I realize that as much as I don’t like bantering online over controversial or political matters, I still have done it a few times in the blogs I’ve posted. In each that I’ve written I’ve probably prompted more questions than answers, and if you know me, that’s intentional. As Eugene Ionesco, the French playwright said, “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”
Neuroscience has shown us that our brains function a certain way when we are creative and inquisitive, and another way when we are angry and afraid. When we are angry or afraid our brains go into a primal, survival mode in which the rear stem portion takes primary control. That’s why when you’re being chased by a pack of wolves (I hate when that happens), you don’t worry if you’re wearing the right outfit for the occasion, or stop to smell the pretty flowers. You just RUN!
In late 2016, 1500 people from Chapman University were asked to list their top 10 fears. Number 1 was corruption in government at 60.6% and number 2 was terrorist attack at 41%. People were more afraid of these two things than of their loved ones becoming sick or dying (38.1%), or of not having enough money for the future (39.9%). Coincidently, this survey was taken during the height of the political elections when those two topics were among the most talked about in the media.
If you pay attention, you’ll notice that we are being fed a steady stream of fear and anger from news feeds, talk radio, and TV news. The reason is because fear and anger sell and motivate. If I can make you afraid (or angry), odds are that I will get you to respond in one way or another and tune in for more tomorrow. We are told to be afraid of everything from refugees to presidents, from the food we eat to the medicines we take. Now, before you start thinking about how we should be afraid of one or all of these wolves I just mentioned, remember this: the only way to know when fear (or anger) is manipulating us and narrowing our thought process, is to stop running, breathe, and take the time to reason through the information (smell the flowers). How do we do that?
The good skeptic
Question it before you believe it. Adopt a bit of a skeptical attitude especially from the sources you typically trust and go to first. What is the bias of the source (everyone is biased) and is that bias leading more than informing? Look for confirmation as well as disconfirmation from other sources. I’ve heard that to get an accurate assessment of something, you should research at the very minimum 5 separate and differing sources. This is how you are able to see things from varied positions and filter out what is meant to send you into panic mode. Remember the Ebola epidemic that never came? And who older than a teenager can forget Y2K? What happens with most people is they watch CNN and Buzzfeed or Fox news and Infowars (God forbid). They pull their information from the same biased sources to validate what they already believe. If you want to be well learned about a subject, it takes time and you need to show interest in understanding the opposing view.
It’s also obviously important to check to make sure you are not responding to fake news. Two of the top ones in 2016 were, “Trump Offering Free One-Way Tickets to Africa & Mexico for Those Who Wanna Leave America” and “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge of Allegiance in Schools.” You can easily check if what you are reading is true by verifying them with Snopes, Urbanlegends or other fact checking sites. It’s astounding and sad how much fake news is posted and reposted, but it just proves the point that when we are provoked by anger or fear, we run with the false information before we smell out what’s true.
There are so many legitimate things to be angry about and there are plenty of people that have valid reasons to be afraid, but if we are really going to change the important things in our world, then we must be willing to take the time to see clearly where the problems are and strategize the best way to move forward.
I intend to write a second part to this and talk about the elections, abortion, and the refugee crisis, which I hope will lead to more questions.