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Get Smart

12 Oct

This is how Merriam-Webster sees it.

I have a bumper sticker on one of my cars with a big American flag and one word: THINK.

This pretty much sums up my thoughts on what it means to be American. I respect anyone’s personal opinions about religion, politics and other controversial topics when they can back them up. Repeat rhetoric to me, from either side of the aisle, and I’ll lose patience. Anyone can parrot back empty words. Put your mind and your heart behind them, and then I’ll bother listening.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of media consumption: watching television news and reality shows results in zero thought process. It’s easy to get sucked into…I’ve had my own binges with Project Runway, Dance Moms and Russian Dolls. The first is at least somewhat intellectually stimulating. The last two are complete wastes of time.

Thinking requires discipline. Here are some things that I try to do to keep my brain in shape.

  1. Read the news. My own personal scientific studies (okay, not scientific but bear with me) indicate that WATCHING the news results in very little recall and no critical thinking whatsoever. I don’t care if it’s CNN or Fox. Most of it is designed to lure me into more watching–not more thinking. By reading the news, I have a chance to learn something new, because most written news stories go into more depth than TV news. I also have a chance to reflect on what I’ve read, re-read it if needed and come away with some new thoughts of my own.
  2. Consume news that is not aligned with my opinions and/or perspective. I try to listen to talk radio occasionally, even though it makes me angry. (Extreme opinions on either side just don’t make sense to me. I just want to tell them: Calm down, people!) I also try to read foreign news. If you can read in a foreign language, this is a real benefit on this front. In particular, taking in our own political process through the lens of foreign media can really be an eye-opener. I was in France in 1989, during the Beirut hostage crisis when they were showing the American hostages on television, speaking. Chilling really, but also different when interpreted by foreign newscasters with another take on America.
  3. Have conversations with people who have opinions different from mine. How simple is this? And how difficult? Safe to say that I am a conflict-averse person. Also safe to say that my opinions may not always be aligned with the everybody’s. Add to that a mainstream that prefers to think of their opinions as facts and “right.” All of this makes having conversations difficult, which pushes people further into the extremes–or perceived extremes. I like having friends with different opinions on all of the hot-button items. It makes life more interesting–and I think it makes me more educated about the world around me. Seeing things through others’ eyes is not always easy, but I think it’s worth the hard work.

America at its core is a place built by and for people with different, and at times differing, opinions. I’m a believer in civil discourse that keeps us “true Americans.”