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React When Ready – Don’t go Shark-Eyed

Don’t presume to assume. Don’t suppose you oppose. Think it through. React only when ready, and don’t go shark-eyed.

We are about to enter a new year. If every year since…ever…is to be a guide, we will see many divisive things this year. Left vs. right, GOP vs. DNC, pro-gun vs. anti-gun, people who don’t think you should mix chocolate with coconut vs. the people who are wrong — you get the idea.

Continuing with the past history-as-a-guide theme, you can absolutely guarantee the vast majority of people will react (and react right quickly) to whatever this event/issue/action is without putting much thought into it. The more visceral their response, the less likely it is they (the less likely it is we) will react or respond when unready. However unwise it might be, people will quickly get their teeth into something. They’ll accept it as fact from the git-go regardless of the truth of the matter. They’ll become more and more certain as prevailing opinion replaces actual events.

Repetition of a fact doesn’t make it a fact if it wasn’t a fact to begin with. War with North Korea, mass murder at the mall or a school, despicable new law on the books, police brutality — doesn’t matter. Perception may “be reality,” but that doesn’t make it true.

When these events occur, there will be little critical thinking. There will be less dispassion, and there will be virtually no due diligence. Take those three facts and stir in decline of civil discourse and you (well we) will find ourselves in an ever-worsening socio-political environment that is of no use whatsoever to our Republic. And where that republic goes, of course, go we.

A long time ago a guy named Quintus Junius Rusticus espoused the idea of being thorough when it comes to learning (or believing) anything. Marcus Aurelius1 writes of it in his Meditations.2 “From Rusticus,” the Roman Emperor said,

“…I learned to read carefully and not be satisfied with a rough understanding of a whole, and not to agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something.”

Consider that for a minute. We do not ever have to consider, nor should we consider, something to be fact without first ascertaining if it is, in fact, fact…and even then we’ll need to keep in mind there are always at least three sides to a story.

React only when ready. Newspaper headlines have been clickbait since before anyone knew to click. Sean Hannity has as much to gain by getting you riled up as Chris Matthews (and they’re both tools anyway). The Times/Journal/Herald/whatever has as much to gain from an inflammatory lead as the National Enquirer, and your friends on Facebook, however well-intentioned, are unlikely to do much verification before sharing the latest meme or outrage that supports or professes their opinion. None of that lends itself to discussion, which is the problem. It’s through discussion that learning or persuasion occurs.

Before you shake your fist in outrage about what that politician did, go read the legislation. See if that’s what he did, and what the context was.

Before you howl about the barbarity of what that person did, do your level best to get the story from multiple perspectives. Be diligent about avoiding myopia.

You may be right. You may be wrong. You will not effectively influence with an opposing view if you’re uninformed and unwilling to be reasonably (even as they’re yelling back and shaking their fists in well-intentioned outrage).

We should keep this in mind:

You will convince no one, and accomplish nothing, by standing on a soapbox and shouting at people who already agree with you anyway. 

We should remember this too:

No matter how well-intentioned or how much we want to agree, our opinion on something does not alter the truth of the matter. 

Due diligence. Practice it. If you find you’re misinformed, admit it (at least internally) and adjust fire.

If you realize you’ve gotten carried away, stop, take a breath, and start over.

If you realize you’ve gone shark-eyed, slow down and get your eyes rolled back forward so you can see.

Practice reasoned skepticism: repetition of a fact doesn’t make it a fact if it wasn’t a fact to begin with.

React only when ready. Don’t go shark-eyed.


P.S. As an occasionally sanctimonious reactionary, I’m aware of how difficult putting this into practice will be…and that’s exactly why it’s so important for me and people like me to make the attempt.

1The half-mask of Marcus Aurelius superimposed over the shark above came from a pretty cool Etsy store called Neo MFG.

2You can read them online for free at that link, or buy the book here on Amazon and make me almost enough money to pay for an extra sugar packet at Starbucks.