- - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

“The global threat of the Islamic State and the continuing growth of the Middle East crisis and Iran.” That was the topic sent to me.

As always, I deeply appreciate the opportunity American CurrentSee extends to people who may or may not agree with its own editorial policy. This magazine shows respect for diverse opinions in a way so many do not — a welcome mark of intellectual as well as political maturity. Ideas count more than agendas here. So, when asked to comment on so important and complex a topic, the task is taken very seriously indeed.

The constant barrage of information and opinion the topic generates make it almost impossible to sift through what comes at us via the internet, newspapers, television and the many hopeful presidential candidates vying for our attention. Almost every week a new book is heralded — and hyped — with solutions: formulas for untying a Gordian knot of enormous proportions. Every nerve is jangled, every fear exposed and exploited as we contemplate the many awful possibilities that await.

It is clear that any policy or policies dealing with the topic won’t be coming from me. Like all of us, I look to those who want to lead, who say they are ready and eager to do it.

For every pundit, presidential hopeful, pontificator and purported expert, I now apply a formula to their words before spending my increasingly valuable time (as may be left in my senior years) in giving them my attention. The formula is simple. I call it The Four H’s: Hubris, humility, humanity and history. As soon as I realize that the first of these, hubris, is present, and any of the rest is lacking, I completely tune out. The speaker may not always have an opportunity in the sound-bite world of most media to cover all four, but I’m willing to dig further and find out what he or she thinks.

Hubris. It takes enormous faith in oneself and one’s experience and knowledge to present “solutions,” but confidence is not the same as arrogance. Bluster, shouting, and disdain for other opinions are not adequate cover for ignorance. Every day we are lectured, scolded and bullied into thinking someone knows what he or she is talking about when deep down inside all they really have is nerve and the need for publicity that will result in another campaign contribution, book contract or television appearance. Fortunately, in the United States everyone has the right to his or her opinion — but all of us have the right to examine whether that opinion comes from someone truly knowledgeable or just arrogant enough to think it’s worthy of consideration just because they have a platform. Detecting hubris is not only a right, it’s a responsibility.

Humility. No, not the kind given lip-service in houses of worship and then flaunted as a term to suggest one is a true believer. Real humility. The opposite of hubris. Recognizing one’s own limitations or ignorance is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. No one can know everything, but everyone is capable of learning and of recognizing mistakes and learning from them. Of course, no one seeking high office or recognition as an expert can afford to spend all of his or her time acknowledging or apologizing for past ignorance or error, but the inability or unwillingness to do so when challenged sends a big STOP signal in my brain. I trust the person who learns from experience sufficiently to change his or her mind and say why. Spare me the “leader” who stops learning.

Humanity. It’s so much more than a four-syllable word. It’s even bigger than American, which also has four syllables. I listen for something bigger than a worldview that discounts the universal needs and conditions affecting everyone alive on the planet we seem bent on destroying. I listen for a recognition that there are vital, true common threads among humans as well as all the stuff our various cultures, religions, nationalities and selfish interests thrown our way every day. Who among the would-be problem solvers operates on the realization that we’re part of something so big that our legacy could be either the ruin or salvation of our survivors?

History. Finally, and this is a definite deal-breaker for me, does the expert/pundit/would-be candidate know the history of the region and understand how and when smaller disputes became larger ones? How countries involved came into existence, have grown, shrunk, preyed on others, been preyed upon, and threaten each other today? In the day of Google, basic facts of history are very easy to come by, and all of the players need and have assistants and scholars available to provide information and tutorials on every aspect of history as needed. What worries me, however, is that some appear not to know the most recent history we’ve lived through. Ignorance of recent history, which includes the rise first of al Qaeda and now of the Islamic State, and the dangerous assumptions, hubris, decisions and deceptions that led to our invasion of Iraq, cannot be overlooked.

I imagine you have your own set of standards to apply, but based on my Four H formula, I believe I can ask perhaps 95% of the “experts” I’m being asked to listen to, to please stop talking and leave the floor to those who know what they’re talking about and do it with humility, evidence of humanity, a knowledge of our own history and a lack of hubris.

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