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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- No matter what they say, many people don’t want facts, unless those facts align with what they already believe.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
This week, many families will sit down at the Thanksgiving table and, before eating, go around the table and express their gratitude. Since I won’t be eating dinner with you, here’s what I’m thankful for this year:
- Belonging to a loving family.
- Living in a country where dissent is tolerated (although often mocked on social media).
- Having students from all over the world who have taught me what it means to be brave, persistent, and resilient.
- Knowing colleagues who go the extra mile day after day to make sure students learn.
- Being encouraged by friends who want me to spread my wings.
- Having a reading list that I will never finish.
- Knowing that right now, somewhere, someone is creating a chocolate raspberry dessert that I have yet to try.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Warning: This is a convoluted story.
Aggie from the English department asked if any of us wanted a kitten. The answer was no, since we had just spent the last month helping our IT guy find a new home for a cat, a stray that appeared at his house, didn’t get along with his dog, and was stressing out his pregnant wife. (The IT guy’s, not the dog’s.) Finally, Amy, who may have contacted every single person she ever knew, found the cat a home. (You have to understand when you have a smart and kind IT guy, you do what you can to make him happy.) We had exhausted our resources.
But then Aggie said that there were coyotes in the neighborhood and the poor stray cat could soon become a victim. That made Pam’s soft heart grow even softer, but she already has five cats. As she always does whenever there is a stray cat story, she tried to convince me to take the “baby.”
My answer was no, but also feeling guilty about the cat and possible coyotes, I agreed to help sponsor the cat’s medical bill if she found it a home. Charles, whose heart is even softer than Pam’s when it comes to animals, also agreed to help out.
So after weeks of trying to catch the cat and then make a vet appointment, the cat is ready to make the trip to its new home with Pam’s niece.
I’m not sure there’s a real point to this story, except after an election season that was so divisive and cruel, it was nice to be part of something communal and kind.
This week, I’m giving tips on group work. Do I hear a collective groan? Group work is hard for college students, especially those at community colleges where the job and family responsibilities of various group members can make scheduling a meeting harder than finding a non-musician in Nashville. But group work is a mainstay of college assignments, and groups are good practice for the workplace. So here are some tips for being a good group member:
- Be flexible when scheduling meetings and, once one is scheduled, show up. That’s just basic good manners, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who miss group meetings and then seem surprised that the rest of the team is annoyed.
- Don’t be a slacker. Do your share of the work. Once again, this seems obvious, but a main reason that people hate group work is that people won’t equally share the load.
- Don’t enable slackers. Hold team members responsible for their share. If it doesn’t happen, schedule a meeting with your professor to see what your options are.
- Be good humored. Sure, it’s not how you wanted to spend your hour between work and your night class, meeting in a group. But then it probably isn’t anyone else’s idea of a party either. Don’t bring everyone down because you’re hungry, tired, or in a bad mood. The work has to get done, but the burden doesn’t seem so heavy when people are nice to each other.
- Don’t be a dictator. Another reason people hate group work is that one person wants to boss everyone around and everything has to be done his/her way. Don’t be that person. Ever.
Being an introvert, I’ll admit that my favorite group activity happened in graduate school when all the other members dropped the course. I didn’t tell the professor and just did all the work myself.
Still, I am a firm believer in group assignments, because, like it or not, most of us have to work with teams in the workplaces. And anything that helps us build teamwork skills is a good thing. And it doesn’t have to be a painful operation. As in most things in life, showing up, being prepared and being considerate will help you succeed.
In his book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Father James Martin tells of a conversation he had with another priest. Martin was not having a good day and concluded with “My life is such a cross.”
His friend responded, “Yes, but for you or for others?”
Now I have nothing against sharing our troubles or even venting them. But do we really want to be the emotional Pig Pen, walking around with fumes of anger, resentment, and anxiety spreading to every bystander?
I know more than once I’ve met up with a friend expecting a nice meal and conversation only to leave feeling as if I had just slogged through the Slough of Despond after listening to a never-ending litany of complaints. And I’m sure friends can say the same after an evening with me.
But it’s something I’m working on. After all, there are enough bad things in the world for my friends to face without adding me to the list.