by Bryan G. Hopkins
"Don't make me pull this car over!" Many of us have said this or have heard it from a parent on the verge of a nervous breakdown while driving with squabbling children.
I remember wanting to stuff my ears with road maps back in the ancient days when I was a young father and we used paper maps. I disliked hearing my children shouting at each other like a murder of crows fighting over roadkill. (Yes, a group of crows is called a murder.) Their opinion was the only thing rising in their consciousness in those moments. There was little care for the comfort or opinions of the siblings sitting next to them. Each felt they were right and that nothing else mattered.
If this sounds familiar to any of you, maybe you, like me, have witnessed such squabbling, and not just in the family boat, (a term of mocking endearment bestowed on our Dodge van by our teens). You might also have noticed such conflict on social media, at home, at work—especially as we talk social issues, religion, politics, etc. Maybe . . . just maybe . . . I've been guilty of this, despite being a "mature" adult. Maybe you have too?
In my work, I especially strive to avoid bias. I'm a scientist. Part of the scientific method is to establish a hypothesis—a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. Frequently in our research, we find that our hypotheses are not correct or are only partially correct. This is more common than not.
My students are frequently disappointed in their research findings when this happens—as if somehow they have failed and all is lost in the pursuit of their degree. I remind them that this is why we're doing research. We are searching for truth, regardless of where it might lead us. I also warn them of the dangers of being biased and forming firm opinions before knowing the truth. This danger is real for all of us—scientists or not.
I'll relate a story of bias regarding a friend—I'll call him Clay Tiller to protect his true identity and because I thought that this reference to a type of soil and tillage is punny (I can just feel the eye rolls as I write this :)).
Clay owned a successful, large farm—built up out of the sagebrush by his ancestors. To say it came through "blood, sweat, and tears" is an understatement.
Clay had a friend who approached him with a new product that he said would "revolutionize" farming. Clay trusted this man, who believed strongly and sincerely in his product. The product seemed appealing because it promised that a small amount could replace much of his expensive fertilizer and pesticide inputs. Although he had some misgivings, he agreed to give it a try on half of one field as a test in place of the traditional products and practices he used on the other half and the rest of the farm.
At harvest, to his surprise, the portion of the field where the new product was used yielded ten sacks higher than the traditional side. (Those of us that did not grow up with smartphones and, instead, had gunny sack races will relate to a “sack” as a burlap bag that holds 100 lbs of potatoes or a leg from each of two people . . . young people may need to do an internet search for “gunny sack races” if you have no idea what I’m saying :)).
He was ecstatic! More gunnies of “taters” with less expense and work. He quickly abandoned his proven practices to use this miraculous tonic on the whole farm. In fact, Clay bought a distributorship of this product and began brewing and selling it to his family, friends, neighbors, and any other farmer who would listen.
The next season, to his dismay, things did not look quite as good. He lost money, especially on the half field that was now in its second year of having this product applied. However, he was so invested in his notions that he sought explanations of justification rather than having an open mind and listening to his wife, his crop consultant, and several others (including myself) urging a course correction or, at least, some caution. Conversations with him and others devolved into arguments. The more he argued, the more he became entrenched in his position. The next year was even worse, with massive nutrient deficiencies, plagues of pests, and poor yielding crops. By year five, he had lost the farm and every other physical and monetary asset.
What happened? I knew (and tried to explain to him early on) that he had not followed the proper procedures of the scientific method in his “experiment”. The reason the crop looked so good the first year was that the plants relied on a surplus of nutrients built up from previous over applications of fertilizer. Also, the pest pressure was low in that half-field trial the first year due to a combination of being surrounded by other fields where pests were controlled, as well the fact that pests come in cycles—with some years better than others. That first year happened to be a low pest pressure year.
Clay was tripped up by poor decisions and then deceived by his bias. He was set so firmly in his opinion because he drew conclusions too quickly and became entrenched in his ego so deeply that he lost his ability to have an open mind. He had put his good name on the line as he touted the benefits of this new breakthrough product that seemed to defy the laws of nature (such as, if you remove nutrients from the soil, you have to replenish them or you risk destroying the soil).
It's easy for us, with the near-perfect vision of hindsight, to see his folly. However, what about us? What is our bias? I certainly have to do battle and keep constantly aware of my own bias. This is true in science, but also in every other area of life, including products and services we purchase, social issues, politics, and so forth. And, the more we entrench ourselves through digital or verbal shouting matches the less likely we are to have an open mind.
In the history of mini-vans, has a screaming child ever successfully argued their position to an equally shrill sibling? It's easy for an adult to see their folly, but why do we act similarly on social media and in other interactions?
Too many of us are loudly advocating our position to the point that we cannot listen to our own good judgment trying to whisper truths to our minds and hearts. Are we so busy childishly screaming our perspective that we cannot hear the wisdom of others—even if we are entirely or partially correct? Are we part of a murder of crows cawing relentlessly? Possibly, we need to set aside our bias, listen a little more, and shout a little less.
Bryan Hopkins and his wife Carrie raised six children and are longtime residents of Provo. He is a Certified Professional Soil Scientist and a Plant and Wildlife Sciences Professor at Brigham Young University . His hobbies include gardening and traveling (without shouting children).
by George Handley
A lot of people feel strongly that a lot is at stake right now in our country. The problem is that there is a lot of disagreement about what, exactly, is at stake and what is to be done about it. Some may be convinced that this is no time for patience and kindness and may doubt, as the old adage has it, that love is really the answer.
Standing up, standing tall, and boldly holding firm in the face of opposition are all deemed required strengths in the great battles of life. But the fact is that most psychologists confirm what Jesus taught a long time ago, that conflict is exacerbated, if not created, by poorly aligned judgment: we are far more likely to overestimate the blinding mote in our enemies and underestimate the blinding beam in ourselves.
I don’t have an argument with standing up and standing tall. My suggestion is merely that we should never forget that great strength and effective action come from real humility and passionate love. Our love for what is good must be greater than our hatred for what is wrong. Our willingness to see our own flaws must be greater than our eagerness to identify those of others. Besides, it seems to me that maybe we grant battles over ideas a kind of primacy that they don’t deserve. I am not aware of any religion that purports that right thinking is more important than right behavior or that ideas matter more than character. That isn’t to say that right thinking or correct ideas are not worthy pursuits, nor does it mean that falsehoods should be accepted. But the moral quest, according to the world’s religions, is to bring our behavior and our very being into harmony with ideals. The greatest battles of life, in other words, are fought in the privacy of the individual human heart.
It is not hard to imagine that our current culture of hot-headed rants and blood vessel-bursting takedowns of the perceived moral idiots in our midst has been influenced by the anonymity and algorithms of social media, the ideological leanings of cable news, and the many poor examples we see in public. But in the end, the responsibility is ours. Behavior on social media is still human behavior. What we say about others who think differently than we do are still our words, formed in our mouths, and stemming from our hearts. I like the advice I heard once: never say anything about any individual or group of people that you wouldn’t have the courage to say in their physical presence.
So let me make a modest proposal: it is indeed time for us to take a stand. But the stand we must take must be against the very tendencies of our own hearts to denigrate, demoralize, and even dehumanize our opponents. What is called for is the old-fashioned advice to love our enemies. Let us not mistake this for weakness or even for acquiescence in the face of wrong-doing and injustice. It is powerful to see the humanity of another enough to open yourself to critique. It is powerful to listen to anger long enough to be instructed by it. It is powerful to do your own thinking instead of borrowing from the ideas, memes, and takedowns provided by the many manufacturers of contempt. It is powerful to deescalate a situation with kindness and with common ground.
One of the effects of learning to love our enemies is that we discover we have far fewer than we thought. This gives us more energy for fighting the battles that really matter. It will also give us powers of persuasion unavailable in any other way and even teach us new ideas and new perspectives we had never considered.
So, yes, love really is the answer.
George Handley currently serves as Chair of the Provo City Council. He writes and teaches about the humanities at BYU.
Have you ever had an experience where you learned something about someone that changed the way you felt towards them or caused you to see them with more understanding or compassion?
As we learn about the experiences and challenges of others, we can begin to see one another from a new perspective. As we open our hearts to the people around us, we might ask ourselves, “What if their story were my story?” Learning about someone’s story can help us remember that we are so much more than the labels that we allow to divide our community.
Starting tomorrow, Provo Kindness is launching a video series entitled Portraits of Provo. These short videos will highlight the experiences of our neighbors, community leaders, and friends. We hope their stories will inspire you to find ways to more deeply understand the experiences of others. Through understanding, we can create a more connected and inclusive Provo.
We are excited to introduce you to some of the amazing individuals who are making a difference in our Provo community. These individuals discuss what belonging to a community means for them here in Provo, what their personal experiences have been, and what they wish people understood about their unique stories.
Camlyn Giddins, the Community Engagement Coordinator at Encircle, described what she has learned about belonging. She explains, “I used to think that belonging had to mean that I found people that were just like me . . . but I’ve now realized that it doesn’t have to be that way. I can belong even with someone that is very different from me but is still choosing to care about me and welcome me to that space.”
Brian Yazzie, the Diversity & Equity Coordinator for Provo City School District, spoke about diversity. He said, “I think that’s what makes a community unique is when you have such diversity that we can all learn from each other. It’s what life is all about is to try to embrace each other and to look at each other as a brother and sister.”
Leonard Bagalwa, the Founder and Executive Director at Utah Valley Refugees, expressed, “I wish we all can say, ‘let’s learn from each other.’” This is what we hope Portraits of Provo will inspire in our community.
Portraits of Provo was created to help us learn from each other, get to know our neighbors, and embrace community. As we listen to and learn from our Provo community members, we hope these experiences will inspire each of us to find ways to “cultivate a community of understanding, empathy, connection, and respect.”
You can view the Portraits of Provo videos here.
by Kristen Cramer
Earlier in my life, I spent nearly a decade working for FranklinCovey, and was therefore regularly exposed to Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As I observe the world in which we live, with all the hatred, violence, and hurt, I can’t help but think of Habit 5:
Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.
I’d like to look at this habit and how it can increase kindness in the world. Before I dive into my thoughts, let’s get a couple of definitions laid out.
Take note that none of the three definitions listed for “understand” contain “agree”. You can perceive the intended meaning of things, and their significance, explanation, or cause of them without agreeing that it is correct. I keep seeing instances in the news and social media where people do not feel understood because the other person does not all of a sudden agree with their position. This leads to hurt, and feelings of being misunderstood or being marginalized. People at times extrapolate someone not agreeing with them on a subject to not understanding, and taking it further by accusing the person of having hatred toward that thing or group of people.
So how do we put a stop to it? What if we can understand something without agreeing? Imagine taking the time to really hear why a person believes and acts the way they do, to hear their story. As you come to know of their struggles, successes, hardships, upbringing, and more, perhaps their world view might just make more sense. Your world view may not change, but you can now understand why their view differs from yours. Sometimes our views do change as we learn more about other people and their experiences. We are capable of intellectual growth, and should embrace truth as we find it.
As you really listen to someone rather than prepare your retort, maybe you will find areas of common ground. Maybe you both have a passion for increasing literacy, or a passion for taking care of the Earth. Maybe you learn new ways of looking at an issue that will help you both come to an even better solution that hasn’t been put forward yet. Maybe you will still passionately disagree and think the other person is crazy, but you at least understand what thought process led them to their opinion or decision.
The second half of Habit 5 is to “then be understood.” It’s a two way street folks! It’s not enough for just one person in the conversation to be understood. Make sure you are ready to give the same courtesy to the other person. We would all be better off if people were willing to take these steps, even if they can be uncomfortable.
Just remember what comes first. You must seek to understand the other person. Don’t just shout from the rooftops about how misunderstood you are and wait for people to come around to your point of view. Be the one to listen first.
I honestly think we would come up with better solutions to the world’s problems if we sincerely listen to others rather than just hide in our own opinion camp and throw hatred at the other side. I also believe that as we strive to understand others, we will find much more in common with those who at first glance seem so different than us.
Remember, understanding someone’s perspective does not mean you have to agree with them. Likewise, just because someone agrees with something doesn’t always mean they understand it. Let’s talk. Let’s gain understanding. We might just find some things we agree on.
Kristen Cramer has lived in Provo for over a decade. She is the wife of an amazing husband, mother to three incredible children, and is passionate about doing good. She also enjoys photography, hiking, gardening, and reading.
By Rebecca Nielsen
A friend posted the above quote a few weeks ago and it struck me. I mean, REALLY struck me. Read it again.
Often times I pat myself on the back for being a nice person. After all, the world needs more nice people, right? And I am doing my part to fulfill the quota of niceness. I strike up small-talk with the local grocery clerk. I always respond to people politely. I try to smile at strangers. You know - I do my best to make sure people see that I’m nice.
But what good does that really do? Of course, it doesn’t hurt a thing to be well mannered. But does my emphasis on tact make a real difference in people’s day? Do they actually allow me to connect with people on a higher level? It kind of hurts to admit it, but here’s the answer: No. In fact, sometimes these routine niceties even prevent real relationships from evolving and I think we don’t even realize it.
I have a neighborhood friend that I’ve known for years. I smile & wave every time we pass each other. I’m nice to her. But one day last year, I actually stopped to talk. I came to find out her husband had left her a year earlier and that she didn’t have enough flour in her pantry to make her child a birthday cake.
I was mortified. “How could I have not noticed?” I thought to myself. “If I’d only known, I’d have been more than happy to support her!” But that’s just it - I didn’t know. I didn’t know because I hadn’t taken the time to find out. I had been nice, but certainly not kind.
Through some actual action, some friends and I were able to provide help and support to our very deserving neighbor. It was an incredible experience. It changed me. The smiles and waves were nice, but the action we took was kind. And now I find myself working to make sure that from now on, my acts of kindness come from who I truly am rather than who I want people to think I am.
Here’s the thing: being nice and being kind don’t have to be separate. They can certainly complement each other and we definitely need both. But have you ever been so nice to someone that you had no idea you weren’t being kind? True kindness connects people. It’s empathy, love, and action. It can be real and tangible. And it’s needed now more than ever before. So take some time to think today: are you nice, or are you kind?
Welcome to Provo Kindness! I initially thought I’d use this post to let you know why and how we started this initiative. If you’d like that background, please visit the “About Us” section of the website. Instead, we want to give you a better idea what Provo Kindness is by discussing: What is kindness?
In my high school junior year English class, we spent a great deal of time studying poetry. My homework every night was to open the dictionary and write down EVERY possible definition of every single word of every poem. At the time, I thought my teacher was crazy. It was one of the most time-consuming things I did that busy year, despite working with a group to divide up the workload. I initially thought to myself, “I know what most of these words mean. Why is she making us do this tedious work of writing definitions of even the most obvious words?” By the end of the poetry unit, I totally understood and was grateful that she had us do the hard work. We would discuss the poems in class with our definitions in hand. As we studied line by line, we looked at all of the meanings of each word and I realized that each poem had several layers of meaning. The poetry took on additional significance and I grew to see new beauty in the words on the page.
What does this have to do with kindness? Just like an Emily Dickinson poem, I see multiple layers of meaning.
What do you think of when you hear the word “kindness”? There are about as many answers to this as there are people, because our individual experiences shape our perception of kindness. Perhaps you think of doing little things for others, big service projects, or random acts. You might remember a time when someone reached out to you and lifted you up. Or maybe your perception of kindness is a negative one due to a bad experience with someone who has acted in a kind way towards you outwardly, but has not made you feel truly welcomed or included.
Whatever your personal definition about kindness, we are here to challenge your definition and expand it! Kindness is so much deeper than the surface actions we perform, as good as those may be. Kindness is about the inner attitudes. It’s about being genuine in seeing others as fellow human beings and treating them as such.
I like to think of Kindness as a big umbrella. Under that umbrella you’ll find:
We hope you’ll join us as we talk about everything under the kindness umbrella. We wish to increase your awareness. We’ll also share kindness challenges, inspiring quotes, and stories of people in our community. And just like my high school poetry study, as we do the hard work to increase our understanding, the beauty around us will increase and our lives will be greatly enriched.
Tell us, what would you add under the kindness umbrella?
This blog will be a place where we can talk together about all of the facets that relate to kindness. This will be a place where we can be vulnerable, recognizing we all have strengths and weaknesses.
What is the purpose in dialogue? It is not to come to an agreement. It is to learn from one another, to seek to understand viewpoints other than your own.
As you comment here, and as you engage anywhere online, please keep in mind these dialogue norms suggestions: