A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. – Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92)
I thought I’d continue with my thoughts last week about overreacting and acting aggressively to revisit an old post. Honestly I feel this post is a little moot on some levels, but I know the topic is timeless at the same time. Knee-jerk reactions are important for everyone to examine when reading things, especially online. It is especially important to watch our reaction to things during tough times in our life. It also means we have to be more aware of what we put into our heads and improve media literacy.
What sparked the initial post was dealing for the umpteenth time with a circulated link about a plea by an Islamic group to destroy the Great Pyramids. The reaction ranged from hand wringing to screams of persecution. It’s been revealed to be a hoax since then. Honestly, I had my criticisms of the original article since there were some dubious links and was too emotionally charged to fully convey that – even if the call is true – it’s a bad idea to follow. It also goes in the face of the Egyptians who tried to protect their heritage even during their revolution, the attempts to repatriate artifacts, and even an attempt to copyright Ancient Egyptian replicas. Tourism focused on its ancient history is very important to their economy. When I and others pointed to links confirming the hoax and pointing out the very points I cited we were met with extreme opposition. I’m positive I threw “islamophobia” out there a few times. The information we provided didn’t feed their emotional state; it was so contrary to their media source and agenda that cognitive dissonance ensued.
What pains me to see is that it could have taken a few minutes to think this through. Yes, there are extremists that will do these things, but they exist everywhere. I’m sure I can dig a bit and find some clergy who feel Ancient American sites should be destroyed (as if Manifest Destiny and other campaigns didn’t help that along). It actually demonstrates a point I made in an earlier article about the pitfalls about following one’s emotions without thinking. That’s not to say the Abrahamic faith-based groups that do these things are non-existent, but they’re not as prominent as one thinks. I can tell you from experience a good portion of the time the groups that act this way aren’t fully educated about Pagans and they’re acting on their own knee-jerk reactions. These knee-jerk reactions come from their own fears.
Knee-jerk reactions such as these are a side effect of fear-mongering. It’s not shameful, but it is a human trait exploited so often it’s integral to keep it in check when faced with media sensationalism. It’s supposed to shock you, it’s supposed to stir up your emotions, and it’s supposed to place us towards a certain agenda. This is where fear-mongering becomes problematic. People in an emotional state sometimes surrender reasoning for the sake of security (or the feeling at least). This tends to stir up hatred towards a targeted group. I’ve found in my experience fear-mongering and hate-mongering tend to go hand in hand.
However, there are still ways to mitigate our knee-jerk reactions. One of the things to understand right off the bat is everyone has an agenda, myself included. For example, this blog post has an agenda to explain everything you read has some agenda and will use a form of sensationalism to incite a desired outcome. That’s the hardest part because it means every bit of media to which we expose ourselves–even those from our own groups–may have a questionable agenda exposed with some scrutiny. The best defense against knee-jerk reactions from media sensationalism, though, is to improve media literacy. Media Smarts has a website with incredible resources on how to hone media literacy. Don’t let the target age for their learning tools deter you; the information is still invaluable to all ages.
As with most things I stress on my blog awareness and knowledge are key in combating some of these extremes. It takes practice, but it’s worth not panicking over every misquoted article about the Pope allegedly targeting Pagans with pancakes (yes, I used alliteration on purpose). It takes effort to stop, process the article read without emotion, and analyze the piece. I assure it’s worth it. It has saved me anxiety and isolation issues doing this. It may also reveal some things about sources you may not like, such as an author purposefully inciting fear in order to rally people against a Catholic organization or externalize resentments about Catholicism the author harbors. Ultimately, the way to combat knee-jerk reactions is to improve critical thinking skills.