Media Literacy: Be Aware of Your Biases

A friend of mine recently announced he was leaving Facebook because the site had become too political. Now he is not the only person complaining about this issue, but I had to laugh when I saw his final post. This is the same man who, for the past eight years, regularly posted angry tirades against “Barry Obama.”

Was my friend being hypocritical? Perhaps. But more likely, he simply was unaware of his own bias. So when he saw (and posted) nasty comments about the previous president, he accepted them and moved on. But when such posts popped up about the current president, he felt angry and outraged. It wasn’t that Facebook had become more political. But now posts were criticizing someone he liked, and each one felt like a personal attack.

Personal biases are hard to detect. Most of us don’t think of ourselves as biased. We think of ourselves as rational, clear-headed people who have studied the facts and made reasonable choices. And even though research shows us over and over that we aren’t that rational, we refuse to believe it. And our own personal history should show us that we’re not that clear headed and rational. But we still refuse to believe it.

I don’t think it’s terribly helpful to try to rid ourselves of bias. A worthy goal, perhaps. But a hard one. But one thing we can do immediately is to admit we have biases and be aware of them when we read, see, or listen to the news.

I try to be open about my biases, and I’m lucky enough to have some friends who are comfortable challenging me when I seem to be too much in my information comfort zone. But I have to monitor my biases consistently. If not, I jump back to “My side tells the truth; your side spouts fake news” theme that doesn’t help anyone.

So you have biases? Guess what? You’re human, just like the rest of us. But refusing to admit you have them? Then dealing with the media is always going to trip you up.


Monday Motivator: It’s Okay to Be Rusty


In the book, How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science, and Practical Wisdom, Jonathan Fields tells the story of coming home one day as a teenager to find his mother in tears in her bedroom. She kept her pottery wheel in the basement and decided that now, newly divorced,  was the time to return to her art.

She told her son that she had lost her talent. She had tried but nothing came.

Like most teenage boys, Jonathan was overwhelmed at all the emotion. But then a thought came to him: He was on the gymnastics team at school. He reminded his mother about how good he was during the season, the practice he put in, the effort to stay in shape. But after the season was over, he let it slide (as only teenage boys can do.) So when it came time to get to the gym again, he was not great that first week or the second. “Because I’m rusty, Mom. And it’s the same for you.”

That night, his mother returned to the basement. And to her art.

Most of us are so busy that we feel accomplished when we just get the basic things done each day. We often think about what we’d do if we had more time. But too often, we then conclude: “Oh, I wouldn’t be any good at (tennis, writing, piano playing, riding the mechanical bull, etc.) now. Too much time has passed. I would be awful.”

Well, take it from me, you will be awful that first time. And maybe the second. But being rusty is no reason not to return to something you used to love. The rust will disappear after some practice, and the fun will return.

So this week, recall something you used to love to do. Pick up that guitar. Write a poem. Run after work. Grimace when the chords squeak, the words are saccharine, and your knees hurt. But don’t give up. You’re just rusty.


Monday Motivator: Get Your Mojo Back

Last night was the beginning of the second half of the season of The Walking Dead. Even those of you who aren’t fans have to know that this has been an especially brutal season with some fans simply walking away from the unremitting bleakness. The murders that started the season were bad enough, but the utterly defeated Rick didn’t help.

But, in my humble opinion (and I am no expert on the show and have never read the comic book), Rick needed to be defeated. He had become too sure that his way was the only way to survive. He had stopped listening.

Still, sad Rick was no fun. And it was encouraging to watch him start back on the right path: recognizing that he had been wrong and admitting it to Maggie, making a little joke to Darryl, believing in Gabriel, and even smiling at the end of the episode. Rick is getting his mojo back.

At any given time, many of us can identify with sad Rick. Our plans have gone awry. The bad people seem to be winning. And, in some cases, we have to admit that our own hubris has contributed to our downfall.

But it doesn’t have to be permanent. The first step, whether we’re fighting Negan and zombies or something more pedestrian, is to realize that we don’t want to stay there, realize what power we have, and take the first step.

So let’s do it.

Monday Motivator: Obey the Two-Minute Rule

If you walk around the back part of the library, you are likely to see any or all of the following: a styrofoam box that may or may not contain the remnants of someone’s lunch,  a sweater, a Target bag full of someone’s lunchtime shopping, and a phone. The one thing that these items have in common is that none is where it’s supposed to be.

What tends to happen is that someone is on the way to put an item away, gets distracted, puts said item down, and then  forgets about it. For a hour. For a day. For a week. For eternity.

This forgetfulness annoys the neater staff member and causes clutter.

Recently, while reading  I came across the two-minute rule. Basically it’s this: If a task takes less than two minutes, don’t make an excuse, do it.

Procrastination is one of my problems. When I come home from work, my first impulse is to sit on the sofa and decompress for a while. And then three hours later, I delay going to bed because I’m tired but still need to take out my contacts, change clothes, etc. My mail piles up on the table by my door. And my dining table has become a purgatory for all the things that I can’t decide where to put or find a place for.

So I took some baby steps. The first night I came home, before sitting down, I sorted my mail. Then as I looked longingly at my sofa, I asked myself if it would take longer than two minutes to take out my contacts. The answer was no, so I trudged upstairs.

A few hours later, when I was ready to go to bed, I didn’t have to wash my face, put away my clothes, or put dishes in the dishwasher. All I had to do was go upstairs. It was a good night.

It also works for larger projects, especially as a way to get started when an assignment seems too large and overwhelming.

Now I just need to make my colleagues as enthused about the two-minute rule as I am.


Media Literacy: Step Back from the News Channels

A few years ago, I was vacationing with some friends when I read that a Facebook pal of mine was a security guard for an event at the college where he worked. I didn’t recognize the name and asked the daughter of my friend.

“I can’t believe you don’t know him,” she said.

I assumed it was the latest teenage heartthrob band, but it turned out he was host of one of the discussion shows on Fox News.

“Oh,” I said. “Then no wonder I don’t know him.”

“And what do you mean by that?” My friend’s tone was quite offended, and I could see that we were about to engage in a political argument, so I quickly added, “I don’t watch any news channels.”

Before I go on, let’s have a moment of full self-disclosure. I am a liberal. Before the election, I took one of those tests that are supposed to tell which candidate you are most aligned with. As I was answering questions, I thought, “Wow. I am getting more conservative as I get older.” When I hit the results button, it turned out that Bernie Sanders was my political soul mate.

But my dislike for the 24-hour news channels has nothing to do with my political stance.

Here are my basic concerns:

  1. News channels have to fill up the time, so little stories become big stories as details are over-analyzed and expert after expert is brought on to discuss the impact of the event.
  2. Like all commercial stations, news channels need ratings. Therefore, three informed policy experts discussing the minute implications of an economic policy  in a calm tone, allowing each person time to speak, won’t do the trick. There must be people arguing and yelling, and someone, usually the host, has to be the winner.
  3. Psychologists have pointed out that repetition can make us believe things are true. We hear them over and over, and their very familiarity can make us lower our critical thinking shields. “Why, yes,” we think, “I’ve heard that before.” But we forget that we’ve heard it repeatedly from one source.
  4. All news outlets , in these days of the web, where information can go around the world in less than a second,  are pressed to get the story out first. This often leads to initial information just being plain wrong. Obviously, this is never good. But for 24-hour news stations, this is especially problematic. (See 1 and 3 above.) Wrong information is repeated and analyzed digging its way into our minds.

For those of  you who love your Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC  (and whatever else is out there these days), I know I won’t convince you to turn them off. All I ask is that you watch them with clear eyes and a critical mind.

Monday Motivator: A January Gratitude List

I think most would agree that we are living in contentious times, and it is sometimes hard to find the silver lining in any cloud. It’s important to remember, in times like these, moments for which we are grateful. So this is my gratitude list for January:

  • On a snowy day, as I was driving to work, I started sliding on the ice. But either through my own skill (unlikely), divine intervention, or just plain luck, I was able to right my car and make it to my destination.
  • I’m also grateful that we didn’t have any more snow in January, so I didn’t have to drive on ice again.
  • I am grateful to my colleague Charles who, when we were filling boxes with discarded videos, kindly took the box with the scuttling roach in it and humanely removed it from the library.
  • I am grateful for the colleague who found a harp ornament at the symphony and bought it for me.
  • Although I was sick for several days during the month, I am grateful I didn’t get the nasty stomach virus going around.

I hope you all had moments in January that made you smile.




Monday Motivator: Watch for Effects

Many years ago, in my first apartment in Nashville, there was a mouse. This is not a heartwarming story of how a lonely girl made friends with this mouse. I don’t like them. So I bought a trap. A sticky trap. In my innocence, since the trap had seeds on it, I thought the seeds were poisonous and the mouse would quickly die. I learned my mistake the next morning when I found a still-living mouse on the trap. I disposed of the creature and went to work.

Still shaken by the experience, I told our department secretary about what happened. She was horrified and gave me a lecture: “Those sticky traps are inhumane. No person who likes animals would ever buy one.”

I felt like the village outcast, someone who should be shunned for my awful behavior. I promised to never buy another sticky trap, and I haven’t.

But then, a few weeks later, at lunch, our secretary told us all a ‘funny’ story about what her cat did the night before. A mouse had ventured out from a closet, and the cat spent a good hour chasing it, tossing it, and batting it around before killing it.

I said nothing, but I couldn’t help thinking that, if given the choice, the mice in question would have found either manner of death equally horrifying.

It is often easy to attack others at times because we only see the behavior. It is easy to defend ourselves because we know our intentions and any or all extenuating circumstances.

But we need to look at the end result.

Media Literacy: Why We Should Care

Today, I was reading the comments following a Facebook post that surprised me. Most of them were angry (that was not the surprising part). But both liberals and conservatives (or those liberals and conservatives who think it’s worthwhile to comment on Facebook) were angry, although for different reasons. That did intrigue me.

I decided to search out the facts about this incident with a quick web search. I got the average number of hits when you do a Google search: thousands upon thousands. But what I found interesting was the order they came in. The first ten to twenty results were all opinion pieces (many disguised as news), full of insults, inflammatory words, and an incredible amount of bias. I had to search to find the first article that simply reported the facts of what this guy did.

While fake news is getting all the attention today, it is only one of problems facing our students, our colleagues, our friends, and ourselves as we try to make informed decisions. There are many blogs and opinion pieces that slant facts to their own political or social agendas. There are many 24-hour news channels that have to keep their air time filled, which means some questionable choices are made. And then we have people who were raised to believe that some media outlets are in the hands of (fill in the blank) conservatives, liberals, feminazis, communists, racists, (and on and on and on).

It’s not that any of this is new, but in the era of social media, wrong-headed stories can make the rounds faster than the crew on the Starship Enterprise could beam down to a planet. Therefore, it’s important that we all become savvy media users and teach those skills to our students.

This spring, the Jolly Librarian’s series will be on becoming a wise consumer of media. (I don’t start this series as an expert, but as a student.) I hope you’ll join me.


Monday Motivator: What I Learned in 2016

The end of the year is always a good time to take stock and to take what I’ve learned to make changes in 2017. So here goes:

  1. I went through much of my life not knowing most people’s political and social views. Now, due to social media, I know what my acquaintances think on every issue. Facebook has brought us many good things; this has not been one of them. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.
  2. No matter what they say, many people don’t want facts, unless those facts align with what they already believe.
  3. Good things do not always happen to good people. In fact, sometimes very bad things happen to them. And sometimes bad people skate through life. It makes little sense trying to ponder the reasons for these things. We still have a responsibility to be good people and defeat evil when we discover it.
  4. At any given time, some things are ending and other things beginning. It makes little sense to try to hold on to an “idealized” past.
  5. No matter how many treats I give to my sister’s psychotic cat, he will still bite me when I try to pet him. It’s time to give up.

And perhaps, most important, whatever 2017 brings, we have no choice but to face it.  So bring it on.

Monday Motivator: Just Let it Be

According to my social media feeds, this election apparently split some families, and many people dreaded going home to face what they saw as inevitable taunting and dissension. Others were impatient with this first group, encouraging them to go home and just be loving: “If my brother were still here, you can bet I wouldn’t be arguing about politics. I’d be appreciating him.”

I found myself in both groups. My family split down the middle on the election, with strong feelings on both sides. But we are also still adjusting to holidays with one fewer place setting.

The holiday was fine, mainly because of one of the things that we tend to forget (especially on social media): we don’t live our lives obsessed about one thing (or most of us don’t). My family didn’t argue for 72 hours over politics because we were also cooking, playing with the cats, washing cars, shopping, and watching football. We also didn’t mourn for all 72 hours because of the above list.

But we have spent holidays arguing, and we have spent them mourning. And those were fine as well. Because sometimes you simply have to accept where you are. As much as you love your family, there will be times when you fight. And sometimes, all you want to do is stay in bed until the holiday is over. And you have the right to get through those times the best way you know how.