Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Bursting Our Bubbles

Whenever I ride my bike to work, I find myself looking at each of the drivers passing by on 17th Street. This habit likely started out of safety, but it then quickly moved over to a fascination, for the majority of the times, I don’t recognize a single driver. This shouldn’t be a big deal given Hutchinson has over 41,000 people living here, but the place never seems that large. Rather, it has a small-town feel thanks to bumping into the same people at the grocery store, parks, concerts, theatre productions, Third Thursday, Young Professional events, and so forth. Then everyone seems connected too; however, these people driving by are a reminder Hutchinson is much larger than it feels, and they are also a reminder about the bubble in which I live.

The concept of living in a bubble has been on my mind a lot lately, and it has only seemed to grow over the last month thanks to two podcasts. However, before I get to those, let’s talk about bubbles. They can be pretty, safe, and comfortable, but they can be quite the opposite as well. It really all depends on what happens to make up a person’s own world. A lot of this can be indirectly caused by where one lives thanks to the stores and places he/she would tend to go. There are also direct causes that can help thicken the bubble’s walls, and in today’s world, it is so easy to do that by keeping only like-minded people in one’s social media network, watching/reading the news that lines up best with one’s beliefs, and surrounding oneself with friends who all share the same thoughts. Suggestions from websites only feed to this too with things like Google News analyzing the articles one tends to read, plugging this data into an algorithm, and the suggesting future news stories accordingly. Online music streaming sites, YouTube, and Amazon all do something similar with their recommendations that keep people in a nice, safe world rather than branching out. Although this is no doubt helpful in a way, it also leads to it being so much easier to get trapped in a bubble.

The trick, though, is breaking free.

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NPR’s Invisibilia had a recent episode all about the reality we create thanks to bubbles, and one of the two people featured really intrigued me. Max Hawkins, a computer developer, decided to use technology in his favor by findings ways to hack/develop different apps that would allow for him to live a more random life. For an example, one such app searches all public Facebook events and randomly selects one for him to attend, and he goes. This has led to going to gatherings of all sorts that he never would have ever gone before with his meeting people whose paths his likely never would have crossed, which has led to new experiences, interesting conversations, and even new friends. His story led to my wondering how exactly I could do that with my own life with my now planning on making a more conscious decision to look at different things taking place in the area and picking one I likely never would have thought about tending before and going to it.

Invisibilia has been in my podcast subscription list for quite some time, so it’s definitely within my bubble. In fact, everything about me likely places me smack dab in the middle of the demographic in which it is aimed. Conversations with Bill Kristol, though, is definitely not.

Before we get into this second podcast that changed my life, let’s get into a little bit about my political bubble as a preface. I will say that I try my best to listen to people from all across the political spectrums, and this could be backed by stories in the Hutchinson News alone. Back in December 2015, a photo of me appeared having a great conversation (and it truly was a great conversation) with members of the Hutchinson Tea Party who were part of a Young Professionals Political Panel. Last year, my name came up as one of many who were collecting signatures for a Republican state senator candidate to be placed on the ballot. Then last June, my name appeared again in a story about a meeting of the Reno County Democrats where I stood up and spoke on behalf of Jason Probst regarding his interest in House of Representatives’ seat that became vacant after the tragic passing of the amazing Patsy Terrell. Then there would be quite a few stories about my non-partisan efforts chairing/co-chairing Kids Voting Reno County for the last three November elections.

I really do try my best honestly. However, with that said, there is an involuntary cringe that happens that I try very hard to hide when I find out someone I am talking to attends one of the churches in town that promote ideas that are not in favor of women and LGBT equality issues. That same cringe even happens when someone professes his/her love for Chick-fil-A despite my knowing about the good the restaurant chain has done as well (with that said, I still won’t eat there though). And while I will sometimes click on a Google News article from a source like Fox News, it is not often, and my favorite episodes of Fox & Friends would be Saturday Night Live’s, especially because of the list of corrections from the fact checkers at the end of each episode.

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A similar cringe happened when I started listening to the interview with Nebraska’s Senator Ben Sasse on Conversations with Bill Kristol. I do want to be clear that the cringe doesn’t come from Sasse and Kristol being labeled as conservatives or Republicans. It was more about me preparing myself for another uber-conservative talk radio show of sorts that I have a tendency to listen to, especially the super religious ones, when I am on solo road trips (don’t ask why because I don’t know the answer either). The podcast wasn’t something I stumbled upon either. Rather, a friend of mine, who leans more toward the Libertarian side of the political spectrum, had referenced the podcast during a recent conversation, and based upon his and my discussion, I was intrigued to hear Sasse’s views on American society, especially regarding the Millennials. Both Sasse and Kristol had been on my radar from time to time but never for any length, nor were they ever a focus.

I listened on though, and much to my surprise in all honesty, the words of Sasse continually grabbed my attention with many of the things he said echoing similar thoughts and ideas I have attempted to express before during various conversations with friends, students, and anyone else who would listen. The biggest difference was Sasse is much more eloquent with his discussions about a society that is consuming life (or being consumed) via screens rather than “thinking about the habits of travel, of literacy, about learning to work, about the dangers of gluttony.” Many people I know from all different political spectrums would also agree with him when he says, “I think we want our kids to be curious. We want them to have a habit of reading. We want them to have a reading list of stuff they want to read. We want them to have the eyes that come from new travel.”

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This great fascination with Ben Sasse has continued with my listening to the podcast a second time while in Colorado with my mother trapped in the passenger seat. Then soon I was following him on Twitter and watching his other interviews. Of course, his well-written book was also quickly purchased, and it was a great read with many great points. Just ask anyone who has been around me for any length of time, and they will tell you about my often now making references to Sasse, for more often than not, Sasse and I are on the same page with our overall beliefs even down to his not being able to conceive of the idea of being bored (I seriously don’t understand the concept. Sasse also made the fantastic point curiosity is the cure for boredom, which has led to my adding “incurious” to my often stated line that only boring people get bored).

Another shared point that became obvious in the interviews and his book was Sasse’s concerned about this growingly polarized bubbled world that seems to be forming. In fact, one of the main missions of his book was to fight that with the desire to bring people from all different sides together to strengthen the younger generation to the point the country will be in great hands when it comes their time to lead. Take this passage by Sasse from Conversations with Tyler:

One of the fundamental challenges of the moment we’re at is that we believe that the digital moment will necessarily expose us to more and more diverse things, and I think what’s actually going to happen is that we’re going to become more and more siloed. And there’s a real danger of tribalism and being able to at the moment that media is going to disintermediate. We’re not going to have big common channels anymore. We’re going to have more and more niche channels. It will be possible to surround yourself only with people who already believe what you believe.

In that world where you can create echo chambers and when advertisers and marketers and Russians are going to try to surround you with echo chambers to only believe what you already believe, it’s not going to be easy to develop empathy. It’s going to be really easy to demonize the other and come to believe that the deep problems of my soul and the deep problems of my mortality could maybe just be solved if I could vanquish those other really bad people from the field. That’s not true, and we’re going to have to, as a people, develop the maturity and the habits of empathy-creation, and that requires going other times and places both physically and in a literary sense.

Sasse captures the problems with bubbles. We become trapped and disconnected with others around us. It also doesn’t take long in the time in which we are living that ethnocentrism seeps in and blinds us either. Rather than empathy, a quick rejection can occur, and along with it can come quickly jumping to conclusions and reinforcing the bubble’s barriers.

The question then becomes how do we break free from a bubble. First, we need to recognize our bubble’s boundaries and reach beyond by getting out of our comfort zone. This can be something as simple as finding a public event, store, place, or even a restaurant we would never have gone to before and then going to it with an open mind. Also, while doing this, be sure not to bring one’s own prejudices to the experience. Rather, take with you a curiosity that leads to looking deeper into the experience. That can be the start. Of course, remember the power of conversation with others and avoiding nonsermitis. Even if a person may seem completely different on paper, similarities surely abound with all of us striving to have a better life. Here once again comes the importance of taking the time to listen to others rather than putting them in a box and brushing them off. I could have done that with Kristol and Sasse, but thankfully, that didn’t happen, and because it didn’t, so many ideas are now floating around in my head that are giving me hope for the future of our country.

One such idea is our political arena could be so much better if on a weekly basis during session, many of the politicians from the different parties would come together for dinner and a social hour following where they were not allowed to talk about politics at all. Rather, they could talk about their lives back home, their families, things about their districts that make them proud, their life histories, positive current events, travels, and all sorts of other things that groups of people getting to know each other would discuss. It couldn’t be a one-time thing either, but rather, it should be ongoing. In theory, through these outings, the fracture among the parties could start to mend as they would start to see people from the other party not as enemies but rather as friends who may differ in terms of some ideas but have same desire to improve society for all.

After all, we need to remember we are citizens of the United States of America. Unfortunately, that united part is showing quite a few fractures these days. Never will we all agree on something, and nor should we. It is through respectful substantial conversations and civil debates growth can occur. Carrying on these rather than quickly rejecting the other side could do so much good for us all. Plus, when it comes down to it, one of essential benefits of getting out of our bubbles is to grow not only as people but also as a society and a community.

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Without a doubt, driving to work is much easier than riding my bike. Although tires on both travel the same route most of the time, the experience is very different. In addition to all of those people I mentioned earlier that I don’t recognize, there are also so many other things that come along with pedaling down 17th. Sure, not everything is always great, especially on one of those humid Kansas summer days, and you will be hard-pressed to find me riding to work during a frigid winter morning or when a hard rain is pummeling the ground. But then there are the times of that cool autumn breeze brushing against my face and also that delight that comes from a whiff of sweet flowers that had just started to bloom. Regardless of the season, the waves of neighbors and the grade school kids serving as crosswalk guards are always pleasant ways to begin the day. By staying comfortable in the confines of my vehicle, never would those little delights happen in my life. Plus, the pedaling helps burn off calories so I can devour more peanut butter too.

In all seriousness though, when it comes down to it, truly living our lives is all about putting ourselves out there. As John Donne wrote and as I found out as one of my first New Year’s Resolutions, no man (or woman) is an island. We should also avoid becoming islands of all like-minded people who never really grow. Rather, we should connect, or otherwise, we become, just like the bubbles in all of these photos scattered throughout this post, surrounded by beauty but never truly part of it.

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Anger Ball Ryan or Election Season in Kansas

So I may just be an anger ball (and yes, that is a direct reference to the 1998 Playing by Heart, a fantastic movie that no one seemed to have watched). Just thought I would throw that out there before I went much further. There is a chance that things in this blog may upset people, so I decided it would be best to ameliorate my writing with pretty pictures of Kansas.

For an example, here are some cute, cuddly prairie dogs:

Prairie Dog I

And another lone guy contemplating life:

Prairie Dog 2

Those who know me well know one of top favorite topics to discuss is politics. Things are so exciting in Kansas right now with not just one but several races. For once in a long time, no one is really for sure how Election Day will go, and yep, that is what is feeding this not-so-cuddly anger ball. Here are the top five things currently fueling my wrath.

  1. I Hate Being Wrong

I really do like defying stereotypes when I can by simply being myself. There are, though, some male stereotypical behaviors that are very much part of my core. For starters, if I am sick, be prepared for me to go on about how it is the end of the world and I have the bubonic plague. Also, not asking for directions – yep another one of my flaws. Furthermore, as friends, family, and complete strangers have found out, if you tell me problems, my Life Coach Hat comes on and you are going to hear my solutions to your problems rather than words like “Oh, I am so sorry . . . That’s really bad . . . Yep, you should continue this ‘woe is me’ attitude.” Last but not least, I hate being wrong.

The good thing, though, is when it hits me I am wrong, I will easily admit it. Well, back in February, I wrote this blog post about Kansas House Bill 2453. Remember that bill? What? You don’t? Yep, that just made anger rumble.

Let me refresh your memory. It is the bill that made both the Westboro Baptist Church and Pastafarians salivate. Here is part of the bill itself:

No individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:

Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement.

Yep, it is that bill that had so many people across the Sunflower State irate. They were furious that their elected officials would create something so hateful directed towards their LGBT friends, family, nice neighbors, friendly church-going acquaintances, classmates, co-workers, etc. Plus, there was the common sense that people like the Westboro Baptist Church would have a field day with legislation like that.

This passion seemed to have found its way into the hearts of so many. Blogs were written and virally spread. Facebook posts and tweets were on fire. People were ready to voice their opinions with their politicians (actually, most seemed to just one to vote them out of office). But what happened to these people? I thought perhaps they just managed to fall asleep on the day of the Primary where only 20% showed up to the polls, the lowest amount since 2006.

Where were all of these people who were going on about not only HB 2453 but so many other issues that they seemed to have suddenly have seen? I don’t know, but their disappearance has proved me to be wrong. There was this faith I had where something bad like HB 2453 would lead to something good like more people paying attention to politics; however, the Primary proved me I was dead wrong.

Now the General Education may just prove I was an idiot to have such an optimistic faith in others unless, of course, those others wake up and get to the polls.

Time for a picture! How about a beautiful Kansas road and some of that great Kansas blue sky?

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  1. The Campaign TV Commercials, Radio Ads, Mailings, Robotic Phone Calls, etc.

So my TV has been unplugged since my hiking trip this last summer. While no cable is hooked up in my house, there is an antenna hanging on my wall despite its proper place probably should be on my roof. It is great though, and it does get me 12 channels on a good day that, well, I don’t really watch. However, from so many other people who actually have plugged-in televisions tell me, the commercials are non-stop for the political races. Thanks to the nature of what is going on in a typically seen Red State, tons of money has been poured into Kansas from all over. Primarily, it is from one party it seems.

While the TV ads have been missed, the radio ads, mailings, and robotic calls have not. The last one really irritates me because I really want to carry on a conversation rather than just be told what to believe in often a condescending tone. Seriously, where is the chance to use my critical thinking skills?

And that is exactly the problem that makes me angry with this one – people are not using their critical thinking skills. On Facebook the other day, I saw someone post something that said, “’Let me watch another political commercial before I make my decision on how to vote,’ said no one ever.” Well guess what, Facebook post, you are wrong. The majority of the time the politician who spends the most money wins the election. There are some exceptions of course, but the majority of the time these ads actually work. People are seriously swayed by these biased forms of campaign material and they don’t automatically know they are not good sources to go to.

Seriously, think what would happen if people actually used their critical thinking skills and rejected these forms of campaign material. Yep, you got it – they would be gone. An estimated $6 billion was spent in 2012 on campaign ads. Think what we could have done with that money. Think of the people in poverty who could have been helped, the public places which are enjoyed by all that could have been improved, the debts that could have been paid, the non-profits that could have thrived, the education system that could have been strengthened, the literacy issues that could have been battled, the critical thinking skills that could have been grown. But nope. None of that happened. And the candidates who spent the majority of the money largely won.

Let’s imagine a future here. I would love to believe people would just stop donating to politicians and instead donate it to worthy causes, but that isn’t going to happen. So what if candidates raised money for their campaigns and rather than produces these ads of almost pure vitriol that do more damage than good with causing people to throw up their hands and further divide the country into distinct parties that don’t collaborate, the candidates used that money to see who could do the most good with it. Then newspapers and stations could look at these things through a lens of good rather than contempt to report on them. At least the money then would be spent in those districts and something great could come from it rather than what is happening with it now.

So come on, Kansans – start a wave of using critical thinking skills and help everyone make these ads extinct.

Picture time: Aren’t sunflowers just pretty?

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  1. Lines like “But I don’t know enough about the campaign to vote so I am just not going to vote.”

Several weeks ago, I was talking to someone about the upcoming election, and that person said, “I am just not going to vote because I just don’t know enough about the people running to make an informed decision.” Although there was an attempt to keep it well-hidden, this look of disgust immediately fell upon my face as I simply started asking questions.

            “What day is this?”

            “October 3.”

            “When is the election?”

            “Sometime in November.”

            Sigh. “November 4. What year is this?”

            “2014.”

            “If only there was this newfangled technology that would allow you to be able to research candidates between now and then. Oh wait – what is that thing called that lets you find out anything at the touch of a few buttons? Oh that’s right, the Internet.”

Believe it or not, this person still talks to me and overall enjoys my company (I think).

Okay, I know I just attacked the campaign ads as a source of information, and I am still standing by that. However, there are so many great places to turn for information. Sure, news stations and papers can be biased (thanks Fox News and MSNBC for making most see this is the case), but a crazy concept is to read as much as you can from different sides to help make an informed decision. Then there are the debates and Town Hall meetings. What? You couldn’t make it to them? Crazy enough, there are often videos online of them.

Then there are great sites like Project Vote Smart. If you are not sure if a source can be trusted, just look it up on Wikipedia and see what controversy is behind it. Another question you say? Using Wikipedia is a source is a bad thing to do because it can easily be changed? Nonsense, my friends. Entries about things greatly contested tend to have a lot of safeguards placed in the system so some mad Tea Partier or liberal cannot just go in and say the candidate they oppose actually follows Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal as a go-to recipe book.

My students always call me out for saying Wikipedia is a good place to start to check on information, but that, of course, leads to my discussion about how Wikipedia should not be used in an academic paper because it is an encyclopedia. Long before Wikipedia existed, general encyclopedias were to be avoided as sources. It is always best to jump to the news, magazine, and journal articles as well as scholarly studies/reports. Thankfully a good Wikipedia entry has those listed in its works cited section.

So there is still timed to be an informed voter, and every time I hear this lame excuse, the anger ball just gets larger.

And a picture of one of my all-time favorite places in Kansas: Coronado Heights

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  1. Lines like “Well, I haven’t registered to vote yet, and I don’t know where to register.”

This dumbfounds me. I grew up with a mother who very much reminded me of the importance of voting. She grew up with a father who was a veteran who fought bravely for our country. To my knowledge, he did not miss an election. The same goes for my mother, and the same goes for me. Even when I was living in Australia, I voted in the mid-term election of 2006. Therefore, not to register the moment one turns 18 is beyond my comprehension. Plus, it is one of our duties as a citizen of the United States.

Therefore, anyone reading this who has not registered yet, just go register. You may not be able to vote in this highly important election coming up in November that will greatly alter your life in ways none of us currently know. You will, though, at least get to vote in future elections. Plus, when you register, keep the Kansas primary system in mind. That is highly important too. Furthermore, you get a nifty sticker after you voted, and who doesn’t love stickers?

And as far as where does one go to register to vote, once again that handy thing called the Internet will show you that you have tons of places.

And now for a picture of a walking/biking trail:

The Vitality Trail

  1. Ebola*

Ebola is a scary thing. There is not doubt about that. However, it is not a scary thing in the United States. If you want to be frightened about catching something, here are six other things to worry about. Best not to click on that link if you are a hypochondriac.

Plus, check out this video comparing American reports about Ebola with British reports about Ebola:

However, Ebola is the talk of the state right now. People are worried, and there are so many other things that should be on their mind. For an example, they could focus on the election instead which, and I am hoping I won’t be wrong about this, will have much more of an impact on their lives than Ebola will.

The reason for the * is that this stands for whatever topic the news seems to have picked up and is focusing on rather than what really should be discussed. Come on, newspapers and news stations, no more fear mongering for you! That is just causing things to be worse than they should be.

However, candidates are playing upon these fears with one even signing an Ebola travel ban bill. Yep, the distractions from what is important are causing people to fall right into this sort of situation. Needless to say, this goes back to using one’s critical thinking skills and not being caught up in hysteria but rather being caught up in one of the many issues that really needs to be faced.

So there you go. Just some of the reasons that have led to my being an anger ball. And if you like the pictures of Kansas, that is great, for all of those images are of things that could be affected after this election through legislation and decisions made by our elected officials. But then again, that can be said for pretty much everything else in your life as well. Without a doubt, help spread the word about the importance of this election, do your research, and vote for the candidate who best fits your beliefs that were based upon your great critical thinking skills. This way you can wear that sticker with pride (This also means don’t be one of those idiots that just votes for a person because of a letter for a certain party behind his/her name. People who do this also make me an anger ball. So instead of making me even more angry, know why you are voting for that person and what that person stands for.)

Extra Credit Anger-Ball-Making Line: “I am just not going to vote because I don’t like any of the candidates.”

If this is the case, then make sure these people don’t get beyond the primary. If they do, go vote but simply leave your ballot blank. That is a way you can make a statement. Just skipping going to the polls makes no statement at all because the people on the ballot still get elected and still make decisions that will affect your life. Plus, if you really don’t like who is running for the positions, make sure you get someone whom you think would be a great elected official to run next time or run yourself.

And now for the serenity of a Kansas Sunset:

Kansas Sunset