While too much of something is always a bad idea, the converse – not enough of something – can be equally as bad. Case-in-point – staying informed with what passes for news these days.
I was thinking about this as my spouse watched her Sunday morning pair of news programs – This Week with George Stephanopoulos and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd. She makes every effort to stay informed, but with our schedules (jobs, three kids, etc.), that can be very difficult. Her routine usually consists of scanning the Tulsa World every few days (yes, we still get the physical paper delivered to the house), listening to NPR on the way to work, and watching the late news. Then on Sunday, she absorbs her two shows – two hours worth of political reporting and opinion.
She strives to get all sides of a given story whenever she can – she avoids the overtly right- (Fox News) and left-leaning (CNN, MSNBC) programs in favor of the middle-of-the-road, common sense reporting that one finds on NBC, CBS and NPR. (Our local ABC affiliate is owned by the Sinclair Group, so that’s obviously out).
I, on the other hand, avoid the news like the plague. When I listen to NPR, it’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me or my friend Denis’ The Rhythm Atlas world music program that runs locally on Sunday nights. On television, I’ll watch Shark Tank and The Profit on CNBC, or whatever football game happens to be on. When I browse Google News, I stick to the business and technology sections only.
I also purposefully avoid any sort of political or religious discussions whenever possible (which is usually all of the time). As far as religion, I find that to be an excessively personal choice, and outside the confines of church, has no real place as a topic discussion in my daily life, particularly in the workplace (where I spend up to ten hours a day during the week, and where most of my conversations take place).
Politics is just the opposite – by definition, it should be an excessively public discourse. However, the polarization of Federal and State politics makes the situation such that it is nearly impossible to have an intelligent conversation regarding differences in viewpoints.
But why is that? Why am I so sure of myself, sometimes even in the face of certain evidence. Hubris is a powerful thing, and serves no one. Yet, here I am, dead set in my political and religious belief, certain that if the other side would just think about it logically and intelligently for a minute, they’d see where they were wrong, and accept that my viewpoint was the correct one.
Trouble is, the other side is thinking the same thing about me. And so we remain at this impasse, unable to every make any headway to a reconciliation of opinions and viewpoints.
What I’ve Learned
Epictetus is 100% correct – you can’t learn something that you think you already know, and you certainly can’t change someone’s mind when they believe they are in the right, particularly if their viewpoint is fueled by faith and what they believe rather than facts. Belief is a powerful thing, often overriding the evidence before our eyes.
Only by being open to the fact that I don’t know everything – in fact, I know very little – can I have the open mind necessary to not only entertain opposing thoughts and opinions, but also to further define and strengthen my own beliefs.