Don’t believe everything you are told or read. Use the power of critical discernment which you were given to question everything.

Frequently I have the feeling that we are all like goldfish swimming in a water tank. We are so immersed in the water that we cannot see the water itself. To really get at the truth, we have to lift ourselves up out of the water and look back at it.

This task isn’t necessarily easy. We are inundated with so much information that we can get overwhelmed. This feeling of bombardment tends to make us want to simplify life by limiting our exposure to only those things with which we already agree.

Information Overload

This is one of the human responses to what is called information overload. Alvin Toffler in his 1970s bestseller Future Shock predicted that we would have so much access to information that it could lead us to having paralysis towards making a decision.  “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn,” he wrote.

Toffler also advised us, “If you don’t have a strategy, you’re part of someone else’s strategy.” This is why it’s important for us to question all of the messages were receiving – even this one!

I’ve written previously about the importance of getting your news from various sources. I try my best to do that so that I can understand different perspectives on every issue. The newsmagazine The Week does a good job of summarizing the news based on the presentations of various news sources. The challenge in reading it for me is that it can make every event be some kind of polarized debate. It can depress me at times. The Christian Science Monitor weekly magazine is a more positive approach to balanced news.

TV News

Yet most people get their news from TV. My concern is that we are like those goldfish swimming in an ocean of this TV news – can we see the water?

Every TV channel has a perspective on how they present the news. The mainstream networks (NBC, CBS, ABC) as well as cable network CNN appear to take a more balanced approach – but even they make choices in what stories to present and the language they use in their presentations. Can we see it?

Other TV sources clearly have an agenda. I like to watch MSNBC because I tend to be a progressive on most issues and resonate with their message. I do force myself to watch Fox news occasionally just to hear their take – although in all honesty, I find it difficult to listen to them.  Both MSNBC and Fox are more open that they are providing a particular viewpoint (in spite of Fox’s ironic slogan of “fair and balanced”).

Watching Fox with a Critical Eye

My mother-in-law moved in with Mary and I recently. She likes CNN but also watches a lot of Fox news, so I’ve been hearing more of it lately.

It’s been interesting to bounce back and forth between mainstream media, MSNBC and Fox to hear how they’ve covered recent events like the so-called ” fiscal cliff”. If you only got your news from MSNBC, you would think the only perspective is that the fiscal cliff was a false crisis created by Republican ideologues in the House of Representatives. The crux of the issue (as they present it) is that it’s all about a small group of Republicans and their unwillingness to negotiate. On Fox, they  primarily present the story as about government spending and complain about “pork” that was put in the bill passed to avert the crisis. Same issue – polar opposite ways of telling the story.

I also found great irony in the way Fox covered the story of Al Gore selling his TV network “Current TV” to the Arab Al Jazeera TV network. One key message they wanted to make was that Gore was hypocritical both in selling his network to an oil producing country (when his key message has been global warming) and that he was trying to push the deal through before the end of the year to avoid additional capital gains taxes. Any other time Fox celebrates businesses using legal means to make a profit, but not this time.

Another key message they wanted to get across was how a rich Arab who owns Al Jazeera was not worried about making a profit by buying Gore’s small network. This Arab simply wanted to have a means of bringing his message to the American people. Interestingly, even though the Fox announcer was trying to paint this as a problem, his guests pushed back and said our having access to more information and more perspectives is always a good thing. Of course, I believe the irony was lost on the Fox announcer that his network is owned by Rupert Murdoch, originally an Australian, who has bought many media outlets – including unprofitable ones – in order to get his political views out to the American public.  If you only watch Fox, you might not see the irony in their coverage.

Vary Your Sources

Although I find it hard to watch FOX News (especially what I consider somewhat mean-spirited commentary at times), I’m glad I live in a world where we celebrate multiple perspectives and that Fox can exist. I learn by watching Fox. The vulnerability is that if I only watched Fox, I might think that perspective is the only one.

Even though I prefer MSNBC, my critical thinking allows me to see their agenda.  I do my best to recognize when they are pushing a position on me.  I need to especially question the sources that tend to naturally agree with.  This is good advice for all of us no matter what our personal preference is.

I’ll continue watching MSNBC, Fox, and mainstream media. I frequently watch the Russian RT network online because Comcast doesn’t carry it (I especially recommend Thom Hartman’s Big Picture program). I’ll probably watch Al Jazeera some.

Freedom to Listen and Understand

Some people think it’s “un-American” to listen to perspectives from other countries. To me, it’s just the opposite. As Americans, we are blessed with the freedom to have access to all of these perspectives. We should listen to all of them and use our American freedom to choose to believe as we believe. I want you to have that choice and use it as much as I do – even if we don’t agree.  And, most importantly, the more I understand you and your perspective, the more connected I feel to you….the more I experience our true underlying oneness.

Stephen Covey advised us to “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  If I think I am right, yet have never bothered to understand your perspective, then all I have done is build an unnecessary barrier between us.

“Evolutionaries” are people that see that we are on an evolutionary journey and that all worldviews and all perspectives have served us on that  path.  At the higher stages, we integrate all of the different views.  One of the key skills for those who see themselves as being an “integral” thinker is to take in all perspectives.  It’s hard to do that if you don’t open yourself to listening to them.

Be Yourself

The bottom line is to make sure that you don’t inundate yourself in only one message and never critically question it.

I’ll listen to all perspectives, question them all and make up my own mind. That’s my strategy. If I only watch one network, then as Toffler said I’m part of “their strategy”. Be yourself.

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!