Reality Check: Same Reality, Different Perspectives

Within my circle of friends and acquaintances, I hear more and more folks say, “I don’t listen to the news anymore.”

Considering that we live in a time when news from all over is readily available, the decision to tune it out completely is an interesting choice.

My choice is different. I seek out news with different points of view. Granted, I have my own biases and opinions, so I tend to believe one side more readily than another. But it’s still interesting to see how various sources take quite different perspectives.

Recently, for example, I noticed interesting differences about hurricane coverage.

One story focused on the difficulty and devastation. People have been killed; others are fighting to survive. Electricity is out and won’t be restored for a long time. Hundreds have been rescued; more rescues are necessary. If you could summarize the whole report in one word, that word would be “difficult.”

There is absolutely no doubt that the hurricanes have caused difficulties.

But I also came across another story with a decidedly different emphasis. This report acknowledged the devastation and the death. However, its focus was on the heroism of people involved in the rescues, the cooperation and determination of the residents, and the good work that’s being done so quickly.

Both news stories have value, but they left me with very different feelings.

Choice theory suggests that feelings aren’t something we can easily and directly control, but that they result from our actions and thoughts. My thoughts resulting from those stories are different, thus the feelings are different, too.

I know that the purpose of news isn’t to “make” me happy. But on the other hand, I don’t believe that news has value only if it evokes unhappiness, anger, fear, resentment, sadness, and so on.

News stories provide information, but whether it’s deliberate or unintentional, there’s emotional content in there, too. If you have the sense that there’s an attempt to manipulate your feelings, what can you do?

You could spend hours and hours of your precious life trying to get all sides of the story. Most of us have other things to do, though.

Avoiding the news is another solution, and some folks have adopted that approach.

But if you don’t want to tune out completely, here are a couple questions that you could consider: “Is this helpful?” “Is this informative?”

Take the two hurricane stories. One concentrated only on difficulty, the other focused on the efforts and the heroism. That one inspired me to learn more about the rescue operations and the organizations involved. I found it helpful and informative.

Essentially, the same information was presented, but with different perspectives. One I found helpful; the other one—not so much.

It’s easy to forget that news stories are not straightforward presentations of facts. News businesses choose their perspectives, which influence how the facts are presented.

This is not to suggest that the news business “should” be different, because as a news customer, I also have a choice. I can buy the product or not. And by turning off the news, some folks are literally choosing not to buy.

If you’re interested in the power of perspective, here’s an experiment you could try.

When you look at a news story, particularly one that has emotionally hooked you (whether in a positive or a negative way) ask yourself this: Is there a way that this story—the same facts—could be presented to invoke the opposite emotional response?

Your experiment won’t change the reality (probably). But it could be helpful as a reminder that while facts exist, perspectives are chosen.

Do you ignore news? Or pay close attention? Do you look for news that you agree with? Or do you search out contrasting views?

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