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How to become a wiser media consumer and a wiser human.

What is bias? As a consumer, how can I choose the right media sources in this emotionally charged climate? As a writer, can I present my view to many audiences without offending?

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What do you think, can a writer or journalist ever offer something truly unbiased?

With all the news about fake news, many people are struggling to trust even traditionally trusted news sources. As a busy mom of two, my main news source is public radio. I listen to drown out fights over Barbie dolls going on in the back seat of my car, and hear some grown up conversation. I also listen in hopes of forming some kind of understanding about what is happening in my area and around the world. I grew up listening to public radio, and always assumed that “public” is a synonym for unbiased. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not writing to criticize any public radio channel or personality. I think public programming is about as close as you can get to the ideal of unbiased reporting, and I truly enjoy the content I listen to. I guess I’m just a little shocked to discover how naive I am.

Why did I not realize that bias is inherently human? It seems that the heated political climate surrounding the election in U.S.A. caused journalists here to collectively finally lose their cool. Their emotions, like many media consumers’ emotions just took over! They lost the will to be neutral in what they said because they were just plain angry. This situation has got me thinking, is it even possible for media to be unbiased, completely objective? What is bias? As a consumer, how can I choose the right media sources in this emotionally charged climate? As a writer, can I present my view to many audiences without offending?

What is bias?

According to vocabulary.com bias is a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation.  

I propose that without realizing it, we are all biased. Granted, bias is often used with a negative connotation, but I don’t believe it always is negative.  While I lived outside my home country, I learned to question the stream of information forming my viewpoint. I realized that people believe a certain set of collective traditional wisdom without even questioning it, based on what a majority of people in their area believe. I guess that’s part of what we call culture, and what causes culture shock when we move somewhere new. Those differences fascinate me.

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Culture and bias . . .

For example, what do you think of sitting in a drafty room? In Latvia and surrounding countries, collective wisdom says that if you sit in a draft you will catch a cold, or possibly even something worse. This belief is so strong that even on the hottest summer days no one wants to open a window in a crowded bus. I know, it may sound strange to some of you.  We all know the same facts about germs causing colds, but somehow this collective view about drafts is so strong, that people in Latvia believe both. They go to the doctor when they get sick and gladly take a dose of antibiotics to help them get over whatever bug is going around. But they do not want to risk sitting in a draft.  Americans, on the other hand, have taken sanitizing to the Nth degree under the assumption that if bacteria cause illness, then we must kill as many bacteria as possible.  Many of us are obsessed with antibacterial soap, despite current evidence that it doesn’t reduce our chance of catching colds any more than using regular soap. (https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm378393.htm)

But the really crazy thing is, I change my behavior, depending on where I am despite what I believe.  As a resident of Latvia, I didn’t open a window when I normally would have. Not because I started believing drafts cause sickness, but because I knew it would make the people around me uncomfortable and upset. When I sneeze or cough in public in the U.S., I tend to apply antibacterial hand sanitizer, mostly to reassure those around me that I care about their health.

I’m using this subject as an example of differences in culture affecting an individual person’s beliefs or habits.  It is not intended to offend anyone who uses antibacterial products or avoids drafts. But do you see what I mean? A certain set of collective “wisdom” is believed without question, because “everybody knows” it to be true. And the prevailing belief may affect your life whether you subscribe to that idea or not. So when I traveled, I learned for the first time what some of my biases really are. I say some, because I don’t believe I’ve discovered them all. I believe it may take a lifetime of traveling, learning from, and sharing with other people to find them and decide which ones I want to keep, and which ones I should get rid of.

Media and bias . . .

Members of the media are also products of their environment. I have come to the conclusion that the content I listened to on public radio in the state where I grew up was tinted by the culture there all along.  I didn’t notice it because that culture was all I knew.  Now I have gained different cultural perspectives, and I’m discovering this thing we call bias seems to be everywhere!

Our writing is a product of what has been going into our minds and how we filter that information through our set of previous assessments and beliefs. This is why I believe it’s impossible as humans to be truly unbiased. Being part of a culture, a collective understanding of ourselves and the world, is part of being a human.

How important is “the sell”?

Another factor that affects a writer’s ability to offer unbiased content is that writing is also a product meant to “sell” to a particular audience. To read our writing, a person has to identify with it’s point of view and be interested in the slant we are offering. At times this need for audience can lead to some damaging practices such as using false information, sensationalism, or resorting to gimmicks.  It certainly influences choice of topic. I’ve noticed that parenting magazines rarely feature pieces about the dangers of too much screen time for kids anymore, not because it’s become less dangerous, but because we parents are kind of sick of hearing about it. The topic has gotten old and tired even though it’s still relevant.

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Bias within ourselves . . .

Those of you who follow developments in the field of psychology may be thinking about the cognitive biases right about now. Psychologists have pinpointed certain areas where our opinions and reality tend to differ. These are the cognitive biases.  One of them, confirmation bias, is the tendency to believe the information that confirms what we currently think. The newest discovery is the SPOT effect, which stands for Spontaneous Preference For Our Theories. I learned about this newest cognitive bias and the research that revealed it this article in The Big Think, posted by Robby Berman on March 6th.(http://bigthink.com/robby-berman/my-theory-is-true-if-i-do-say-so-myself)  So apparently we are wired to stick to our own point of view, sometimes ignoring logic or evidence. I have to admit that learning about these built-in biases has made me start mistrusting myself a little.

In order to avoid letting your own biases become too extreme or too narrow, I recommend listening to an opposing viewpoint from time to time. Watch a news media channel you normally don’t, read a different newspaper, look for different social media feeds, befriend someone new. Try not to immediately break in, either mentally or verbally when they say something you don’t entirely agree with. Let them have their say completely. Of course we have to set certain standards for what goes into our mind, and filter everything through those.  But don’t judge. Respect the other person’s right to an opinion. Really try to understand why they think the way they do. You may be surprised how alike we all are in the end.

If being biased is inherently human, can it be inherently wrong? Isn’t it part of the beauty and diversity of the human family? Having an opinion is not wrong. Instead of letting our bias fuel fear and hate, I think we should couple it with respect for each person’s God-given free will. One of the best pieces of advice I got when adapting to life in a different culture was, don’t try to be one of them, you never can be, try to behave as a guest should. As their guest you must respect their views and ways. But to respect does not necessarily mean to adopt them as your own. Similarly, when you read someone else’s work, you are a guest in their mind. Let their work inform and educate you, but do not feel obligated to take on their beliefs as your own or disprove them if you disagree.

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Is there any writing that is completely trustworthy?

How can you tell if something you’re reading can be believed? Often it helps to look at the source. How transparent are they about their sources? Do they have a vested interest in promoting a certain view? Ultimately, I believe the best measure of trustworthiness is this; does it agree with what the Creator of humankind and this universe has revealed in the Bible? That is the information filter I use.  Like laws of physics which are self evident, Bible principles and narratives speak to all humans whatever our culture and background. Isn’t that as close to unbiased as we can get?

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The screen time conundrum

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If you’re like me, you worry whether your kids are overdoing the screen time.  You guiltily give in when they beg for youTube just seconds after they finished bingeing on their favorite cartoon for an hour.  You download math apps, or morning routine timers, or video content from jw.org meant to teach spirituality, manners and morals, and hope that the good they get from their screen time outweighs the bad.

But it’s not just the kids.  Your husband crashes on the couch after a long day of work and channel surfs for a while to chill out.  You can’t be parted from your smart phone for more than a few minutes because you might miss a new post on your favorite social media or a like or comment on one of your own posts.  We live in a world dominated by screens whether we like it or not.

If you’re like me you also wonder, what can I do to give my kids the kind of childhood that fosters curiosity, imagination, exploration?  There are countless blogs about the 8 best educational apps or the 10 best parenting books, or the 30 best vacation locations, or the 12 most popular toys.  Don’t get me wrong, I read those and pin them all the time.  But this blog is not about a quick fix, with a catchy photo you can pin. It’s about the kind of drive for life that makes anyone happy, young or old.  The kind of thinking that gets us off our couch and out of our devices and lets us live our life.

Ironically one of those blogs that I pinned to my Pinterest board led me to a book which led me to crystalizing this thought that means so much to me. In the book “The Science of Parenting” by Margot Sunderland, I learned that “the lower brain contains a SEEKING system, one of the seven genetically ingrained systems in the brain. . . In humans, the SEEKING system can activate an appetite for life, an energy to explore the new, and an eagerness to seek out the fruits of the world.  It also stimulates curiosity or intense interest in something and the sustained motivation and directed sense of purpose that help us to achieve our goals. . .The SEEKING system is like a muscle-the more you use it, the more it will work for you.”

Exploration and curiosity can die at any age if we ignore it. Don’t go through life exchanging momentary pleasure for deep seated joy and satisfaction. And this thought extends on into everlasting life.  What will we do for eternity if we don’t have a well developed seeking system?

So what can change this spiral into screen induced laziness?  I have made it a goal to get myself and my kids out of doors at least once a day.  I am trying to stop the endless multitasking going on in my brain and focus on my child, relative, or friend wholly and undividedly when they talk to me.  I need to not stop the littles when they squish in the mud and scatter their dolls and paraphernalia all over the living room.  Shutting their brain off is not worth the momentary peace, quiet, and cleanliness it causes.

Instead of being frustrated and annoyed when they want screen time, I am trying to set clear limits and stick to them.  Then, not only do they get to enjoy their screen time guilt free, so do I!

As for myself, I’m exploring new ideas and creative outlets. This blog for example!  I hope my journey can help readers like you find a new zest for life. Find what makes you happy, and go for it! Stand up and live your life. Just be sure to like and share and comment first 😉

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The 5 Senses of Feelings

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“Just think positive.”

Have you ever heard those words and said to yourself, I CAN’T!?  If you have ever dealt with clinical depression, chances are a well-meaning loved one has said them to you.  You may have struggled to find a way to explain to your would-be comforter that it just doesn’t work that way.  Well, a dear friend of mine has come up with a way.  And I think it’s brilliant!

Feelings, those fleeting, illogical things that our brain creates from a combination of neural connections and chemistry.  Why can’t a person with a disorder affecting his or her emotions just “think positive”?

 

Five Senses

Photo credit: Nicki Dugan Pogue

Well, imagine you wake up one day and your 5 senses are not working properly.  You can’t smell or taste, and your sight is only registering black and white.  You are disturbed by this sudden change, and you have no idea if your ability to smell, taste, or see in color will ever come back. Your other senses of hearing and touch are hypersensitive, leaving you feeling bombarded and irritated by the tiniest sound or touch.  If someone told you, “you’ll feel better if you come outside and smell the roses,” what would that accomplish?  Absolutely nothing!  Except possibly to leave you feeling exasperated and misunderstood.

Each sense = an emotion

If you deal with depression, maybe this tip will help you break through to those logical, rational beings in your life (or even within yourself) who need something tangible to explain something abstract.  When your joy and happiness have disappeared, and your fear and anger are hyper-alert, it’s not because you decided one day to dwell on the negative.  It’s because your emotional senses have become impaired for whatever reason, possibly a trauma, anxiety disorder, a chemical imbalance.

And if you have a loved one who is depressed, you surely feel their pain.  Don’t assume that the answers lie in a simple formula: think positive, get out more, eat right, focus on others, etc. etc.  If that were true, the blight of depression would not exist.  Try to understand, listen, empathize.  Don’t take the emotions they feel personally.  Give them a hug!  And don’t let them give up hope that the 5 senses of feelings will be restored one day. Once again they will be in that rose garden, seeing the color, smelling the fragrance, and loving life again!

Photo credit @antikleopatra Instagram

 

Dark

I’ve discovered I’m in the minority on the subject of darkness. I love to go outside in the dark!

I’ve discovered I’m in the minority on the subject of darkness. I love to go outside in the dark!

Do you know that feeling when someone takes your picture and the flash blinds you? In our modern world, we are all unknowingly being blinded. Headlights, street lamps, front porch lights, city lights are all blinding our eyes to the brightness of night.

You’re probably saying, “brightness of night?! Is she crazy?” Ok, maybe a little, but maybe I can help you understand what I mean.

When I was little our family often went camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness between Minnesota and Ontario. (Yes, it is in all capitals! In Minnesota anything having to do with nature is given high status. The DNR are more powerful than the local police. We take our nature seriously.)

When we were out in the wilderness, the worst thing you could imagine was having to get out of the tent at night and walk to the bathroom down a tiny path leading away from the campsite on the lake’s edge and taking you deeper into the forest. Imagine how petrifying! Now I was not one to be afraid of the dark. I used to argue with my little sister in our bedroom at home, trying to get her to turn off the night light, but she refused. But even I felt nervous to leave the tent at night.

One night my dad showed me the beauty of darkness. He told me it was much easier to follow the trail without turning on the flashlight. I was skeptical, but when I tried it, wow! It was a revelation to me! Our eyes are made to slowly adjust to darkness, probably because darkness falls gradually in the evening. But when you turn your flashlight on suddenly, your eyes are forced to close the pupils as if in daylight. It pushes the dark out and keeps it at arms length like an invisible fence, turning the darkness into an enemy. Outside your little circle of light you can’t see anything. Any little noise from out there in the shadows gets amplified and twisted by our instinctual fear of the unknown.

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When you don’t turn on your flashlight, your eyes, accustomed to the darkness see all the details if the path in stark relief against the soft moonlight and the pinpricks of starlight. There are no shadows beyond and you are a shadow. The darkness of night is no longer an enemy, but a comforting friend. And you discover that night is not dark at all, it’s just like daytime only in black and white.

Man vs nature

The power in something so commonplace as snow and ice is really awe inspiring. And you’ve got to respect that if you want to survive the struggle.

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This was a classic man vs. nature kind of day.

We’re up north at the summer cabin in Rangeley Maine. It’s unseasonably warm. In fact our thermometer says 50°F! You would think on a day like this nature would be on your side. Well think again!
All started off well. Our plan was to drive the snowmobile to town and load it into the truck before the lake became too slushy in the warmth and sunshine. So first we played around a little, not wanting the fun to be over. We pulled our older daughter in the sled behind the snowmobile (the little one is still scared of the noise and speed). We cross country skied in the track. We took pictures. Grandpa (my father in law, who is in his 80s) even came out and played! The temperature rose, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, and it was time to get the snowmobile brought in for this trip. So, my husband heads for town over the lake while I go to the truck at the street.

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Here begins the struggle! 

The driveway is a sheet of ice and the tires are just spinning in place. The warm temperatures, combined with the fact that the empty, rear wheel drive Ford pickup has no weight in the back causes our first problem. I can’t pull out of the slight incline of our driveway onto the road. I try calling my husband to let him know I’m stuck, but he’s tooling around the lake with the snowmobile, killing time while he waits and doesn’t hear his phone.

So I’m from Minnesota. I kinda sorta have an idea what to do in these situations. But I’m also feeling a deep sense of self doubt. Will I do the right thing? Will I be able to get the truck out without my husband’s help? I start to dig and chip at the ice under the tires. I get the bucket of sand from inside the cabin, and my father in law comes to help.

With a lot of dirt and a lot of digging, my father in law and I are again ready to attempt getting the truck out. He gets behind the wheel, while I stand in the bed (for weight). After a crazy, tire peeling, snowbank bouncing ride, we have the truck up on the road. For the moment I feel relieved.

Meanwhile, I try calling my husband again. And now he hears his phone. . . because the snowmobile broke down!

Struggle number 2 has started already unbeknownst to me.

The snowmobile broke out on the ice, about a mile and a half from town. By the time we talk, a friendly rider has taken pity on my husband trudging on foot across the frozen lake and given him a ride into town. Help is on the way, a local snowmobile shop has sent some guys to tow our snowmobile back into town.

I gather some supplies for hoisting the snowmobile into the truck, but that part ends up being surprisingly easy. The guys tow the snowmobile up onto a tall snowbank and we are able to push it right into the bed of the truck.

All ended well by lunch time, but not without a lot of anxiety, a lot of man power, some cash spent, and quite a bit of damage to the truck and snowmobile.

The main reason for our visit to the summer cabin in the middle of winter to begin with, was to shovel the snow off the roof to prevent collapse.

So all of this got me thinking. To survive in the north woods, a person’s got to have some grit, perseverance, and resilience. The power in something so commonplace as snow and ice is really awe inspiring. And you’ve got to respect that if you want to survive the struggle.

When you pit man vs nature, nature is always stronger. My shoulders and back have been telling me this since we got here and started digging a hole in a snow and ice bank 5 feet deep for our parking spot.

But if you stay on nature’s good side, you might survive with a story to tell. And somehow, you’ll end up feeling grateful to nature for giving you that much.

 

Snow days and sick days

20170217_094412When you are all set to stand up and live, but life makes you sit back down, don’t get frustrated. Make lemonade!

Here I was, ready to take my own advice, as per my previous blog post, and get up, get out of the house, live my life with zest and vigour. And then. . . we had three snow days (meaning school was cancelled and normal life essentially stopped) in the past two weeks, and the littles in my family both caught a cold. Enter real life, exit well meant intentions.

But I’m really glad I had all these plans, because I didn’t just let the tv take over. Of course we did watch plenty of tv, but I was armed with some ideas of indoor activities that also spark creativity.

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1) Cook or bake with your kids

It’s a win, win situation. You need something to eat. You need something to do. Plus you can feel really great about doing something that allows you to bond, and that’s educational. Sure, cleanup can be a drag, but let’s face it, I can make a pretty big mess on my own, even without the help of my girls. So why not enjoy the cleanup too? Have them help you with dishes. What kid doesn’t love playing with water?

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2) Do some crafts

Work on creativity by putting out a box of supplies and letting them do the designing. Some basic things you can include are construction paper, scissors, glue (my girls adore glitter glue), stickers, ribbon, cardboard, stamps, markers, crayons, stencils. It’s another great way to bond with your little one, especially if you resist the urge to interfere with what they create. They may surprise you!
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3) Play together

Yep, a box of Legos kept us going for hours. It activates all kinds of creativity processes in the brain when you let them design their own imaginary world with imaginary characters. And you’d be surprised at the kind of dialog they come up with. But don’t be surprised if you hear your own words and tone of voice mirrored there. It can be scary! But to look at the positive, I’ve found its actually a really great way to analyze myself and see if there aren’t any changes I want to make in the way I speak to my kids.

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4)  Play in the snow!

And of course, every respectable snow day includes a romp in the fresh snow. Sunlight during the day helps regulate sleep mechanisms, so it’s no wonder they fall asleep much better when they’ve been outside during the day. Not to mention the fresh air, the physical activity, and the infinite possibilities for creative play on that bare white canvas of a back yard.

And yes, we really did make lemonade. What do you like to do on a snow day or a sick day? Let us know in the comments. And as always, please like, share and spread the word.