Recently, I read an article which argued that since we are “fed” the news that we like, we are loosing our critical thinking power and growing intolerant to what we don’t agree with. Fascinated by the rationale, I started observing myself on Facebook, Twitter etc. only to realize that it was painfully true. Whatever information we are fed is only reflection of our own “limited” thinking and without a conscious action we will never be able to see the other side of coin, which may (or may not) be closer to truth. It is even more relevant with the election frenzy in India where different political parties are bombarding us with their propaganda with the help of extremely biased news. You are truly on your own in this world of information explosion and hence this attempt to turn the gaze inwards when you are looking for answers.
With the world getting smaller with technology, is it really ‘information explosion’ or ‘information exclusion’ that is causing the problem? To start with, I started getting my “news feeds” from four different news channels on Twitter, Facebook and their own apps/websites. I chose my news, followed the actual people on Twitter and built my perception of the news. Actually that is quite time consuming but I chose this path to find out for myself what are all the sides of the story. And on the way, I made lot of discoveries of independent news/journalists, great activists and even just good human beings.
All of this brought some itching questions in my mind. How and why do we see these two sides of the same truth? In spite of media portraying negative news, why am I able to draw positive conclusions of a matter but why not others? Why even so called educated people with unlimited access to information are also ignorant? How will you break free of these things that are influencing us from seeing the truth or collecting the real information from bunch of data?
And the answers to the questions brought me to these strategies that helped me seek the truth. With these strategies, I came to a certain perspective which was not intolerant of the other side, even though I don’t agree with it. You may not want to spend so much time in collecting news in the way I did, but that was my path. I know there is no dearth of “How To’s” in the world. Be it. I had to create my own.
Before we get into these simple but not so trivial strategies, I want to assert that I am not trying to change who we are. What we are today is a complicated function of our internal expression and external impressions. In other words childhood, school, family background, our experiences, education, idols etc. affect our innate nature and shape how we think today. I am trying to address how not to let who we are, come in the way of processing information and extracting the most balanced perception.
The first and foremost is to apply the basic human and moral principles. One can argue that there is no absolute truth but you can judge things based on basic principles of morality and integrity. Just checking involvement in simple things like violence, greed, lying, stealing etc. can help us see the truth of the matter.
Secondly, remove self interest from your opinions about certain news. We wear filters of our own views while looking at a news. Our own ideology, faith, thought process is contributing to our enlightenment and ignorance. But really is it that simple that our passion, likes/dislikes and rationality is enough to form a unbiased opinion? The true culprits in the way are “our self interest, convenience and status quo”. The truth is out there but we are perceiving it the way it is beneficial and convenient to us. As an example a CEO in a company which is rotten by corruption has to defend it tooth and nail, for his own sake. We know that its only when you have no stake in a matter you can be truly impartial.
Third, look at the source of information. Look at the affiliations of the person and their professional/political/monetary allegiance. Even before I start reading articles/news I want to find who they are and where do they work. What is their stake in putting out certain information. Most of the “informative” things are doing one thing for sure, they are excluding information and showing half truth depending on their inclinations.
Fourth is looking for diversions from an issue or context. This is a pitfall even intelligent people fall in, and it is also related to the first point. You may get diverted if it is convenient and beneficial for you. For example in the RIL gas scam, Swaminathan Aiyar diverted people saying that Reliance has only 15% stake in gas, so they are not the true beneficiaries. But the fact is reliance “asked” for higher price. That was such a diversion from the issue that people who did not want to believe in RIL’s wrongdoings, got convinced that Reliance is not to blame since they have lower stake in it.
And lastly, find truly apolitical people whose opinion you can respect. You may not agree with them but they will bring a new perspective in a very provocative but respectful way. There are people like Ramchandra Guha etc. who are scholars. They might not be useful in the arena of action but they are valuable since you can gain factual information and borrow their efforts of critical thinking.
Eventually I want to repeat that, we can argue that nothing is absolute. Everything is relative truth, but the fundamentals are laid out by certain universal principles of morality. Everything has two sides then which one is true? Well the answer is deeper. It is in our intention, our ego and our self interest. Really an honest and competent person has no fear from any of the turmoil that is happening. The truth lies inside us. You are on your own, and don’t let the information explosion fool you.
By Shubhada Pugaonkar
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