Keeping perspective on the news

Commentary

Summer is reaching its end, and now that we have managed to survive the last holiday of the season, that being Labor Day, it is time to look forward to the changing of the leaves, the fall harvests, pumpkin patches and the goblins that will surely howl on Halloween; but I’m not ready to think snow.

I’m also not ready to believe everything I read in the newspaper, on the internet, Facebook, or Twitter. And I’m definitely not looking forward to the next two months of this political season — the time when real craziness takes up residence in and around the streets of Chautauqua County.

Over these past couple of weeks, it seems that there is a resounding mantra that is continuing to be drummed almost incessantly into our homes via newspapers, television and social media. It all adds up to “The city is going down the drain.” “The village leaders are at each other’s throats.” “Every elected official is corrupt and out for their own good — don’t believe them.” “It’s time for a change.” Well from where I sit that is all a bunch of hooey! Maybe I’m a Pollyanna, but things just ain’t the way they’re being portrayed folks!

There are a lot of good things happening in the city, the village, the town and yes, even the too many school districts and the state of New York (even with its high taxes); but we don’t see a lot of that in print these days. If it is the negativity and hyperbole that sells papers, then the newspaper businesses ought to be having a red-letter month! Why is it easier to believe the negative rather than see the positive things that are actually happening and that have happened?

According to studies conducted by Ohio State University’s John Cacioppo, Ph.D. our brains actually have a “negativity bias: Your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news.” Cacioppo’s research demonstrates that “The brain reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative. There is a greater surge in electrical activity. Thus, our attitudes are more heavily influenced by downbeat news than good news.”

So, let me ask you, are you willing to believe the negative without taking the time to analyze and apply rational thinking to what you are reading? Is what we are seeing and hearing everyday — the continuous hammering of the negative “ain’t it awful” messages — so powerful that we are following these “professional unbiased truthtellers” blindly over the cliff by those who are simply in the game to sell papers, get more followers on Twitter and likes on Facebook? Look around you!

What are you seeing? Are you seeing progress in your community? Are you seeing this area of Chautauqua County moving forward toward regaining a foothold on positive economic development? Are you able to look past the pomposity and grandstanding that is taking place across our area, whether in the media or from what were once silent podiums? Or are you willing to apply critical thinking skills and come to your own conclusion as to the state of affairs independently?

If we are able to think rationally, we must be able to understand that today’s media, regardless of the mode or method, is different from the days of Walter Cronkite. There is “fake news” and each media outlet operates along the fringes and between the lines of totally accurate and maybe just a little over the top reporting.

We live in a different world today. I believe much of what is being said, printed, and broadcasts today by the various media outlets may simply be purely an attempt at brainwashing the vulnerable and those who may be too lazy to accept the truth. There is a name for this behavior, it is called the “illusory truth effect.” The illusory truth effect, put very simply, is a manner in which the human psyche equates repetition with the truth — it is a cognitive bias that is not only used by marketers and politicians, it is being used on a daily basis by the very people who are supposed to be above it — our news media. I believe it is akin to “brainwashing” and I for one am not buying what some of our very own “professional” news organizations are selling. Are you?

I am reminded of the phrase from the movie, “Field of Dreams,” in which we hear the voice from the corn field, “If you build it, they will come.” Maybe it is time to ask ourselves, is the media, the professionals, the unbiased reporters, the newspapers attempting to use that same philosophy with its unsuspecting readers and viewers, “if you print (say) it, they will believe it?” If they say it more than once … think about it.

The kids are on their way back to school. The days and nights are getting cooler. The leaves will be changing soon, and are lawns are beginning to fill up with political signs — listen, challenge those who are speaking, demand the truth in what you hear, see and read, don’t go blindly over the cliff!

I’ll leave you with a quote from 1 John 4, “My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you.” I think that goes for what we read in the newspapers, Twitter, Facebook and see on television as well.

Have a great day.

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