This year has provided lots of newsworthy events. Reflecting on what is news and what are the real issues we face proves to be a meaningful exercise. They’re often starkly different.
At time of writing, Pfizer is about 2 hours removed from announcing the efficacy of their vaccine. We know who our next POTUS will be. And, both of these pieces of news will likely help formulate the next stimulus plan. This appears to be the trifecta of news for 2020 and pinning down some unknowns.
News flutters our TV screens and our social media feeds. It’s an indication of our public discourse – news is the effect in ‘cause and effect’. News serves as an inventory metric – it answers, where do we stand? What is the result of many causes?
Real issues point to how we arrived. They are typically slow moving – built brick by brick over lifetimes. Because of their mundane nature, they aren’t very much investigated or reported despite being the cause to ‘cause and effect’. Real issues represent the opportunity to polish the mirror – both individually and collectively – and to identify what is working and to reflect on what is not.
I use the label ‘real issues’ because if we ever find ourselves unhappy with existing news, understanding the real cause will likely make us more willing to peacefully accept the news or more likely to seek suitable corrective measures. But, we know this is easier said than done.
We’re usually not prepared to critique centuries of causes – real issues – that led to the current news cycle because 1) it’s often unknowable until retrospect 2) it takes a ton of work and 3) looking inward and owning some of the blame is hard.
What I’ll keep calling ‘polishing the mirror’ is where the real work is done. Where can we take responsibility vs blaming individuals, a volatile stock market, a political party, or whatever distracts us for now? As I’ll attempt to illustrate, we frequently don’t even know what has led us to current headlines, or news, we just know we’re here and it often doesn’t feel right.
Example: the electoral college has been under fire, especially over the past two decades. This is an interesting consideration from Steven Johnson’s book, How We Got To Now:
(on the invention of air conditioning…)
”Places that had been intolerably hot and humid — including some of the cities where Frederic Tudor had sweated out the summer as a young man — were suddenly tolerable to a much larger slice of the general public. By 1964, the historic flow of people from South to North that had characterized the post-Civil War era had been reversed. The Sun Belt expanded with new immigrants from colder states, who could put up with the tropical humidity or blazing desert climates thanks to domestic air conditioning. Tuscon rocketed from 45,000 people to 210,000 in just ten years; Houston expanded from 600,000 to 940,000 in the same decade.“
He continues in reference to the state of Florida…
”Half a century later, the state was well on the way to becoming one of the four most populous in the country, with ten million people escaping the humid summer months in air-conditioned homes. Carrier’s invention circulated more than just molecules of oxygen and water. It ended up circulating people too.”
What we might consider warmer climate states acquired 29 electoral votes between 1940-1980. The invention of air conditioning has directly impacted who we’ve elected president on multiple occasions. I’m not sure what we do with this information. I’m only suggesting many of the causes of our angst aren’t as obvious as they seem and require a lot of energy to compute.
So, I scratch my head and wonder about the non-obvious causes that are currently percolating. I also wonder about the non-obvious habits and brick laying that led to the headlines of divisiveness today. Sorry to bore you, but I won’t speculate as to be respectful of your time. Undoubtedly, I’ll prove to be wrong.
What I do know is that whether it be political, socioeconomical, generational or anything in between that what appears to be news and worthy of confrontation is fool’s gold. It’s the tip of the iceberg with 90% remaining underneath. What is actually worth good debate, we’re likely completely unaware of and won’t know until the effect reveals itself (i.e. What is considered to be baseline preparation for a global pandemic? This would have made for great debate a year ago, but we had no idea to do so.)
Accessibility to the rest of the story is a challenge. Time doesn’t permit us to research every single topic in total depth. And, even when we rely on others, we’re left questioning the validity. After all, scientists are always questioning facts. Read any credible scientific journal and every claim is couched with caveats and qualifiers.
So, where do we go from here? I’m not suggesting letting down the guard of curiosity and blind acceptance. The antithesis, actually. Curiosity is a cornerstone to personal growth: never stop digging and let the information flow freely without judgement.
However, we do need to incorporate a heavier dose of acknowledgement that we’re largely living an avalanche of billions upon billions of previous causes. Our institutions, systems, and inventions have been developed over centuries – most with great intentions and most with downstream consequences that could have never been predicted (i.e. air conditioning). This doesn’t make them bad – it seems to be an uncomfortable truth. And, it also seems to be reason to withhold much of our blame on each other.
I suggest, in practice, that we need to cut each other a break. We’re not as planned out and calculated as we think we are – much of our current landscape is an equation of so much more than what we’ve done in our simple lifetimes. Blaming presidents (past, current, and future), casting shame on Baby Boomers or Millennials, and raking existing citizens over the coals for events of the past is tip of the iceberg thinking.
Yes, it’s news. But, it’s also just a starting point and it won’t get solved by watching CNN or Fox News or by posting a 5 minute read on Facebook (the irony is not lost on me that you might be reading this as a shared post on Facebook).
News deserves our attention. I am, however, asking for an honest interpretation – that we treat it as inventory, as an effect, as where we stand. It is not the story. The other 90% is deep under the surface and largely unknowable. And, for this, we need to all give each other a huge pass.
Very little is black and white. Although, we might conclude otherwise because many of our decisions are left to ‘this or that’ even if we don’t really like ‘this or that’. Putting things into boxes makes it easier to assimilate, but it doesn’t necessarily make for a better experience. 90% of the iceberg is underwater and not there for our five senses to make sense of. When this is the case, how can we not expect to disagree on almost everything? Maybe we should simply start with this expectation and let the information flow from there.
To put a ribbon on this concept as it pertains to how we relate to each other, build wealth, and formulate our own thinking: my observation is that those caught in the tip of the iceberg have the greatest challenges. We try to make sense of news, apply it to our professional lives, our retirement plans, and our relationships – when the reality is that the news is a product of many unknown causes. And, these causes have so much gravity, built over lifetimes, that attempting to outsmart them flirts with arrogance.
Progress is great. Please don’t take this as submitting to fatalistic thinking. However, we can’t ignore the paradox that with development will present a likely downstream effect that reveals itself as remarkably underdeveloped. We won’t see it coming, it’ll make great news, and we’ll blame each other.
This cycle will never completely go away. But, we can do better next time.
Thanks for reading,