Friday, June 28, 2013

Be informed

The fact is, that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.  Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesmanlike habits, supplies their demands. 
-Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism

If you know me, you know I love my job.  Mostly because somehow I convinced people to pay me to write stuff.  I used to have to work for money.  That really cut into my reading and writing time and I didn't prefer it.  This arrangement is much better.

But I also love my job because it requires that I stay informed about many of the big (and little) issues facing my favorite state.  Yes, I'll admit... I wouldn't sit through a two-hour meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation if it wasn't part of my job.  But I'll also admit I've enjoyed many moments in the meetings I've covered.  And I especially love the wonderful mix of passion and talent, ideas, opinions and beliefs showcased at the Capitol throughout the year.  It's such a beautiful (usually beautiful) representation of the diversity and culture of our state.  And at its best, it is a living, working example of the benefits of our democratic government (not to say that there aren't also drawbacks).

I have never been loyal to any one particular news outlet, but one thing my job made crystal clear is that it is difficult (okay, impossible) to get a good grasp on any issue through just one source.  And in less than five minutes.

But that is how we consume news.  Through headlines and sound bites.  Status updates, shares and snarky comments on social media.  140 character reactions to significant, life-altering issues.  We pick a favorite news source, journalist, activist and trust him to tell us the full story.  And fast.

I bet most of you can't -- or would never even want to -- stay glued to KET's live streaming coverage of legislative proceedings at the Capitol.  If I wasn't getting paid, I'm sure I wouldn't be this interested, either.  That is the other extreme. 

No matter the topic, we must find the balance between consuming quick sound bites of what is really non-news and allowing the news to consume us.  The double-edged sword of the Information Age we live in is having more ability than ever before to access the world's news and knowledge but seemingly less time to process it all.

Some of the most publicized arguments are extreme and devoid of substance.  Or worse: The truth tailored to fit a specific belief or ideology.  This is not a characteristic of one particular viewpoint or news source.  This is a general statement about much of the so-called debate swarming around us today.

Many people are quick to share a witty meme that may support their view, but reluctant to read a multi-page analysis of a problem and the merits of various solutions.  As a lover of cheese and sarcasm, I firmly believe those memes have their place, but it will take much, much more for true progress in our world.

Combine passion with knowledge and strive not for a clever comeback but for reasoned response.  Seek out and emulate respectful debate.  I truly believe that is the only way to bridge the massive divides splitting this country and the world.  The voices I respect most are not necessarily ones I agree with, but ones that have considered all the options and are seeking a way for all of us to move forward together.

I have written before about effective communication. (Post 1 and 2) It is impossible to effectively communicate without being well informed. And that takes time and effort.

For those who feel compelled to speak out and join the discussion about one or more of the issues facing our nation and our world, then I encourage you to first read up.  Whether its economics, politics, religion or social justice, do your research.  Listen to what many of the (reasoned) voices (on every side) are saying before adding your own. 

I will talk in upcoming posts about engaging in debates on particular issues, but I do feel like this is such a crucial first step that so many in our world today overlook.  Some have taken their passion, their outrage, and simply reacted.  We would all do better to slow down and thoroughly consider the situation before proceeding.