Over the past few years, I have been encouraged by friends to start blogging.
I don’t profess to be the wisest or smartest person. I do not claim to be the only one with the answers. I do not have perfect spelling, punctuation or grammar. (I try but sometimes fall short.) My use of the Oxford comma comes and goes. (I was originally taught not to use it; now it’s popular. Go figure.)
But I would like to share some of my insights into what is happening around us and how to sift through the overwhelming amount of information we get these days. My aim is to talk about not only what is going on, but what has gone on before and offer ways to think about it all a bit more critically.
There is a lot thrown at us these days from all directions. 24-hour news cycles, social media feeds, online news, blog sites, clickbait, and so on. It’s a lot of information, some of it contradictory, and sorting through it can be overwhelming. We don’t always have the time or energy to go through the effort of filtering through it with a critical eye. And, because of how this information is presented, it is very easy to lose the forest for the trees.
Take the 24-hour news cycle. I remember back in the early days of CNN, when you just had a repeating ½ hour cycle of short news highlights. In other words, just the news, with little detail, repeated over and over again, cycling out older bits as new ones came in. A lot might be covered, but not in any depth. These days, it is several channels with segments lasting an hour or more, during which different anchors host different panels and talk about the same one or two stories over and over again, usually in nauseating detail. They may touch lightly on other things going on, but they focus on only a few, to the point where it feels like those few are the only things that matter, the only things happening, and the only things to which attention should be paid.
So, while they focus on Senate hearings, they gloss over what bill the Senate is passing the same day, or what international crisis may be unfolding. It’s hard to get the bigger picture from all of that.
So much of our modern life encourages us to focus on one micro-issue at a time. And that is a useful tool. One step at a time is how we get things done in life. Focusing on everything to be done all at once usually just leaves us overwhelmed and not knowing where to begin. And to be honest, when looking at world events, or local ones, it feels much the same. Where do we begin? Or do we just give up and not even bother?
We do have to bother. Here in the U.S., our system of government requires us to bother. In order for it to work properly, we have to be informed; we have to be engaged. Our form of government requires active citizenship. That is supposed to be one of its key underlying values. Citizens are not ruled. They have a say in the process. Further, it benefits us personally to come to informed opinions and decisions. I’m better off being informed before deciding on a plan of action for my health or repair of my house. I am better off being informed before I support a particular piece of legislation or political policy.
To make an informed decision, we need to get a bigger view and to focus on more than the micro-issue. To get a more complete look at something, we need to take a step back. It allows for a wider perspective. It also allows us to step back from our emotions, our preconceptions and our natural defensive stance. It’s okay to have an initial knee jerk reaction to something. It is normal and healthy. But never looking beyond that initial instinctive reaction can cause problems, because that reaction is not normally informed. It is not necessarily based on all the facts. And it often laced with emotional baggage that needs to be sifted through. So, it is also healthy to take a step back, after dealing with and accepting that initial reaction for what it is, and to then find out what is really going on, including where that emotional response is really coming from.
To quote someone close to me, “Why not both?” It is possible to have a wider perspective while keeping in mind individual issues. It is possible to form an opinion and acknowledge that people with opposing views also have valid concerns. It is possible to recognize that while history does not exactly repeat itself, it does give us lessons we can learn about how the world and humans work. The tidal wave of information crashing down on us, strangely enough, encourages a narrow focus on one issue at a time. I seek to offer some insights into a bigger picture revolving around those issues, while along the way offering tips on and demonstrating how to sift through it all for yourself. I intend to offer a view of both the forest and the trees.