The other day, a good friend gave me a gentle rebuke. The reason? I had articulated an opinion about a current event that I didn’t have a wealth of knowledge in. Sure I knew the basic facts but not enough to spit out what I thought of the matter. Though it was tough to hear, I had to acknowledge that I had engaged in a bit of hypocrisy by doing exactly what I recommend that we don’t do – arriving at premature conclusions based on superficial information.
We live in an age of information overload, an embarrassment of riches that on the surface would support an incredible wealth of knowledge. And yet, it’s just the opposite – fragmented, de-historified pieces of media sound bytes that are designed to sway us towards a certain opinion. It doesn’t matter what the topic, whether current events, history or theology. We get lured with attractive titles and questions that appeal to our particular affinities, especially when it’s fueled by an particular image. If we are not careful, that biased slant with its emotional appeals can suck us right in.
When we propagate un-informed or poorly informed opinions through social media, it only adds fuel to the fire. In fact, this is where I’ve seen the down side even to blogging, which I love so much. It gives anyone who wants to say something the opportunity to do so regardless of how much is understood about the topic. Expertise has indeed taken a hit. I’ve become increasingly more cautious in my assertions because of this, though maybe not all that successful at times.
When it comes to the media outlet today, let’s not fool ourselves that you will read objective opinions. Sure, there are some writers who strive to portray what they would deem “objective”. But that that object always has some question it is trying to answer based on some perspective, which may not be that objective at all.
I follow a variety of different news sources from various perspectives. Some are straight news, some focused on politics and economics, some economic perspectives from a Christian worldview, conservative, liberal, moderate. And of course my beloved theology! Regardless of what I read, I strive to remember the ideology that pervades the thoughts behind each post to gauge where the author is coming from. And yet, I am sometimes lured in by well-sounding arguments, especially where there appears to be some kind of authentic research or historical sketch.
As someone who writes professionally and has had many occasion to write appeal oriented material, I understand the power of words and image portrayal. In fact, the one thing I strive to do when writing something I want the reader to support IS paint a picture that they can buy into. That means I craft words a certain way, use certain language and imagery to evoke a response. Make no mistake, that the lion’s share of what we read on the internet is doing the same thing, even from what we deem to be legitimate news sources. And you can be sure if there is some kind of agenda that is being pushed, that the use of inflammatory adjectives will be prevalent.
My point is that we must do more than react to a particular event or position based on a few press clippings, blog posts or even legitimate looking articles. We must investigate the historical perspective, the other side, the facts. Read books, not just on-line posts. We can’t be so lured or intimidated by what we read because it’s only a brief sketch. Nor should we believe something simply because it confirms our already existing biases.
So read that article and get mad and weep. But don’t do it because the author has used persuasive language that inflame your senses, but because you understand the facts. Remember, there is always some kind of motive and perspective that persuades the author. They key is to consider where the author is coming from. What is their ideology? What perspective are they trying to sell you on? You may agree or not, but well informed opinions come from investigative research, not immediate reactions to a 500 word article.