A Beg for Humility – The Phrase That Could Save America

By May 20th, 2019

Blog No 99
May 21, 2019 

A Beg for Humility


 The Phrase That Could Save America 

By Mack W. Borgen
Author, National Award-Winning Dead Serious and Lighthearted – The Memorable Words of Modern America  (3 Volumres); The Relevance of Reason – The Hard Facts and Real Data about the State of Current America (2 Volumes)

Certain things are clear and crisp. They are beyond dispute, disagreement, or debate.

Alaska is big. Rhode Island is small. Rivers are wet. We’re out of milk. Baby needs new shoes. This author can’t dunk. And so it goes. On and on.

But many things are not. Many things such as the role of government and most social and political issues are not clear. They not easily resolved. Instead, they engender strong disagreements which too often degenerate into heated debates. And for that reason, it is time that we — as a people, a community, and a nation — re-learn how to work our way through our disagreements and re-learn how to conduct productive debates.

Hopefully, this brief article may help. Hopefully, the use of one small phrase might help to save our country.

Recently, I wrote about America’s steady drift from a place of frustration to a place of anger. And that drift must likewise be reversed and re-directed. The use of this one small phrase might help get our country going in the right direction.

The bad news is that something must be done. The good news is that something can be done. However, there must be a common and committed willingness for us to re-tool the style and manner of our social and political discussions. We can no longer communicate through stares and glares. We can no longer wait and listen for code words. We can no longer sit quietly with our arms folded in thunderous silence.

Instead, slowly, we must change the nature and tone of our national conversations. I am well-aware, as Butch Cassidy once said, that “there are no rules in a knife fight.” Fortunately we are not (quite) there yet, but it is high time for the pendulum to swing back.

Blind intransigence and the relentless display of personal or political party allegiances can no longer be viewed either as acceptable or honorable. They can no longer be bragged about as some kind of silly proof of one’s resolve or ideological commitment.

Please know that I enter upon this subject with trepidation. Arguably, the rules of debate are themselves matters of tactics, strategy and even philosophy — all far beyond my simple mind to understand. Thus, I enter upon this subject gently and with caution. I rely only upon my perception that most Americans are well-aware that the current style of our public discourse and the tone of our civic discussions are non-productive. Oftentimes, they are even counter-productive.

Before proceeding, it should be noted that there are some instances where adamancy is necessary; where crispness of style is expected and necessary; and where voices may need to be raised. For example, in the context of emergencies or in the giving of military orders, there is no time for debate or discussion. Thus, this article is limited to our social and political conversations — those conversations held in Washington, at the statehouse, at our town meetings, over our dinner tables, and in our backyards.

Certainly, the place to begin is to remember that sometimes each of us may be wrong – about almost anything. I make 13 errors a day — and that is just out of habit.

It is a stubborn reality that almost nothing is simple. Sometimes, even what we may believe as the simplest of rules aren’t true in any particular circumstance. I mean, let’s face it.

Sometimes the early bird does not catch the worm.

Sometimes a penny saved is not a penny earned.

Sometimes disputes, even honest disputes, cannot be amicably resolved

without litigation and lawyers.

Sometimes we do not have the luxury of standing still until we really see.

Sometimes peace cannot be preserved and wars are necessary.

And regardless of one’s religious beliefs, it is hard to imagine that God is really a Democrat or a Republican.

We also must remember that every answer and every idea abuts other powerful laws of the universe such as the Law of Unintended Consequences and, of course, Murphy’s Law.

But there is more. Wholly apart from maters of complexity, unintended consequences, and Murphy’s Law, in any given conversation and at any given moment, we could be suffering from errors of facts, interpretation, or misunderstanding. We may be suffering from an issue of poor timing or from too brief or too lengthy a presentation. And lastly, we are always and definitionally speaking with people who through no fault of their own have had different experiences — people who are burdened by their own biases and demons; who may be members of a different generation; and who were raised in different places and environments. We may all live in America, but there are limits to our “shared history.”

Talking can thus be difficult. Influencing others can be challenging. And the risk of being wrong is always with us. For these reasons alone, real leaders are hard to find. But chanting followers are everywhere.

And for all of these reasons, disagreements should rarely necessitate anger.  Disagreements should not become the building blocks of hate or the basis for the endless Hatfield-McCoy grudge feuds which seem to be everywhere.

With great fear of sounding preachy, I humbly suggest that now — almost as a matter of our national preservation — we remember that we could be wrong about nearly any position we take, any idea we float, any agenda we push, or any compromise we reject.

To close-mindedly believe otherwise is costly from another perspective as well. For even if tact and patient listening run counter to our instincts or our emotions about a given subject, a conversational environment of displayed respect must be maintained. This is the only means of reasonable discussion, persuasion, influence, and social and political progress.

Be assured that this article is self-directed as well. For I, probably like you, have passionately held opinions. I, like you, have strong likings and dislikings of certain individuals, agendas, and policies — from the offensive words and behavior of some politicians to the miserable state of our health care system; from wealth inequality to the monetizing of our political system. My list, probably like yours, is endless.

Nevertheless, we cannot exercise the arrogance of “knowing” that we are right? There is oftentimes a possibility that we may be wrong? The truth may actually be somewhere in that sticky-mucky middle?

So, apart from the phrase that can save America which is discussed below, the following seven quick remembrances could be useful in affecting our national conversation.

         1 . Style is substance;

         2 . Discussion is valuable;

         3 . No one has all the answers;

         4 . Things are rarely simple;

         5 . Respect is a tool which can lead to reciprocation;

         6 . Open minds always hear more and hear better; and

         7 . We are all in this together.

And while proposing ideas for the conducting of our national discussions is tricky and plagued by risks of both error and unintended condescension, it is hardly a new subject.

In variant forms, this subject has been recurrent in American history — from Dale Carnegie’s 1936 How to Win Friends and Influence People to the shallow but bestselling lightness of Anthony Harris’ 1967 I’m O.K. You’re O.K and its minions of progenies of similarly titled books — admittedly my favorite being I’m O.K. You’re Full of Shit.

But, seriously, it is time for Americans to take stock once again. It is time for us to reel it in. Hiring damage control firms to protect for our companies is not enough. Scrolling for comforting memes and like-minded tweets will not ease our thoughts. Clenching our fists and biting our lips will not contain our anger. And retaining life coaches to guide our lost souls is not going to do the trick.

So how about some shared and common humility? And thus, this article is offered as a raw beg for humility. We Americans need to swallow some of our self-serving and self-deceiving sense of exceptionalism and start our discussions with the simple phrase, “I could be wrong, but.” More precisely stated, I could be wrong, but we must start our discussions with the simple phrase, ‘I could be wrong, but.”

I could be wrong, but this short prefatory phrase might help our discourse. At first, it will be burden. Eventually, however, it should become as common as “good morning,” “what’s happening,” “another round,” and “till later.” 

 I could be wrong, but I believe that by any measure it is better than “up yours,” “eat (whatever).” “f*** (you or off),” “shut up,””whatever,” and the indignant “not in this lifetime” closer.It will take a lot more than a phrase to save America, but this may be one place to start.

And so, how does one end a linguistic rant such as this?

How about …

I could be wrong, but … 

I could be right.

Thank you

– –

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Dead Serious and Lighthearted – The Memorable Words of Modern America (3 Volumes)


The Relevance of Reason – The Hard Facts and Real Data about the State of Current America (2 Volumes) (Business and Politics or Society and Culture) – Fascinating Facts

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