Friday, October 4, 2013

CHECKING UP.....your responsibility


From "The  Bible  Advocate"  -  July - August  2013 - a  publication  of  The Church of God, Seventh Day - Denver, CO. USA.

Paul told the Thessalonians to not be gullible but to "test all things." That's good advice today too! by Jerry Griffin

For ten-and-a-half years, November 1981 to August 1992, I had the honor of serving as editor of the Bible Advocate. It was a rich and rewarding experience with many lessons learned. Now I'd like to share a fundamental lesson with you, one that directly impacts what you believe and why you believe it.

Fly fishing and religion

One perk of the BA office is location — the panorama of snow-capped Rocky Mountain peaks stretched out before us.

Inspired by the view and some inner fantasy, I took up fly fishing. The more I learned about this sport and its substantial body of literature, the more I realized it was a lot like religion. The great diversity of opinion about what is true and effective has divided fly-fishers into denominations, much like Christians. Over the years, each of the fly-fishing sects has built up a body of conventional wisdom that often rests on little more than anecdotal evidence and conjecture passed from one angler to the next. Knowing how to best imitate natural insects with artificial flies is the holy grail of fly fishing. Unfortunately, a lot of pseudo and outdated information continues to circulate through the sport.
A well-known fly-fishing author once lamented: An error in a fishing book can snowball, other writers repeating it over and over until it grows into a commonly accepted statement.*
This quote still hits me where I live. If publishers of fishing books should verify the accuracy of what they print, shouldn't publishers of material far more important do the same?
In a recreational pursuit like fishing, misinformation may be a trivial matter. But that is not necessarily the case in matters of politics, religion, social values, and worldviews. Here the stakes are much higher. These pursuits shape our minds and souls, determine how we live and treat each other, with power to unite or divide, heal or destroy.

* Gary LaFontaine, Caddisflies (The Lyons Press, 1981), 323.

As editor, I saw my share of questionable articles — articles whose authors, carelessly or otherwise, didn't let accuracy get in the way of their point. The worst of the lot were so fundamentally erroneous and full of self-righteous venom that they were unsalvageable.
Those were the days of typewriters and snail mail. Now, via the Internet, I see more dubious and vitriolic material in a day than I saw in a year's worth of hand-typed submissions. The amount of misinformation being spread through e-mails, websites, and social networks is staggering — a barrage of sales gimmicks and advertising claims, hoaxes and scams, e-rumors and gossip, urban legends and conspiracy theories, slanted news and political spin, skewed religious teachings, bogus inspirational stories, and emotional pleas.
Granted, the information highway is a wonderful convenience, but it's also full of unvetted potholes. Not long ago the flow of public information passed through a journalistic filter — a competent reporter, editor, or publisher who was held to certain standards. It wasn't foolproof, but there was some semblance of accountability. Now, that filter is gone.

Personal responsibility

Why am I telling you this? Because with the advent of Internet and smartphone, you are now an editor. Every time you hit "send," you become a publisher. And with that position comes responsibility. This means checking facts, quotes, and scriptures, not just for typos but for origin and substance as well. Are the facts documented and verifiable? Are quotes and scriptures used consistent with their original context? Are key points clear and rational?
Anyone can publicize anything nowadays. The mere fact that it appears in print or online doesn't make it true. Given the sophistication of doctored videos, it's getting harder to trust even what your own eyes can see.
Ah, but it's so easy to just go with the flow, to forward that e-mail with the convincing photo, the inspirational story, the passionate appeal, the partisan point of view. However, unless you're willing to be a responsible editor, to take the time and effort to verify the truth of that e-mail, please don't hit "send."
You may think I'm overreacting. But forwarding unverified information, even stuff se'fit by a trusted friend, has consequences. Here are four reasons you should break the chain and take personal responsibility.

Being truthful is important for its own sake. Spreading misinformation is akin to "bearing false witness." It's a matter of honesty.
Repeating sensitive or harmful information, regardless if it's true or not, is a form of gossip. It's a matter of reputation.
Making an inaccurate point, even in support of a good cause, weakens your case and your credibility. It's a matter of trust.
Checking your facts and correcting them when wrong is not a sign of weakness. It's a matter of humility and redemption.

Biases and blind spots

This final point needs more explanation. Each of us is hardwired to process information and form beliefs in certain ways. Yet our mental processes are not omniscient. None of us possess complete knowledge and insight. We all have gaps in our understanding about the world around us. We tend to fill in those blanks with our own explanations, gut feelings, anecdotal evidence, assumptions, etc. Because these ideas are products of our own thinking, we naturally become attached to them and protect them when challenged.
This helps explain why the constant flow of misinformation serves to feed our biases and blind spots. Is it any wonder that today's public discourse has deteriorated into a game where the goal is no longer to enlighten but rather to score partisan points? Like the Romans of old, we're entertained by the spectacle of seeing our opponents thrown to the lions.
All this ramped-up rhetoric comes with a price, especially when discussing emotionally charged topics like politics and religion. Frustrations build. We become impatient and demonize each other. Intolerance turns to hate. Hate leads to threats, and threats to violence. Who's to say how much or how little online misinformation finally pushes the less stable among us over the edge!
Whatever our religious beliefs and political affiliations, we must all wrestle with our own biases and blind spots.
Why do you Look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? ... You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye (Matthew 7:3, 5, NIV).


From one editor to another, here's the sum of my advice:

Always do your best. 
Pay attention to detail.
Go to the root source to investigate information.
Be impeccable with your facts. 
Don't assume; verify. Then, double check.
Don't take differences of opinion personally. 
Stay humble. We all make mistakes and have much to learn. 

Jerry Griffin of Lodi, CA, fills his retirement with research, writing, gardening, and fly fishing in the Sierras.

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