Note from Josh: This is long. It’s more than twice as long as anything I’ve ever posted. That said, I think it may be twice as good as anything I’ve ever posted. For those who have said they like my writing, I think you’ll like this if you give it the time. Take it in a couple of sittings if need be. I’d really welcome feedback as I spent the better part of a weekend putting this together.
During my recent long road trip, I’ve had many discussions with my wife and father (who joined me at different intervals) about my personal history and the state of the world. Several years ago, they showed great compassion toward me during my legal ordeal and in my early recovery from pornography addiction and alcoholism. I needed them to give me a second chance and they came through.
It kind of shocked me they didn’t agree with the overall theme of argument: We need to be much more forgiving and dare I say, lenient and understanding, as a society, when it comes to giving people second chances.
It also extends beyond illegal/legal mistakes into simple differences between people, and I’ll get deeply into that as well. We have a highly opinionated society and we aren’t in a place to find what we have in common. We feel, as individuals and as members of different political/socioeconomic/cultural groups, that our answers should be the ones that all adopt.
I sometimes wonder if these kinds of people believe the world would be better if everyone shared their opinions, or if that’s what they think we’re ultimately working toward as a society: In the end, one doctrine wins. That’s never going to be the case, and that’s a good thing.
One caveat before I begin in earnest: I believe in understanding/compassion/second chances in almost all cases across the board. My exceptions are when an act is so heinous, like a school shooting, that even a mental health defense shouldn’t spare the person harsh penalties, or when the person openly displays wanton malice and a complete lack of understanding of the serious nature of their crime or mistake.
I will need second chances the rest of my life, but I want to assure people I’ve always been the kind of person to offer them, or at least offer the benefit of the doubt. A longer version of this incident was in my first book, but I think it proves the kind of person I was.
Several years before my porn addiction reached its critical stage, I was working as an editor for a weekly newspaper and a monthly magazine. The Friday night of our December Christmas Party, the owner and his family did not show. The next day, I got a telephone call from a close friend of their family who worked for us – who also no-showed – to explain what happened.
The owner of the newspaper was arrested on charges of Class A (roughly the same as First-Degree in Maine) Arson. He owned several businesses and rental properties. While it’s hard for me to remember the exact circumstances, the afternoon of our party he was pulled out of one of his properties by firefighters after a report of smoke had been called in. He was found with several bruises on his head and was loosely tied with a lamp’s electrical cord. For the police on the scene, it looked suspicious and when they learned he was in overall financial trouble, including having just had a foreclosure notice posted by the bank on the property he was discovered in…well, it just seemed too sketchy and he was booked.
His explanation to the police was that a pair of organized crime connected drug dealers who looked at potentially renting the property some days earlier returned to seek vengeance after he refused their rental. He allegedly had some roundabout connections to certain people involved in organized crime in Southern New England, and this was connected to some kind of bad blood or whatnot. I remember it being unclear in the media.
He was very hands-off at the newspaper and magazine, letting us do our thing, but we liked him very much. The following Monday, I told the staff what I’d been told and what I’d read when I followed up in the media. The reaction was understandably shock, but since I’d had a few days to gather my thoughts, I shared how I was going to handle the situation.
I told them that I didn’t know if he did it or not, but I wasn’t going to play judge and jury. He had given me the greatest professional opportunities in my life, and I was always going to be thankful for that. There were many times when he trusted my judgment and displayed loyalty to my opinions and visions for the company when others had urged him not to let me do certain things. I felt that I personally owed him that same loyalty when it came to his legal situation. I was going to support him as a friend, take him at his word, ignore gossip and let the legal system play itself out.
We had a couple of telephone calls and a pair of lunches where I told him my stance. I didn’t want him to defend himself and I didn’t want to weigh the evidence against him. I felt that I needed to support him as a human I cared about.
Long story short, he ended up taking a plea deal. I told him I completely understood, and it didn’t change how I felt. If it’s between going in front of a jury and rolling the dice at getting 20 years in prison or taking a sure thing of 6 months in county jail agreeing to a lesser charge, whether he was innocent or guilty, I think the reasonable person takes the deal.
Moving forward, some of the people I worked with made jokes alluding to the owner (who sold almost all of his shares in the company to the employees during this time) being guilty. They were meant in harmless fun, teasing the fact that they believed he probably got away with it.
I simply told myself that I could believe he was innocent, or I could believe he was guilty, but if I did that, I still was of the mindset that it would have been an irrational act of a desperate man in a very dark moment. Humans make horrible, horrible mistakes and this was one. Thankfully, nobody was injured, and he served the time the justice system deemed appropriate. That’s enough for me and although I rarely talked to him after he sold his shares, I came to realize that innocent or guilty, that didn’t change how I felt about him. He did nothing to deserve permanent banishment from my life.
Recently, I read an online article suggesting that Seinfeld should be removed from TV syndication and taken off streaming services. The reason was because of perceived homophobia.
Seinfeld doesn’t show a fear of gay people at all, in my opinion. What it depicts is the very real fear that existed in the early-to-mid 1990s of being a heterosexual male in their 30s or 40s who was unmarried and incorrectly classified as a homosexual.
Should that bother someone? I don’t think it would today, but that was a different time. I was in high school those years and nobody was coming out of the closet that young in the early-to-mid 1990s. Today, many kids have no problem defining their sexuality to their peers, but as I mentioned, it was a different time. The men (and women) who were in their 30s and 40s back then grew up in a time and were raised by people who had very different attitudes about sexuality than they do today. I don’t think my kids would have much fear in coming out to me as gay. That wasn’t the case just a generation earlier.
What’s fascinating to me is that the person who wrote this article also wrote an article about a decade ago praising the television show Mad Men for not sugar-coating the gender politics at play in American offices in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It reflected a time when women in the office were seen as things and not people. Sexual harassment was decades away from being a concern and the secretary-boss inappropriate relationship was born.
Why was Mad Men OK in depicting this behavior, but Seinfeld not? I’m guessing the author would say that Mad Men was representing an earlier time and it wasn’t “real.” Technically, neither was Seinfeld. The Seinfeld cast were all actors reflecting the time (which now happens to be earlier) and it’s just as “fake” as Mad Men. Would a Seinfeld-like show produced in 2019 about life in 1992 be given a pass for its handling of sexuality or is Seinfeld targeted because it was contemporary for the period it was made?
The person who wrote the article suggesting keeping Seinfeld on the air was similar to sports teams that maintain racist mascots (Washington Redskins) or cities that keep monuments to those who were known for pushing racist agendas (Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee). Personally, I think that’s a giant leap, but maybe I’m wrong. Nonetheless, it seemed like this person was arguing if any art (yes, using that term loosely for a sitcom) is offensive to anybody, it should be removed from public consumption. That’s a scary proposition to me.
As anybody who has spent two minutes on the website knows, I made the worst calculated error of my life when I decided in early 2013 to pull myself off of my psych meds that controlled my bipolar disorder. My rationale was that if I could tap into a dormant manic side that the medicine quelled, I would suddenly have a reserve of physical energy and the extra creativity needed to save the magazine, which was starting to head downhill as a viable business.
Instead of the desired results, without the meds my increasing dependence on alcohol and pornography to cope with my surroundings exploded. I started drinking multiple times daily and when the pornography I looked at needed to be more extreme to satisfy me, I made the jump to video chat rooms. Over time, I devised a system to catfish women into conversations with an image they thought was me, but was a carefully edited video I’d found online.
I thrived on the challenge of getting these women to expose themselves and defined success as convincing someone who thought they were inconvincible to bend to my whim. It was actually far less about sex than it was about power. When I was successful, I’d take a screen capture as a trophy for my victory, the way that I had personally and professionally collected trophies to prove my worth for the past couple of decades. Obviously, I had no idea how sick I really was at the time.
This routine lasted a few months, and while utterly reprehensible and immoral, the behavior crossed the line into illegal when one of the women I did this with turned out to actually be a teenage girl. I can use the excuse I didn’t know, but I’ve always been well aware there are plenty of females under 18 who may look of age, but aren’t.
I don’t have a defense for what I did, whether the person on the other end was a teenager or in her early 40s. It was scuzzy. My mind wasn’t working correctly, but the responsibility for making sure my mental health remained on an even level was mine. I failed this responsibility and the results were devastating not just to me, but I’m sure there are a few females out there who greatly regretted what they did once we were finished. I may have caused a lasting permanent negative impact in their lives and it sucks to live with that unconformable suspicion. They didn’t deserve what happened to them.
Did I do it out of malice? No. I did it because I was an ill person navigating uncharted, choppy waters. My mind was not processing cause and effect, action and consequence the way that it had when I was healthier. The confluence of neglected mental health care, immense stress from my professional life, a deteriorating family life, off-the-rail addictions, resurfacing trauma from youth and a complete lack of sleep led to what more than one medical professional has called “the perfect storm” I couldn’t handle.
It was my fault and I make no excuses and hope that I don’t come off as rationalizing or minimizing my actions and the fallout. I truly believe the self-neglect would have continued, probably leading to an early death had the police not intervened in March 2014.
I won’t list my entire transformation regimen, but it has been intense. I continue to evolve into the healthiest (mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually) person I’ve ever been and work very hard to share my experience so others don’t go through what I did, will go get help, and will overall create less victims in the world than if I’d just kept my mouth shut.
I’m proud of the person I’ve become. It’s only possible because of the support I had from a core of family members and a few friends that I have turned my entire life around in a way I couldn’t have imagined possible five or six years ago. My second book will soon be published and my speaking and appearance schedule for later this fall is starting to fill up.
Ironically, people who meet me for the first time now seem to appreciate my story, what I’m trying to do and actually enjoy being around me. It’s the people who knew me before – who remember an ego-driven, insufferable braggart who always had to be right – where I don’t usually get a second chance.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the lack of second chances from most isn’t about the actual crime. I believe it’s about seeing a not-so-nice person get their comeuppance. I think it’s about coming to terms with the fact I presented one face to the world, and then they were introduced to the other in (sometimes erroneous) media reports. I think for many of the people who knew me it’s a matter of too little, too late. I presented one person, while hiding a big piece of who that person was. If they accept this new person I am, they have to accept that I may still be hiding a piece of who I am. I think they’d rather not get burned twice, so in the vast majority of cases that I have reached out to people from my past (I’d guess about 80%) I get no response. I think the reality of the situation disinterests most of them. It’s easier to shun someone than try and understand them.
This brings me back to something I wrote about five or six months ago and won’t completely rehash here…the Lori Loughlin college admission scandal. I’m not a fan of hers. I was too old to enjoy the banality of Full House then and Fuller House now. I’d rather have oral surgery than watch her movies on the Hallmark Channel and on the whole, she’s always come off to me as a standoffish snob in her interviews. She’s the kind of person to whom social status in akin to oxygen from what I have observed even before the scandal. I had no idea that she had two daughters or that her husband was a fashion designer until they were indicted, but they act what I’d expect ultra-wealthy people who solve problems with money to act like.
While it’s for a different crime, we live/lived very different lives and the media coverage of each of our cases was on an entirely different stratosphere, I see a lot of the same instinctually reactions and then learned behaviors happening with Loughlin’s family that happened with mine. It’s the whole seven stages of grief thing run out-of-order and in rapid cycling manner.
Did she do something wrong? Allegedly. Probably. Let’s say for the sake of this article that she is 100% guilty of paying off a guy to rig the system to get her daughters, who likely didn’t deserve it, into college by less-than-honest means.
Should there be a punishment? If found guilty in a court of law, of course. Should she get the dozens of years in jail she’s looking at if found guilty because she didn’t make an early plea deal? I have trouble understanding how that does anybody good. I mean, it’s not like they stop making those shitty Hallmark movies because she’s not around. Everybody takes a step to the left and the girl from The Wonder Years or one of the grown-up The Facts of Life teens gets all Lori Loughlin’s parts.
I have no doubt that the Loughlin family lives a life of privilege. Most of us could never be caught up in a scandal like this because we could never afford it. Seeing a few of her daughter’s YouTube videos reveals a sheltered, wealthy teen that doesn’t really understand how the world works; minus the social media following and the money, sort of like almost all 19-year-olds.
Many people who rise to the level of fame of Loughlin have something a little off inside of them that craves attention at an unhealthy level – I had it myself for a long time and still fight it now and then. (I really should look at my WordPress statistics much less). That need for attention drove her to fame, which led her to money, which led her to an equally wealthy and somewhat famous spouse. Despite this, they raised two kids that don’t seem all that abnormal considering their surroundings.
Is Lori Loughlin an asshole because she can buy a new car when she gets a flat tire where the rest of us just pray our AAA card is still active? Is she a bad person because she has the time and money to hire personal chefs, private trainers and can get plastic surgery whenever she wants? Is the fact she has a daughter who admits to wanting to party vs. going to class at college make her any different than any other mother with a daughter in college?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she wanted the best for her children, recognized that their natural talents may have to be padded with her financial resources, and went down a horrible path to make sure she got what she wanted. And isn’t that what we really want to punish Lori Loughlin for? She has resources to get what she wants, most of us don’t, and we’re jealous. We want her to feel pain because she used something we don’t have – an almost endless supply of money and clout – in a way that most of us would never dream of using it if we were ever lucky enough to have it.
Yes, she should have just donated a few million to USC for the new Loughlin wing on a building, or presented an endowment in some Hollywood icon’s name. Had she taken either of those routes, like most of the wealthy people do who have kids with less-than-stellar transcripts, her kids would probably be in class right now.
She made a horrible mistake, and she will pay for it, but I just don’t think there was malice behind it. I think she exhibited behavior that, considering how many others were indicted, can’t be found as shocking. It was a stupid path, but to her, the ends justified the means. That’s usually a very bad thing, but in this case her motivation was getting her kids got into a good school and maintaining her lofty status as supermom. It’s stupid. It’s even vapid. But it’s not malicious.
As a guy in his early 40s, I’m in the prime age range to have grown up with Dave Chappelle’s comedy. I knew his stand-up comedy well before he gained cult status with his Comedy Central show or late 90s movies. When he disappeared for a decade, I missed his comedy which was equal parts offensive, clever and socially biting. I put his skill in a class with legends like George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Chris Rock. He, like the other comics I just listed, has a point-of-view toward hypocrisy that is unwavering and doesn’t change with the times because hypocrisy is hypocrisy, regardless of who is perpetrating it and what their status is in regard to gender, sexual orientation, political party, etc.
Chappelle recently released a new Netflix special. I still haven’t seen it, but I started reading reviews. After the third or fourth negative review in a row – something that critics never would have dared do to Chappelle in 1997 – I visited Rotten Tomatoes. As of the moment I publish this on September 9, 2019, 13 critics have reviewed his special and it has 23% positive ratings. Sounds pretty abysmal, huh? Then, I looked at the audience score. Out of 30,520 users’ ratings, it stands at 99% positive.
That’s a giant disconnect that deserves some attention. I’ve always believed critics have had a sense of “aboveness” from the average guy and quite often gave a review based on what progressive social trends dictated. In 1997, Chappelle railed against the hypocrisy of homophobia, the political power struggle and lagging social change. Rotten Tomatoes unfortunately doesn’t have aggregate reviews of his old work, although his 2003-04 TV show was 96% positive.
I think if you’re an average person (or at least 99% of the average people), you can see the themes and tone of Chappelle’s work hasn’t changed. If you’re a critic, you’re writing about a world that is socially and politically divided in ways most of us have never seen in our lifetimes. If you would have told me that news could be delivered in such a partisan way like Fox News or MSNBC do or if you could have told me the Pandora’s Box of pointless opinion sharing Facebook and all the other social media was about to bring into our lives back in 2003-04, I would have laughed at you. I think 99% of us would have laughed at you, but now we pick our cable news stations based on wanting our beliefs reinforced, not new facts introduced. Today, your opinion (in your opinion) means more than ever because you can post it to Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Reddit, etc., etc., etc. For many, the most validation they can feel is having more people following them than they themselves follow – or that’s the second most validation you can feel after having a Tweet go viral because Buzzfeed retweeted it. I mean, for crying out loud… “retweeted” is a word people say without embarrassment. I still can’t order Moons Over My Hammy at Denny’s without feeling like a goober.
When 99% of the populace votes one way and 77% of the media vote another, regardless of any “Fake News” rhetoric, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion that there’s a wide gap between sensibilities.
Most will agree that this nation is currently divided and more partisan than they have witnessed in their life, but I think this is happening not just because of politics. I think that we’re starting to look for any reason to differentiate ourselves from one another at a finite level that is new to society. In a country that was designed as a melting pot of race, culture, creed, etc., that’s not a good thing.
The other day, I finally had to look-up what the terms “cisgender” and “pansexual” meant. I generally have always considered myself on the forefront of sexual and gender equality, but apparently I turned my head for a minute because I’ve been reading all kinds of terms over the last couple of years that I don’t recognize.
As it turns out, I’m cisgender. Odds are, you are too. A cisgender person’s gender identity (I feel like I was born a male) matches my actual identity (I was born a male.) When somebody identifies themselves as cisgender, it’s a lot like them saying, “I’m like 99.9% of everyone else out there.” Actually, that’s not fair. In a 2016 survey from the Williams Institute, it is estimated that 0.6% of adults identify as transgender. So, it’s more like saying, “I’m cisgender. I’m like 99.4% of everyone else out there.”
I have absolutely no problem with someone who is transgender, and I absolutely understand the need to label and identify it. But when 994 out of 1,000 people identify as something, I’m not sure there is suddenly a need as we approach 2020 to label it. Are we trying to make the 6 people who are transgendered feel better by labeling ourselves? Did we feel like we’re missing out on being special by not having a label? Was usage of this label popularized by people simply trying to show how progressive they are? My daughter has explained it’s called being “woke.”
Pansexual means not being limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender or gender identity. I thought that meant bisexual, but apparently not.
I’m still cloudy on this despite reading different definitions, but apparently bisexual people are sexually attracted to more than one gender. Pansexuals claim to not see gender and simply be attracted to the person. I still see it as a different road to get to the same place, but maybe somebody can give me a super-clear definition of the difference I have yet to find.
Maybe I’m naïve, and I’m sure some people will see me as some sort of homophobe (or whatever it’s called in this case) for not understanding the delicate nuances of the many ways we’re supposed to define gender and sexuality in 2019, but I’m not sure the end result of this discussion is enlightenment and inclusion. I think it’s another way to divide people.
When I was on probation for my crime, one of the conditions was that I be part of a weekly support group for low-risk sexual offenders for a year, and then a monthly group until the end of probation, which was two additional years for me.
I would guess in my three years at the group, I shared time with 40 different men in this low-risk group. I heard a lot of stories about their sex and porn addictions.
My first probation officer (who never went to my group sessions) mentioned to me that he regularly attended the local group designed for high-risk offenders. He said that was the place where you’d hear stories that make your skin crawl. These were the people who were repeat offenders and had served many years in prison for depraved acts of violent sexuality, often on children. When one thinks about the term “sex offender” this is where most of our minds leap immediately.
I’m a registered sex offender. A couple times a year I have to check in at my local police station and let them know things like my address and automobile haven’t changed. More importantly, I’m on the state sex offender registry. This is the list of anybody who has been convicted of a sexual-related crime since the registry began, which I think is around 20-25 years old now.
This article is already too long for me to go off on a rant, but it’s important to note that there are no distinctive classes, categories or other way to tell the registrants apart. I, a low-risk, one-time, non-contact offender may be listed next to someone with multiple child rapes with no obvious distinction, on the surface, between our crimes.
In these groups that I attended, I met a wide range of men from various demographic backgrounds. Or, I should say they were from various demographic backgrounds prior to their crime. When one is accused of a sexual crime – not convicted, but accused – they tend to be fired from their job immediately.
The lucky ones, like me, had skills that they could transfer to work-at-home opportunities. A few others were able to find jobs in trucking or heavy machinery, which were far cries from their former lives in the white-collar world. Most sex offenders, regardless of risk of recidivism or nature of the crime, can’t find work.
Unfortunately, the loved ones and friends of many of these sex offenders don’t stay by their side. I’m lucky only 95% of the people in my life left. Many I’ve known have 100% go. These guys are cast out of their former lives and the society they knew. They can’t get work and in most cases, are extremely limited in where they can live based on municipal restrictions against sex offenders and the lack of landlords who will rent to them. The best that many of these men can hope for is to qualify for state disability and public assistance to survive. It may seem like a “free ride” but they are often given less than a quarter in benefits of what they previously earned. These men are fully capable of doing an honest day’s work for a good wage, but there are no white-collar jobs for sex offenders and few blue collars ones either, regardless of circumstances of their crime, time elapsed since conviction, or model behavior in recovery.
I’m the most centrist libertarian I’ve ever met. My liberal friends think I’m very conservative and my conservative friends think I’m far too liberal. That must mean I’m doing something right.
I look at each side of the political spectrum and while I don’t think they can see it, as of late they’ve each embraced a symbol/concept that screams of hypocrisy and exclusion.
For Republicans/Conservatives, it’s Donald Trump. He serves as a symbol of a specific political ideology, but anybody who thinks he actually embodies or believes that ideology is a sucker. Donald Trump was a lifelong Democrat who publicly took stances completely opposite the ones he has now as recently as the late 1990s. Let me ask you…how different are your political beliefs at 53 years old than they are at 73 years old? His are allegedly completely different.
He doesn’t have a strong political platform in his heart and mind. He simply knows how to read the tea leaves and rally groups of people. His natural condition is one of leader, it doesn’t really matter the details.
Republicans, who have always wrapped themselves in God, Family and the Flag chose somebody to represent them who completely destroys that image. If that image is important, as I was raised to believe, someone like Mike Pence should be president. Who sounds more Republican to you: the guy who works to not be alone with a woman other than his wife or the guy who has been married three times and bragged about grabbing women’s genitals?
Republicans traded in a lot of their credibility as the party of God, Family and the Flag in electing and supporting Trump. I can appreciate them liking what he preaches, but he’s preached the complete opposite in the past. You need to find somebody who actually believes the dogma of the party, not just somebody charismatic you can cheer for at rallies.
On the Democratic side, it was the adoption of the #MeToo movement without accepting that in many cases, the facts will be very gray, not black-and-white. The movement exploded when allegations of serial sexual assault and intimidation came to light about movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
Based on the accusations and evidence, it sounds like there is going to be plenty of evidence at his trial to suggest that he regularly intimidated actresses into having sex with him in exchange for favoritism in projects he was involved with and if they declined, he would sometimes sexually assault them. If he didn’t assault them, he still tried to hurt their professional careers. If he’s found guilty, he should serve a long sentence.
When the Weinstein accusations came out, there was a concerted effort to destroy his career. I don’t think the #MeToo crowd needed to work too hard on that one. You don’t get to have a normal career if you’re a convicted sex offender.
People started coming out of the woodwork in the entertainment field with wide-ranging allegations against a startling number of people when #MeToo hit the Internet. They ranged from the sinister (Kevin Spacey accused of sexual advances against underage males) to the mild (Aziz Ansari making a woman feel uncomfortable). Somewhere in the middle were cases of people like Louis CK, Garrison Keillor or Matt Lauer who seemed to acknowledge severely boorish behavior, but committed no crime.
Regardless of where they fell on the spectrum of misdeeds, the initial reaction always seemed to be a call to boycott and destroy their careers.
Take the example of Louis CK, for instance. He asked up-and-coming female comedians to watch him masturbate. Early in his career, they were his equals. Later on, he could help make or break them on the comedy circuit. Once he achieved that status, some of his accusers said they didn’t feel like they could say no, or it may harm their career. They have a point, but CK said that never manifested itself as a reality.
So, we have CK who asks for permission to exercise his sexual proclivity and only does it when women agree. There was no accuser who claimed they said “no” and he did it anyway. He admitted to having a blind spot about being the one with power in the situation. How did Hollywood respond? They stripped him of his executive producer title on several shows, pulled a movie that was just about to be released and cancelled all future stand-up performances. CK has tried to return to a decidedly mixed response…a response that’s very similar to the critics vs. public response to Dave Chappelle’s latest stand-up.
Republicans embracing almost-gleefully morally bankrupt leaders? Democrats destroying Hollywood careers into silence in the name of progressivism? Twenty-five years ago, Republicans would have shunned Trump. Twenty-five years ago, feminist leaders were writing articles of defense for Bill Clinton, who was accused of a variety of sexual hijinks.
As a guy in the middle who mainly just watches the world turn, it’s very confusing, but it all seems to be about isolating, segregating and casting away those who don’t think exactly the same, RIGHT NOW. It didn’t matter what you thought before. It only matters right now. That kind of reaction is scary.
Be it politics or sexuality, we are all about highlighting our differences in today’s society. When we emphasize what separates us, all it does is push us further apart. Ideas of commonality, sympathy, empathy and compromise disappear. Along with that, so does the concept of giving someone different than you a second chance.
“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” – African Proverb
One of my favorite stories, that isn’t recounted nearly enough in today’s history classes, is the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914. Since it was over 100 years ago, there are understandably a few details that are sketchy, but what we do know is that as the Belgian/British/French forces were locked in a grueling ground war with their German counterparts, something miraculous happened.
Accounts of how it started are unclear, though most agree that during stalemates on December 24, hunkered down in the trenches, one side would sing a Christmas carol, then the other side, and back and forth until the Western European forces started singing Oh Come, All Ye Faithful. The Germans joined in, singing the same hymn, but in Latin.
The following morning, German soldiers reportedly came out of their bunkers, wishing their opponents “Merry Christmas” in English. While leery that it may be a trap, the other side emerged, reportedly being told, “You no shoot, we no shoot.”
Stories from the rest of the day have the two sides exchanging gifts, playing in pick-up ball games, sharing meals and being allowed to tend to the bodies strewn across the battlefield they had been unable to reach in weeks.
This truce happened in roughly two-thirds of the places soldiers were fighting and unfortunately, hostilities resumed for some the following day while other locations held off until after the New Year. It was a truce, not an end, after all.
But something about a truce makes it all the more special. How did it happen? Most historians say that soldiers on both sides were getting tired, and feeling like they weren’t fighting the same war as their leaders. The best description I’ve read came from a British soldier, Murdoch M. Wood, who said in 1930, “I came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly ever since that if we had been left to ourselves there never would have been another shot fired.”
Think about that…in the middle of one of the greatest wars in mankind’s history, both sides just stopped fighting and despite language, cultural and philosophic differences, decided to ignore what they were told to do. They decided peace and understanding was most important, even if just temporarily. Had they not given each other the benefit of the doubt and a chance to prove their Christmas Day intentions, this amazing story wouldn’t have happened.
I’m going to spare you another 2,000 words of tying all these loose ends together, because I think you need to do it for yourself. Let these very different stories marinate and mingle in your mind for some time.
I don’t think we’re living in a completely unique time in history when it comes to people’s attitudes. There are ebbs and flows throughout regarding how mankind treated one another. Right now, it seems to me we’re in a time of increased dissension and our foot is on the gas.
One of my main jobs as a ghostwriter is to create books by businesspeople that focus on how to run a business more efficiently. I’ve written probably two dozen of these books with various themes, and one thing I’m told by these titans of business again and again and again is that a company begins to suffer when communication between departments and divisions gets adversarial, because eventually, the communication stops.
Most businesspeople call this either “working in silos” or “sticking with your tribe” and it can not only cripple a business, but spell its end.
If it’s been proven that this behavior is so harmful to businesses, how can similar behavior not be harmful to society?
We’re all on a different page, with little regard to where others are, especially if they don’t share the same mindset and beliefs. The solution is not everybody else getting on your page because you KNOW it’s the right one. There is no right one. Not in America.