Every week, almost every day, I read or watch something in the news that makes me feel anxious. You probably know the feeling – that knot in your stomach that immediately makes you feel like you have no control, the increased heart rate, the conflicted thoughts. I blame this feeling on critical thinking – something I was capable of but didn’t exercise for many years. You see, when I worked in news, I thought I was being analytical while learning the details of a story. As the facts came in, I thought I was evaluating that information in order to understand it. But as it turns out – and with hindsight to my advantage –I was mostly taking the facts and presenting them to the news viewers.
You want to be fair-minded and to avoid “spinning” the information so it fits your agenda. A lot easier said than done.
It wasn’t until I started to work on my thesis that I realized critical thinking means much more than just looking for different sides of the story. Critical thinking, as defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking calls for looking at all the information objectively, analyzing and evaluating it without letting your biases get in the way. You want to be fair-minded and to avoid “spinning” the information so it fits your agenda. A lot easier said than done. Consider this – if critical thinking was easy and if we all could avoid taking information at face value, we would stop watching programs on Fox News or MSNBC. That’s where people turn to hear what they want to hear – opinions that agree with them.
Which is why I’m struggling with the news these days – why news stories make me anxious and agitated. I’m sure I’m not alone here.
I wonder how you feel about the following stories:
- Donald Trump as the GOP frontrunner and his suggestions about immigrants and Muslims
- The Oregon militia situation
- Mass shootings
- The recent Planned Parenthood shooting
- Police shootings
- Race conflict in America
Keep in mind that I’m not asking for your political opinion, like whether you agree with Trump or think that we need more gun control. I’m only curious about how it makes you feel that those events are happening, that they’re covered in the news media, that we’re talking about them. Do they make you feel nervous too? Are you pleased that we’re talking about these issues? Are you sad that they’re even the reality of the world that we live in? You are not sure? Join my world.
The problem with stories like the ones above is that it’s hard to figure out where the facts stop and opinions begin. They end up leaving me with a lot of questions and I’m not sure what the answers are. Take Donald Trump for example; when he first announced his candidacy it all seemed like a novelty that would go away. So the news media (nationally) covered everything he did and said. And he did and said increasingly outrageous things that sometimes I wonder whether he actually believes. Which makes me question – did the news media help him become the Republican frontrunner?
As I write this a group of militia men are occupying federal land in Oregon. And while this story unfolds, many are questioning whether this group is treated differently because of the race of its members. Why aren’t they called terrorists? That’s the question that Janell Ross poses in the Washington Post arguing that the media would probably be using different words to describe this militia if “for instance, a group of armed black Americans took possession of a federal or state courthouse to protest the police.” Her argument makes me anxious – maybe because she has a point, but mostly because I find this issue much like all race issues too complex for me to pick a side.
The problem with stories like the ones above is that it’s hard to figure out where the facts stop and opinions begin.
I’m anxious because I’m not always able to think critically about these issues and these stories, even though I now know I should. I find myself susceptible to not only my biases, but also the opinion of others, to editorials and discussions, to FOX News and MSNBC. And that all makes me feel nervous and uneasy about my abilities to sort out truth (whose truth?) from fact.
But ultimately it makes me anxious because this is the state of our society. It’s a confusing place where it’s hard to trust what you read, even what you see. It’s a world where disagreements, conflicts and aggravation rule over peace. And shouldn’t peace be what we all strive for?
Photo | Gage Skidmore