Friday, July 27, 2007

Is It Time For All of Us To Have A Talk At Oleai?

Food For Thought 7-27-07

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

Misunderstandings are usually at the heart of many arguments and heated discussions. When you don’t have all the facts or all the information that someone else may be basing their decisions on, it makes it difficult to understand how they may have come to their conclusions and why they are taking the stands they are. Most of us tend to rush to judgment and are willing to draw our own conclusions based on the first few facts we encounter. Wisdom would dictate that you hold your tongue and comments until you find out a little more about the situation, but unfortunately wisdom is not always employed. And when we jump to our own conclusions and lash out at those we view as being on the other side of the argument, it is usually the beginning of the escalation of hostilities. When individuals do this sort of thing, it is usually called a fight or an argument, when countries do it, it can easily lead to war. In many of the cases, if someone would just sit the two people down and get to the bottom of what is going on, they might discover that the additional facts they learned had changed their perspective or attitude. And once that happens, they might find that they really aren’t as far apart as they had initially thought. Unfortunately, there isn’t usually that unbiased 3rd party around to mediate these situations when they occur.

Now I’m not saying that misunderstandings are always the problem. Sometimes it’s perfectly clear, and you just can’t agree on basic principles because you’re philosophically and diametrically opposed. Even in those situations, there is usually a mature and socially acceptable way to handle the disagreement where you agree to disagree after thoughtfully discussing the situation. And then there is the way that most us choose, lashing back at the other side, making accusations and trying to deflect the heat. It is always nice when both parties can discuss the situation, both arguing what they feel are the points of merit for their side, and listen attentively as the other person explains where they are coming from. A good debater knows that the key to their success is paying careful attention to the opponent’s arguments and using their weaknesses against them. Some of their points may actually strengthen your argument, but if you’re not really listening to them, you will never be able to avail of that strength. I’m usually not worried about the ones who are the first to speak, who monopolize the conversation cutting other people off and always have to have the last word. There usually isn’t a lot of point in trying to make a point to them or convince them of anything, because their minds are usually made up, and they make it perfectly clear they really don’t care what you have to say by cutting you off and interrupting you. You know where they are coming from, and you also know there is likely nothing you are going to say or do that will change their mind. So honestly, why bother? Why go to the time and effort of trying to convince them, when you probably have a better chance of building a snowman in hell.

The people that I enjoy having a discussion or dialogue with are those who are willing to thoughtfully listen and ponder what you are saying, carefully weighing it before giving their opinion or defense of their point. I find that I usually learn quite a bit from this type of person, because they are a thinker. They don’t simply rely on the knowledge or facts already contained in their brain, but they are always observing and gaining new facts and perspectives. This kind of person is always learning and always adapting based on the new facts and knowledge they come across, in other words they are always growing.

Have you ever met someone who thinks exactly the same way about everything that they did 20 years ago? Their attitudes and opinions haven’t changed a bit, they believed they were right then, and they are still completely convinced of it. This person has no need of learning anything new, because in their mind, they already know it all. Chances are good they won’t listen to anything you have to say, unless you happen to agree with them about everything.

There is no shame in admitting that you once felt a certain way about an issue, but now because of new information and new facts you have come across, have changed your attitude and opinion. Most people who do any amount of thinking, reading and listening will have their attitudes change and shift on different things many times throughout their life. It’s all a part of the learning process. Can you imagine where we’d be if we adamantly stuck to everything that was known about science 100 years ago? What about 50 years ago? What about even 10 years ago? If there is one thing that a good scientist will tell you, it’s that they are always learning new things and changing their feelings and attitudes toward certain things based on the new information and facts available.

I was recently involved in a situation regarding something I wrote about in my blog. I’m not going to rehash it, but there were some who disagreed with what I did. One person chose to write in their blog about why what I did was so bad, and give me a good public whipping for it. Another person, who also didn’t really agree with me, but for different reasons, chose to call me up and discuss the situation over a drink at Oleai, first getting to know me, and then explaining what their concerns were and letting me draw my own conclusions. Needless to say I reacted very differently to the two different approaches. I decided to go after the one who I felt had attacked me, and attack back. I know I didn’t handle it the way I should have, and frankly the whole thing got much uglier than it ever should have been. But after listening to all the concerns of the other person over a drink at Oleai, I completely understood where they were coming from and pulled my blog that he felt could possibly set a poor example. I learned a lot from that couple hour conversation, and it will have an impact on how I look at things from that point forward.

The only reason I bring that example up is because I see the potential for some very serious problems starting to surface right now in the CNMI. We are a community in transition and because we all have various ways we want to see those transitions happen and some of us are outspoken about them, it gives the potential for some pretty severe divisions. We have already seen some racially charged statements and attitudes aired. This group doesn’t like these people because of this, and this group of people is striking back by doing this. Sadly in the middle of this mix we have a newspaper that likes to fan the flames of controversy and pit different groups of people against each other. They’ve been doing it for a very long time, and they’re good at it. They like going back and forth from one group to the other trying to get comments about the other. Then they use those comments to go to the other group and try to get them to say something back against the first group in retaliation for their comments. This particular newspaper isn’t try to bring the community together or to create understanding, they are trying to fan the flames of controversy, and where they can’t find any, they’ll create some.

Honestly, our community is faced with some overwhelming challenges at the moment. We’re being battered on every side and we’re losing many businesses and residents as a result. We really can’t afford to be divided right now and to be fighting each other, each only looking out for their own self-interests and ignoring all other points of view. For all of our survival we need to stop sniping at one another. We need to start listening to the other side, consider what they are saying, learn from it and move on from there. We all need to go to Oleai, pull up a table that sits right on the beach, order your favorite beverage, listen to the sounds of waves lapping at the beach, and watch the sun as it sinks down at the edge of the ocean. Then we need to first listen, seriously listen with our ears and minds open, letting the other person have their say. We need to show each other proper respect, showing that we not only respect their opinion, but also respect them as a person, and see what they have to say that we can use to broaden our knowledge base.

We just really can’t afford to be tearing each other down right now, attacking just because they have an opinion that differs from yours. And there is nothing wrong with telling a newspaper that is looking to stir up controversy that you have no comment. So they may sell a few less newspapers that day because they don’t have any inflammatory accusations to report on, oh well.

I think we can all agree that we haven’t always handled things here the best we could have. That’s ok, the U.S. has to make the same concession, remember slavery and segregation used to be legal there. We have all made mistakes and hopefully have learned from them. The point is you need to take your newfound knowledge and go forward, not dwelling in the past and trying to defend who you were back then or what you did.

Have I made mistakes in the past, absolutely, and I will undoubtedly make a few more before I’m done with this earth. The point is that you admit them, learn from them, and then move forward. It is also important to remember as we try bringing out community together, that most people will respond much better to a friendly talk than they will to being publicly attacked. So I’ll see you all at Oleai tonight?

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

For more thoughts, pictures and observations, feel free to visit my personal blog at

Harry Blalock's Food for Thought

My commentary that airs on radio stations KZMI - 103.9 FM & KCNM - 101.1 FM