Last I checked they were still calling this the information age and while it is true that information is more readily available than it ever has been before this is somehow also an age of wide spread ignorance and intentional misinformation. Still, I believe that most people truly desire to be informed citizens capable of tackling complex issues. With that in mind I wanted to offer a handful of tips and suggestions that may help in separating the facts from the noise.
1. Don’t watch television news.
It is the sad state of affairs that modern television news is not actually news so much as a running commentary on the news. As such facts and opinions are diced and mixed together until they are nearly indistinguishable from each other. With the possible exception of Public Television TV news should generally be avoided or at very least not be your primary source of information. Instead find a reputable newspaper and a sampling of on-line independent news sources that you can trust.
2. Be a student of history.
The old adage is true, “those who are ignorant of history are bound to repeat it.” Take, for example, this trend recognized throughout history: in times of economic hardship widespread xenophobia is often one of the results. Now take a look at some of the big headline topics during this current economic recession: Protests to the building of mosques, immigration crackdowns, the ongoing debate over LGBT rights, etc. Through a thorough knowledge of history people can better identify true cause and effect relationships and debunk false ones.
3. Be a student of civics
Most of us, way back in middle school or high school, probably took a civics or government class or two. It seems, though, that many of us have forgotten the basics as we’ve grown up. This needs to be rectified because without a firm understanding of how government truly works (i.e. what government offices can and can’t do, what their purposes are, and how they interact with each other) a person can easily be coerced into a false understanding of these bodies.
4. Learn to differentiate between fact and opinion
This may sound simple at first but things as simple as tone and word choice can often make the inactive listener mis-categorized statements. As such a citizen should learn to listen intently and critically and, of course, always…
5. Fact check / Never assume you know something
Individual worlds turn upon what we think we know and often times a close look reveals that what we know is often wrong. While this may not drastically hurt people in their daily lives it can lead to great wrongs when introduced onto the political stage. So always check your sources and make sure you have all the facts.
6. Work all the angles / Never take just one point-of-view
I don’t know about other places but we Americans tend to be rather stubborn folks. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, a mind without convictions is no better than sand in a sift. When these convictions, in an effort of self-preservation, block out all other points of view we not only become intolerant but completely intolerable as well. No one says you have to agree with everyone but making no effort to truly understand others leads only to strife for all parties involved.
7. Think globally
It’s a big world out there filled with many different societies of differing influence. An awareness of the wants and needs of these societies as well as an awareness of our own societies positive and negative influences is crucial to being a citizen of the world.
8. Listen to your detractors
No one likes being wrong but chances are that you’re going to be once or twice in your life. It is in those times that it is vitally important to listen intently to your detractors and if you’re wrong admit it and use their criticism to correct and improve yourself.
9. Don’t try to fix everything
There are a lot of problems in this world and the more socially conscience a person becomes the more they want to fix them all. This, obviously, is impossible and often times when one problem is fix two more will pop up. In order to preserve one’s sanity this has to be accepted. It’s tempting to want to be the Saviour of the world or give up trying but the only real effective way to change the world is by narrowing your focus and choosing your battles carefully. Then, once you’ve decided what you’re going to work on, go work you butt off.
10. Be optimistic
One of the effects of becoming an informed citizen is often discovering that there is a heck of a lot to worry about. Do not despair, though. Instead take a page from Charlie Brown and keep plugging along. The world changes a bit everyday. Just make sure you are doing your bit to change it for the better instead of for the worse and never ever give up hope. That is the most important point of them all.