Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reset Yourself

Once and a while, it’s good to hit that ol’ reset button.

I’m talking about the one on your brain, not the one on your computer. Look at it this way: Everyone, no matter their political stripe or socio-economic status, believes they are the center of the universe. Not literally, but figuratively. We learn to read, speak and write first by observing what goes on in the world around us, according to Frank Smith, but then once the barest foundations are laid, we learn even more by building on what we’ve already internalized. Whatever new bit of information that comes into our head, we compare it to what we already know so we can store it, compartmentalize it, and then regurgitate it. This is the basic mechanics of learning.

Sometimes, however, it gets us into trouble.

Take the mass media, for example, more specifically the notion that it is biased. I believe the amount of bias the news shows depends on the last time we hit that ol’ reset button and calibrated our own beliefs against those of the world outside our own skulls. Those with a liberal reset aren’t going to notice the same bias as those with a conservative reset. Those living in Europe have a different reset than those living in America. Now, there are overlaps, but as none of us share exactly the same belief, there are gaps. The bigger the gap, I think, the less frequent those noticing the gap hit that reset button to recalibrate their own thinking. Now, oftentimes when the reset is hit, it’s not going to result in a paradigm shift of thinking. The gap won’t suddenly disappear. But with each reset, I think, the gap of understanding is lessened.

If resetting doesn’t appear to work, doesn’t appear to close the gap, it’s because resetting really isn’t happening. Those of a liberal mien may be exposed to Fox News, for example, but without a reset of understanding, the bias of Fox News remains clear. Since the reset is already set on other media not being biased – and by this I mean being close enough to matching their own set of beliefs, with maybe a few gaps but none of them significant – they do not perceive the “liberal” bias that those with a conservative reset experience. And vice versa. To a conservative, most of the media is biased towards liberals. You can see this in statements made by Dan Rather in Bernard Goldberg’s book titled Bias, in which Rather said he believed the New York Times was a “middle of the road” publication, politically. Say that to folks with a liberal reset and they’ll probably agree, or maybe even say it leans a bit too far to the right. Say that to someone with a conservative reset and you get laughter, loud and long.

So what’s my point in all this?

It’s that if we don’t reset our thinking once and a while to at least understand each other’s resets, to understand why the gaps exist between our resets and the resets of others, we’re not learning. We can learn about, say, homosexual marriage, or, say, nuclear power, but learning about such and learning to accept such, despite the pitfalls of each as perceived by those who oppose them, we have not learned at all. Facts are fine, but most of the gaps we witness between ourselves and others is filled with emotion, reasoning, reckoning, upbringing and a general unwillingness to learn. Or at least an unwillingness to understand.

Want proof? Read the comments on this story about Bill Gates' TED talk on energy miralces -- which includes a boost for nuclear power. You'll see gaps and people doing little to understand the reasons for those gaps. Instead, you'll see people covering their individual reset buttons and defending their own beliefs without really conceding that the others may have a point as well.

And here, as Bible-thumpers scream at atheists. And vice-versa.

I’m not saying that with each reset we have to accept the opinions, emotions and reasoning that are in the gaps we witness with each other, but we can at least, with each reset, understand why those gaps exist. We don’t have to change our beliefs, just the understanding we have of each others’ beliefs. If we could do that more often, we wouldn’t see all the finger-pointing and eye-rolling we get today.

So I’ll go on dreaming about my perfect world. Nothing to see here. Move along.

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