My father gave me the gift of reading. When I think of him I only have the memories of an eight year old child and yet what I recall is profound. My clearest images of him all involve books and newspapers, libraries and bookstores. Even on vacations we would visit little shops filled with volumes of every sort and our souvenirs would be books. My father not only read every book that he owned but he discussed what was inside with a kind of encyclopedic knowledge. His depth of information ran the gamut from humor to sports to science to history to poetry. He was a renaissance man in his tastes and his modeling lead me to also enjoy the search for beauty and truth in the written word. After he died so unexpectedly I suppose that I clung to his legacy by avidly devouring any written material I encountered.
My grandfather gave me the gift of understanding history. Like my father he read all the time but his favorite topics were historical tracts and biographies of great men and women. When I graduated from junior high school he gave me a volume of short vignettes of individuals whose lives had changed the world for the good. He inscribed the book with the suggestion that I should seek to learn from people whose courage lead them to upend the status quo when such actions were needed. He encouraged me to ask questions and have a willingness to stand up for justice.
My debate teacher gave me the gift of open-mindedness. She showed me how to view both the pros and cons of an argument. She taught me to use data and facts to support a declaration. She helped me to be objective and unbiased. She also introduced me to the tools used in the art of persuasion. She helped me to realize that I must carefully unpack any assertion in a search for truth.
My seventh grade English teacher gave me the gift of awareness. She alerted me to the use of propaganda and the rhetorical devices that are designed to create emotional rather than rational responses to events and problems. She helped me to understand how we are often manipulated by the way issues are presented with the purpose of making us angry or afraid.
My college professors gave me the gift of knowledge about things that I had never before known. They taught me to be analytical and showed me the value of asking questions before buying into any theory. They widened my horizons and provided me with tools for rationally parsing and investigating ideas.
All of these people taught me the importance of thinking, testing, verifying. Because of them I am wary of any person who tempts me with emotional group think. I require proof before accepting something as factual and I want that proof from the proper sources, experts. I broker little patience with wild ideas that reek of rhetorical excess. I cringe when I hear ridiculous phrases being repeated like the chirping of parrots. I abhor hoaxes proclaimed as legitimate theories. I demand concrete substantiation.
When our current president was gaining fame and a following for demanding to see a birth certificate from President Obama I thought that we were being duped by theater of the absurd. Somehow Donald Trump made large numbers of people believe that Obama was not born in the United States and was therefore unqualified to be president. In truth the Constitution makes it very clear that if an individual has one parent who is a citizen of the United States then that person is by default also a citizen as well. Since there was no denying that President Obama’s mother was a born and raised in the USA it really did not matter where he was born, but with rhetorical relish Trump made it seem so. His technique was so successful that he has since created one ridiculous hoax after another to seal the support of his followers.
I spend a great deal of time unraveling fact from fiction. Most of the time if something sounds audaciously absurd it is. Some ideas are trickier and more difficult to analyze. When there is confusions even among the experts the ground is fertile for misrepresentation. In such cases I find it useful to tread with caution and follow the science of the information.
Such it is with Covid-19. I do not get my information and form my conclusions from lay people. Instead I look to the scientists and the doctors and then listen to their suggestions for being safe. If the information changes as the knowledge of the virus increases I don’t resent being conservative in my approach to staying well. I wear my mask. I stay home as much as possible. I social distance. I wash my hands. None of those things hurt me but it may be that they have helped someone else. I do not consider it an infringement of my freedoms to care about someone other than myself. I do not believe that the virus was purposely created nor do I think that it will miraculously go away the day after the elections in November. My background and those who have gifted me with a rational approach to the world serve me well but frighten me when I see how many actually believe in the disinformation being perpetrated by trolls and bad actors.
The world is quite complex and we have to be careful of being taken in by individuals whose only purpose is self aggrandizement. We need an educated citizenry if we are to have the leadership that we need. Bear in mind that if something appears audacious, it probably is. Take the time to find the truth. Don’t be tied to a single television network or talk radio show or political ideology. Be open minded. Seek the truth.