We were made for community

10 musicIf marriage has shown me one thing over the course of my husband and my short eight years together, it is that humans are deeply flawed. OK, it doesn’t take being married to get that. Here’s the real truth that has blindsided me — I am deeply flawed.

Hard to admit, right? It’s difficult, sometimes, for me to lump myself in with the rest of humankind. It is way too easy to say that about everyone else, especially that guy with road rage who threw the finger up at you in traffic or the coworker who gets on your ever-loving nerves day in and day out.

It’s why we hate going through checkout lines — the cashier is too slow, the people at the stores are crazy and it’s too crowded. So, we order online. Food. Clothes. That random part you need to fix your lawnmower. Toys. Business cards. Books. Eye glasses. A mattress in a box. Need customer service or to schedule an appointment? I’ll do it online, thank you.

We’ve done everything to make life “convenient” and to make sure we don’t have to deal with that person who we claim brings out the worst in us. More often than not, brokenness makes us run away. It’s messy, it’s tough and it’s uncomfortable. But to admit that we ourselves are deeply flawed is deeply humbling. And it makes us vulnerable.

I have issues that I didn’t even know were issues that play out in my everyday interaction with my husband. He knows me better than anyone, which makes these flaws I so artfully hide from everyone else — or, even worse, disguise as admirable — unable to be ignored. Now, don’t get me wrong. He has flaws too. But so does every other human being on this planet.

If you’re breathing, you’re broken.

But here’s the other, ironic side of that coin. We were made for community. Part of healing this brokenness is found in cultivating community. In fact, healing can’t be complete until we do. Even in the book of Genesis, God said it’s “not good for man to be alone,” so he created Eve for Adam. We were meant to know and be known by others.

That leads me to ask, what if these relationships, these interactions with hard-to-get-alongwith people, were actually created to bring out the worst in us? What if these people don’t actually create bad reactions in us; what if these relationships are just a means by which our brokenness comes to the surface?

What if we’re meant to use these interactions to learn more about ourselves— our ticks, our hurts, our anger, our outbursts — to see our brokenness more clearly and seek healing for it?

What if this was all to point to Jesus and a relationship with him?

Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” In Romans 1, the apostle Paul talks about being “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

We desperately need deep, genuine relationships. We desperately need to deal with our brokenness. We need community. Isolation is used as a torture technique, for crying out loud! It can do crazy things to the mind and heart because it is so opposite to the life we were created to live.

Relationships require vulnerability. Vulnerability is scary. Scary things are hard. But hard things are worth the effort, worth the risk and worth your time.

Find a church. Find a community. Find a friend. Your life depends on it. Your healing depends on it. Let’s jump in. We were made for this.

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Developing and sustaining thought deprivation, part 3

04 KarlThis is the third article in a series. Here is the opening from the first; it will repeat in each column in this series:

“There is a dangerous, but tremendously effective, political approach employed in America. It could be called ‘thought deprivation.’ It’s conditioning people so they do not think with depth regarding the issues that face us as a nation. Sadly, allowing this thought deprivation approach to become routine and embedded in the political process has brought us to a point of real danger in the governing, and very survival, of this nation.”

In that initial article, my observations as to how thought deprivation is developed and sustained in a person, by others, were presented as including seven steps. The first two steps were addressed in the first column; steps three and four in the second. The final three will be explored here.

Step five is to convince a target group, or groups, that they are entitled to certain benefits. Accomplishing this step is pursued by use of several tactics. Primary among them is the civil rights argument.

Before examining this argument, consider the following from “What are human rights?” at “Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life.

“They can never be taken away, although they can sometimes be restricted — for example if a person breaks the law, or in the interests of national security.

“These basic rights are based on shared values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence. These values are defined and protected by law.”

Lock in on the last line of the quote above that addresses the basis for human rights. Now move to the civil rights argument. The following segments are from an article by Rebecca Hamlin, at www.britannicacom, titled “Civil rights.”

It reads, “Civil rights, guarantees of equal social opportunities and equal protection under the law, regardless of race, religion, or other personal characteristics.

“Unlike other rights concepts, such as human rights or natural rights, in which people acquire rights inherently, perhaps from God or nature, civil rights must be given and guaranteed by the power of the state. Therefore, they vary greatly over time, culture, and form of government and tend to follow societal trends that condone or abhor particular types of discrimination. For example, the civil rights of homosexuals have only recently come to the forefront of political debate in some Western democracies.”

This tactic alone allows politicians and other agenda-promoting individuals and groups to argue that certain individuals or groups are entitled to benefits, accommodations or privileges not currently available to them. This action, almost always, garners political support for the offering party, or parties, from those for whom benefits are pursued.

In my estimation, a prime example of how this tactic is employed, and the profit to entitlement-promoting politicians, shows in North Carolina’s recent battle over allowing individuals to use the public bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

Without doubt, politicians who embraced the change enhanced their support among the LGBTQ community. This is only one example of civil rights shaped by time and a changing culture overriding human rights where, from, “These basic rights are based on shared values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence.” The course pursued in the situation mentioned above certainly seemed unfair, from a human rights perspective, to those of us who opposed allowing gender identity bathroom use. However, this kind of action works for winning votes.

Once citizens believe they are entitled to certain benefits, the sixth step is promising to deliver the benefits to which people believe they are entitled.

The examples at this step seem endless. Here is a sampling of what is being proposed by various 2020 presidential candidates from an article by Quartz Staff titled “Meet all the Democratic candidates in the crowded 2020 race.” The list includes free college tuition, health care for all, jobs for everybody, saving the environment from climate change, middle- class tax cuts, programs that would give every newborn a bond that would increase in value over time, an increase in Social Security benefits, $1,000 per month to every citizen over age 18, reparations to black Americans and higher taxes on the wealthy.

Every idea listed above and, almost certainly, any others put forth, will appeal to the needs and wants of citizens. Except for calls to tax the wealthy more, there will not likely be a single proposal that requires sacrifice or taking of individual responsibility on the part of citizens. No, this strategy is to promise the world, win the election and start running again while using the same tactics.

What I have addressed to this point in the series of columns works because the math is solid. Following are segments from an article by Catey Hill titled “45 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax.” The article said, “An estimated 45.3 percent of American households — roughly 77.5 million — will pay no federal individual income tax, according to data for the 2015 tax year from the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington-based research group. (Note that this does not necessarily mean they won’t owe their states income tax.)

“On average, those in the bottom 40 percent of the income spectrum end up getting money from the government. Meanwhile, the richest 20 percent of Americans, by far, pay the most in income taxes, forking over nearly 87 percent of all the income tax collected by Uncle Sam.”

When the richest 20 percent of Americans pay 87 percent of all federal income taxes and 45.3 percent of households pay nothing, the math is easy … turn the 80 percent against the 20 percent. In the process, take from the 20 percent the funding that is needed to win the votes of the 80 percent.

Here is where the rubber meets the road. There comes a time when taxing the rich heavily is not sufficient to keep promises to the 80 percent. That is because the rich are no longer motivated to take the risks necessary to maintain high incomes, or they move to lower-tax countries. Further, if all the assets of the wealthy were confiscated, I hardly believe it would pay the cost of all that is being promised by so many of today’s politicians.

That brings us to the final step — step seven. That is, when the promised benefits do not materialize, blame others. This is particularly the case with political parties. When a promise is not kept, blame the other party. Since the voting public, for the most part, depends on sound-bites, headlines and emotions, promise-breaking politicians are hardly ever held accountable. The public keeps experiencing the abuse.

That abuse happens because developing and sustaining thought deprivation is an extremely effective strategy that has been mastered by far too many American politicians and others who influence the political process.

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Who is leading the next generation of leaders?

02 pub penLast month, I wrote that local leadership comes in many forms. Friday, March 8, more than 100 residents gathered at Cape Fear Botanical Garden to celebrate The Fayetteville Observer’s 40 Under 40 winners. And rightfully so. These select few have achieved benchmarks of success in their personal and business lives, through dedication, hard work and perseverance. That is something worth celebrating. The editorial page of last week’s Fayetteville Observer did, however, double down on my observation and concerns that these same young outstanding individuals are shying away from getting involved in local government. Why the reluctance?

For years, and to its credit, The Fayetteville Observer has done a good job of recognizing potential local talent in a way that is well balanced, politically correct and representative of our diverse population in business, education, the military, the medical field and nonprofit organizations.

These extraordinary young people have made their mark and are now contributing to the personality and fabric of our community — except when it comes to leadership. As the newspaper reiterated, it does not bode well for the future of our community when many of our young, intelligent achievers remain on the sidelines of local leadership.

Except for Tisha Waddell, District 2 Fayetteville city councilwoman, they seem to avoid public service as elected officials. 

Are we doing enough to engage these ambitious young professionals? Are we encouraging them to get involved politically? And, are we setting the right example for them?

Many think not. And, the subject matter alone has many people and organizations who traditionally have been responsible for nurturing local leaders on the defensive, refusing to acknowledge this void that could hinder our future growth and development.

To their credit, organizations like the Greater Fayetteville Chamber have for years offered leadership and development programs like Leadership Fayetteville, the ambassador program and the Fayetteville Young Professionals networking group, which are all explicitly designed to familiarize the next generation with community, business, government and civic responsibility.

Cumberland County the town of Hope Mills and the city of Fayetteville all have initiated leadership academies designed to demonstrate how our local government operates and to familiarize residents with the myriad leadership opportunities designed to motivate and groom young talent for business, industry and public service.

It is encouraging to see civic organizations like Cumberland County Kiwanis Clubs stepping up and embracing young people, providing leadership and direction. They cultivate pride, responsibility and values and offer community engagement and life lessons that pay big dividends.

So, while many are content with the status quo of our community — and others refuse to take responsibility for leadership development while witnessing the dumbing down of standards and events — we must realize this is no way to prepare for a prosperous future.

Again, at the risk of being redundant, millennials are the future of our community. We need to make it our highest priority to get them involved, engaged and excited about the future right here at home. They are the future of the community.

We have done an excellent job identifying these potential future leaders. Let’s continue to advocate for and support the effective programs and organizations that encourage these young people to step up into leadership positions.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

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Cheating your way in the door

03 MargaretAll parents want the best for their Precious Jewels.

We want them to be healthy and happy as they grow toward adulthood. We want all doors open to them as they develop. We expose them to various life experiences, and we do our best to position them for success. We cheer them along the way to help them and others see them in the most positive light.

But sometimes some of us go too far in helping our children. Some of us cross the line between encouragement and manipulation, even cheating. The college admissions scandal uncovered this month displays that and more, undermining trust in our nation’s higher educational institutions and sending all the wrong messages.

The broad facts are these. Somewhere around 50 people, some famous and some not, allegedly participated in a plan to cheat on tests and misrepresent the academic and athletic achievements of high school students to get them into at least eight prestigious universities, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, and one of North Carolina’s own, Wake Forest. Thirty-three parents so far face federal charges in the scandal, and the institutions involved have been publicly compromised. At a time when colleges and universities are in the thick of the admissions process, they now have to weed through for unqualified applicants seeking unfair advantage.

Even preschoolers know it is wrong to break into line ahead of those who arrived first, and that is what happened here. Movie stars and other designing parents paid for their children to move to the head of the line and made headlines.

But the trouble is much deeper than that. This type of situation allows children of profoundly advantaged people entry into academic environments for which they are very likely unqualified, displacing other students who are qualified, ready and eager to excel. Whether some students — or people acting on their behalf — cheated on tests, lied about athletics or simply paid to move to the top of the lists, the bottom line is that the ones who succeed with deception very likely displace truly qualified applicants.

We will never know how many students moved from the front to the back of the applicant queue at some of our nation’s finest universities, and those students may never know either. But it is safe to say that the lives of the unqualified students who were accepted into those universities through deception, and the qualified students who were kicked to the curb, have been changed in ways that will resonate throughout their careers and private lives.

Some students apparently knew about the cheating at the time and some did not, but either way, they now know they were likely not qualified for their universities, and they may struggle with academic rigor. They have learned their parents cheat. Those who knew they were qualified may always wonder why they were turned away.

Individual lives — those of parents, students, university personnel — have veered way off course, but the damage is far greater than those individuals alone. Institutions of higher learning, long held in high public esteem, have been compromised. We know now that ivory towers, whether the ones now in the public spotlight or others, are not pure — that money talks in those hallowed halls just as it does in lesser places.

We know now that very little separates higher education from business, politics and other institutions in our culture.

It is enough to make even Pollyanna cynical.

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Don’t backslide on teacher pay reform

05teachersIn any human enterprise as complex, varied and challenging as education, we shouldn’t expect a great deal of consensus, much less unanimity. Politicians, educators, parents and citizens debate education policy constantly — not only because it is of crucial importance to our shared futures but also because the field simply contains many highly debatable questions.

Whether paying teachers extra if they obtain graduate degrees will make them more effective is not among those debatable questions, however, at least not anymore. In the vast majority of cases, the answer is no. Pay bumps for teachers with graduate degrees is cost-ineffective. If you seek to improve student learning, such a policy isn’t worth pursuing.

Over the past three decades, scholars have published more than 100 studies in peer-reviewed academic journals testing the proposition that possessing a graduate degree makes one a better teacher, all other things being held equal. In more than 80 percent of the empirical studies, researchers found no relationship between graduate degrees and measurable teacher effectiveness.

Of course, that does leave room for a few studies finding a positive association (as well as a few finding a negative one). Even for the positive studies, though, the finding is often narrow. There is a handful of studies showing that when teachers possess graduate degrees in the subject they teach, rather than in education, their students may benefit. But this evidence has mostly to do with graduate-level mastery of math or science, not with degrees in any and all subjects.

In a rare and praiseworthy occurrence of evidence- based policymaking, the North Carolina General Assembly decided several years ago to end the state’s pay supplements for graduate degrees. Lawmakers decided instead to reform the teachersalary schedule so that pay rose with gains in teaching effectiveness, which occur disproportionately in the early years of a teaching career, while also offering bonuses for exceptional performance.

In addition, an increasing number of North Carolina school districts are pursuing the flexibility to adopt new compensation systems that pay teachers more for assuming advanced teaching roles. We may also see greater differentiation as teachers get paid more based on hard-to-staff subjects and hard-to-staff schools, although political resistance to such common-sense practices — which are common in other professions — remains significant.

As North Carolina and other states continue to iterate and innovate, some promising teacher-pay reforms will pay off. Others may prove ineffective or even counterproductive. Policymakers should always be willing to subject their ideas to evaluation in realworld settings, which are inherently more complex than the models used to craft legislation.

Does that principle sound reasonable? If you think so, keep in mind that you are obligated to apply the principle consistently. If you pounce on every adverse finding to savage an education policy you dislike, yet insist that North Carolina restore pay supplements for graduate degrees because “it just makes common sense,” you are being grossly inconsistent.

But what about that narrow finding about students benefitting from teachers with advanced math or science degrees? Couldn’t North Carolina reinstate pay bumps for those special cases?

In theory, yes. In practice, it’s neither necessary nor workable. It’s unnecessary because if obtaining such a degree will improve teacher performance, we can capture the effect of that by rewarding the performance itself — measured however you like, by value-added test scores or principal evaluation or student surveys or some combination — rather than the acquisition of the degree.

Moreover, the distinction will never stick. When a few state lawmakers filed a bill this year to restore the pay bump, they extended it to all academic subjects. The North Carolina Association of Educators then welcomed the bill only as a first step to restoring the supplement for all graduate degrees, including those in education (which represent a large majority of the degrees at issue).

Restoring pay bumps for graduate degrees would be a triumph of special-interest pressure over sound policy, of image over substance, of hope over experience. North Carolina shouldn’t backslide. It should move forward.

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Latest Articles

  • Fayetteville Cumberland Parks and Recreation Bond Referendum update: continued, exciting progress
  • Who is leading the next generation of leaders?
  • Cheating your way in the door
  • Developing and sustaining thought deprivation, part 3
  • Angry senator speaks out about housing conditions
  • Fort Bragg hosts All American Marathon

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