Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Story of SMART Groups

The Story of SMART (Sensible Messaging Activities To Restore Truth) Groups

A Call to Action
The country is terribly divided today on the direction in which we should be moving to address our many problems.
Surely we all want the same things: a reasonable quality of life for everyone, opportunities for our children to have a good education, and a clean and safe environment, to name just a few.

Unitarian Universalist Association past president Bill Sinkford has often voiced his concern about the growth in power of certain groups in the country that seek to make changes in our society. Changes that are in direct opposition to our Unitarian Universalist values that are consistent with long-standing and basic human and family values of all peoples.

He has noted that these groups represent special interests having goals that are often counter to the needs of the “Common Good” and he urges Unitarian Universalists to find ways to move beyond our congregational discussions and express our views more publicly.

Another past Unitarian Universalist Association president Peter Morales has voiced the same concerns as Bill Sinkford and has urged us to reach out to form coalitions with the many likeminded people who are not of our faith but hold the same values that we do.

Sensible Messaging Activity to Restore Truth groups (SMART)
Citizens groups like the one in the Venice-Sarasota area (given the name “SMART”) are one approach.

How it started
Somewhat over 10 years ago, several people were discussing a particularly offensive article in one of our local (Sarasota – Venice) newspapers. We felt strongly that the blatant misinformation in the article desperately called for a reply. We all had some experience writing letters to the editor, and thought that perhaps if we all wrote, maybe one of our letters would get published. The idea of helping one another to “speak out” in this way has quickly spread by word of mouth. Starting with our group of four, our area’s SMART group has now grown to almost 150.

The SMART group is an informal one, generally non-partisan and representing no particular organization. We write individually but support one another and share information. We don’t control what members write but the issues are most often non-partisan and we strive to write our letters in that vein. We have had many letters published, mainly as letters to editors, but we are also starting to learn to communicate our views through Facebook, blogs, Twitter and other venues.

We have a collection of letters now filed by topic, a fairly comprehensive set of talking points on many of the major issues, and other guidance on effective writing. We believe that these files will aid us in writing future letters since many of the issues seem to come up repeatedly. We would be glad to share these files with others to support the goal of having groups like SMART throughout Florida. We think this is very important as discussed further below.

We believe that it would be effective to form similar communication groups within Unitarian Universalist congregations in other areas of Florida. Surely, membership would soon spread to like-thinking non-UU neighbors as it has in the Venice-Sarasota area.

This activity is a cross-congregational effort in support of the witness of Unitarian Universalist values, but of course does not indicate any official endorsement of particular letters that may be written. The Rev. Kenneth G. Hurto, Lead Executive for the Southern Region, Unitarian Universalist Association, has supported this program with the goal of having it spread throughout the state.

In a perfect world
Ideally, if all of us were given truthful information about the issues important to us, we would be inclined to choose national leaders who would act in our best interests (and that of the Common Good). We would not have the stalemate that we now have.

Unfortunately, we are far from that ideal situation. The public often does not get truthful and complete information on the issues. Part of that is due to human nature. Once we form an opinion, we tend to stick with it. If new information is presented to us, we may rationalize our rejection of it, and may never even be aware of the new information if we have prejudged its source. (This is a whole area of discussion unto itself.)

Another problem is that there is a great deal of evidence showing the willingness for certain groups to distort information given to the public. It is in our favor that their deceit is often blatant, and if the truth is presented effectively, it can prevail.

Bottom line in a nutshell
It is being observed more and more that behind all of the hullabaloo and rhetoric, what must occur to get the country to move in any direction is this:

Those of us embracing one side’s viewpoints on the issues must convince enough people who are on the “other” side, and those who are unsure, to join with us. Only then will we elect local and national leaders who have a sufficient consensus to pass legislation to move us ahead (in some direction). Some analysts predict that this could take several election cycles.

It is the goal of groups like SMART to work toward influencing this persuasion process. We must not let the special interests overrule the needs of the rest of us, i.e., the Common Good.

Please consider starting a group like SMART in your area. It only needs one person to start…but two or three is better…(or 150).

Contact Brad Hardin (941) 223-6849
{Your energy and creative ideas would be very welcome when we could further discuss how we can most effectively communicate our viewpoints in support of the Common Good.}