Today’s Decisions Lead To Tomorrow

“I needed a place to go for Thanksgiving dinner.”

She’s well spoken, her clothes neat, and truly grateful.

Taking a seat at the long row of tables, she joins hundreds of others walking through the doors of the Salvation Army in Galveston to rest, retreat, or simply enjoy the company of others.

Everyone has a story. And this woman, who passed through the doors on Thanksgiving afternoon, is not unlike anyone else. While we all have a story behind us, we tend to forget today is an important indicator of where our road in life will lead tomorrow.

“I was a runaway when I was 11-years old,” she says. “The Salvation Army was always a place I could come when I needed something or feel safe.”

Her smile is broad and warm. She’s exceedingly polite.

Volunteers bring large plates of turkey, ham, and all the side dishes you’d expect to see. But they also serve each person at the table with a large serving of love and respect.

The woman tells me more of her story and what brings her to the Salvation Army on the sunny afternoon.

“I can’t be with my family today,” she says. “There is alcohol and other things I don’t want to be around.”

Her voice hints of a story she’d rather not share, but her words reveal a chapter of recovery and her commitment to practicing better choices in life.

A plate of food arrives and is placed before her. Two young children ages 8 and 10 pour iced tea into red plastic cups destined for her and others at the table.

She looks down at the plate before her. I know she’s here for a different reason than many others – but hers is just as important in her life. The Salvation Army is an anchor, a placeholder in her life as the one place she can go when the world around her is unpredictable or threatening. The Salvation Army is her safe place, the one house she can walk into at any time and be welcomed.

I make sure she’s comfortable and excuse myself to check on others sitting around the table.

Her story refuses to let me go. As I continue to visit with others, making sure their red solo cups are filled or inviting them for seconds, her story hangs with me. Her journey – or story – is rewriting my preconception of whom I would be serving on this Thanksgiving Day.

A short while later I return to her place at the table, offering her seconds or to see if I can refill her drink.

“No, I’m fine, thank you,” she says, gently pushing her tray forward.

Placing her paper napkin in front of her, I detect a bit of hesitation on her part of getting up from the table. It is as if she knows once she goes back out the doors, she is again on her own to face the demons and challenges of the world.

Everyone has a story.

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Fake News and William Shakespeare

Fake news is real. And believe it or not the practice is as old as time.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the presidential election, you’ve most likely heard how the newly minted term ‘fake news’ changed the outcome of the election.

For what it is worth, I’d like to give you more credit than that. Fake news did not get Donald Trump elected to the office of the presidency.

The concept and practice of fake news is nothing new. People have ben planting half-truths and outright lies designed for public for consumption forever. Governments, political organizations, and people simply hoping to advance different point of view, have used the tool of disinformation forever. Don’t act surprised.

What strikes me odd is how this entire discussion moves the finger pointing to the source of misinformation instead of the receiver. Have we all lost our critical thinking skills? Did we ever believe the Pope endorsed Donald Trump? Or did we truly believe Hillary Clinton was a pedophile? And did these outrageous claims that were presented as legitimate, vetted news change wide swaths of voters’ opinions? I seriously doubt that.

Additionally, people are also tossing the blame for this so-called interference on social media for the outcome of the election. That, while misguided to whom the responsibility is rooted, is an equally weak argument.

Granted the Pew Research Center found in a 2016 study that 62% of people get news from social media. And at the time, 18% admitted gathering a majority of their news from social media. But to say broad numbers of the American public suddenly became unable to discern real news sources from fake ones is as ridiculous as the claims the fake news sites presented in the first place.

Delivery systems come and go. Whether overheard while in a crowd, a paper flyer wedged into the door of your home, or an article posted on social media, the messenger is not at fault. There was once a time when the then-new delivery tool, motion pictures, became the popular tool. During World War II, entire armies of filmmakers were employed by the Nazi’s and Allied forces to create compelling shorts to influence public opinion. And neither side let the truth get in the way then, either.

Today we live in a world where the requirement for intelligent and critical thinking skills will only increase in relationship to the volume and influence of content outlets. Social media is no more a villain than the silver screen where a government propaganda film was once showing. The responsibility rests the receiver.

Today, more than ever, the phrase ‘Buyer Beware” applies. No more than you’d loan an uncle your nest egg with hopes of earning a fast 50% with little of no risk, you should not consume without thinking.

Or as William Shakespeare wrote in 1599 in his play Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

Yes, he means us.

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Election Night 2016: Welcome to 1984

I woke up this morning to feeling like it was 1984.

This morning Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States – and I can’t help but think back the to iconic Apple Computer commercial not-so-loosely based on George Orwell’s book, 1984. In the commercial a young woman races down the aisle between an audiences dutifully watching a giant screen. With an ominous face looking down and across the audience, the voice is seemingly espousing directions to the obedient masses. The woman, with an oversized sledgehammer, stops and throws the object into the screen – shattering both the image and the power the speaker held over the people.

Yes, America, there might be a parallel here.

This column is not about who won or lost, but rather wondering if we are truly witnessing a watershed moment in history. Or is this, as others might say, simply a blip on the landscape of history. I find the latter more wishful thinking than the former. What happened last night is more about how the world of conventional wisdom and self-appointed experts found a hammer tossed through the giant screen of what everyone thought they knew – or at least thought they knew – about the American electorate.

Last night a new electorate came to the polls – one composed of a demographic neither the Republican or Democratic Party seemed to see coming. If anything, the two parties found those they considered rightfully under their tent switching sides. Blue voting blocks went red and red voting blocks went blue. Former bankable demographic lines bled into the middle forming an unlikely coalition. In the end, what everyone thought they knew about what their party represented, crashed to the ground like the shards of glass as the sledgehammer shattered the giant screen in front of them. Like I said, 1984 all over again.

My 21-year old daughter said something over dinner on election night I that struck me with a clarity I’ll never forget.

“In my lifetime – other than President Obama – only two families seemed to have occupied the White House. The Clintons and the Bushes. It is like an oligarchy.”

I paused and thought about her words. She, for her age, might be onto something significant. Since the 1988 election, the family names have run Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama. And this year, the GOP was frothing for fight between the representatives of the marque families, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.

My daughter’s skepticism was profound. To her, why should her choices be limited to a handful of powerful families? Why should she and her vote be expected to dutifully fall in line? She felt insulted.

Again, whom she cast her vote for is her business and not mine. But I will tell you, I found her observation interesting – signifying an element I believe was severely discounted by the experts and those barking order from the giant screen on the wall.

Maybe, just maybe, we witnessed a giant sledgehammer smashing into the status quo last night.

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