Asking What / Why and Digesting the News

There’s been much debate in my house recently about bias, general Facebook obnoxiousness, and what’s on the local news after World Cup coverage ends (oh local news, I do love checking in with you periodically). That’s led me to thinking a bit more about how we digest the news, and what it takes to have a thoughtful opinion as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction.

From what we’ve gathered, consensus seems to be that we should always ask two questions: what are they saying, and why are they saying it?

Here are the steps broken out a bit further:

Read a headline that you know will make the Internet / Facebook / late night show hosts explode, take a deep breath, and ask, “what are they specifically saying?” You want to get straight down to the point. It’s Ok to be a reductionist here. Then ask, “why are they saying it?” Where are they coming from to make their point?

As painful as it may be at first, we have to start from the perspective that the statement at hand is from a genuine and intelligent person. It may also help to apply the principle of charity (give whatever they’re saying the most charitable interpretation). This falls under determining what they are saying.

In order to determine why they are saying it, we have to look through the words and attempt to see what position they are trying to clarify, and/or what gain they seek to make by making this statement. Why is all about teasing out their intentions and/or incentives. This is typically much clearer for opinion pieces than for true journalistic pieces, but it always is worth asking. Always.

The gut reaction to an agenda that most people have, whether it’s strongly for or against the subject, never reaches this level of what/why analysis. Those people are jaded, not skeptical, and operating at an emotional 7th grade level (7th graders are capable of a different type of fit throwing than kindergarteners). They see the statement, match or react against the what (crowbarring in their own why), and apparently go about their business of posting on the internet.

If we choose to be better than that, then we are choosing to really hone our what/why skills. We can rise above the jadedness to be skeptics all the way up to the PhD level. When we break apart what and why, we can start to understand our own biases, as well as those of others. In peak form, we can actually argue both sides of an issue articulately.

Some part of me believes that if we’re all just a tiny bit more thoughtful, that if we each add a few more what’s and whys, we could make the world a better place.

Now, what’s on the local news tonight? I feel like I need some inspiration before I write something on the internet…