With truth (inclusive of scientific knowledge) under assault in what many have called an era “post-truth,” I believe we (those within reach of this post) must decide how to react. We must not fall into a cycle of reflecting only on the actions of others with whom we disagree and over whom we have little to no control, nor should we think that preaching to our own choir is in and of itself action—it is actually only a kind of largely ineffective therapy. In my last post, “Calling Out and Calling On Myself in the Face of the Coronavirus,” I started on a path of envisioning who I will strive to be in this difficult time. In this post, I am focusing more narrowly on how I want to be a knowledgeable citizen wrestling to access and understand things that are true in a culture that can appear to value truth less and less.
In the context of focusing on controlling what I can control, I have an evolving list of knowledgeable citizenship compass points I commit to follow during this moment of extraordinary transformation:
- When people tell me not to trust my eyes, ears, or reason, I will look, listen, and study more carefully, and
- When people tell me not to trust my eyes, ears, or reason, I will not trust those particular people again.
- I will believe in and support excellent journalism as it is vital to our republic and to our thoughtful citizenship. (Note: the word “excellent” is vital here. Carefully-researched by journalists who are more drawn to produce a clear and complete telling of a story than they are writing or performing for click-bait.)
- I will find knowledge-based resources of information and analysis. I will also keep in mind that just because someone, or some entity, is a good resource in one arena does not equate to that person or entity being credible in all areas.
- I will maintain connection to those with whom I may disagree. Civility and kindness do not imply agreement, however.
- I will not accept shoddy rationale or fail to call it out when I believe my voice can be valuable.
- I will not engage in talk that pretends to be conversation where members of rival groups talk past each other. This has no useful end, and it is a dangerous cultural addiction (though it is a large factor in the financial model of Facebook and Twitter).
- I will use my voice to emphasize the existential value of scholarship, inquiry, science, knowledge, the arts, and the humanities.
- I will vote, and I will encourage you to vote.
- I will seek beauty and write about it, take photographs of it, and share it.
An important note for parents and educators: we have a responsibility, one that looks more and more vital by the day, to help our kids develop their own knowledgeable citizen compass. While we should certainly make sure they wash their hands, the role of teachers and parents in this moment is bigger than a necessary, but limited, personal hygiene safety to-do list. By helping young people build their own list, you give them (or perhaps better, give them back) their sense of agency as the world around them seems increasingly determined to take it away.
I’d love to hear some of your compass points in the comments section.