What Ever Happened to the Balanced Perspective?
Today’s caustic media environment is focused far too much on the extremes — we’ve forgotten the importance of seeking out and appreciating other points of view to inform and balance our thinking.
You’d have to be living under the proverbial rock if you haven’t noticed how today’s news and social media have become intertwined and blurred and have devolved to the point that opinion is far more of a focus that fact. Yet most people seem to accept this. Even those who might point it out are often quick to share anything they stumble across online that supports their perspective. This would be fine if we took a little time to discover the source of the content we share and consider it’s accuracy, if we looked for distortion of this ‘information’ due to bias or a defined agenda. But that rarely happens.
There was a time not so long ago (i.e. before the age of social media) that informed people who cared about a subject would research it and make a point of trying to see the idea from multiple angles. This was especially important for controversial topics. Study what experts have to say. Make a point of seeking out the multi-faceted perspective of other smart folks who might shed some light by offering a different view. Now it is as if that very concept is a lark. Why waste time trying to widen my perspective when I know what I know and this content I’m sharing tells me (and you) that I’m right? It’s the death of the open mind.
Too many people seem proud of the way they ‘stick to their guns’ and shout their (often uninformed) perspective from the digital mountain top. Look! This guy says what I said! It has to be right! I told ya so! Being “right” is far more important than being informed.
Never before in my 5+ decades have I dreaded falling into a political conversation. I was always open to a discussion about the challenges we face and how government might be able to help address them, or how they are failing to do so. Now, these conversations quickly de-escalate to an emotional, angry tone, uninformed by an appreciation of the fact that few topics are black and white. There is little informed debate, but no shortage of emotional foot stomping and chest pounding.
The recent focus on the seperation of illegal immigrant families comes to mind. People seem so quick to jump on one side of the argument or the other with one swift brush stroke that reveals that they think they’ve got a clear view and it is correct. One side will throw out something like, “if you broke the law in this country, you would go to jail and be seperated from your kids”, so therefore it’s okay that the U.S. government did this. In the meanwhile, numerous news sources have reported that we put a lot of these kids in cages for weeks and then, in some cases, lost track of who their parents were. If that did happen, it is an outrage and we should be concerned about it, not just turning a blind eye because we’ve already made up our minds. If a U.S. citizen went to another country and was accused of a crime and their kids were thrown in cages for weeks and then the host country couldn’t figure out where your kids were, these same people would be insane with rage. I happen to agree that we need to stem illegal immigration, but let’s be reasonable and thoughtful about how we manage it. Let’s at least try to find the balance. But no, not today — no matter what your perspective, if you bring this up with someone whose view differs, good luck having an informed discussion about.
Increasingly the trolls are winning. For far too many, it is more important to be heard than to be right. Journalism is gasping for it’s last breath and truth has been stomped and bloodied.
When the Internet was young, many felt that it had this amazing potential to democratize information and throw the window open and shed light on knowledge. Somewhere along the way though, the voice of the people became a shouting match where the loudest and angriest wins. I sure hope we can figure out how to change that (or at least move the needle back towards the middle a bit). I’m trying to do my little part by writing pieces on my edtech web site encouraging teachers to inform students that they can dig down into media content and look for the truths underlying them, and teaching them about confirmation bias. We should encourage students to better understand controversial ideas by looking at different sides of the arguments surrounding them. The more we fail to do so, the more likely these young people, our future, are to be to be influenced and controlled by those who have the most money and power to spread their message in sneaky, manipulative ways.
If we have lost the ability to be open minded and have a balanced perspective, can we at least recognize it and work to help our kids regain it?