If the Shoes Fit, You Should Try On Another Pair

walkmileshoesAfter extensive and careful research, I have concluded that I’m right.

About everything.

Not that I really needed the 17 websites, 1 news channel, 3 politicians, 938 Facebook likes, and 4 twitter feeds but they certainly make it easier to confirm what I already know. And I have references now.

It goes without saying, of course, that my references are better than yours.

I realize that you might have a different opinion, but I should point out that your sources are biased and your rhetoric politicized. I’m fair and balanced. You, on the other hand, are prejudiced and askew. Perhaps even unhinged.

At least that’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

Except too many of us keep sticking to our story and forgetting the wide-array of opinions and information that exists. Worse yet, we are becoming increasingly prone to confirmation bias, and we use our easy access to information as a way to surround ourselves with like-minded voices. The internet and cable television allows us to never be wrong again. But if none of us are ever wrong, how can anyone ever be right?

As I’ve noted in other posts, the irony of our information age is that we seem to understand less and less because we can exist day to day in filtered bubbles of our own creation.

We have managed, somehow in our 24 hour news cycle, to turn truth into a contact sport. I’m waiting for the reality tv show that pits news anchors in a death match. Winner gets to cherry pick the facts for us all. Sean Hannity vs. Keith Olbermann at 11:00: A report on the IRS investigation follows (as soon as they clean the arena). Meghan Kelly and Rachel Maddow inside the ring in a no-holds barred match. Winner gets to tell us if the IRS scandal was presidential over-reach or a mistake by local agents.

But the problem extends beyond just the information we process and the ability to homogenize data. A willingness to work across differences is, often, predicated on an ability to empathize with those with whom we disagree. Empathy, for those who aren’t up to date on Psychology 101, involves understanding someone else because you have been there. Such a thing differs from sympathy, the ability to acknowledge someone’s hardship and offer solace, in that empathy requires a shared experience.

We don’t have an information problem in America; we have an empathy problem.

We have, it seems, lost our ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and imagine the world from any other perspective. Perhaps we all just fear germs and potential athlete’s foot, but I suspect our biggest issue is the false sense of certainty we are able to create in our lives.

In other words, with so much information at our fingertips, we have lost the ability not to know something. We have traded the mysteries of unknowing with web browsing and instantaneous information.

“I don’t know” is not really an acceptable phrase anymore.

But not knowing, or at least not being able to fact check on demand, forces us to listen to other people and consider their point of view. We can argue larger ideas and philosophical points without getting bogged down in data or dates. Perhaps, as Rep. Jim McDermott reminds us, the IRS scandal isn’t about who was investigated and is really about what kinds of speech the government will subsidize with tax breaks?

Not knowing forces us to think more deeply about issues and make connections with past experiences and anecdotal evidence. We must rely on our experience and the experiences of others. We open our minds to hear precisely because we realize no one else knows either. There is a collective sense that we are developing a narrative of the event or the moment. We are, proverbially, all in it together.

And then we might do the difficult work of slogging through articles or making our way to the library, accidentally reading something without knowing whether the author agrees or disagrees with us. We listen to the radio and hear the various reports and ideas without knowing author’s bias.

Don’t get me wrong. Facts matter and I want us to pay attention to facts and data.I tell my students they should decide what they think they think and then do the necessary research to find all the reasons they are wrong. Too many of us spend all day research all the reasons we aren’t wrong.

But, I also wish we could impose some sort of delay switch on commentary about any given event. It might work like that 5 second delay on television, except it would be a two week delay. The news could report the IRS office in Cincinnati investigated various Tea Party groups, but Bill O’ Reilly can’t comment for 14 days. (And that crazy guy on Facebook has to wait 21 days no matter what happens.)

Let the rest of us talk first. Let us absorb the information before you tell us what to think.

But don’t worry, I’ll eventually show you the error of your ways.

 

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

FiveThirtyEight

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

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