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  • Last modified 185 days ago (April 17, 2019)

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If everyone's talking, who's listening?

Listening. In an age in which everyone’s talking, the challenge of shutting our mouths and opening our ears from time to time isn’t such a bad idea, particularly when it means listening not just to people we agree with.

Small towns have a natural advantage. Unless we sink into the quicksand of social media, it’s nigh on impossible to surround ourselves with people who think (assuming brains actually are engaged) just like us.

We shop at the same stores, eat at the same restaurants, and attend the same events. At some point, we actually communicate with people we don’t agree with. And if we ever want to get anything done, we quickly learn we have to work with these people, not against them.

That puts up miles ahead of the folks in Washington and Topeka and the burgeoning supply of has-beens who take to traditional and social media to breathlessly relay, spin, and expound upon every last tweet, post, and comment anyone in either of those cities makes.

Time was, editorials existed mainly to whip up support by appealing to preconceived notions. Nowadays, cable news and social media have taken on that role, and the profiteers who run them have gone far out of their way to make sure, via human design and artificially intelligent systems, never to expose us to views that might challenge our own.

Editorials, on the contrary, often seek out and present alternatives — not so much to build support for them but merely to help us all exercise our brains, lest they become flabby.

‘Who writes this crap?’

We were reminded of that this past week when, on social media, a reader responded to the first few lines of one of our editorials by posting this terse note: “Who writes this crap?”

Obviously, the writer hadn’t read beyond those first few, computer-selected lines, which only tangentially dealt with editorial’s main point. The editorial ended, as this one does, with the writer’s name.

When that was pointed out in a reply, the commentor’s simple response was: “If it was Eric Meyer, it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.”

Maybe so. Paper is darned expensive, and anyone’s opinions — including those in this writer — aren’t exactly priceless.

One of the first things you learn as a journalist, especially as an editorial writer, is that whatever attempts you make to help the public often make you a target.

We expect that our “aren’t exactly priceless” line, along with references to attending the same events, will quickly find their way into some naysayer’s automatic condemnation of anything we write. That’s just the nature of the business.

A few years back, people used to talk about Facebook’s “wall,” on which visitors could write whatever they wanted. It was an appropriate term for the inappropriate comments that ensued — which probably is why the multi-billionaires who profit from all our less-than-polite social media musings sought to stamp it out.

Like graffiti on bathroom walls, a great portion of social media postings are merely things people would never repeat face to face or in polite conversation. It’s the social version of all the smut that seems to fill way too much of the Internet.

Looking at a bigger picture

Another staffer this week was called out on social media for trying to photograph a music recital. Her oversight was that in seeking improved sight lines, she inadvertently blocked the sight line of a relative trying a record the event.

That’s regrettable and we’re sorry, even though we know news photographers have had to deal with this challenge since time began. And it works both ways.

I can recall having multiple photos I tried to take of last summer’s headliner at Chingawassa Days being marred by people unexpectedly thrusting cell phones or children’s heads between my camera lens and the stage.

Nothing makes rudeness excusable, of course, but at least it’s understandable when you think how wonderful it is that more than one person thinks an event is important enough to capture images of what’s going on.

We can — and do — apologize whenever we behave a bit too much like stereotypical photographers. (The one in the old “Lou Grant” series was appropriately nicknamed “Animal.”) And we sincerely appreciate the small-town courtesy extended by an understandably concerned relative who chose to bring her concerns directly to us rather than foist them on the world without our knowledge.

All we can hope for is that sincere apologies and promises to try to be more considerate in the future are accepted and don’t sink into the social media quicksand.

Always trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is something we all have to work harder to do these days. It’s a Christian thing. It’s an American thing. And it’s the right thing to do.

Trumping hate or hating Trump?

Sometimes it takes hearing from someone very different from us to understand why. And that’s where Irshad Manji, author of the book “Don’t Label Me,” comes into the picture.

Manji wins the Triple Crown of diversity. She’s Muslim, a lesbian, and a self-styled progressive. Unsurprisingly, she’s not a Marion Countian. She’d probably be unique if she were. But she has a message Marion Countians should consider.

Not exactly a fan of President Trump, she actually blames herself — and those like her — for what many regarded as the surprising election of the president and other modern populists like him.

In an age in which cisgender, straight, white, Christian males have become the only politically correct target for jokes, she notes that the worst way to extinguish embers of bigotry is by continually dousing them with the gasoline of vitriol.

Her solution is to stop talking and starting listening — to everyone, even people you don’t like. Trying to eradicate a cancer of polarization by dividing it merely results in its further spread.

As we consider the plethora of local issues we face, maybe it’s time to remind ourselves to occasionally shut up and listen before we condemn. Who knows? We might even find that some of the politicians we love to poke fun at aren’t complete idiots.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified April 17, 2019

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