Many members of my generation seem to be upset at the way the world is going. Much like our parents before us, they complain about the decline of civility, erosion of freedom, and most of all a general lack of decency. I understand how those things are upsetting. If they’re really happening, that is. But I am posting this little article in order to spread the news that it is still possible to live in a civil, free, and decent world. Here’s how.
First and foremost, you need to be mindful of rule number one of human interaction. Here it is: 1.The way the world generally treats you is the way you generally treat the world. That isn’t a religious precept, even though a lot of religions have figured that out. Jews remember Hillel saying something about not doing to others what you don’t want them to do to you. Then Jesus flipped it over and said to do unto others as you would have them do to you. Hindus speak of Karma, although I imagine that they’re more concerned with long-term results. Confucius said that if you want to live in a peaceful world you must live peacefully. Put simply, if you want to know how you are perceived, all you have to do is look at how you perceive other people. Are they assholes? Hmmm. (There are other rules of human interaction, but they don’t matter to this post.)
Here’s a good number two: 2. Don’t watch cable news. Ever. That stuff is poison for the mind. I don’t care if they’re ranting for the left or for the right, they honestly have no idea what they’re talking about. They do use a lot of cool, emotionally charged words, which can be fun to listen to. Unfortunately, all that hyped up emotion keeps you from calmly looking at reality. This isn’t a new idea. Newspapers use emotionally charged words, too. It’s easier to find them in a newspaper. You can just read along and highlight any word that carries an emotional jolt. Then you translate the word into a non-emotionally charged equivalent. If that’s not possible, you ignore it. That will let you know what really happened. You can do the same thing to a television report, but it is a lot more difficult. It is amazing how many times the actual content of a news story, especially on cable, is zero. What I mean by that is that if there are no non emotional equivalents, then there is no actual meaning.
Number three is sort of a subset of number two: 3. Don’t watch network or local news either. While no network or local news is as purely awful as cable, none of them are terribly good either. It don’t think it’s intentional, but research also shows that upset people buy more, so it behooves the news programs to keep people upset by using emotionally charged speech. In contrast, guess where there are no upsetting words or images? Where do you think? Got a guess?
Okay, it’s in ads and commercials! Wow! You’re upset! You need relief! Buy this! Buy that! If you simply skip the news on TV, you’ll feel better right away. And spend less to boot!
Number four is strictly for print material: 4. Read newspapers and magazines critically. I mean watch for emotionally charged words and then translate or ignore them when you see them. Most print stories have at least some actual news in them, but a headline like “Fifty Students in Fight at High School” has a lot different impact than “Fifty-Student Rampage Shuts Down School.” Those two headlines could refer to the exact same event, but look how much less upsetting it is just to read about a “fight” than it is a “rampage.” And the truth could be that the students were sent home early because the disruption caused by the fight went on into the last period. This is a lot less upsetting than hearing about a school closing.
And, here is Steve’s Rule for Deciding if a Posted Story is True: 5. If it is simple and easy to understand, and it gives you an emotional jolt to believe that it is true, then it is simply false. It might be simple and easy to understand and be true. It might generate a strong emotion and be true. If both of those conditions are met, however, it is never true. You can take that to the bank.
And that, believe it or not, will do it. Instant reasonably civil, decent and nice world.