Category Archives: Golden Rule

Is It Ever Okay to Offend an Entire Faith (Islam)?

Golden Rule behavior demands that we treat others as we would want to be treated given understanding of that individual’s circumstances.

Knowing that the Islamic faith prohibits depictions of its prophet Muhammad, is there ever an acceptable reason to produce and distribute cartoons about and including drawings of Muhammad?

Just after a $10,000 prize was handed out in Garland, Texas yesterday to the best caricature of Muhammad, two Muslim men attempted to shoot their way through the conference. Their assault began just moments after they were believed to have tweeted, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen” and stating their loyalty to the Islamic State. A police officer used his service pistol to kill the assault-rifle-armed attackers before they could inflict substantial harm.

In the immediate hours following the shooting, many media commentators questioned whether conference organizers had brought the attack on themselves. Given this reaction, is it ever acceptable to purposely offend? Following are seven questions worth considering in determining your answer:

  1. Was the offensive behavior—the caricature and condemnation of Muhammad—solely intended to offend, or was it pursued to achieve a higher purpose?
  1. If a higher purpose—or at least a serious purpose other than creating offense—was intended, could another method achieve that purpose without the offensive action?

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Two Joints. 13 Years. Golden Rule?

Found with two marijuana joints in 2010, now 48-year-old truck driver and father of seven Bernard Noble wound his way through Louisiana’s judicial system until its Supreme Court increased his three-time-loser sentence to 13 years and four months of hard labor.

Noble already had several misdemeanor and two felony drug convictions on his record before the 2010 arrest. He was charged with a felony and originally sentenced to five years. Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro Jr. appealed, saying that Noble, “has a flagrant disregard for the law.” The Supreme Court ultimately sided with Cannizzaro and jacked up Noble’s sentence.

While much has been written about the case, a short, but relatively thorough article can be found here in a Gulf-focused publication. (Note: the number of Noble’s children is inaccurate in the attached article.) A number of court decisions and briefs are also available discussing the case.

Golden Rule questions to consider:

1) No one has claimed that Noble ever dealt drugs. Is a 13-year sentence consistent with the Golden Rule for personal-use behavior? His three-strikes sentence is based on felony convictions for cocaine possession in 1991 and 2003.

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Golden Rule & Government Workshop

I spent an inspiring weekend in Champaign, Illinois leading a workshop on whether the Golden Rule should be applied to government and taking part in other sessions at Illinois Interfaith Conference 2015, as well as serving as a mentor for a University of Illinois leadership development program. I couldn’t be more encouraged by the quality of the students and inspired by fellow presenters and mentors. I only wish I could have spent more time at the Interfaith conference, and had more one-on-one time with many of the students, presenters and alums.

Special thanks to three students who helped me escape my deeply snowed-in parking space Sunday afternoon.

Understanding Islam and Charlie Hebdo

As I studied Islam over the past two years, trying to understand the dichotomy between my personal experience with peaceful, thoughtful Muslims and the brutal, hateful violence pursued by radical Islamist terrorists, I learned why silent acquiescence to radical Islam will not lead to peace. Much of what I now know is shocking to those who think of religious figures from a Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or many other perspectives.

Here’s a few critical points worth contemplating as, through the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, we again live the violent tragedy imposed by those who believe we must live by their rules rather than the principles of freedom used in founding the United States:

  • Muhammad was a national ruler as well as a preacher. Most key religious figures, including Jesus Christ, did not attempt to rule an empire on earth. Christ and others guided followers to behaviors that would earn them a place in eternity. Muhammad sought to and did create a nation ruled by his views, and encouraged its continuous expansion.
  • Muhammad used violence to achieve his territorial objectives. Whether it was leading attacks on Mecca, approving the beheading of hundreds of Jews at Medina, or many other battles described in the Quran and Hadith, violence was part of the life of Muhammad. The Quran can be read as advocating violence or peace, depending on the desires of the interpreter.
  • Lying in the name of Islam is not a sin. Concepts known as taqiyya and kitman allow Muslims to lie to non-believers, particularly when lying advances the cause of Islam. It is even permissible in many branches of Islam for Muslims to deny their own belief in Muhammad and Allah to avoid persecution. Lie detectors track physical changes created when people engage in behavior they know to be wrong. Those changes won’t be found in those who believe their lying is not only acceptable, but encouraged.
  • Death is salvation. Many young Muslims are able to be convinced through interpretations of the Quran and Hadith that death in the name of Islam is a guaranteed pass to salvation. In The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East, author Robert Fisk details the exalted pride of children preparing to ride motorbikes through mine fields during the Iran-Iraq war when Shia Muslims in Iran battled the predominantly Sunni Muslims of Iraq. For many raised in radical Islam, attacks on infidels are a thrilling opportunity, not a source of fear. (As an aside, Shia, Sunni and other branches of Islam often see each other as infidels.)

There’s much more to explore to understand the world as it is, rather than the world as we might hope. I’ll leave you with a quote from murdered Charlie Hebdo editor in chief Stéphane Charbonnier: “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”

Six Actions We Can Each Take to Build Unity

As a four-year-old in 1968, I sent my mother into sheer panic at a local McDonald’s when I loudly asked the large man next to her why he only washed the inside of his hands. Amidst the race riots of that tumultuous year, the African American gentleman, rather than mistake my naïve question as mean-spirited, kindly explained a fact of life to which I had been only minimally exposed. He was born with dark brown skin.

March forward to 2014. Despite clear progress, some issues facing America remain as they did when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were viciously removed from our leadership landscape. Regardless of one’s view of whether recent widely covered tragedies were driven by race or other factors, few argue that racial bias isn’t an ongoing challenge in our country.

In fact, research has shown that biases, including self-selection preferences, are inherent in the human condition. It has also shown that the vast majority of biases are held and acted on unconsciously. When made aware of biases and encouraged to explicitly consider them in their actions, most people willingly change behavior.

So how can those of us in at least the second half of our lives encourage continued progress toward a color-thoughtful world, even if we aren’t, for various reasons, interested in joining any of the hundreds of post-Ferguson protests or haven’t yet heard about the tragic death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, whose only error appears to have been not understanding how police would react to seeing him with a toy gun.

To move toward a more united America, I believe we need to start within our communities and with ourselves. Following are a few options to consider:

  • Take on a mentoring role. We had the opportunity this summer to invite a young man into our home who needed a safe place to train for college sports, as well as gain access to employment. We were aware of this African American young man through a basketball network from our kid’s AAU basketball days, but hadn’t met him until he showed up at our door with luggage in tow. He learned from us. We learned from him. Seeing the value this type of engagement could bring, I’ve signed on as a volunteer mentor for 360 Youth Services in Naperville, Illinois and have since been paired with a fascinating young man from an immigrant family. Male mentors, I’ve been told, are particularly difficult to attract to these programs.
  • Find Ways to Broaden Your Exposure. Geographically, we are re-segregating in the communities in which we live, a shift detailed in books such as The Big Sort by Bill Bishop. If you find yourself in an all-black, all-Hispanic, all-white or other ethnically concentrated communities, look for ways to broaden your exposure to people from different backgrounds. College, working in Congress and global corporate roles contributed to my education. There are many other ways to access diversity, including volunteer work, shared interest groups and military reserve service.
  • Consider Your Biases. The Golden Rule concept of treating others as we want to be treated is the sole unifying principle that covers every major faith along with those who don’t follow a faith. Consistency is a critical component of Golden Rule behavior. When you act or speak, ask yourself if you would make the same decision or statement if you changed the racial or ethnic makeup of everyone involved. (As an added exercise, try applying this concept to the actions of political leaders. Are your expectations consistent, regardless of party?)
  • Create Integration Sundays. Dr. King often remarked that the most segregated hour of the week is 11 a.m. on Sunday. For those involved in a faith community that may be lacking diverse membership, push to create regular Integration Sundays at your place of worship. Integration Sundays (or Fridays or Saturdays) can include attending each other’s house of worship, sharing a meal and/or participating in common charitable activities with worshippers from another ethnic or racial community. Over time, you’ll get to know people from another background on a deeper, human level.
  • Advocate for Interfaith. For a diverse nation, respect for those of different backgrounds must extend to those of different faiths as well. (Interfaith experiences include secular humanists, atheists and agnostics, so you aren’t required to believe in a higher power to participate.) Interfaith weekend events offer enrichment. When I recently asked Dr. Paul Eppinger, Executive Director of the Arizona InterFaith Movement, about interfaith experiences conducted through his organization, his eyes lit up about the hope that comes from giving people an opportunity to discuss and respect their differences, and their similarities. My wife and I were raised in different faiths with different holy days. Our backgrounds created distinct perspectives on many issues. We’ve bridged those differences now for 26 years.
  • Encourage schools to create integration experiences. While court orders drove integration following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, our movements are now re-segregating our schools. According to a UCLA Project on Civil Rights study, by 2011 the percentage of blacks in majority white schools was less than it was in 1968. Latinos attend even more segregated schools than do blacks and Asians, a challenge exacerbated by growing demands to provide language-segregated instruction for Spanish-speaking immigrants. Repeating the court-ordered busing of the past isn’t necessarily the right answer. Small group projects, through athletics, volunteer activities and extra-curricular activities have proven to be more effective at building cross-racial friendships than simply attending the same school. Can our schools alter schedules to allow for regular, full-day small group work or activities that help to build friendships across communities? Can sports activities include a post-buzzer component?

Whatever your take on what really happened in Ferguson and the need for changes in areas such as mandating police body cameras, our best path to respect, understanding and unity starts with the actions we take. Pick one of the above, or identify your own step forward.

Just don’t wait to start. For Tamir Rice, it’s already too late.

The FBI Wants to Know What I’m Doing

Anyone else have an on-line profile viewed lately by the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI?

I suppose it’s inevitable given the research I’ve been doing for my next book, which includes research on Islamic terrorists, drug cartels, nuclear detonation and plastic explosives, all as part of a story on injecting the Golden Rule into how the U.S. is governed. I guess I would rather have a LinkedIn review than an armed assault of my home. Thank you, FBI, for the gentle approach.

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After Bundy and Sterling, What Next?

“As a general rule, things don’t end well if your sentence starts, ‘Let me tell you something I know about the Negro’,” President Obama observed in skewering infamous Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy during Saturday night’s White House correspondents’ dinner. With Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling recently having been exposed for even more inane remarks on race than those of Bundy and President Obama’s approval ratings at an all-time low, it’s as good of a time as any to consider race in today’s society.

National research shows that racism is on the decline. It is by no means eliminated, but clearly racist views continue trending down. The percentage of whites stating they would oppose a close relative marrying a black person has declined from nearly 70% to about 25% just since 1990. Fewer than 10 percent of white Americans say they would not vote for a black President, according to data pulled from the General Social Survey conducted since the early 1970s by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. (Note: A small, but statistically significant difference in racial attitudes exists between white Republicans and white Democrats, according to data pulled from the Social Survey and worth reading at FiveThirtyEight.com.)

While some elements of multi-directional racial fear and hatred continue, ignorance remains one of two core racial problems. Affinity bias is its often-neglected and attention-deserving counterpart.

Ignorance can, of course, be eliminated over time by education, including the ability to live, work and interact with members of various races. Continue reading

More Questions than Answers on Climate Change

I have to admit that I’ve been thinking about the climate change issue for 25 years now, dating back to my days as a congressional staffer working on the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. At the time, global warming was gaining momentum as an issue, but media-magnified predictions of the coming global ice age from the 1970s were still relatively fresh memories.

Even with all of the time I’ve invested in the issue, including substantial reading, I still have far more questions than answers on the issue.

  1. Why has earth been much warmer in many past periods over the billions of years of earth’s existence when man-made emissions mattered little for most of this time?
  2. How devastating are the consequences if we are contributing to a warming of the earth? I’ve seen many predictions. I’m not convinced yet of their accuracy.
  3. Are the costs of mitigating any warming (moving people) cheaper than preventing it?
  4. Are there food production benefits if earth warms and more CO2 is in the atmosphere?
  5. When we look at temperatures having risen compared to pre-industrial levels, how certain are we that most or all of this increase is not the result of natural variability in earth’s temperatures? How certain are we that we are not confusing correlation with causation? Continue reading

A Golden Rule View of Immigration Reform

Is the answer to today’s immigration debate changed by considering the issue from a Golden Rule perspective?

The Golden Rule concepts of “doing unto others as one would have done to oneself” and its negative form of “not doing to others what one would not want done in return” are shared by every major religion and most atheists/agnostics as a guide for personal behavior. I believe the unifying nature of Golden Rule principles makes them much more: a core concept to drive government decisions as well. Let’s consider this against the issue of immigration reform.

Critical components of following the Golden Rule include imagining ourselves in the circumstances of others and acting consistently across various scenarios. Many questions arise when it comes to immigration reform, including:

  1. If I had trouble taking care of my family in my existing country, would I want another country to allow me to move there with no restrictions? Sure.
  2. On the flip side, if I’m having trouble finding work at a livable wage because too many potential workers exist for the given number of jobs, in part due to illegal immigration, would I find this fair? No.
  3. If I’m waiting in line in a traffic jam, do I get angry when someone drives off on the shoulder and skips around past me in line? Absolutely, which is the way legal immigrants often think about illegal immigration. Continue reading

Income Inequality and the Golden Rule

Considering the issue of income inequality through a “do unto others” Golden Rule filter doesn’t lead to quick, simple policy answers.

We’re all equal in rights, but certainly not in capabilities. Compared to me, many if not most people are better looking, more athletic and better entertainers. Would the world be better if others were required to live at my level? Clearly not.

Substitute me for Channing Tatum in the movie Magic Mike and the audience walks out (and I’ll be even less likely to watch it). Put LeBron James on the bench to bring in Mike Bushman and American Airlines Arena revolts. Replace George Lopez with me at a stand-up show and it won’t be laughter you hear.

Almost everyone has strengths I wish I had, though I don’t want these capabilities at the expense of giving up who I am, the people in my life and what I can do. So it is with income inequality. Others are far wealthier. That’s fine with me, as long as they come by it honestly.

Golden Rule application requires actively obtaining knowledge about all aspects of a situation, imagining oneself in different circumstances, testing whether a selected approach could be consistently applied and then acting. Continue reading