Almost two months ago, I shared a blog post about seeking an educated mind rather than emotional responses. Since that time, I have dived into the process of educating myself about current issues, and I have come to discover so much about the process of thinking rightly in the midst of all this turmoil.
I’ve had to ask these kinds of questions: how do you know what to believe when contradicting views are all around you? How do you sort through the noise of anger, opinions, and fear to get to a viewpoint based on truth and logic? As I’ve talked to friends and family members about many current issues, I’ve started to define a few principles that have guided me through it. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in any of these, but they have helped me formulate more confidence in my viewpoints.
So no matter where your opinion lands on any given topic, I hope these principles that I’ve been learning about will be helpful to you too as we all navigate the world of murkiness around us.
- Define Your Values Based on the Truth
Before you can take a stance on a topic, you have to know your starting point – which is what do you believe in? What do you value? For believers, our values are going to be grounded in the truth of God’s Word – which means we need to steep ourselves in that truth more than we’re steeping ourselves in social media and news articles.
While the specific issues we face in our culture won’t be addressed in the Bible, the deepest truths about people will be – as will the guiding principles of how we respond to these issues. They may also inform our other life values, such as the value of education or hard work.
If you sit down to write out your deepest core values, you will find that they put everything else in perspective. My first core value is “That the glory of God is the chief end of man – that He is our only source of joy and hope.” If this is what I hold to be true, then I won’t be looking to things like answers from science or fulfillment from a job to be my source of joy and hope. If I believe that my chief end is to bring God glory, then I will look to do that in both the good times and the bad times.
Once we are deeply acquainted with the truth and our values have been clarified, then we can start to move forward into the tricky issues around us.
- Be Diligent About Your Own Education
As I stated in my post a couple months ago, I have not been great about this up to now. I would hastily scan a few things online about candidates before I voted for them. Or I might glance at some news headlines on my phone and form some ideas around them, but I was not confident on my beliefs on certain issues.
But if we are going to think rightly in a world of conflicting viewpoints, we have to be serious about educating ourselves. We have to take the time to listen to videos or podcasts, read newspapers and books on current issues, and look for more when we aren’t sure about something. We cannot settle for seeing things on social media and forming all of our opinions based off of them (confession: that was me until recently).
God gave us minds for a reason, and we need to be faithful to develop them in a way that honors Him. If we settle for sloppy thinking and sloppy support for that thinking, then we can’t get upset when it’s challenged. But if we’re diligent to educate ourselves and come up with reasons for why we believe something, then we can hold to our stance more firmly.
- Learn to Think Critically and Analytically
On that note, as we’re educating ourselves, we need to learn to evaluate information through a critical and analytical lens. As I’ve been reading news articles and listening to talks on various subjects, I’ve asked myself if they line up with my values. I’ve looked for contradictions or flawed logic. I’ve tried to recognize emotionally charged language or hyperbole meant to drive fear (their favorite word currently is “skyrocketing”).
The mainstream media right now is all about instilling fear into our society, and as we read their reports, we have to ask ourselves if there is reason for that fear. Can we pick through their rhetoric and find the bare facts to form our own opinions about the matter? Can we agree with some of what they say but disagree with how they’re presenting it? Can we analyze when they’re trying to manipulate our thinking?
When we start thinking about things as “narratives,” we can start recognizing when we are being pushed to believe a certain narrative over another one. We then need to bring this in line with the Bible’s narrative and ask ourselves if we can agree with it or not. This doesn’t mean we’ll come to agreement on all issues, but it does help our minds to think more critically rather than accept every news story at face value.
- Find Sources You Trust
At one point – when I was only doing my learning through social media – I felt like I might be the crazy one because I disagreed with what I was seeing but didn’t know why. Then I began finding sources that presented a different viewpoint, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t crazy. There was evidence to support another take on the matter. I could disagree with mainstream media and still be an educated, caring human being.
And as I began to discover these sources, I checked their credentials. Were they headed by people who have been doing this work over a long period of time? Are they experts in their field? Do they have actual experience with this topic? Have they researched it? We should do this with anything that we research (as we’re taught in school), but especially so with hot-button topics. Are we going to turn a blind eye to facts that disagree with our side just because we don’t like those facts? Or are we going to consider that maybe there is more to an issue than we first thought?
- Hear Both Sides, But Know How to Support Your Own
As we’re finding those sources that we trust, we should make sure that we’re not only reading and listening to things that already support our views (which is confirmation bias). As I began this process of educating myself, I decided to subscribe to our local newspaper – and I now get a physical copy on Sunday and Wednesday and a digital copy the rest of the week. I try to read the major stories as often as I can, and as I do, I take a critical eye to what they’re saying (and not shockingly, I have found a lot of inconsistencies in their reporting!).
But if I’m going to educate myself on the reasons for certain stances, I am going to listen more to my trustworthy sources than to the other side. I also take a critical eye to these sources, because I’m not going to agree with everything they say either. But the more I listen to the logic of my trustworthy sources, the more I feel confident in defending my stance on a topic. We don’t want to just shut out the opposing viewpoints, but we also don’t want them to be the loudest voices in our lives.
- Beware of Social Media’s Emotional Triggers
There is probably nothing more emotionally triggering in our world right now than social media. Unfortunately, this has led to a lot of damaged relationships as people get irate over other peoples’ posts, so they post their own in response and then the arguments ensue. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone needs to make sure it’s clearly heard – in memes, quotes, or popular articles. And if you don’t go along with the majority, then your views are removed or canceled.
This has been so emotionally draining to me that I’ve had to take a week off of social media at various times throughout the summer to re-center my values and beliefs away from the shouting voices online.
As I have, I’ve discovered that the book of Proverbs is full of commentary on this very topic:
“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” (Prov. 11:12)
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Prov. 12:18)
“The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” (Prov. 14:15)
“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” (Prov. 15:18)
“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Prov. 17:27-28)
There is a time and place for us to express our ideas and opinions. But social media is not often the best place for that. It is a great place to share resources – which I’m grateful to others for posting resources I’ve benefited from. But if you’re posting anything out of anger, maybe reconsider it and just stay quiet. Take a break – find a different source – and remember that you won’t find your ultimate satisfaction in reading or posting on social media.
- Let Go of Canceling People and Embrace Loving Them
This brings me to my final principle. If we get so entrenched in our views and proving ourselves right that we literally can’t conceive how someone else could think differently and be human, there’s a problem. If we can’t tolerate a viewpoint so much that we have to delete it, cancel it, or pretend like it doesn’t exist, we have lost the ability to think rationally.
At the end of the day, people are more important than being right. Souls are more important than social status. Lives are more valuable than all the deepest thinking in the world.
And sometimes that means you might need to unfollow someone’s posts (not them personally) if they are making you so angry that you can’t love them. We need to remember that there is a person on the other side of that screen, and if we know them in real life, we should care more about them than their political views. So they vote differently than you – they see the world differently than you – they’re on the other side of the issue – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is letting them hold those views with love and grace and finding common ground elsewhere. When you are with them, focus on the things you do love about them, and don’t let the other things muddy your opinion of them.
In the days to come, I may post more on the specifics of things I’ve been learning about – merely as a resource for others who might be interested. If you feel like that might make you mad, by all means, bypass reading them. I’m done with the online arguments over issues, so if you want to discuss the matters with me privately, I’d be happy to do that. But I am ready to speak up about things that I believe in – things that matter and that I know a little bit more about now.
May we go forward with humility, grace, and boldness.
Photo by Cameron Venti on Unsplash.
2 thoughts on “How Do I Think Rightly in an Age of Bias, Distortion, and Emotional Hype?”
These are really good principles! I like the phrase “emotional triggers” when talking about social media – it’s so true and it can be so emotionally draining if you never unplug from it.
I totally agree with loving and embracing people, and would add there needs to be a mechanism in place to hold accountable those who don’t value others the same. Sometimes that can look like cancelling, which can be effective when not wielded improperly – the case of Harvey Weinstein is a good example. Another mechanism is civil disobedience and organized protest, which can be powerful tools for good when legal protections have failed.
Thanks, Javier – Yes, social media can be so draining when we don’t unplug from it. Holding people accountable is definitely important as is allowing people the opportunity for peaceful protest to voice their disagreements. It’s sad that people take these valuable aspects and then take them a step too far into violence and hate speech.