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People, I have a job for you - 1

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Message John Jensen

People, I have a job for you - 1

John Jensen

If you want to do something constructive for your country and are at loose ends, stay with me for a minute.

When many things go wrong at once, a common thread may contribute to them all. A first place to look is at a country's mainstream narrative that explains to its citizens, "This is what we are about right now." Facing war, disaster, or other emergencies, people realize they are challenged as a body and are invited to pool their efforts. When the unifying view fractures, however, ill feelings erupt more easily as they did to propel our Civil War. Now in late 2020, the U.S. experiences 80 million ranged against 74 million, the worrisome hostility between them suggesting that our unifying narrative needs work. That tens of millions are convinced of ideas factually false is a clue that changing Federal leadership may not resolve a persistent problem.

How did we get here? Ignorance must be one reason. 32 million U.S. adults can't read, half can't read a book written for eighth graders, and people unable to gather information are more easily manipulated. Another reason must be mediocre thinking among the educated. While historians, economists, opinion writers, and political leaders offer a stream of assertions, a single fact reveals their inadequacy. Four years of intensive analysis and commentary have left citizens more divided than ever.

Finding themselves unable to fix the plumbing or cook a turkey, responsible people admit, "I don't know what I'm doing" and find out what they need to know. Society faces a comparable challenge. It can continue to recycle means that have failed or can seek different ones.

Fortunately, nature supplies a solution, direct communication. When we are small and uncertain about everything, we are designed to welcome guidance from others. Our instincts are too confusing to establish constructive patterns even in a single family, so we rely on ideas. An especially important one we agree on, for example, is that we are a family. While instincts may threaten to fracture our bond, the very idea of family holds us together. We absorb important features of our lives by listening to ideas others explain to us, and watching as they are acted out.

This works because our innate programming is to take seriously what others tell us face-to-face, to believe what we hear unless impelled not to, and to sustain it in our mind. The impact of direct personal contact becomes clearer in canvassing as the most effective way of reaching voters. We deliver a mainstream narrative by conveying it personally. People who understand how to make the system work better need to explain it to people who do not, and the latter are waiting for us. They want ideas they can believe in. Upset and holding a destructive view of their country, they are ready for a different story, a hopeful answer to their question, "Who are we, and what are we to do?"

Others then need a message to deliver. If parents' minds are blank, their children are vulnerable to miscues, but as they grow older, their innate absorbency still nudges them to follow what leaders tell them for better or worse. If we want access to their thinking, we figure out what to say that can clear up murky issues. If you the reader think about ideas and are concerned about the condition of your nation and world, you are invited to a task you can do. You can prepare an explanation that makes sense of our national condition and offer it to others.

Imagine a setting: You are alone with one person whose picture of the world portends harm to people and other living things. You have listened carefully to them and have sympathetically summarized what they say so they feel understood. You have tried to see the world as they see it, and have developed an easy flow between you. When they have talked long enough to express their available knowledge, you inquire if you might offer a different view. When they agree, you explain the challenges the nation faces and offer direction for a solution. You engage their imagination, use your own experiences to illustrate ideas, and address what affects them personally. Following are basic ideas you might express in your own words::

"To understand society today, we can easily check out many points on the Internet. Anytime you want, we can pause to research an idea.

"Society's problems today start off not from history or politics but from a human quality that goes out of balance. When you look at a baby's activity, one thing it clearly tries to do is to master itself and its environment. It delights in using its hands and feet, its sounds attract adults who meet its needs, and it reaches for connection to others. We applaud as children gain more skills, manage themselves, get along with their peers, and cooperate with us.

"Amid all those changes, their steady drive is to bring more of their experience under their own control. Much is physical, what they can do with their hands, but it extends soon to relationships. When they want something, can they move others to supply it? Our many wants drive us to try to master our environment. Learning how to do this in our family and then our neighborhood is important because it means 'we count,' we matter to others, and can enlist them to meet our needs, which is a life and death issue. If we cannot do that, we may not survive, so that we instinctively try to gain influence. Whenever we walk into a new group to the end of our lives, our mind will ask, "How much influence do I have here? Do I matter to these people?"

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John Jensen is a clinical psychologist, former Catholic priest, and author of We Need a Movement: Four Problems to Solve to Restore Rational Government (2017) and Civilizing America in a Post-Trump Era (2020).
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