Thoughts Matter

This post is a little late this morning because I didn’t have anything prepared when I woke up. Luckily, David French’s blog, “The French Press,” supplied a wonky-sounding term that stimulated some thoughts. 

The term was “stochastic terrorism.” It refers to violent events that can’t be precisely predicted but whose probability rises as the flames of divisiveness are fanned.

U.S. Politics have become dysfunctional. Party ideology is yielding to extremes on both sides. Congress is polarized. There are ample reasons to be concerned about the future of our country! 

How did we come to such a point?

My buddy Steve always has a unique perspective. In a recent conversation, he suggested that we might better understand our divisiveness by applying systems theory, explaining that complicated systems operate differently than complex systems?  

That lost me. So I asked him to explain what he meant.

A complicated system has many moving parts, like a jet airplane. Commercial jets have thousands of components. However, when they crash, a root cause is usually found.

Complex systems, on the other hand, are governed by simple rules. A tree is a good example. A tree is a complex biological system, but its shape is governed by a simple rule; the search for sunlight.  

Let’s apply that to our dysfunctional political system.

If it is a complicated system, searching for the root cause makes sense. Perhaps as some have suggested, it’s “Trumpy” conservatives or “The Squad” and their ilk. 

If, on the other hand, political governance is best characterized as a complex system, then a search for the root cause will be unsuccessful. Instead, we need to find the foundational rule driving behavior. 

What might that be?

This is where “stochastic terrorism” comes in. Each of us has a choice. We can continue to fan the flames of political divisiveness, or we can assume positive intent and seek to better understand one another. 

What if the foundational rule motivating both sides of the political spectrum is the pursuit of a better future for our loved ones? 

If we believe “the other side” is putting that at risk, then increasing anger and polarization is understandable. 

Is it naive to assume that concern for our loved ones viewed from differing perspectives might be driving polarization? 

Of course it is, but the alternative is to assume that half the country is bat shit crazy, which only fans the flames. 

Thoughts matter. 

Each of us play a role in whether our differences (in the words of Amanda Gorman) “leave us bitter or better!” To have faith in democracy is to assume the latter.

The United States has a long history of political disagreements, yet we’re good at finding a better tomorrow. What if each of us started making a sincere effort to see our differences in the context of our common humanity? 

Would things improve?

I’m not sure, but the alternative is almost certainly worse.


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4 Replies to “Thoughts Matter”

  1. Ian, being a recent college student is incensed by the current policies. I encouraged him to figure it out and do something for his future. He thought about this … and maybe he will. Otherwise, he wants to come down to the Coats campfire and play some guitar


  2. In the book Sapiens, the author discusses our divide. Basically, for most of our evolution, we were hunters and gatherers. We existed in very small groups. In other words, we have not evolved to get along in large groups, which are a much shorter period of our existence. Not an excuse, just a possible explanation.


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