Thinking beyond headlines.
“What is the world coming to!” My Dad said as he flung the paper back on the bar.“ Half the kids in the country are below median score at maths, immigrants were taking over the country and we’ll all be under water by 2030!” I pointed out that this was the same paper that had branded all youth as scum and all MPs as cheats, both of which he knew were untrue because he knows me and he also knows the local MP as a personal friend.
It was an unusual pleasure to catch my Dad out in a moment when he wasn’t thinking for himself. Even for him, a sharply intelligent man, the culture of disappointment is hard to resist as it is pedalled in the media: Nothing is as good as it used to be, no one can be trusted, awful things are happening everywhere and more often than before. In fact human nature is much the same: we are less violent than twenty years ago, we are healthier in general than my Dad’s age group and likely to live longer than previous generations. Volunteering is on the increase, giving to charity is at the same level and the promised collapse of the family unit made a decade ago by the same newspaper has just not happened.
The media however have discovered that they can provoke a fear response in people through misleading headlines. The emotional response to supposed disasters creates an angry and pessimistic attitude that can suffocate the joy and spirit in people like my Dad. Clear thinking and common sense are the only antidote that is needed to such addiction to despair. The headline that tells us that 20% of primary school children are illiterate really means that there is an 80% pass rate in an English test across the country. Not bad. The picture of violence at a street demonstration may cover 60% of a page in a newspaper but it probably represents less than 1% of all those involved. Clear thinking and common sense like this can break the spell of pessimism and sadness cast upon us all by newspapers.
Optimism on the other hand usually brings out the best in people and sets free the energy to face and to change the real problems life presents every day. Clear thinking helps us to see the positive and to build upon it. Logic allows us to reach deep into the reservoirs of faith in people to find the life that can withstand the arid sadness of our culture of disappointment.
So I was delighted to catch my Dad being hoodwinked by a headline. I was smiling as I pointed out that a median score was the middle score in a set of exam results so 50% would usually be above it and 50% below. It was my Dad who needed to brush up on his maths!
Lord, give me a mind that thinks
And an eye for the logic that spots manipulation.
Help me to protect my joy and enthusiasm
From the culture of disappointment in which we all live.
Help me instead to recognise real problems
And with the energy of hope and faith in people
To make a difference to those around me
And to build a better world.
Teach me to trust people
To count my blessings and encourage goodness
And to allow hope to triumph over despair
In my own heart.
Give me the wisdom to see the mirages
Created by an overheating consumer society
And help me to challenge and change
This daily culture of disappointment.