Moving Objectivity Beyond Fear or Pride

A Facebook friend recently posed the question “If people are afraid to look at another point of view, is it fear or pride?”

Of course it brought on a variety of comments, everything from religious beliefs to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which I had to look up. The conversation also brought back my college journalism days. It was a reminding nudge as to how I should be looking at the world.

In spite of the opinion afforded media nowadays, believe it or not, students of journalism are taught core principles, including fairness and impartiality. I remember being required to present facts from all sides of the issues I wrote about. I also remember writing editorial opinions that were intentionally chosen to be opposite my own. These assignments were exercises in open-minded, analytical, and, yes, compassionate thinking.

The thing is, fairness and impartiality are hard. Really hard. Each of us has our own life experiences that shape our understanding, yet we often forget the wisdom of “Your Experience is Not Universal” (YEINU). If there’s anything I learned from journalism school, it’s that no matter how black and white we view the world, there are always hues to color our reality.

(By the way, just an aside here, did you know bees can see color faster than humans? Such a good approach to life—no wonder they’re so productive!)

It’s Our Responsibility Too

Journalism is a complex topic. In their book The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel share a ten commandments, so to speak, of journalism. Interestingly, their last commandment is for us readers. Citizens too have responsibilities, they say.

These days—these days of pandemic chaos—this idea of responsibility couldn’t be more important. We all have coronavirus viewpoints based on our own experiences. I have family living in the hotbeds of Michigan, both viral and reactionary hotbeds. Of course, they are experiencing life much differently than I am here in rural Wisconsin, where our counts are lower and I’m able to continue working the same as I ever was. For me to make an assumption based solely on my own experience and then push it on others would be irresponsible. And disrespectful. And, let’s face it, just plain stupid.

Kovach and Rosenstiel say “writing a blog entry, commenting on a social media site, sending a tweet, or ‘liking’ a picture or post, likely involves a shorthand version of the journalistic process.”

LIKELY involves a journalist process? How about we say it SHOULD involve a journalistic process.

As responsible, journalistic citizens, we should be fully researching all sides of issues. We should be following a variety of news sources, especially an unbiased world news that neutralizes our favorite right- or left-leaning news. And most importantly, we should remember social media and talk radio are NOT reliable sources. (You do know algorithms and radio hosts are money-focused gatekeepers, right?) If we don’t venture beyond our journalistic comfort zone, we’ll never learn anything beyond what we already know. That, my dears, is not a good way to live.

Fear or Pride? How About Neither!

As humans, we fear the unknown. But when we educate ourselves we lessen the unknown. We learn new experiences and ideas. We see that for all the differences, there are just as many commonalities. We appreciate values we never before considered.

Pride? Well, it goes before a fall, as Rachel Lynde used to say. Few of us are comfortable when our ideas are challenged and, by nature, we gravitate toward information that supports our own viewpoint. If we’re not careful, this is where pride sets in. Worse yet is when we start thinking everyone else is biased and refuse to see it in ourselves.

A good way to forego both fear and pride is the 3-source habit I learned in journalism school. It’s good to regularly read from a right wing (i.e. Wall Street Journal), a left wing (i.e. CNBC) and a neutral (i.e. Reuters) news source. When it comes to radio, seek a talk show that invites guests from both sides and respectfully allows them to speak without interruption. Compare what stories these sources cover and how they do so. Above all, open your mind to objective, analytical, and compassionate thinking.

Be responsible, journalistic citizens.

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