. I’m probably just one more patient influenced by some crazy ideology on the web, as far as my provider is concerned. She has a standard of care to adhere to that’s clean, clear, and congruent with the organization’s policies and procedures, which are congruent with the American Heart Association and all the other powerful medical organizations’ guidelines. She doesn’t have the time or energy to debate with patients about vaccines, dietary fat and cholesterol, or anything else.

But what if current cardiovascular preventive care is based on bad data? What if the truth has been buried under politics and capitalism for decades? What if I feel in the best health of my life because I am in the best health of my life, and nothing’s wrong, nothing needs fixing?

I don’t want to suffer from heart disease, cancer, or other health problems any more than anyone else does. I value my good health and work hard to eat right and stay fit. I want to learn about my own metabolism and physiology. I don’t want pharmacological fixes for issues that might not even be real problems.

I feel sad and frustrated and very alone. I’m feel as though I’m being punished for being a sceptic, and researching and thinking for myself. I’m back in the familiar pattern of asking questions and having people shut down, or withdraw and withhold.

I suppose at the end of the day we all wind up with ourselves and the best choices we can make with the information and resources we have. I know what the right thing is to do for myself at this point. I might get new information. Things might change. I might make a mistake, or be wrong, and suffer consequences. I’m prepared for all that. Things change. I can change with them.

This time I’m not blaming myself for the way I feel. This time I’m seriously considering the possibility that I’m not broken, but our healthcare system is. I’ll continue to take responsibility for my own health and well-being. I’ll continue to read and research as new data and studies become available for review. I’ll continue to doubt, dissent, question, and seek information.

I cannot blindly follow an organization, a system, or a set of expectations and rules from anyone. Data can be and is misinterpreted. It can be frankly corrupted by politics and capitalism. Much of what I’ve learned in my life I’ve had to unlearn and replace with something more effective. I’ve never been able to understand why we are so resistant to being wrong. How can we ever learn if we can’t be wrong? How can we ever go forward and build on our experience and observations? How can we ever hope to improve anything?

So here I am, skeptical again, and paying the price for it. But I’m going to stay on my side and continue to support my healthcare choices, even if I can’t find professional support. I’m not going to fawn, or let my fear chose for me, or apologize for who I am. I’m going to exercise my power to say yes and no, think critically, and advocate for myself, regardless of the expectations of others.

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The Nexus of Power: Choice

As I work with the next piece of Allan Savory’s holistic management model from his book, Holistic Management, I’m thinking about choice.

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When I learned emotional intelligence, I understood choice as central to our personal power. The choice to say yes. The choice to say no. Our power to choose mindfully and intentionally is constantly under attack.

I also learned, to my chagrin, how much time and energy I had spent trying to change or fix what I have no power to change or fix and overlooking the places in which I do have power. I could not effectively make decisions until I learned to let go, stop arguing with what is, step away from where the blows land, and stop taking poisoned bait.

As Joshua Fields Millburn says, “letting go is not something you do. It is something you stop doing.”

Reclaiming our ability and power to choose from our unconscious patterns and addictions is a difficult journey. Reclaiming our power of choice from those who have stolen it or seek to steal it is a journey into fear. Reclaiming our power of choice in spite of our fear is an exercise in heroism.

Once we have narrowed the whole we’re trying to manage to the dimensions in which we truly have power, we’re faced with learning how to make decisions and carrying them through.

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The power of choice comes with responsibility. Some people don’t want to consciously choose because they don’t want to take responsibility for the outcomes they create with their choices. Another pattern I’ve often seen is the desire to have as many options as possible at all times – a recipe for noncommitment and a tactic that invariably steals power from others.

Choosing one option means we leave others behind. Choosing, and working with the consequences of our choices, requires flexibility, resilience, and the willingness to be wrong.

We will inevitably make choices that result in unwanted, unexpected results.

However, refusing to choose is still a choice. Inaction has consequences, just as action does.

If we don’t choose, someone else or circumstances will choose for us.

Is the goal of decision-making perfection or empowerment?

Is the right choice the one that gives us the outcome we want? Is the wrong choice the one that results in an outcome we didn’t foresee or dislike?

Some choices are easy, like which shirt to wear.

Some choices tear us apart, like being forced to choose between caring for ourselves and caring for someone we love.

Most of the choices we make in a day we never even notice.

Some choices change the direction of our lives and we never forget the moment we stood at a crossroad and made a decision.

We can’t necessarily tell the important choices from the unimportant ones when we’re faced with them.

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The ability to choose is strength and power.

The ability to choose involves risk and uncertainty. No matter how well we gather information, weigh pros and cons, and try to imagine the future, choice is largely a leap in the dark. As we choose, so do those around us. Our choices impact them, and their choices impact us.

It’s absolutely impossible to predict where some choices will take us.

In Savory’s model, the holistic context directs decision-making. If we know something about where we are, and something about where we want to end up, we can build a path from here to there. Our choices are steps along the path, taking us forward. The cause and effect of choice is always uncertain and dynamic, so we can expect our path to fork, detour, double back, and otherwise confuse and confound us.

Choosing is a flow that never stops. Once we’ve decided to step into it, one choice leads to another, and another.

No one, no one can make better choices for us than we can.

Savory proposes a list of questions, called context checks, to help in decision-making:

  • Does this action address the root cause of the problem?
  • Might this action have negative social, biological, or financial consequences?
  • Does this action provide the greatest return toward the goals for each unit of time or money invested?
  • Does this action contribute the most to covering the costs inherent in the endeavor?
  • Is the energy or money used in this action coming from the most appropriate source in our holistic context?
  • If we take this action, will it lead us toward or away from the future resource base described in our holistic context?
  • How do we feel about this action? Might it lead to the quality of life we defined in our holistic context? What might its adverse effects be?

These questions ask us to think beyond our immediate desires and consider the possible impact of our actions on others, now and into the future. They ask us for our best predictions, and to think carefully about our goals through the lens of sustainability.

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The context checks are not a one and done exercise. Savory suggests they be revisited frequently, either at set intervals or in case of unexpected outcomes and events.

There will certainly be unexpected outcomes and events, as well as new information. Each choice we make teaches us something, and we (hopefully) integrate what we’ve learned into our next step.

Learning to make choices, and discerning the places in which we have no power to make choices, are two of the most essential things we can do in life. It seems to me the act of choosing is far more meaningful than whether we or others judge our decisions and their outcomes as “good” or “bad.”

Sadly, our culture seems more concerned at present with criticizing and/or eliminating the choices of others rather than developing and supporting good decision-making skills that foster personal power for everyone. Many of us spend too much time preoccupied with things we cannot change, actively disempowering ourselves and making ourselves miserable.

Making my own choices and learning from the consequences. My daily crime.

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Discernment

In the old tales, young women are sent on dangerous quests that involve learning to sort one thing from another. One such teacher is Baba Yaga, about whom I’ve written previously. Baba Yaga is a crone, and when she can be bothered, she teaches too-sweet maidens how to sort poppy seeds from dirt, how to cleanse, and how to cook.

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This is to be understood metaphorically, rather than as a statement of appropriate gender roles. Take a deep breath, all you feminists!

The idea of discernment, or the ability to tell one thing from another, is essential to living effectively, and, much like restraint, we are losing touch with it in today’s world.

Sorting poppy seeds from dirt, or wheat from chaff, or mildewed kernels from wholesome corn, is not something technology can help us do. It doesn’t require equipment, money, strength, or a college education.

It’s a hopeless task, of course, to sort poppy seeds from a pile of dirt in one night with no light and no help, but in stories it’s a task that must be done if the maiden wants to live. Usually a magical animal or some other helper arrives; symbols of the maiden’s intuition, kindness or compassion. Interestingly, the maiden often sleeps while the helper(s) accomplish the task.

Metaphorically, this indicates that our civilized, rational, logical intellect must step out of the way and allow creativity, faith and intuition to guide us. Fairytales and oral tradition map our subconscious, our shadow, our deepest and oldest foundations, the places where our primal wisdom lies. Sorting one thing from another takes time and close examination. Discernment involves our senses and our feelings as well as our intellect. It demands our consent to peer closely, and accept what we see. It can’t be done in the presence of denial. Fear clouds discernment, as do distraction, an unwillingness to be wrong, ideology, and an inability to think critically. Gaslighting, projection, distortion and deflection all work actively against our ability to see things clearly. Those who are unwilling to venture into terra incognita are unable to practice discernment, which involves learning and adaptation.

Modern life doesn’t require us to sort poppy seeds from dirt, but here are some places in which discernment is vital:

  • Differentiating between truth and lies
  • Distinguishing between friends and not-friends
  • Recognizing the difference between power-with and power-over
  • Realizing the difference between our beliefs and needs and those of others
  • Differentiating between love and abuse, or love and control
  • Distinguishing between kindness and enabling
  • Realizing the difference between useless and useful
  • Knowing the difference between what makes life easier and what makes it harder (simplicity and complication)
  • Distinguishing between poisoned bait or toxic mimics and healthy choices
  • Understanding where our power is and where it is not
  • Noticing differences between words and actions (major red flag)
  • Differentiating between our own ghosts, struggles and wounds and those of others; in other words, do we take it all personally or blame it all on others?
  • Knowing the difference between our authentic selves and our pseudo selves
  • Recognizing the difference between what truly makes us happy and what the culture insists should make us happy

Discernment is not prejudice, hate or bigotry. The ability to tell one thing from another is a basic skill. I remember watching Sesame Street in the 60s when I was a child: “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn’t belong.

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In this era of “alternative facts” and postmodernism, our ability to discern is taking a beating, and those of us who persist in attempting to clearly see and understand our world, ourselves, and others are often targeted on social media. Interesting, that a skill four and five-year-olds can learn is becoming demonized.

Practicing discernment. My daily crime.

(Go to my Hanged Man page for a story about sorting poppy seeds from dirt. Scroll down to Baba Yaga and Vasilisa.)