Are we that different?

donkey and elephant having a stare-down

A recent exchange of emails with a good and thoughtful man on the opposite end of the political divide from me concluded with “We’re soooooo far apart….”   It’s been bothering me for days, mostly as I don’t think it is true.  Not for him and me, and not for most Americans.  On most of the big important stuff, the things that matter, I suspect we are closer than we know.

I rarely broach politics in my newsletters.  This will be the exception. There are huge financial incentives and deep political motivations to exaggerate the differences between us.  Those on the right and the left can raise massive amounts of money by emphasizing and fanning the flames of distrust and fear.  Couple this with a media bent on exploiting this schism for financial gain (we’re talking billions of dollars) and it becomes obvious that there is more money to be made from discord than from finding common ground.

My friend and I may not agree on how to best solve the problems we see, but we’re probably more aligned on problem identification than we think.  But, there’s only one way to find out, which is to outline what I think and see how left of center he thinks I am. Here are some of my political beliefs:

  1. Love of country, belief in democracy, freedom, and “the American way.” American FlagI’m all in.  I believe we live in the greatest country in the world.  While it has its flaws and areas in which we could improve, I’d prefer to live here than anywhere else.  This does not mean I believe we do everything perfectly. I have no problem taking a clear look at other countries and finding areas where they’re doing something better than we are.  When we see that, we should figure out how we can get better in that area.  Does wanting to take a clear look at areas where we could improve or pointing out where someone is beating us make me unpatriotic? Gee, I sure hope not. My business experience taught me it was critical to analyze and understand competitive offerings and to view our own with clear-eyed skepticism.  When you stop trying to beat your competitors with better offerings and rely on slogans, “drinking the cool-aid” so to speak, you’re on a downward trajectory.
  2. Religious Freedom: Worshipping as we please and to whom we please is a fundamental right imbedded in our constitution, including the right to not believe. We are free to think and believe what we want and no one is allowed to tell us what we can or can’t think. No other country maps out and articulates such strong support in our Bill of Rights.  John F Kennedy warned that “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”
  3. Law Enforcement: police hatPolice play a critical role in keeping the peace and making us feel safe. For the vast majority of the time, they do a remarkably good job, even when work rules and restrictions make it difficult to impossible. They should be tasked and funded to do the tasks we need and want them to do.  When the system fails to fund systems and processes for keeping nut cases off the street, for instance, it shouldn’t fall only on the police to clean up the mess. Citizens of the US should expect the same treatment from police based on their behavior, and not because of what ethnicity they are.  No one should fear being pulled over 2-3 times a year when driving at night, just because they are black.  If that is happening, it is a problem and should be addressed.
  4. What Government is really all about: Most of what the government is involved in doing and must do well for a full-functioning society is not political in any way, shape, or form.  Earlier this year (2022), Netflix launched a television series with comedian Adam Conover called “The G Word,” showing the best and worst of government.  It covered things like meat inspectors, weather meteorologists, and a lot more.  It’s not a whitewash. It exposes the massive jobs we’ve tasked our government to do in areas most of us never think about and, points out efforts that work well along with those that could use improvement.  We should pick our leaders at least in part on their experience and expertise in making systems like the ones below work better for us as citizens, and not just for their stance on hot-button political issues that rarely make a dent in our daily lives.  If the most expert, knowledge and effective person to work on my vintage motorcycle is a Republican, why would I care? Same for many government duties.  Below are just a few of them:
    1. The Dept. of Agriculture has standards and makes sure all the meat we buy is safe to eat. Same for milk, fruit, veggies, and in fact, all of our food. Which of us has any idea how many inspectors this effort takes and the sort of training, scheduling, reporting, etc. which they need to guard against contamination and disease?
    2. Administer Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Note administrative costs in healthcare generally run about 31-32% of the total spending.  Medicare, on the other hand, has administrative costs of 3-4% of spending, depending on whether you include efforts to track down and eliminate fraud.
    3. Run the post office, and prevent mail fraud. Do it efficiently.
    4. Make sure the medications we are prescribed and purchases contain the ingredients that they are claimed to contain. And that they’ll work as promised.
    5. Create and enforce regulations, laws, and inspections which will assure that workers don’t have to work with toxic chemicals or in environments where they could get hurt or killed.
    6. Support everything the Department of the Interior does to protect national parks and wild areas so everyone can enjoy them. It’s always nice to hike a well-maintained trail.
    7. Copyright and patent laws protect creativity and innovation. It’s complex work and not easy, but this (like many) government agencies is understaffed so badly that patents now take years to process, a real detriment to protecting US innovation.
    8. Maintain and improve local streets, state highways, and interstates, and keep them safe. Our is a country of drivers – not public transport. We need good roads, bridges and tunnels.
    9. Public water systems not only ensure safe drinking water but work to figure out how to make sure we have water into the future, which isn’t easy, especially in Arizona.
    10. The FAA makes sure we have a good traffic control system which means we fly with reasonable expectation of safe arrivals in the US.
    11. We have a department committed to serving the needs of our veterans and they work hard to do the best job they can, treating millions of Americans each year.
    12. The government supports research in a whole set of medical areas which help diagnose and treat every disease you can imagine from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. They also to try to prevent charlatan and medical quacks from deceiving us.
  5. We’re a nation of laws. stack of law books I believe no one is above the law.  Yes, I know the wealthy can hire expensive lawyers and get away with things.  But ultimately, the law tends to catch up with you if the crime is significant.  When imperfect laws are passed or they go out of date with time, there is a well-known and prescribed process for updating, changing and, enacting new ones with the goal of fairness for all. Our democracy forces legislators to work with those they disagree and to fashion a compromise to get things done. When our elected officials fail to do their job and refresh and revise laws as circumstances change, such as what has happened on immigration with no updates since Ronald Reagan was president, people end up taking the law into their own hands or finding workarounds that defeat the purpose of the laws.  In the end, this undermines our entire system.
  6. Allowance for conflicting ideas: Not all ideals are laws. Americans are compassionate and take care of those who are suffering, having the highest rate of charitable giving in the world. Caring for the less fortunate does not contradict an equally strong belief in self-reliance and willingness to let people try and fail.  We emphasize competition and accept there will be losers along with winners. While these ideals and values sometimes run into one another, posing contradictions, it’s OK.  In fact, we often embrace such tensions among our ideals. It may be a key to American greatness and could help explain why Americans have always rejected appeals for ideological consistency.  Ideological rigidity doesn’t allow for contradictions. Ideology requires an embrace of a doctrine, whether it is a far-left doctrine about equality or shared property or a far-right doctrine that talks about absolute free-marketism and social Darwinism. It requires, above all else, a consistent world view that breaks the world down into simplistic categories. Americans don’t go for that and never have.
  7. Campaign Finance Reform: This may not be a big deal to everyone, but I feel we need to restrict the amount of money going into politics. In addition, any amount over a few hundred bucks should not be allowed to be anonymous. If George Soros or the Koch Brothers want to fund a candidate, fine, but they have to own up to it and citizens need to know who is supporting who and for how much. I also think elected officials should wait a while before becoming lobbyists.

One additional area does not fit neatly into the above and that is how one thinks about “the moral decay of society.”  This is an area, I suspect, where we do see things differently. Many people do.

Everyone seems to feel the country’s values are deteriorating. They’re bad and getting worse.  Headlines scream it at us.  It’s in our nature to want things as they were in the “good old days”. This is a sentiment held by just about every generation.  Britain’s postwar population pined for the Victorians as beacons of moral fortitude. The Victorians?  Well, they looked back to before the days before “the Industrial Revolution screwed everything up.” Even the Romans moaned about changing family values, and the writings of Socrates and Hesiod complained about how lazy the youth were and how much better things were when they were kids.

Is this recently cited “fact” really true and if so, to what extent?  Well, it depends on how you define moral values.  How you think about mass shootings, drug use, racial hatred, homosexuality, abortion, legalizing weed, cohabitating, social injustice, incivility, fraud, or white supremacy, will have a big impact on whether you think things are getting better or worse.  Less controversial is what is causing it.  The most often cited examples include mass media and social media, peer pressure, and poor family involvement.  How can one NOT believe everything is going to hell if that is the only message one sees, over and over.  No amount of “facts, statistics or trends” can stand up to the onslaught of a narrative so consistently and constantly sold.

But what are these morals that are decaying? Morals are the prevailing standards of behavior that enable people to live cooperatively and provide guidelines for human interaction.  Morality often requires people to sacrifice their own short-term interests for the long-term benefit of society.  We’re supposed to direct our political behavior around service – “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Moral “good” behavior becomes hard to define as individuals and we often define what is moral and immoral for ourselves in our situations, and these could very well be different for someone else in the same situation. Agreement on standards of behavior is exceptionally difficult and I’m not even sure it’s possible.  But it is worth thinking and talking about at the very least.  The more people discuss these topics the greater insight they will gain.

Authors like Steven Pinker, Rafaela von Bredow, and Johann Grolle have written extensively about the dramatic human improvements since the 18th century in the areas of racism, slavery, imperialism, and genocide.  Pinker points to extensive data showing how things are getting better across a host of measurable areas.  For instance, one’s risk of dying a violent death at the hands of another has gone down precipitously. The number of people who die of malnutrition and disease has shrunk as well.    Pinker addressed critics of his book “Enlightenment Wars: Some Reflections on ‘Enlightenment Now,’ One Year Later,” in this rather long essay, although it’s much shorter than his book, which I also highly recommend.

One fun thought experiment Pinker suggests in his essay is to ask yourself this question: “If you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time who you were going to be – what nationality, what gender, what race, whether you’d be rich or poor, gay or straight, what faith you’d be born into – you wouldn’t likely choose 100 years ago.  You wouldn’t choose the fifties, or the sixties, or the seventies.  You’d choose right now.”  Or wouldn’t you?

So, what is the cause of our persistent feelings of moral decline, despite the lack of concrete evidence of the opposite? Every year the Gallup Poll interviewers ask people two questions: how are things now and, how will they be in the future? Every year, respondents insist we’re on a downward spiral, yet the proportion who say things are bad right now doesn’t increase, but instead, is remarkably stable, even going down in 2020, which some speculate may be due to an increasing faith in our fellow humans amid the pandemic.  What it says is there is a persistent belief that things are going to get worse, alongside evidence from the same people suggesting that, over time, it hasn’t.

Some pundits argue that the idea of a morally debased youth has been turned on its head with the rise of the “woke” generation who stand accused of being, if anything, too righteous. Call them naive, misguided, or sanctimonious, but morally weak? Maybe not so much.  School kids today report bullying and harassment from other kids more frequently than when we were kids.

While evidence of decline is sketchy in areas of murders, crime, health and safety, examples of changes in attitude in other areas are easy to find; same-sex marriage laws in dozens of countries; the first black president of the United States; removing the stigma from mental illness. Often, youth are raising moral concerns – even children sometimes, like the climate strikers who managed to push environmental issues to the top of the agenda at Davos.  It will be up to historians of the future to decide whether these changes in moral values point to decline or improvement. I am optimistic about the future.  My great-grandparents lived in a time when people were allowed to own other people. It was fully moral at the time, supported by laws, tradition and the church. But today, most people are glad that part of our history is closed.  My parents lived in a time when it was against the law for people of different races to marry, facing jail if they did.  I’ve lived most of my life in a time when people of the same sex were not allowed to get married and could lose their jobs and careers and be socially ostracized because of who they loved. Those laws and attitudes have changed and each year that passes, fewer and fewer people will be around saying “I want those policies and attitudes back.”

Hope signMorals evolve with the culture they serve.  History will judge us on the choices we make and how hard we tried to get things right and how much work we put into doing the right things.

Low Grades – High Achievement

No one told me, in my school life grades 1 – 10, I was smart.  It was quite the opposite. No IQ test, just the underlying assumption that, I was “slow.” My mother never gave up on me, but suffered years of my ambivalent disinterest in school, barely passing grades, and non-stop lectures from teachers on my failure to apply myself.  Undiagnosed ADHD may have had something to do with my inability to focus and miserable report cards.

Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences (book cover)

As an adult, I learned about the variety of intelligences we humans possess, mostly through Daniel Goleman’s breakthrough 1995 book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” Howard Gardner also has done extensive research in this area and I like his eight variations of the intelligence framework and I quite like it. Here’s a  YouTube Video summary of those.

I recently found this concept shortened to just four: IQ – Intelligence Quotient, EQ – Emotional Quotient, SQ – Social Quotient, and AQ – Adversity Quotient.  While not mutually exclusive, you have different aptitudes in each area and they’re not static. You can improve, train and cultivate your capabilities in each area. Some of the work is fun and interesting, and sometimes it’s just, well, “work.” Here’s how I think about these categories:

1. IQ (Intelligence Quotient)

This one is about logic, reasoning, problem-solving, test-taking, planning, math, science, and they tried to teach me in school. I did not perform well here as evidenced by my standardized test scores. My two daughters can do well in these areas, but only with some specific adjustments. For instance, Ginger’s school grades improved significantly when given additional time to complete tests.  One of my granddaughters excels in this category, eating up brain challenges and learning new information.  She can’t get enough. I have had two nephews with the same experiences, and at least two of their offspring are in the same boat. In my first executive-level role in a large company, I came home one day and told Maggie how a super-smart, highly-educated individual had been assigned to my team.  I was intimidated by his Ph.D., and the fact that he spoke multiple languages fluently and had authored three books.  “How can I avoid looking like a dunce next to this guy?” I wailed to Maggie.  What I eventually learned was he’d been transferred to my group, his third or fourth such transfer, because his prior managers had been unable to get value from him. While academically brilliant, he had difficulty knowing when to speak up and when to shut up. It was hard for him to know the right things on which to direct his effort, focus, and attention. I learned a high IQ and brilliant academic accomplishment didn’t automatically mean top job performance.

2. EQ (Emotional Quotient)

This one measures how well you understand yourself and other people. Both of my daughters are off the chart in this area.  I always thought I was good at “reading a room,” but Ginger is better.  She goes beyond seeing and knowing what is happening with an individual or a group and intuitively knows the buttons to push to get the results she wants. This makes her a killer negotiator.  She’s a good team leader and good at influencing people to do what she wants. She understands which things require attention and those that do not, seeing between the lines things others miss.I suspect my oldest daughter, Christie, is much the same, although I did not have the same opportunity to watch her develop and don’t have as many examples as with Ginger.  But one comes to mind from a recent trip to Hawaii last year.  The girls were searching for a thermal pool mentioned on Trip Advisor but not published in any guidebooks.  When Christie asked some Hawaiian natives about it, she sensed a feeling from them that made her choose her words very carefully.  In retelling the story, it was clear her emotional intelligence was what led to a successful interaction and subsequent visit to a secret spa, a spot few tourists ever found.

Larsen and Steven Snyder, Ph.D.
Larsen and Steven Snyder, Ph.D.

One aspect of EQ is self-awareness. One of my co-founders at Net Perceptions was Steven Snyder, Ph.D. Steven was early-in at Microsoft. He is a brilliant man and worked closely with Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates in their early days, learning at the highest level techniques for building and managing an engineering-focused company. Steven’s Ph.D. is in psychology, doing an internship and several practicums during his doctoral training.  As the CEO of Net Perceptions, he was a keen observer of the company founders, the management team, and their interactions.  His annual performance appraisals were almost therapy sessions with detailed assessments of what was working and what needed improvement. Before our first performance evaluation meeting, I completed my own assessment, in writing, from my perspective. While keeping it to myself, I used the same form I knew he would use.  I went through every section, noting where I was doing well and where I thought could use improvement.

Snyder’s one-on-one meetings began with a discussion of the top priorities of the company, then moved gradually to how the individual was doing at contributing to our forward progress.  We’d verbally go through the assessment form, the one I knew Steven had already completed, but with the opportunity for dialog and discussion. Finally, Steven would remove his written assessment from a folder and slide it across the desk to be signed.  It was in our first performance appraisal meeting when I impulsively pulled out the assessment I’d done on myself and gave it to him.  He was surprised. He was reading my form as I signed his and left the room.  Later he would tell me, “You are the most self-aware person I’ve ever met in my life.” For the rest of my time at Net Perceptions, Steven had me do my performance assessment – written in the third person of course – and turn it in.

Besides self-awareness, those with high emotional intelligence typically are good at self-regulation and motivating themselves.  Typically they’re empathic, sensing what people around them are thinking and feeling. For instance, I can’t help crying at movies and am moved when hearing stories of others’ experiences.  I find it easy to put myself into another person’s situation, understanding what they feel.

I find developing EQ, an emotional quotient, easy and fun. It starts by being curious about strangers and other people. I love talking with those around me on a plane or in a restaurant, trying to gauge what they’re thinking about right now and what makes them tick, not just comments about the weather or how long the line is taking.  If I learned nothing else from my years of helping the MISS Foundation (a group helping parents who have experienced the death of a child or loved one), it is to listen without judgment.  Maybe this is why I get along well with people on all sides of the political spectrum, as well as those with a diversity of religious beliefs and experiences.

3. SQ (Intelligence Quotient)

Lotus experts, including Maurico Zagorin, Brian Buckland, Jim Meininger, Brett Engel, David Barnett among others.

This one is all about building and surrounding yourself with a network of friends and maintaining them. EQ techniques help a lot with SQ behaviors.  As the years passed, my roles in early-stage technology companies evolved into co-founder and CEO. I would join at the behest of venture capital firms who’d found an investment they liked, but needed a real company, not just a technical founder with a brilliant idea.  My skill was, as one VC said of me, “He chooses the right people to be on the bus and gets it pointed and rolling in the right direction.” My approach to founding and managing companies paid dividends when assembling a group of car experts to rebuild my Lotus Elan in 2013-2014.  The same skill also helped ensure that several multi-day, group motorcycle rides I planned were successful.  But what most manifests SQ in me is my “groups” of close friends, some of whom are only tangentially aware of the others.   For years I was well known as an early-stage investor and start-up CEO, at least in Silicon Valley.  At the same time, an entirely different group of people around the world knew me as “that guy who writes for motorcycle magazines and travels around the globe on his motorcycle.” I managed both because the start-up side of my career frequently left multi-month gaps in assignments.  I filled the gaps with motorcycle adventures documented in stories and photos, filling the story banks of various motorcycle magazine editors.  I wrote “evergreen” stories for editors who found my articles connected with their readers. And of course, motorcycle riding spawned its own vast category of sub-groups, such as the American Flyers Motorcycle Club, a group I still ride with at least twice a year.  Other motorcycle relationships based on competitive events (track days or precision riding competitions) or sub-categories of riding (off-road and trials), while no longer part of my riding life, still brings me in contact with wonderful friends who are deeply into these aspects of the sport.Just as motorcycling spawned sub-groups, entrepreneurship did the same. I’ve been active in the Arizona start-up scene, beginning with a role at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, (the center for one of the greatest alumni networks on the planet, as I was recently reminded on a trip to Dubai, as part of an Arizona Commerce Authority delegation).   My Lotus and NSX car groups, while not as active as they once were, still contain friends with whom I communicate and meet frequently.  My flying and high-end audio friends are now pretty much out of my life and I hear from those people infrequently.

4. AQ (Adversity Quotient)

New to me, this one is all about resiliency, and how quickly you recover after going through a rough patch. This is about how long you dwell on getting a C+ on a test on which you’d wanted an A.  It’s okay to be mad and disappointed, but those with a high AQ quotient spend only a short amount of time concerned about the failure. High AQ people quickly begin planning how they’ll do better next time.  I watched my granddaughter Parker do this with a remote control rock crawling truck.  She created a track behind our house and timed herself, over and over, dropping her times lower and lower, until soon she had the best time, beating everyone else who circled the track.  She never let a bad run get her down, she’d just line the truck back up at the starting gate, and go again.Finding ways to get past mistakes in the small things, builds this skill and helps you bounce back quickly when confronted with bigger challenges.  Nothing illustrates this to me more than watching NBA games.  It is amazing to see how players and teams make bad, bone-headed stupid plays, missing shots play after play, and then, slowly turn it around and within 5 minutes, go from a 15-point deficit to tying the game.  Their AQ must be a finely-tuned high-impact weapon. All of us experience stress, disappointment, and failure. Resiliency is all about how you turn it around to help, rather than hurt or hold you back.  The greatest bounce-back required for our nuclear family was triggered by the loss of Eric (our son and, Christie and Ginger’s brother). It was only later I learned about the high rate of divorce and suicide following the death of a child.  The death of a child, I think, is probably the most tragic and painful event a human being will ever experience. Although hesitant to see this event as anything other than a horrific tragedy with no redeeming value, it was a year or so after it occurred I discovered an unintentional benefit.  My boss at IBM’s Prodigy at the time was a weak, backbone-less VP, a sycophant living in constant fear of upper management finding out his incompetence. He had four strong-willed and highly competent general managers as direct reports. We each ran a major division of the company and were all very good at what we did.  Then a new performance appraisal system was implemented which required managers to force-rank their employees (meaning if you rated two as Exceeding Expectations, you needed to rate the other two as not-meeting expectations). I was the last of the four of us to be reviewed, and it became clear the other three had pushed him into high rankings for themselves.  As he sniveled, coughed, and complained, he informed me he was going to have to rank me as only “meets expectations,” the only time I’d ever not achieved the highest possible ranking. As I watched him squirm, it occurred to me, “He thinks he’s hurting me. He believes this will make me feel bad. My god, he has no idea how ridiculous this is. I’ve already been so deeply hurt in my life, nothing else, for as long as I live, will ever be able to touch me. I’m invulnerable! Nothing anyone can ever do or say to me will make me feel bad.  The worst has already happened and I made it through.  Everything from here on out is a piece of cake. Thanks, Eric.” On a side note, less than a week after this occurred, I found myself alone in an elevator with our company CEO. He saw me, grinned sheepishly and said, “You know that performance appraisal ranking is bullshit, don’t you?”  I just smiled and nodded.  

If I had to say just one thing to my grandkids, nieces, and nephews it is this: Don’t only pay attention to what your school knows how to measure.  As you figure out what you are good at and do well and the things you want to do more of, understand your school is mostly about IQ.  They don’t have ways to help you understand and get good at Emotional, Social and Resiliency. You’ll need to figure those out on your own, or with your parents help, like I did.  But it’s worth doing.  I believe these three non-IQ related items hold the keys to success just as much as IQ does, and very likely, much more.

Know Anyone?

The MISS Foundation 2021 Annual Report (cover)

Do you know someone who’s experienced the loss of a child, grandchild, parent or sibling? Allow me to point you/them to the MISS Foundation, a wonderful group, brilliantly led by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore. This group is like a down comforter for people caught in a cold, dark room of grief. Here is how I met Dr. Jo  — what her friends call her.

Ten years ago I was standing in line at the Starbucks on the corner of 7th Street and Thunderbird. Cacciatore was in line ahead of me.  I couldn’t stop staring at the tattoo lettering across her back. It was a script, a poem, or maybe a song lyric, I couldn’t tell.  But I knew there was a story there. After we’d ordered and she waited for her drink, I got enough courage and approached her, saying, “Wow! That is some interesting artwork on your back.” I watched her size me up, making an assessment and then a decision on how to respond. She looked directly into my eyes and said. “It is a poem from St. John called The Dark Night of the Soul. It was applied with ink mixed with the ashes of my dead daughter.”  I paused, stunned, and as we stared at each other, I teared up and mumbled, “Oh. I know something about what you feel. I lost my son.” Neither of us said anymore. I tried to talk, but couldn’t.  I was so choked up.  She got her coffee and left the shop.

tattoo on Dr. Jo's back

Later she would write of this connection on Facebook. Someone saw it, thought it sounded like me, and pointed me to it.  We ended up corresponding and soon became friends.  Cacciatore went on to complete her doctoral thesis on the heartbreak experienced by parents who’ve lost a child and the best methods for dealing with this level of grief.  She started a non-profit foundation called The MISS Foundation. Last year she published a book on grief which has become a best seller on Amazon.com titled “Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief.”

I’m now on the board of the MISS Foundation.  Here is their 2021 Annual Report, a year in which the organization made extraordinary progress, including coverage by Oprah and Prince Harry’s television series. Others do so much more than I do to help, but I love these people and what they do.  If there are angels on earth, they are here, in this organization.

So SLAP me

Because I subscribe to a variety of websites and have a good-sized group of Facebook friends linked more by shared love of family, motorcycles and cars than political affiliation, I run across my fair share of questionable news reports.  Whether they are conspiracy theories or just scary threats to which one should pay attention, a pattern always seems to be lurking in the mist, something that should alert me to the possibility of “fake news.”  I could just never spot it.

Then this week I read a terrific article by Jeannie Banks Thomas, a folklorist of all things, and a professor at Utah State University.  She nails it perfectly and provides four simple questions to tip you off that you need to get your fact checker fired up.  I just loved it.  Here is a link to her complete article, but I describe the high points below.

She uses the acronym S.L.A.P, as in slap your forehead, something those of us from the Midwest often refer to as the Norwegian salute.  You can do it, right?  You hold an open palm out in front of you, then briskly move it toward your forehead.  When your hand hits your forehead with a slap, you’ve done it correctly.  True natives also mumble “Uff da” under their breath, which adds an air of authenticity.

Professor Thomas’s S.L.A.P. acronym is as follows:

S: Scare or Shock – Does the account attempt to scare or shock?
L: Logistics Test – Does this account rely on or involve complicated, far-fetched logistics?
A: A-List – Does this story involve celebrities or famous people? Does it have Donald Trump, George Soros, Hilary Clinton, Vladimir Putin, or Joe Biden in it?
P: Prejudice Test – Does the account demonize or portray a person or group negatively?

“YES” answers should trigger our BS detectors like a fire alarm. When that happens, do some quick research.  Remember, research is not what someone posts on a message board. Research is vetted information supported with credible evidence.  Professor Thomas reviewed over 50 years of legend, rumor and conspiracy theory and analyzed over 100 legends.  It was during this work that these four patterns emerged. Don’t get me wrong, not everything you see which results in “yeses” to the SLAP questions is guaranteed to be bogus – just know the probability is much higher it will be, and you need to check before forwarding it along like a clueless doofus.

I love this easy tool which can help anyone quickly assess a story’s veracity.  And given the amount of Norwegian blood in my veins, it’s easy for me to remember – I just salute.