John Noonan has worked with the likes of Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush and represents much of the old paradigm that I find frustrating, callous, and unsustainable. I did not expect to appreciate what he had to say. I think he must have guessed he had a tough audience because he tread lightly as he walked onto the stage, aware – I think – that his audience was full of optimists, creatives, and big thinkers, who would not accept his party’s line of fear and anti-intellectualism.

Instead, he spoke of a town hall he attended with Jeb. An older man got up and asked the question, “Do you have any idea how angry, I am?”

Let’s take a moment to talk about anger.

Mandela spoke about the path to peace required“quieting the blood.” Aristotle wrote that law is reason free of passion. But we know that is not what sells newspapers or wins elections. Political operators (like John) know that emotion is an effective way to polarize people. Once you convince people they are on the side of right they stop looking for anything more.

“There is an inverse relationship between knowledge and passion.” ~ John Noonan TEDx

Today our “news” validates a point of view rather than educates. News that “sells” is not unbiased. Stories sell, and what makes stories good is conflict. And as much as we claim to hate this election, the data shows otherwise.

So how do we counteract this? We can only control ourselves (but we can influence others), and here are three of John’s ideas worth sharing.

  1. Study and know both sides of a position. We all know this from high school debate. And yet we somehow managed to grow up and forget how valuable it is to do our due diligence.
  2. Ask more questions than you do answers. I’m convinced this single piece of advice will change your life.
  3. Be intelligent with how you ingest media. My uncle’s mother has an incredibly strong cockney accent, but neither he nor any of his siblings claim they can hear it. That’s what happens with our bias. Even news organizations with strong journalistic ethics have biases, but I swear you can hear it if you listen to what they do (and don’t) say. It’s also important not to get all your news from Facebook, at the very least try to balance your red feed/blue feed intake.

… and John’s response to that angry old man?

“I understand, but do you sir have any idea how grateful I am?”

Ok. My mind was officially blown.  That is almost verbatim what I say in my yoga classes (which is awesome when you consider that is the sort of guy who should have access to nuclear policy). Gratitude shifts the way you approach the world, it opens opportunities and minds. It’s not a panacea but it’s a good place to start.

I do not expect that I agree with John on many things, but I agreed with his talk. {which I’ll add to this post as soon as it’s up}. I’m grateful for his insights. I think if we can still our passions, listen, and work together, I suspect we might continue to find much more common ground.