Millitary Wire: No safe spaces — When differences lead to divide instead of discussion

Mike Schindler

“You need to look at this from the other point of view.” That was my dad’s advice after I finished what I thought to be a stellar research paper in support of capital punishment.

I was all for capital punishment. Do the crime, do the time. Do a bad enough crime, pay the ultimate price. I bought into every cliché and my 17-year-old mind was convinced I was right. Until my dad challenged me to look at the issue through another lens.

Long story short, he had me re-write the paper arguing against capital punishment – which was incredibly revealing. How could there be jury bias in judgment? How could there be faulty defense strategies or corrupt prosecutors? None of that even crossed my mind. I found case after case of faulty judgments. No. It wasn’t rampant, but it was certainly enough to cause me to pause.

I submitted the paper against capital punishment and that earned me a trip to DC with a hundred other up and coming “politically ambitious” youths to see the inner workings of the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government.

That was a defining moment 30-plus years ago.

My dad taught me to pause and move beyond what the psychologists call “perception bias,” the tendency to form simplistic stereotypes and assumptions about certain groups of people and then gather the information to support that bias. “If they are in jail, they must be wrong” fell right in line with that simplistic thinking.

Today, few schools and universities teach without a bias, aiding the perception bias. Curricula in many learning institutions present only one side of important historical or social issues, which falls in the category of indoctrination and not education. Fewer than 15 states even have civics as part of the K-12 curricula – which is tremendously short-sighted, and we are seeing the impact play out.

The result? No Safe Spaces, or objective spaces, to learn about a subject or how to discuss differences without the other point of view being villainized, leading to a domestic divide.

Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice views domestic division as our greatest national security vulnerability. In her view, “political polarization is a ‘force multiplier’ that worsens other threats and cripples our ability to combat them. Stoked by leaders who profit from divisive politics, our polarization prevents us from effectively confronting vital challenges.”

In my hometown of Edmonds, a city north of Seattle, and home to 42,000 people, we saw the domestic divide raise its ugly head. The simple process to select a police chief was turned into a racial issue because the criteria and the methodology was not forthcoming. The Acting Chief, whom many knew for his dedication, experience and relations in the community where he had served for more than two decades, was suddenly not the mayor’s choice in favor of a candidate with close to two decades’ less experience. The mayor’s office would not comment as to why and suspicion was then fueled when a city council representative suggested their selection was based more on race than qualifications.

What could have been prevented through an objective process, discussion and communication was stone-walled by elected city officials. And the community weighed in – many through their own perception biases: Damn the facts – only my opinion matters. Facts were dismissed as opinion or “potential misinformation.”

So how do we wrestle back civility in conversation when many only want to hear what we have to say if it’s what they want to hear and believe to be true?

  1. Seek to understand first. We must get outside of our echo-chambers and engage others – not with the intent of converting them to our way of thinking but to understanding why they think the way they do. This is where we reveal “perception bias” and it is often shaped by our experiences and the information we gather. It is not necessarily wrong – it just isn’t “the rest of the story.”
  2. Incorporate the 101% Principle. This requires one to first listen, then identify where there is agreement. Best-selling author John Maxwell coined the 101% principle. Find the 1% you agree on and give that 100% of your effort. When you do, you begin to identify areas of agreement and you can build from there.
  3. Stop jumping to conclusions. I had a Chief in the Navy who, 30 years ago, said that the “only exercise most people get is jumping to conclusions.” Still true today. We must slow down and incorporate the OODA Loop: It means to observe–orient–decide–act and was developed by military strategist and U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd. It is essentially a learning system or method that takes the basic ways we think, decide, and operate in the world — ways that often get confused and jumbled in the face of conflict and confusion — and codifies and organizes them into a strategic, effective system that can allow you to thrive in the heat of battle or decision-making.

If we are to bridge the domestic divide, then we must start having conversations that remove the emotional and perception bias and focus on the issues – in an objective way.

Finally, a documentary that I believe to be a must for the classroom and the living room is No Safe Spaces. As the site shares, “comedian and podcast king Adam Carolla and radio talk show host Dennis Prager travel the country, talking to experts and advocates on the left and right, tour college campuses, and examine their own upbringings to try to understand what is happening in America today and what free speech in this country should look (and sound) like.”

Bottom line: Differences should always lead to discussion – not a divide.

— By Mike Schindler

Edmonds resident Mike Schindler is the founder and chief executive officer of Operation Military Family Cares –– a 501(c)(3) veteran service organization and technology provider that combats veteran homelessness, while working to strengthen relationships and equip communities and families for success.



    1. Thank you Kashf. I truly believe we are better when we can actually have discussions, explore different points of view, admit when we are wrong, and are focused on a common mission and purpose. We have to move away from this idea that if we don’t agree we are enemies.

  1. This is nothing new…

    “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” – Abraham Lincoln

    from his Lyceum Speech:

  2. You are a good writer Mike and IMO this is your best yet. Group think and extreme ideological views in just about any category of human endeavor. tends to lead to problems for all in the society to the point of doom in some cases. The minute you let any organization of other people tell you how to think about anything, you are really no longer free in the spiritual sense, no matter where you live in the physical world. I’ve come to view freedom as more a state of mind than a place or thing that can be somehow grasped or quantified. Just knowing right from wrong is the challenge and even that isn’t always back and white, or perhaps more appropriate to the times, red and blue. Thanks and Happy Holidays, Clint

  3. I feel like there isn’t a 1% middle ground on purpose. There’s a type of iconoclasm going on that is specifically designed to remove traditional touching stones. The echo-chambers are between those who what to push or remove all boundaries verse those who are struggling to keep up with the moving goalposts and the changing rules. Contemporary politics is designed to fatigue us. The product is negativity and nihilism is the most practical survival mechanism.

    1. Very astute observation Matt. Mike Schindler’s piece included an aptly relevant quote from Susan Rice:

      “In her view, “political polarization is a ‘force multiplier’ that worsens other threats and cripples our ability to combat them. Stoked by leaders who profit from divisive politics, our polarization prevents us from effectively confronting vital challenges.”

      Thinking outside our political worldviews is one of the hardest things many of us will ever do. There are many reasons for this, but part of it is that our sense of justice, of right and wrong, and our intrinsic values are often determined by our political perceptions. There is simply not enough time in our lives to make even a small portion of our most deeply held determinations ourselves, and we rely heavily on organizations and fundamental structures of society to guide us.

      More and more of aspects of our society have greater polarized us. People are driven to seek news that confirms their confirmation biases, because it is taxing and stressful to not only have to question our own views, but to question the methods on which we developed them. There is an efficiency of disinformation that keeps people from collaborating across political divides to make cooperative decisions, so that the structures of power can consolidate the primary decision making for themselves.

      Honestly, there is a WHOLE lot more than 1% that we all agree on. I am heartened by the largely respectful, informative, and thought provoking statements from members of this community. We are in a unique mixture of political divides along with respectful dialogues where we have a real chance at reaching common ground.

      Merry Christmas and Happy holidays to all of Edmonds no matter what part of the political spectrum you fall on.

      1. Thanks Evan. I like Mike’s work too. It is definitely a catalyst for conversation. The political polarization is strange to me, and I feel like it’s **not** a divisive objective so much as mutually assured destructive objective. Politics is “Bleeding Edge” now, meaning it’s expensive morally and ideologically to be the first to adopt. Seattle is suffering from self-inflicted wounds for example. They made homelessness worse by trying to make it less. Nobody wants homelessness to get worse, or drug usage to be worse, but it is. How is something happening that nobody wants to be happening? Politics today is an Ideological Blitzkrieg in that it changes the moment its adopted so that no opportunity for retrospective evaluation can happen. This is a bloodless revolution. Not many of those end well.

  4. Mike – thank you for this column andrecommending No Safe Spaces. It is an incredibly eye-opening film. Your thoughts are very well aritculated.

  5. No Safe Spaces is a must-watch regardless of what ideology one subscribes to. It is thought-provoking and insightful.

  6. While I respect Mr. Schindler’s opinion and I thank him and his family for their service, this was very much an example of “Argue in one direction, then turn about and use that direction to assume the opposite”. Make an argument about how you “sympathize and understand what implicit bias is and learned to acknowledge racism in the justice system”, then argue “BUT in the selection of a chief law enforcement officer, how he/she/they can address racism shouldn’t be a consideration”. Argue military philosophies on engagement, then lean toward right wing comedians and altright pundits with a nasty history of comments towards people of color (African Americans especially) as a source. To claim the selection of a police chief, in Edmonds, in 2020 was “turned in to a racial issue” is specious to anyone paying attention to the largest protest movement in American history. A movement steeped in race, that began with and is primarily motivated by the actions of law enforcement harming and killing an unarmed Black man. To people of color, especially Black, Latino and Native populations, that claim is insulting. Calling the article “No safe spaces” adds icing to the insult cake. Because if you are Black/Latino/Native in America, there are no safe spaces. POC have been humiliated, beaten and even killed for merely existing in the presence of white law enforcement. Perhaps Mr. Schindler should reach out to Black, Latino and Native residents of Edmonds and the PNW and ask them why the “racial issue” is a vital concern in consideration of a police chief. Perhaps you should employ his “seek to understand” principle towards people of color demanding the right to exist. “Regardless of what ideology you subscribe to”

    1. Ashley – thank you for respecting my opinion. And I truly respect your opinion, though I don’t agree with it. I’m always open to coffee as I find face to face tends to remove misunderstandings. I want to first say I think you gave me too much credit with your statement “sympathize and understand what implicit bias is and learned to acknowledge racism in the justice system.” – I was 17 – I didn’t piece the racism issue to later. What I saw was a disparity in how incomes could influence outcomes. How come the rich kid got off easy but the poor kid didn’t.

      I enjoy the comments because I learn from them. What I intended as a piece to provide a way-forward was hijacked a bit. I had a professor tell me that “facts don’t matter, only the narrative – be great at spinning the narrative.” Unfortunately, I’m more of a “just the facts” type of guy – and process. Your statement “in the selection of a chief law enforcement officer, how he/she/they can address racism shouldn’t be a consideration”. That is a “jump to conclusion” moment as the Chief would say. I believe it is a consideration – but not at the cost of experience, familiarity, qualifications. I am a true “best-fit, best-qualified” advocate.

      I encourage you to go back and read the intent of the title. One could certainly make an argument that there are No Safe Spaces for objective dialogue regardless of one’s skin color. The number of times I’ve been told my voice doesn’t matter because I wouldn’t understand – um – because I am a white, middle class male – has been interesting.

  7. :Completion of comment above:

    Edmonds has a problem with racism. The city leadership knows this. Residents of color know this. Children in Edmonds school district know this. A majority of adults know this. Victims and the family of victims of very public and widely publicized instances of hate crimes in Edmonds over the last decade. And residents of neighboring cities know this. The town’s reputation among its neighbors is that of an old, wealthy, white city that is slowly changing but with a strong old guard that isn’t welcoming of darker skin.

    It’s unfortunate that residents like Mr. Schindler and those agreeing are either willfully blind to this, or sadly aware of it but willing to maintain that image as a way to stifle further diversity among incoming and younger residents.

    1. “Everybody knows it”. Enlighten me. Please. Here are the things I know:

      Mike works to serve veterans. The military is disproportionately populated by minorities. I suppose this makes him a racist. Mike stated facts. That’s all.

      Saying “Everybody Knows It” is a logical fallacy that may embroil your fans, but you have little to no proof. Agreed, one incident of racism, ageism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination is always one too many, but instead of saying everybody knows it and by association with no connection labeling either Mr. Schindler or residents of Edmonds as the old guard racists is simply and purely wrong.

      Finally, Council & the Mayor erred. Horribly. They outright lied to us. That is the simple plain truth. They had the information and hid it; assuming all of this would die down. They were wrong. Instead they nominated an individual that met their agenda without concern or comparison to other more qualified candidates. They presented no alternatives other than their agenda. I suppose that makes them honest, but in my opinion, they failed all of us, particularly Mr. Pruitt.

    2. Completion of comment to Ashley: As long as there are humans, we’ll have racism. That isn’t meant to diminish one’s unique experience or excuse the actions. Those actions are unbecoming and not to be tolerated. Some people are simply just ignorant. Want to solve racism? Get rid of humans.

      I do take issue with your statement, “Because if you are Black/Latino/Native in America, there are no safe spaces.” Not true. We all tend to create our “safe spaces” – thus the echo chambers.

      I am fortunate to have ties into the BIPOC veteran community – but that in and of itself can be it’s own echo chamber – we all have pretty thick skin and there is no holding back – and instead of running to our corners with hurt feelings, we talk through it and then toast and tip one back. One team, one fight.

      I’ll leave you with this. I have A LOT to learn still. I am by no measure an expert on race relations. I turn to my business partners in one of my companies (who happen to be black, Alaskan native, and gay) and ask a lot of questions – I did ask about this Chief issue – and we all agreed that “best-fit, best-qualified” is where to start. Of course, when I bring up who my partners are, I’m accused of pandering.

      Differences need to lead to discussion and we need to move away from “control the words, control the community.”

  8. Picking at scabs wont heal them, but ignoring a cancer wont cause it to go away. And racism is a cancer that isnt close to “scabbing over”.

    As for the “everybody knows isnt proof” claim. Youre right, its not. But news reports if hate crimes (some going unprosecuted), the literal statements in this very newspaper by residents of color, and one of the very statements by an officer of color on “all the racism in Edmonds” shows that many are aware and yelling that this is a problem. Perhaps the question that sone should be asking is why do some feel the compulsion to ignore, dismiss and insult these voices if color? Maybe, they know their validity? Calls for racial equality from those without privilege feels like oppression to those born with it.

    1. Again, more generalization and rhetoric. We all agree that discrimination exists in every single town in the world. It isn’t an unproven fact. What is terribly dismissive about that? Who in the world is choosing to ignore it?

      Edmonds is an active community. The citizens participate in opportunities to learn, heal, ally with, and promote minority groups and targets of discrimination. Who in the world ever questioned the validity of anyone who has been a victim of discrimination in Edmonds. You are the only person, thus far, who ever brought it up.

      Arguments based in emotion are fine, as long as they have q logical end. You present some troubling issues that no one has discounted. On the contrary, they have worked hard to counter it.

      Sometimes, just yelling problems doesn’t make it so, and sometimes just yelling solutions doesn’t make it so.

    2. Hate crimes? What about all the love crimes going on?

      It’s a strange situation when I’ve considered bringing in a black partner in my business so that I can be more competitive in securing military contracts. This racism going on is actually on it’s head.

      Imagine if the police and prosecutors pursued black-on-black crime with the same vigor that they pursued white-on-white crime. Most murders of black men go unsolved in the US now. In the US, black men are only about 6% of the population but almost 40% of the murder victims. If there were racial equity and true Social Justice, there’d be even more people put in prison and an even greater call for deference for “lived experiences”.

      Cancer is on the inside of the body, and the black communities need to fix this from within. See Alexander Rhodes.

      1. Victim blaming is the easiest form of gaslighting. Telling people of color they are responsible for their own systemically proven hardships is like telling slaves they are responsible for their own slavery. Or telling women we are responsible for our being paid less in every field of the workplace. “Its not those who hold all the cards, its you people looking to get in on a hand”.

        Also, examples are not the same as the standard. Nor are random pundits the best example of general social applications (especially when they are in opposition to the experiences, opinions and voices vast majority of people in question). Unless youre going to make that same argument in the opposite case:

  9. Strange that anyone would call specific examples of racism and the claims of residents of color “generalization”. Obviously no one is saying every white person in Edmonds is racist. But it exists, and clearly there are many who feel an invested in defending and deflecting for it.

    All communities are “active”. Thats not a defense to racism. Also, personal attacks aside, if youve never heard or read about the many instances of violent (Harveys bar, the attempted school shooting, etc) and routine nonviolent (the high school students rant in a council meeting, the racist zoom bombs) racisms in Edmonds, thats not on me. Thats on you for ignoring or dismissing it. Including reports in MyEdmonds, The Beacon, the Times and the Herald. On twitter, facebook, in local community groups and city organizations of color. Beware Emperors new clothes syndrome. We all see it. Maybe, assuming true lack of awareness rather than active defending of the status quo under false pretenses, you need to look harder?

  10. Also the false equivalence defense of arguing that most communities in America have racism issues isnt a defense for it locally. Most communities also have sexism, domestic violence, homophobia, antisemitism and islamophobia issues. That doesnt excuse it or make it something anyone anywhere should accept on the basis of commonality. Thats a very weak defense.

    1. So you are agreeing with me. Yes, racism exists in Edmonds. No, the 96% of Edmonds that is white is not all racist. That’s my point.

      Again, I am not excusing any sort of discrimination. I am also not accusing an entire city of being racists and stating that there is a rampant discrimination problem in Edmonds. You are doing that.

      There are four, perhaps 5 very well known and very well covered reported incidents in Edmonds over the past 3 to 5 years. If there are more, they need to be exposed (every type of discrimination) in an open and transparent way. Screaming there is RACISM IN EDMONDS does about as much productive good as screaming WATER IS WET. It is a dog whistle statement that immediately creates vitriol and not productive dialogue and actions that assist in controlling the purse strings of our local government and does not polarize the city.

      I am more than happy to sit with you and Mr. Schindler to figure out ways to convince our Mayor and Council to not act unilaterally, be more transparent, and advance equality and justice as one of the key tenants of our City. Perhaps then, we can make a bigger difference, instead of relying on phrases like “the old guard” that is white and most like likely racist.

      It would be foolish of me to

  11. I sort of thought we were talking about the not so simple act of just being open minded and willing to look at an issue from a 180 degree different angle than your original take. Something like lawyers and debate club types have to be able to do routinely. Somehow we got to racism and the supposed “fact” that since I’m old, white, and a homeowner near downtown Edmonds I’m automatically a “racist.”

    My late brother in law was Iranian and fairly dark skinned. When he and my sister reserved a resort room in West Virginia in the 60’s they were refused service when they arrived. My brother in law was an assertive kind of guy and kept the conversation going until he made it known that he was from Iran. The clerk then said, oh that’s different we thought you was a . . . . . They were given the lodging after the “misunderstanding” was cleared up.

    Group think generally stinks and takes you to bad places and conclusions that really don’t make much sense in terms of how to really live well and peacefully with each other. So called “race” is always about power, control and economic exploitation of some sort. You can take that statement to the bank.

    1. MLK’s ideology was 180 degrees out from Malcolm X. Discussion about race is usually goat-roped and stupid on purpose.

      1. Had to google “goat-roped” to try to figure out what that suggests. Still not sure , but something like convoluted and purposely confused. My take away from Matt’s statement is that both the MLK (peaceful) and the Malcolm X (militant) approach to race relations in America probably played some part in making White on Black and Jewish racial discrimination in America be expressed somewhat less blatantly. It appears to me that it was just driven underground for a time and has come back out pretty openly again during the Trump era. Group think is alive and well in America. It certainly is what got both MLK and Malcolm X murdered in White on Black and Black on Black forms of violence.

        Until we forget all this racial stereotyping nonsense we will be doomed to stupid conversations about racial differences that don’t exist except in a few deranged moron’s minds. Personally I’m done giving morons of any stripe ( from red state or blue state) any credence. Actions mean a lot. Words, not so much.

        1. Clinton. I really appreciate how you always try to understand. You are a really good person, and are always the first to listen.

      1. I just come from a long line of poor white trash and Cajuns. It was a good upbringing. 8f you have lagniappe. Give lagniappe. If you have a door, it should be open. You can never have too much family or gumbo.

      2. Hello Ashley. I very much appreciate and think I understand your take on all this, at least to the extent I’m capable, not having walked a mile in your shoes as they say. I think your comment above was referring back to my comment about my “dark skinned brother in law.” The only point I was trying make with that personal story is that virtually all racial prejudice is based on carefully orchestrated and often repeated untrue stereotypes of what a given “race” of people are like.

        To me the human tragedy of this is that so many people everywhere, including some in little ‘ol Edmonds, actually believe and perpetuate the lies and stereotypes. Once my dark complected brother in law convinced the local resort people he wasn’t a member of the local outcast “race,” it was perfectly okay for them to stay at the resort. As an aside, my dark complected brother in law was also anti Jewish “race” and thought Hitler had a lot of good ideas. Never could figure out what my sister ever saw in the guy. I know she lived to regret ever marrying him.

  12. Spot on Clinton: “I sort of thought we were talking about the not so simple act of just being open minded and willing to look at an issue from a 180 degree different angle than your original take.”

  13. The oddest thing about this debate within the community is that those arguing in favor of the status quo and against the idea that racism is an issue that needs to be addressed seem to be assuming they live in a vacuum. People of color in town are aware and literally SEE your averse reactions to us. We see your comments dismissing and deflecting for instances of racism. We hear your passive comments about “thugs and violent protesters (ie black people), illegals and rapists (ie people of mexican descent), terrorists and infiltrators (muslim americans) and the the many terms you have for Native Americans.

    Do you think didn’t hear you and your rants back before covid at every restaurant? Did you think those of us who are uber drivers, work in customer services, work as medical aids, nurses and teachers weren’t listening? The “Build the wall” chants at school games?

    These folks have been the loudest people in the room for at least the last 4 years. Now they expect us to see them as “objective outside observes”. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way.

    1. I agree with you Ashley. Let’s start a constructive dialog that makes Edmonds a better place to live and work. The Edmonds Housing Commission Online Open House is a great place to review some of those policies. FYI, I am a traveling consultant who owns a small business. All of my contracts were canceled as of July 5. It sucks for all of us. Particularly groups that were marginalized prior to COVID, and already living check to check. Again, in being constructive, I would love to sit down and figure out a way to bring necessary visibility to the issues that Edmonds faces. Merry Christmas!

      1. That’s when you create a new one. If COVID has done anything, it’s been the ability to use technology to get creative with communicating.

  14. This has been an interesting and mostly helpful discussion~ I think we need more such discussions in Edmonds, especially involving people with different values and various points of view. I like to call it civic conversation~ healthy talk that leads to wider understanding of complex issues of public policy.

    Looking back a little, what if our mayor and city council president had put on a public forum to discuss racism in Edmonds, particularly regarding policing? And done that before re-launching the search for a new chief of police. We (the universal “we”) could have learned more about the matter, from a range of perspectives, and then discussed the qualities we would like to see in a new police chief.

    But sadly we had no such civic conversation. Instead the police chief selection proceeded without transparency. Our elected leaders stumbled, and the process blew up in a major civic disaster~ with injuries all around, not the least of which to the soul of our city.

    Next year is an election year in Edmonds. Perhaps there will be candidates for office committed to advancing the art of civic conversation. We can only hope so.

    1. All of us treating each other with just a little bit of basic human respect would be a good start. Relate to people based on what they do, not just what they say and preach to us as the only “right” way to think. Quit just hearing what you want to hear, listen to what people are actually saying; but really watch and react to what they are doing. Might just work local wonders.

      1. You are singing my tune Clint; thank you for that. And Merry Christmas to all. And may our new year be better than the old!!

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