On Consumption of Thoughts - Collective Voices

*Collective Voices are the thoughts and stories of real people who are part of the CollectiveMKE community. They speak from their perspective and in their voice. Today we hear from Sam, a good friend of Brandon's who has developed some thoughts on how to survive in this era of bias, bickering and "fake news." You can catch up with Sam here:

On Consumption of Thoughts:

Consuming content is something we do regularly, often without thinking. Much of what we intake is (in the end) inconsequential, so there is no need for examination. But when we encounter works that aim for significance, whether it be emotional, hypothetical, theological, or another reason, taking a casual view can lead to misunderstanding, anger, or confusion (or all three). In addition, if an author is writing for a particular audience, the differences in how readers interpret a piece can vary widely and have cascading effects on opinions and conversations.

Does this potential lack of clarity mean the author did a poor job? No. It is not the sole responsibility of a writer to provide full context and qualification for any statement. The reader also has the responsibility to investigate and interpret the piece for veracity, authenticity, and application. It is wise for us to dig into how we, as readers of a variety of content, should interact with that which we consume. So how do we do that? 

Begin with questions about the author. 

- Do I know the author? 
- Do I know the author's biases? 
- Do I think the author is addressing a particular audience?
- What assumptions does the author make? 
- What assumptions does the author believe the reader will make? 
- What emotion is the author trying to incite in the reader?
- Is the author using generalizations, or focusing on specifics?

Next move on to the piece.

- Do I agree with this piece of writing?
- Was the piece put forth as fact?
- Was supporting evidence provided?
- Are there exceptions to the piece’s beliefs, and if so, are they fatal to the piece’s reasoning?
- Is this a statement that has a larger context, one that might more fully inform the thought?
- How does the author's piece fit into the larger conversation of the topic at hand?
- Was the piece aggressive or cautionary, calculated or blustery?

Lastly, examine how your journey in life has informed your interaction with the piece.

- What are my biases towards or away from the piece's beliefs?
- How do my experiences align or not align with the piece?
- What emotions do I feel after reading the piece?
- What societal/cultural/spiritual/emotional lenses do I use to view the world around me?
- How do I verify truth in the world around me?
- How do I balance opinion and fact in my own beliefs and in others’ statements?
- What beliefs to I hold tightly to, and why?
- Do I have a solid, justifiable reason to disagree with someone else’s belief and/or statement?
- Is it possible that a different reader would have a different experience with this piece?
- If others react differently, why is that and why should I trust or not trust their experience?

Closing thoughts.

Once we take the time to examine the many intersectional aspects of these questions, we can begin to see the complex layers that need negotiating.
- Have we prejudged the author or discounted their belief structure?
- Have we taken a statement as fact because it aligns with our beliefs, even if there is no supporting evidence?
- Does an aspect of my life, chosen or not, introduce a barrier that keeps me from fully engaging with the writing?

Especially in these testing times, we need to be vigilant when reading the words that come before us, being upfront about people's biases and assumptions, and evaluating how and why we interact with people's words the way we do. To avoid this is to shortchange the respect due to the author and others, and risks corrupting the lenses with which we view the world.