Rules of Engagement

This morning I read a powerful article in the New York Times. The author, Phil Kay, is a young marine writing about the complicated world of war, moral choice, and how we as Americans treat our “enemies” in context of combat. He writes about America as an idea as much as a place and argues that how we engage with the enemy is all the more important when the big, beautiful, audacious idea that is America is at stake versus a nation/state alone. His writing is luminous and my purpose here is neither to re-write his piece nor to talk about the ethics of military battle. But in our current cultural moment, I feel under siege in a way that I never have before and vacilate between the desire to retreat and imperative to engage.

For instance, last week, I found myself curious about a university position in New Zealand, entranced by the idea of moving to Portugal, and wondering how to focus on my day to day work as the world seems to be unraveling. Yet, this weekend I was strategizing about how allies could band together to make ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) road blocks obsolete while feeling guilty that I opted out of the latest protest march. To date, I’ve loved the Saturday Night Live political skits. But two out of the three skits I watched today seemed closer to cruelty than satire. I’m on a seesaw and I want to get off. Phil Kay’s article helped me by talking about engaging honorably in a difficult fight. Focusing on honor has given me a benchmark by which to gauge the choices I am making each day.

So as of this morning, I’ve made some decisions that I’ll share here.

1. First, I will not disengage. It is tempting to say that things have gotten too negative. Let’s all talk about something else, post pictures of the soccer game instead of information related to policy or politics. I don’t disagree that it is good to focus on things that unite us. But too much is at stake, particularly for those who do not enjoy the power and privilege that I do. For me to disengage would be to say that my comfort is more important than others safety. It is not. To disengage is dishonorable.

2. Second, I will be judicious in the sources of information I quote, share, post, etc. Until I have seen it reported in one of the following sources, I will not talk about it, post it or recommend it for your consideration. It is dishonorable to share information that has not been well-vetted, well-sourced, or taken out of context.  My go-to sources will be:
– The New York Times
– The New Yorker
– The Atlantic
– The Washington Post
– The Wall Street Journal

If it is real, it will show up in these journalistic venues that have stood the test of time. They provide context and have the highest journalistic standards.

3. I will not share memes, inflammatory videos, or the like. Some are funny and some hit the nail straight on the head. But they provide no real information, no context, and they alienate people. Belittling others, no matter how wittily it is done, is dishonorable.

4.  My focus will be immigrants, refugees, and health care. My work in these areas is long-standing and has been recognized and honored by others. Focusing on what I really know something about means I can make real contributions. I care about the environment, foreign policy, education, and many other issues. But others of you are better equipped to carry those batons. You lead I will follow.

5. I will be at protest marches but not every one. They are important tools in the democratic arsenal. So is less visible and dramatic engagement. It is important to keep steadfastly doing work that is out front and behind the scenes. Both are honorable.

Thank you to Phil Kay for your writing that has helped me focus on what it means to live honorably right now.

These are my rules of engagement. What are yours?

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