Though I rarely have enough time to read as much as I’d like, I do follow a bunch of other blogs on a variety of subjects. A couple of them focus in on money and how to be the master of your finances rather than the other way around. I, as you might guess, am a big believer in that process. Even better, some of the concepts that get discussed on how to do this also work on other areas of your life as well. And I figure, a good strategy/philosophy is a good strategy/philosophy.
Johnny Moneyseed was recently in a waiting room where the TV was turned on to a news channel discussing the stock market. In his post he laments the poor quality and reactionary hyperventilating that often tries to pass for actual, you know, coverage of the Stock Market.
“I call this the Stock Market Crisis Syndrome. It’s when analysts look at one single day, one week, even one month of market losses, and they interpret their readings to the layperson in the most chaotic, foreboding way possible. 9 times out of 10 they’ll bring up the “Great Recession” for contextual reference. These people are analysts, they should know the most about the markets, but they allow themselves to be victims and purveyors of the Syndrome.”
His concern, and mine, is that people will listen to this reactionary “analysis” of short term events and then base long-term decisions on it. But this problem is not limited to coverage of the Stock Market. It is a problem that permeates the way we consume “news” from historically traditional sources. Which got me thinking about two different but related topics: Believing anything we hear on the news at face value, and then taking that potentially faulty information (or faulty interpretation of the information) and putting it into practice in our lives.
TIP #1. Do not listen to the tv people.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I gave up “the news” years ago. I don’t typically read newspapers (or their online equivalents) and I certainly do not watch any type of “news” program. Not Fox, not CNN, not MSNBC, not my local station, none of it. And guess what? I still think I’m more informed about a lot of the important issues than a lot of people. Just because someone on the tv said it, does not make it true, and just because they talked about it, does not make it important. I understand why they keep their vocabulary at a 6th grade level, but when they keep their analysis at that level too, I’m simply not impressed. I’m not ignoring what is going on in the world, far from it. But I certainly make a choice of what I look up and research if I deem it worthy of my time and attention. Trust me, the important stuff filters through, and most of what I see on the “news” is not important.
TIP #2. Be aware of the underlying motivations of the source of your information.
As with anything, we need to remember why people are doing what they are doing. News programs do not exist to educate you. They do not even exist to pass on information on current events. They are there to get you to watch them, so that they can then charge advertisers to pay them money based on how many people are watching them. Now, I am not questioning the motivations of the average reporter or news anchor. I’m sure, for most of them, their goal really is to educate and inform. But for their bosses, for the ones cutting the checks at the end of the day, any benevolent gestures are secondary at best. It is about the money. That is what capitalism is.
I don’t say this to complain, or whine, or to gripe against the unfairness of it all. It is what it is. If I were the owner of a news organization, I’m sure I would be concerned about the money as well. If you weren’t, your organization wouldn’t be in business very long. So this post isn’t about rising up to get the news channels to change. Instead, it is about, as always, us and how we see the world. You don’t have to be as extreme as me, and cut news programs out of your diet completely. (Though, really, you probably should.) But be aware of what they are selling you. This simple awareness makes it a lot easier to see through the smoke and mirrors to help you determine what the important takeaways are, and what is fluff designed just to hook you. (Hint: It is a whole lot of fluff.)
Further, we need to be clear about our own motivations with the news. Do we believe certain people because we think they are giving us quality information? Or do we like to listen to certain people because they make us feel good, or validate our opinions, or, worse, because they feed us zingers that we are excited to try out on people who disagree with us? If the news is giving you a rush, I’d say you’d best be careful, because you are probably getting a whole lot more style than substance.
TIP #3. Resist having the emotional response they are trying to elicit.
Of course, there are different kinds of programs. The kinds that are devoted to news tend to hook you, as Johnny Moneyseed noted, by careening from crisis to crisis. Look here! The stock market is up/down! A politician said something we can interpret as controversial! OMG! The Middle East! Holy crap, diseases!! And murder! DISASTER!! Coming soon to a town near you!! You won’t want to miss what happened to the Smith Family! Don’t look away or you will be at risk for it to happen to you!
They don’t want to lose your attention. Everything is at an 11 on the dial at all times, especially if a commercial is coming on. If you’re scared, you won’t change the channel. If you’re scared, you’ll tune back in tomorrow to check for updates. And be fed the next crisis or scandal as soon as the current one starts to cool.
On the other hand, you have the pundits. But instead of pandering from crisis to crisis, they peddle outrage. How dare that person say/do/think that? Can you believe it? They are clearly plotting to destroy everything you hold dear! They must be stopped or the world you know will cease to exist! They are coming for you to take away your way of life! Don’t let them! Keep listening to me talk and maybe it will be ok!
Again, I get it. If your job is getting people to want to listen to you talk, you are quickly going to start saying the kinds of things that get people’s attention, that make what you said be the new story, so more people will hear about you. Which is fine in and of itself. But the process and how it has evolved in relationship to politics is, I believe, unproductive and in fact harmful.
Let’s be clear, because I’m very aware that someone might skim this and misunderstand what I’m trying to say. I am not advocating that we should be unaware of what is going on. I’m certainly not advocating that we should not have opinions on how our public goals would best be met. Of course we should. And of course some issues are vitally important and are bound to trigger strong opinions. But there are better ways to get information than from listening to pundits yell at each other. Further, and perhaps even more importantly, I want to say very clearly that we need to stop demonizing people who disagree with us. And I say this in a 100% non-partisan way. Leave the demonization to the politicians, who are crudely trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. If we stop listening, if those tactics stop working, they will change their ways too.
TIP #4: Don’t let emotion cloud your judgement.
Once you are angry at people who might disagree with you, a couple of things start to happen. First, you are emotional. While emotion is great for product and brand retention (give us your money and attention and we’ll make you feel better!), what it is not good for is dialogue. Once you start believing that people who disagree with you are obviously and unquestionably stupid, or evil, or bigots, or racists, or reverse-racists, or socialists, or rednecks, or hippies, or whatever label you put on them to denigrate and minimize the value of what they think and have to say, how are you possibly going to be able to even start communicating and working out solutions to those differences?
We are more than the sum of our political affiliation. We can disagree on policy and tactics and still be good people. Division does not serve us or the country. It only serves those in power who stoke those flames because people who are angry and scared watch more of them on tv and send them more money. Don’t be tricked!
Instead, let’s take a collective breath and regain control of our own thoughts and behavior. The crisis will pass. The outrage will dissipate. Sometimes we will like it, sometimes we won’t, and sometimes we’ll even change our minds when we look back on it. We can’t control everything that happens in the world, no matter how much we might like to. But we can control our outlook and our behavior, and how we treat and respect others even when we disagree with them.
Tip #5. Don’t write off the people who disagree with you. We still have to live together.
As soon as someone – anyone – starts calling names, starts out by calling someone stupid, or evil, or ignorant, I pretty much tune out to anything else they might say. Look, I know it feels good to be snarky sometimes. I myself happen to be human and not perfect and succumb to it as well on occasion. It feels good to feel right and superior and wow I’m so smart and clever and I really showed them! But, honestly, save it for those times you are surrounded only by people who already agree with you, because I guarantee you that snark will never, ever help you win a fight. It will never convince someone that your argument is better, or clearer, or fairer, than the one they are making. It will just make them think that you are an ass. Which would be true. Next time you are ranting on Facebook, keep that in mind. Is your goal to vent and feel smug and play word games and hope to be able to say “I told you so”, or is your goal to convince more people to agree with you? You really can’t do both things at the same time.
It all starts with communication. We are all here. We have to work together. To do that, we need to listen to each other, work together to identify the things we do agree on, and then compromise on the things we disagree on so we can get through. And there are better ways to gather the information we need to have those discussions than from watching cable news pundits. And if you do listen to them, just be sure to read between the lines and ignore the sales pitch.
I am making some pretty broad characterizations here, and yes there are going to be exceptions and breaking news and blah blah blah. I encourage you to not to get caught up on the details you might disagree with, and pay more attention to what I’m really saying. Don’t let your world view be created for you by what other people think, not even me, but especially not people who are using fear to manipulate you to respond in a certain way. This is true whether they are talking about money or politics or whatever. Do your own due diligence, compare what different sources are saying, and do it on your own terms away from the hype and panic and anger. Your perspective on life and the way you choose to interact with the world is important. Most people do not really pay that much attention, and are therefore ripe pickings for those hoping to gather a reactionary mob to cheer them on blindly. But you can be different. You can be better. A leader. If you come from a place of calm strength, you will not only be a happier person for it, but you will likely convince more people that your opinion is one worth listening to. And really, shouldn’t that be the goal?
Do you agree? Do you think I’m bonkers? Let me know in the comments. And don’t forget to check out Johnny Moneyseed!