Posts Tagged ‘Huffington Post’

Reading Material for the Dialogue Journey

I will be away from the laptop for a few weeks, so instead of an original post I thought I’d link you to some other food for dialogical thought. Read one a week, and it’ll be as though I never left!

  • The Abortion Stalemate: Can “I Don’t Know” Break It? In this post, I suggest that starting over again on abortion—from a position other than drop-dead certainty—might help us make some progress in dialogue where little has existed before. The comments are particularly interesting: many of them show a serious and genuine struggle to grapple with an extraordinarily difficult issue. Hearing the wisdom of others is one of the best things about writing.
  • Can Humility Change the World?  From what I can see, this misunderstood virtue is one of the indispensable “habits of the heart” that can reorient us toward dialogue. See what you think of my perspective on the term.
  • Beyond Stereotypes of “Conservative” and “Liberal” Christianity. Dialogue starts from a better place when we view our dialogue partners as individuals rather than through predetermined filters. In that spirit, I share what I’ve learned about the “liberals” and “conservatives” in my faith tradition. Again, the comments are most valuable.

As you may have picked up, I so appreciate those who take the time to read, reflect, and comment on what I write. That goes for you too. I learn a great deal from hearing your voice, and I am encouraged by your support. Thank you. I’ll be back on the blog before you know it.

A Good Thought Spoiled

For this week’s post, I was all set to rant against a news story coming out of Ohio. Now I can’t. What happened between then and now may hold a few lessons for us.

My little tale starts with a headline in my RSS feed. How can you not react to

Fetus Set To Testify In Favor Of Ohio Anti-Abortion Bill

First reaction: sigh. More weird antics in the abortion debate—the very antics that do as much to harden the battle lines as to clarify the issue.

Second reaction: media skepticism. Why did the reporter use the word testify? Surely he knew the connotations it would carry. I thought it inflammatory and irresponsible.  So I decided to blast it here to illustrate the need for precise language when discussing difficult issues.

Then I dug a little deeper and came to my third reaction: uh-oh. The article appeared in The Huffington Post. I’ve just started writing for The Huffington Post. Do I really want to criticize a story on a website that might prove critical to my writing venture?

Fortunately, the article’s author linked his story to a release from Faith2Action, an organization supporting the legislation. Fourth reaction: whoops. The word testify came not from the author, but from the source itself.

So. What did I learn from this exercise?

First, vested interests die hard—very hard. I write a lot about the danger they present to authentic dialogue, and the value of spirituality in clearing them away. None of that means I’m completely free of the damned things. Like our basic human instinct for self-preservation, vested interests appear to be always with us. Hence the need to strive against them in our internal preparation for dialogue.

Second, it is so easy to miss the full story. Remember death panels? I wonder how much of that drama could have been averted if more people had simply dug deeper into the facts. Surely, with the testifying fetus story, I could have stopped with the notice in my RSS feed and come to some conclusion about irresponsible journalism. And I would have been wrong.

Third—and I’ve said this ad nauseam—getting the full story and clearing away vested interests require reflection, time, and work. In today’s culture, these are hard to come by. And yet, as the death panels brouhaha illustrates, our national conversations could be more productive, and move more efficiently toward resolving our national issues, if we took the time and did the work.

True, we all have lives. We cannot possibly research every news story that comes our way. What we can do, perhaps, is suspend our judgment on those issues we cannot research.

The ingredients of dialogue—depth of thought, precision of language, the work of the soul—are difficult and elusive. Clearly, none of us gets them completely right. But our attempts to do so can make the world better. That alone is reason to pursue them.

Dialogue and the Balanced Media Diet

Forget bias. Never mind sensationalism. The biggest problem with the media today is that human beings are involved. 

Why is that a problem? Because every human being comes with her own upbringing, experiences, values, and opinions. Try as they might, then—and I sincerely believe they try their hardest—journalists can never attain perfect objectivity. Of course there’s bias; it can’t be any other way.  

As a result, no one media outlet can provide the diversity of perspective that reasoned dialogue requires. To prepare ourselves for dialogue, then, we need a “balanced media diet”: a healthful blend of newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, TV news, and other sources that provide a cross-section of viewpoints. I took a look at this in my last post

Now, what does a balanced media diet look like? 

Part of it is pretty evident: we strive to absorb views across the political spectrum, as President Obama mentioned in his recent commencement address. Conservatives who love The Wall Street Journal or the National Review could try reading Mother Jones. Liberals who get their news from the Huffington Post could tune in to FOX News now and then. (Stop cringing. This hurts me worse than it hurts you.) 

Straightforward, right? Except diversity comes in more than one flavor. For instance: 

  • Ethnicity. If Anglos like me tapped into Latino news sources, how much more would we learn about the immigration debate?
  • Gender. GQ readers, when is the last time you picked up Ms. Magazine? And vice versa?
  • Faith. If atheists subscribed to God’s Politics, how much common ground might they find?
  • Reporting vs. analysis. Reporters by definition are held to a higher standard of balance and objectivity. Getting all one’s news from analysis and op-eds makes it too easy to absorb predigested opinion, however, thoughtful, as fact.

 There’s another way to balance your media diet too: perusing media that themselves present a diversity of opinions. I think of these as the “mutual funds” of news. Just as each mutual fund contains a diverse array of investments, so these diverse media present us with more breadth of perspective per hour spent ingesting the news.

I personally gravitate toward these “mutual funds.” From the PBS NewsHour I get in-depth investigations of a few issues each evening, usually with a well-struck balance of insight and opinion. Our local newspaper carries a diverse blend of conservatives, liberals, and everyone in between. In the pages of Tikkun I read social and spiritual insights from across the spectrum of faith traditions. Because of its thoughtful insights and analysis, The Economist also makes my list; it gives me a bias toward the free market while reporting on some of the world’s least reported stories.

What happens when we take in a diverse media mix? Inevitably, we come across the same story from different angles—and begin to see the legitimacy of each point of view. The complexity of the situation and the lack of easy answers become clear. We grow instinctively skeptical of easy answers for any issue. We start to take political and social heroes with several grains of salt, knowing how fallible humans are and how quickly we fall. Overall, we gain wisdom, empathy, and an ability to live with ambiguity.

Of course, we can’t read or watch everything we can put our hands on. But to the extent we broaden our media mix, we broaden our perspective. And to the extent we broaden our perspective, we prepare ourselves more deeply for dialogue.