Bubbles & Bias – On Being Informed

I wonder if liberals (Democrats and those leaning left) truly do not see media bias. It is understandable that when the media reflects your personal world view, bias would not be obvious to you. You would tend to see news as exactly that – news presented in a straightforward, factual manner. It is just the way it is.

I also think it is entirely possible for someone to remain fully within the Blue Bubble. If all the news and commentary about social issues you hear comes from liberal biased main stream media, how would one even know that there are other perspectives? It would be easy to see any mention of opposing views as being totally right wing nut stuff – tabloid journalism/fake news – and dismiss it without consideration.

There is No Red Bubble

Alternately, I think there really can be no real Red Bubble in America. While there is conservative bias, there is ever-present awareness of another perspective. Every time an American turns on a TV, opens a newspaper, glances at magazines in the rack at the store, or thumb through them in the waiting room of a Doctor’s office, they get left biased information.

So it is rather difficult for someone to stay within a Red bubble. You would have to live a very isolated life, with no internet or TV to even come close to avoiding liberal news. You can’t even watch a movie or a TV sitcom without being bombarded with liberal ideology.

It takes intentional effort to find, read and watch conservative news reporting and commentary. You have to become educated about reliable sources and where to find them. Google searches put liberal stuff at the top. You have to scroll way down to find something conservative. Some conservative information is actually filtered and censored by liberal platforms. You are just not going to see it at all. I have even read stories, then tried to go back for another look and it was nowhere to be found.

The Same Story?

For conservatives, there is constant awareness of the obvious left-leaning bias of main stream media. There have been times when I have read about a current event through a conservative platform, then later read an article or heard a news report about it, and I literally asked myself if this was about the same thing.

After seeing main stream media reports, there is little incentive for a liberal to seek out more conservative commentaries, and ample motivation to dismiss them before hearing them as right wing biased criticism. This happens all the time.

Headlines

The media realizes that most people today don’t have the patience to read lengthy articles. They like short news reports. They mostly read headlines. So the headlines send the message. And those messages are not generally neutral. Look closely at the value based wording. They are telling us, through the headline, not really what happened, but more what we should think and feel about what happened.

Unbiased news should of course, present all sides of an issue in a neutral way. They should tell us the facts of what happened – the general facts in the headline, and critical details in the story. We can then think about and come to our own conclusions about whether it is good or bad.

Usually one must read an entire article to find somewhere, usually about 2/3 to 3/4 the way through, some critical details. There might be a brief statement about a counter argument or opposing point of view. Or these “hidden” details might actually lead one to question the conclusion of the headline. Such details might even lead someone to a very different conclusion. Media is counting on readers not making it to the point where they might encounter something which really makes them think. And they can feel justified that they presented both sides.

Finding Balance

The more friends you have on social media, conservative or liberal, the more likely you will see articles that they share. Some of these are good sources and some may be radical. Unfortunately, it seems that liberals tend to throw all of conservative sources in the radical right-wing trashbin, because they are not what they hear from main stream media. It can be a good thing to read what others are reading. It might lead you to question whether your opinion is right. Even if it doesn’t change your mind, you at least might understand others better.

I find it sad to see someone “unfriend” those who post something they disagree with. This tends to shrink their pool of ideas and settle them more firmly into the bubble. Why can’t we have different perspectives and opinions and respect each other?

I have been pleasantly surprised by my local newspaper. Not too long ago, I think because of a change in editorial staff, they started including occasional conservative opinion pieces. Nothing like reading a few of those to realize how lacking those voices had been. It was almost like suddenly seeing colors among the gray. Reading a liberal and a conservative piece on the same topic next to each other is very enlightening – I highly recommend it. It gives one the opportunity to hear both sides and actually form an independent opinion. That is, of course, if one reads them with somewhat of an open mind.

I think it would be wonderful to have a civil discussion of all sides of an issue. But first, we must get out of bubbles and realize that there are multiple perspectives.

Why Reading Books Matters

How many books did you read this year?

Disturbing Trend Number 1:

I have been disturbed and saddened to see data about how few people actually read books any more. It almost seems that if text won’t fit onto a small screen or contain 150 characters or less, it is not worth the effort. This has been somewhat of a frustration with blogging. I wonder how many people actually take the two to five minutes to read through an entire blog post.

The media has figured this out, of course. They are expert at putting the main – and usually biased – message into explosive headlines. Then they hide critical countering facts or information way down in the article. They know that most “readers” scan the headlines, but won’t read through an entire article, especially online. I find most of the “comments” on social media do not indicate that those commenting have really read the article. They are simply reacting to the headline.

So, if very few people are reading short news or human interest articles on social media, how many are reading real books – not necessarily just the physical paper kind, but digital as well?

Disturbing Trend Number 2:

There is a growing trend toward censoring and banning books – even classics written long ago – because they offend new found social sensibilities or don’t conform to shifting standards or political correctness. This is really scary on many levels, some of which I will discuss below.

Disturbing Trend Number 3:

Many think that going to see a movie version is better than reading the book. Movies give us someone’s visual, and often subjective interpretation of a book. It is somewhat disturbing that everyone who watches, passively accepts that particular interpretation, which may actually be very different than the author’s original intent. Much of the original message often gets lost in the interpretation.

We like movies because they incorporate visual and sound along with a story. They are relatively short. We watch, then we leave and go on to some other activity. Some movies have an emotional impact which lingers with us, or might cause us to think for a while. But many movies are very forget-able. They serve their purpose as passive, short term entertainment.

The Case for Books:

There is something special about reading a book. Books take longer and involve more personal effort than watching movies. There is mental effort involved in interpreting symbols -words – on a page into thoughts, ideas and images. We need to understand the literal meaning of words for the writing to make sense, but there are deeper ideas and meanings which often require some more serious mental consideration.

Though it is possible to read some books in one setting – I have done that with a few short ones – most require taking breaks. We read for a while, then set the book down to do other things. But our mind does not always let it go. Often, especially with compelling narratives, I find myself thinking about the book while doing other activities. I mull over why characters did what they did and wonder what will they do next. I put myself in the place of characters and wonder how I might have handled situations differently. I try to figure out mysteries. I replay certain scenes in my mind trying to grasp all the details. My mind lingers in the setting of the book.

Often I look at maps in between reading to get a better idea of where the setting is and the proximity of other places mentioned. Sometimes I google to learn more about things featured in the book.

There is something magical about reading books by skilled authors. I think there are gifts in the use of words that some people have been given. These gifted people combine words in a way that can paint a visual picture in your mind of a place unfamiliar to you, yet it becomes familiar through the description. This allows us to see another place as real, even if it only exists in the imagination of the author.

Books also transport us through history. We all remember dry, boring history books simply stating facts. But a skilled author can place us in that setting, helping us feel what it might have been like to experience those events.

Good authors create or describe characters in a way that allows us to get to know them. We can visualize what they look like and how they move and interact with other. Good characters are like real people. They are complicated, basically good but flawed. Some we do not like, but can see their humanity and possibly what events and circumstances caused them to behave badly. Some characters become like friends or family. We see in them characteristics of those we know – maybe even ourselves. We become invested in their actions.

Good books are about good stories told in a compelling way. They do not simply entertain, they also teach. Through good stories we can learn things about human nature, about ourselves, about what things in life really matter. I think all good stories revolve around a basic conflict between good and evil – what life is really all about.

Why Reading Books Matters

People in our world today are increasingly living within “bubbles”. There is a growing tendency to associate only with people who are like us – who think like us, believe like us, behave like us. This reinforces our world view as THE only, or at least THE CORRECT world view. Then those who have conflicting world views or beliefs become “others”. They are not only looked down on as uninformed, unenlightened or wrong, but become seen as inherently bad, as enemies to “our truth”, or even evil.

To be socially accepted, others must accept certain views and beliefs. If they don’t, then we are free to criticize, ostracize, silence them, persecute and hate them. This is scary stuff. It leads to even scarier stuff. We we might see this coming if we have read books from and about the past which show this process.

Books can be an antidote to “bubble thinking”. When we read a novel or well written history or biography, we have an opportunity to get outside our narrow world view. We see other perspectives. We get a sense of circumstances and influences of other times and places and cultures and can see the behavior of others in that context without judging them by our current standards. We get a peek into someone else’s head, into ways of thinking that may be different than ours. We can then see different viewpoints as just different – not necessarily right or wrong.

We might even have to question and examine our own beliefs. One of the most important questions we can ever ask ourselves is “could I be wrong?”  We may eventually conclude that we are right after all, or at least feel secure in our view. But through this process, we might be able to see others as not totally wrong after all. We might see some truth in things we had not previously considered.

Reading books is a gateway to learning about things formerly foreign to us. Books allow us to experience places we might never be able to visit and return to some familiar ones. We can learn about occupations, hobbies, and activities that we have not personally experienced. We might be inspired to learn more about something because a book has peaked our interest.

I think reading good books makes us better people – more human and more compassionate. Reading can expand not only our imaginations and our intellect, but also our hearts.

A Challenge

So my challenge for 2019 is to read good books. If you have not read one for a while, just start. If you like to read, seek out some new books or re-read old favorites. Just read more. I will suggest some of my favorites in future posts – who knows, maybe even do book reviews. Let’s see where 2019 will take us.

Wisdom

wisdom

This world is so badly in need of wise men and women. My study of King Solomon for a Sunday School lesson led to much pondering about wisdom – what it is, how to acquire it, and the mystery about the lack of wisdom in our world.

wisdom of Solomon

Solomon’s wisdom – see 1 Kings 4:29-34

Solomon’s wisdom was a gift from God. God’s love is unconditional, but His gifts come with conditions. To have a gift of the spirit, one must be in a position to be sensitive and receptive to the spirit. Solomon’s gift came with several “ifs”, cautioning that he would lose it if he turned from God and from following His laws.

What is Wisdom?

Dictionary definitions of wisdom include learning & knowledge, but wisdom is in the use of knowledge – the power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action. Wisdom begins with intellect, learning and knowledge, but builds on that with understanding and insight. It can come through experience as well as study, yet some may have vast experience yet still not get it.

Wisdom requires discernment – the ability to discern truth from error, for real wisdom is based on truth. It also involves the ability to know what things are of most importance and lasting value.

Solomon himself wrote many wise Proverbs (see Proverbs 1-9), but his wisdom was not purely intellectual. True wisdom is reflected in action.

Wisdom differs from being clever or cunning (see 3 Nephi 21:10), because those tend to be deceptive and self-serving. Wisdom is honest and true and benefits all.

Foolish and Vain

Frequently in the scriptures I see the terms “foolish and vain” paired together. (See Romans 1:21Titus 3:92 Nephi 28 ; Alma 39:11; Helaman 12:4Helaman 16:22;  We think of foolishness as the opposite of wisdom. Why is “vain” paired with foolish? What is foolish about vanity or vain things?

We think of vanity as being proud and self-serving. A vain person is conceited with an excessively and possibly unrealistic regard for self. There is something false or deceitful about vanity.

Definitions of vain also include things of no real value or significance, things lacking substance, anything empty, worthless, fruitless. Things that have an appearance of value or desirability, but no real substance. You might think of vain as a pretty puffed up outer shell that is hollow within.

In this sense the two definitions actually merge, as someone who is vain in the sense of being proud actually may have no real depth of character under a boastful exterior. The vain are all show with little substance.

There is vanity in thinking you are wise. Thinking one knows and understands already leads to pride and a resistance to learning, especially from the source of true wisdom. (

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28; see also Proverbs 3:5-7)

Wise Judgement

To be vain is foolish – to put undue importance on things of little significance. Scriptures point out the opposite “plain and precious” indicating that things of most value are more plain than flashy. Wisdom can discern between things of lasting value and those of little worth and make judgments and decisions based on those most worthwhile.

Just as it is foolish to choose or pursue vain things, it is also foolish to base judgement on things of no real value. What could be more foolish than spending a lifetime acquiring stuff, having fun and seeking people’s approval? Yet, such superficial and insignificant, though outwardly appearing fashionable or popular trends are what much of the world bases judgement on.

Wise judgement is based on sound principles and unchanging truth. It requires an understanding of truth. It is based on standards that have stood through time and have been tested and proven.

The Mystery/Paradox

The Apostle Paul contrasted the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God.

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: (1 Corinthians 2:4-7; see also 1 Corinthians 1:20-31)

The wisdom of the world is really foolish and vain. Those who are wise in their own eyes are really fools. Fools mock. The world mocks faith in God as foolishness, yet the wisdom of the world is based on vain things, and is really foolish.

The path to true wisdom is the plain and precious truths of the gospel and the Spirit which enlightens understanding. The simple and pure faith in Christ, which the world considers silly or foolish, is really the path to true wisdom. This is the great paradox.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a wise judge, put it this way:

“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools . . . and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

Where to Find Wisdom

The greatest wisdom comes from the source of all wisdom. James advised “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5)

Gordon B. Hinckley said:

We need not look far in the world to know that “the wisdom of the wise has perished and that the understanding of the prudent has come to naught.” That wisdom for which the would should seek is the wisdom which comes from God. The only understanding that will save the world is divine understanding. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 500)

O be wise; what can I say more?

Honesty

Honesty

Some thoughts about honesty in a world of deception, relative truth, and rationalization.

Honesty & Truth

Honesty is an admirable virtue. It is an aspect of good character, an indicator of a good person. There are generally two aspects of honesty – honesty in speech and action. These are reflected in two of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal and Thou shalt not give false witness. But honesty goes beyond these outward manifestations.

To be truly honest, there must be a clear standard of truth with which to be true. There are a plethora of laws dealing with all of the potential instances of dishonesty.

One could insist that it is the intent at the core of honesty or dishonesty that matters. If the intent is to mislead or deceive, that is clearly dishonest, while those who are misinformed may speak untruths without awareness. Deception is the presentation of opinion, belief, or perception as truth.

When we do not act in accordance with real truth – absolute truth – we are deceiving ourselves. We deceive ourselves first because we want to believe we are okay doing what we want to do. We then seek agreement from others to validate our own false perception and actions.

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A Spectrum of Spiritual Disorders

Could we all be suffering from different forms of the same basic disorder – each falling somewhere along a spiritual disorders spectrum?

The Process of Change

I recently read a book about a woman’s personal story of overcoming and changing her life in a positive way. As I read, I was flashing back to another book that I read almost 30 years ago by a man sharing his story of personal change and overcoming.

Though their challenges were different, both of these people went through essentially the same process – a spiritual process of rebirth, a change of heart, a spiritual awakening, and an accompanying change of their lives. At the time I read the earlier book, I was involved with a Twelve Step program and this book was recommended as an example of that process. This man’s issues did not involve substance abuse, but his recovery process was the same as those who did. The Twelve Steps have been successful for people with a variety of addictions, including things like gambling and addictive relationships.

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My Truth, Your Truth, or THE TRUTH

My Truth?

I find myself cringing when I hear the phrase “speak my truth”.

Truth is something that exists – independent of any person. One cannot “own” truth, let alone define their “personal truth”. How can several people have different or conflicting truths and they all be true?

One can share their unique experience – maybe that is what they really mean? One can relate their particular perspective of something, which may be very different than mine. Psychotic people may be dealing with altered reality, but their perception does not change what is true.

Someone cannot create their own truth. And certainly no one should be able to force others to accept, validate or conform to a particular independently defined truth.

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Some thoughts about Worship

worship

Worship is more than going through the motions of ritual or ceremony. To be true worship, there must be humility, faith, conscious focused attention and action with real intent.

I have been pondering about worship since reading an article which presented the idea that yoga is pagan worship, and Christians should avoid it. I practice yoga. It benefits me physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. Rather than take offence at a perceived allegation, I instead tried to better understand what true worship involves.

This nature Yoga session with my granddaughter should give you an idea of how mystic and worshipful this practice is to me

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Understanding

“And with all thy getting get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7)

I have tried to ask questions with a sincere intent to understand other people’s perspective and reasoning on issues. I have generally been disappointed by the answers I have received, especially from liberals. In response, I have received slogans, sound bites, quotes, memes, twitter hashtags, or given a link to some article by a leftist “expert” or commentator. But I rarely receive any real explanation of that person’s own understanding of a position and the reasoning behind their personal beliefs. I have also not seen much in the way of attempting to understand an opposing position – particularly ones that I have voiced. I have received condescending comments that imply that I don’t understand the facts, that I have been misled or have been listening to false ideas, but no indication that those commenting have even read or listened to arguments from the other side with anything resembling an open mind. I am sure that this happens from both sides, but I have noticed a more “haughty” attitude from liberals and a tendency for them to point out that the religious accept what they are told without question, though they seem to be doing the same thing in echoing standard liberal positions without explanation. The questioning I have received when I have voiced an opinion has felt like an attempt to tear down my beliefs or imply that I am stupid or uninformed, rather than any desire to gain an understanding of how I arrived to my conclusions.

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More Thoughts About What Happened

Some time ago I wrote a post which began with the question: “What just happened, how did we come to this?” Recently I read something about sexuality during the early middle ages which got me thinking more about the process in which things seemed to change so quickly. Maybe it hasn’t been such a sudden turn around. Rather, looking back I see a series of significant changes in societal thinking and attitudes which seem to have built upon each other. (This is not based on any real sociological study or backed by any experts, just my personal observations through the decades of my life.)

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Discernment without Cynicism

In today’s world, it is a challenge to see clearly and judge between good and evil or the true from the false, while remaining hopeful and optimistic. It is easy to become cynical, discouraged, and feel hopeless.

Cynicism

The term cynic originated with an ancient Greek philosopher named Cynic who held virtue to be good. He became cynical of the rest of society and the material interests he saw. “Cynical” by definition implies a belief that people are motivated only by selfishness. It causes one to question the sincerity of people’s motives or actions. It implies disbelief in human goodness.

There is evil in our world – and people who have been corrupted by it. So many lies being spread that it is hard to know what is true. There are some who are simply misled, and may or may not be forceful in promoting falsehoods. Others have in effect “sold their souls” and embraced lies and evil. They manipulate and use others for their selfish purposes. We do need to be able to recognize such people and see them for what they are- not simply to condemn them, but to prevent them from gaining power that could cause harm to others and to our common freedoms. Too many people are easily deceived and mislead by such people, largely because they are able to present an acceptable face to the world, and often are very convincing.

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