Monday, October 30, 2017

Lessons from Jeffrey Weiss

Jeffrey Weiss, longtime staff writer at The Dallas Morning News, died October 25, 2017 from glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer. He wrote about his journey to the egress, as he put it, with realism and good spirit. But I don't want to speak of his illness. It's his writing that inspired me. I said upon his death that Jeffrey Weiss was the best thing that ever happened to Facebook. What I meant is that where most (reasonable) people steered away from the closed-minded, interminable arguments with (crazy) people, he saw an opportunity to engage everyone, taking their opinions and beliefs seriously and gently probing those beliefs in hopes of achieving some level of mutual understanding. He promoted what he called civil dialog, or "civilogue". He influenced no less than the New York Times to change their practices regarding online comments. I admired his approach, and although I sometimes sought to emulate Weiss, I all too often resorted to snark, sarcasm, and satire. Reading Weiss made me uncomfortable doing so.

After the jump, two maxims from Jeffrey Weiss.

The first maxim is classic Jeffrey Weiss: "Every religion is crazy, by definition, to a nonbeliever."
That doesn’t mean a Methodist might not admire the piety of a Mormon or that a Muslim might not appreciate the morality of a Catholic. But those aspects of religion that depend on faith would be considered crazy in nearly any other context — except for those who believe them. For me, this insight helped me show respect to all faiths. It’s not that they’re all equal or that some aren’t more at odds with reality than others. But all of them are irrational at their core to everybody else.
Source: Jeffrey Weiss.
The maxim made Weiss a perfect choice to write about religion with an objective, even-handed approach. I see the second maxim as being a generalization of his first. It is, "All human endeavors are imperfect." Weiss was quick to assert that second maxim online. Someone would point out how such and such an effort falls short, how this or that leader has feet of clay, how some such religion or movement is fatally flawed. Weiss would remain positive, celebrating the small victories, believing, as he once tweeted, that the "US is better now than it was. Imperfect, horribly. But better with justification to push harder."

It's also what led him into thorny subjects, including one article from which that second lesson is drawn. He didn't write the article. He only shared it on Facebook. As Weiss put it in sharing the article with his own Facebook followers, "All human endeavors are imperfect. So yep, there are anti-Semitic LGBTQ activists." It's exactly the kind of topic that drew Weiss to write about, and what made his writing always fresh and challenging.

I will miss Weiss's ability to find not just the simple good versus evil stories, but strange intersections of good versus good, bad versus bad, and often human behavior that can't be easily characterized as either. I will also miss his ability to respect different opinions and practice civil dialog at all times. Here's to civilogue. Here's to Jeffrey Weiss.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

I miss Jeffrey Weiss's voice in DMN already.
Salon recommended 25 conservatives to follow on Twitter. One was @JayCaruso of DMN. I'm from Dallas, so I thought, great. It turns out, on Twitter, @JayCaruso doesn't specialize in facts and logic. His tweets start and end with assertions and insults. Maybe on editorial team, @JayCaruso's partisan viewpoint is helpful to craft a balanced editorial. On Twitter, not so much. Unfollow.