I begin with a story about people getting lost in the snow. As always, I’ll eventually get to my point.
We have entered an era where a frightfully large number of people are basically jumping off cliffs because some little device is telling them it’s the right thing to do.
Over Christmas weekend, as you probably recall, we had a lot of snow in the mountains. We’re talking a record amount in many parts of the Sierra Nevada, leading to the closure of every major thoroughfare. It was on every TV and radio station, all over the internet and, as the old saying goes, it was in all the papers.
Did that stop people from trying to get to Reno or Tahoe? Of course not.
Thousands — yes, thousands — of people tried to succeed where the Donner Party failed. Turning to their trusty GPS and Google Maps-type sources, they learned of “alternative routes” that, as far as they wanted to know, were somehow magically open.
So away they went.
With the major routes closed, hundreds of drivers tried Quincy-La Porte Road as an alternate route. Some maps showed it as open; but, as any local will tell you, that road is closed with a gate every winter. The end result was hundreds of cars stuck in the snow. Then, two snowplows sent into the area to help also got stuck. They, too, had to be pulled out. Use your imagination in guessing how long it took to clean up that mess.
There were hundreds of similar examples of unmitigated stupidity. Here’s one more:
From Sunday to Monday, Yuba-Sutter CHP’s graveyard crew ended up working a 20-hour shift rescuing a family trapped in a Suburban who had passed three road closure signs and were stuck in the snow. GPS told them the route was open; again, they passed three — THREE — illuminated signs telling them it was closed.
They chose to believe GPS. After all, unlike the road signs, GPS was telling them what they wanted to believe, with none of those pesky alternative facts.
This is all exasperating, frustrating and scary on so many levels. It’s not just people putting their own lives and families at risk — their foolishness and stubbornness mean other people need to come rescue them. And that puts their lives at risk as well.
All because too many people have become blind to real-world warning signs, preferring to follow the advice of some source they desperately wanted to believe in the first place. And if they read it on the screen of a laptop or iPhone, it apparently lends enough credibility for any gullible, well-meaning person to believe it. That’s what is truly scary here.
All of which finally leads to my point.
As a country and as a civilization, we are mindlessly adrift in some seriously deep snowbanks of partisan-fueled misinformation. I think it’s the biggest problem we face as a society. Blizzards be damned — let’s plow ahead and get where we want to be and if others get hurt by our foolishness, well, that’s on them. We’re the ones who are right and deserve to be in power … right? So pay no attention to the warning signs, or the man daring to offer differing opinions behind the curtain.
I’m here today to suggest that it might be time to try a new strategy. It’s actually not very new at all; it’s an old one I like to call “common ground.”
Get used to those words. They’ve already become my favorite for 2022.
When was the last time you heard any political body — be it opposing parties, or city councilors, or county supervisors, or state and national elected officials — say “We need to work together to find some common ground here?” I’m racking my brain going through local politics in the year 2021 and I can’t think of a single time where “common ground” had much of anything to do with action taken on a major issue.
Instead, it’s the same old “your side” and “my side,” and all too often, we’re seeing people turn to lawsuits, recalls or referendums in attempts to overturn legally determined outcomes they didn’t like.
Always in the name of “protecting our democracy,” of course. Ironic, isn’t it?
Look. Those things are going to happen and sometimes, they should happen. But locally, between various city councils over the past three years and boards of education and county supervisors and even our governor’s office, this has gotten ridiculous. It’s almost become the rule rather than the exception. Post-vote legal shenanigans have become the political version of football coaches tossing the replay flag in hopes a decision gets overturned — only there’s no limit to how many times they can try. Instead, the road goes on forever, and the political party never ends.
But back to common ground.
Here’s the part that gets me: “Common ground,” and common sense, are where most of us want to live, if only more of our so-called leaders weren’t so determined to prevent it from happening. We’re never going to find it without making it a starting point. A common goal, even.
That means getting out of the social media echo chambers and taking some chances. And when people on your side call people on the other side Nazis and Hitler and the like, you need to call them out on it. And if there’s misinformation (including the bending of facts to fit a narrative) being spread, your side needs to point it out before the other side does. And condemn it. Every single time.
Instead, the people who actually do show interest in reaching across the aisle are inevitably ridiculed and even shunned — often by the same folks who have created their own social media fiefdoms with mean-spirited tweets and oh-so-clever memes. These are the people who don’t deserve our attention; figuratively speaking, if anyone deserves to be stuck in their own personal snowdrifts, it’s them. Good riddance, and spare the snowplows.
That’s where I think it needs to start. We need more people to stop believing everything they read in their little group-think chambers, re-learn the forgotten art of critical thinking, put partisan politics aside and concentrate on issues and solutions, with common ground as a foundation-worthy building block — and actual conversations leading the way, instead of the same old sick political dogma that’s choked our country the past 40 years. And let’s remember that long-forgotten phrase, “There is no limit to the amount of good people can do if no one cares who gets the credit.”
Sound simplistic? Maybe even slightly naive? You bet it is. It’s not a high-tech solution by any means.
But do you really need a reminder of where the alternative has left us?
Right here. Stuck in the cold, absolutely killing ourselves with our own stubbornness and stupidity.
Mike Wolcott is editor of the Enterprise-Record. He can be reached at email@example.com.