What would life be like if falsehood was genuinely rare? If truth was the generally accepted way of things and even the smallest amount of embellishment or exaggeration was seen as some kind of anomaly? What would it be like if we could almost always automatically accept what we see or hear from other human beings and be sure in our hearts that they speak the truth for our benefit? I don’t expect it to happen any time soon but it’s still a charming thought.
A while ago, I pretty much stopped reading the news. I was never much of a news reader and restricted myself to just reading the headlines, a few articles and perhaps the editorials. However, I stopped even looking at those and whatever I knew of elections and international events were from TV broadcasts I heard while drinking tea with friends at the office cafeteria or news sites which I glanced at on colleagues monitors when I went to their cubicles to ask them for something. I did this because the news started becoming a distraction rather than a source of knowledge. There were perhaps some bits and pieces of true information in the stream of news that flowed into my life everyday but generally speaking, it was becoming a distraction, a way of forgetting my problems, an escape… in short, a form of entertainment (which is not a part of our existence that I think very highly of).
Shaykh Nuh (whose lectures I’ve benefited from enormously) mentions this in one of his early lectures. I have found that most news stories are either
- irrelevant to my daily life (eg. Paris Hilton)
- repetitions of conflicts and disasters that I already know about (eg. the war in Iraq) or
- falsifications or exaggerations of actual events (irrelevant or otherwise) ie. sensationalism. (eg. Paris Hilton)
Due to my general lack of ability to concentrate for long periods, I skim articles so the information I get is even less (if that’s at all possible).
This is the first point. ie. Our streams of information are spam ridden and poorly filtered.
Because of this, I generally stay away from the media. I don’t have a television, I don’t read the newspapers that often and I don’t watch Daily Show clips on youtube.
This however has created a new vacuum in me which causes a new set of problems. Since I’m a bit of an empty vessel, a lot of stuff that would just wash by other people tends to fill me up. I didn’t really notice this but two incidents brought this to light and I have been doing some analysis.
The first event was the much publicised post “TSA agents took my son” which I came across (I think from the blog feeds of one of my friends) that I tweeted about and generally brooded over. The TSA replied to my tweet with a blog post about the reality of the incident along with a video that showed that the original blog post was exaggerated and not totally accurate. Bruce Schneier weighed in with a pithy article on how we were quick to believe it because of the general image of the TSA etc. My problem was how quickly I believed the original article and how much I took it to heart.
The second event was the recent Haagen Dazs outlet that opened in New Delhi that had an apparently racist banner on the front. I didn’t get much since I was busy with real life but I did my part in retweeting, spreading the article and talking about it to my friends. Sidu linked today to a blog post that clarifies the issue (which in my boredom, I just skimmed over). My problem here to was how quickly I believed the extremely short original article and how quickly I took it to heart.
This is the second point. We react strongly to things we read/see on our (potentially unreliable) sources of information.
I could of course resist this by being cynical (or at least sceptical) about the media in general but that kind of attitude cannot be contained to a single compartment of ones life. I think it’s necessary to be trusting to be a good human being and if one tries to be that, the effects will spill over into how one processes the input from the media.
The other way of resisting this is to become extremely brutal about what one allows into ones life. This would mean a culling of my sources of news (entertainment?), a stricter control of how I spend my time and actively using whatever time I have on my hands in pursuit of projects that I deem worthy. This would be easy in the world which I described in the first paragraph but in this reality, it’s a little harder.
This (and all other things I’m yet to figure out which I’m getting hurt by) were taught centuries ago by the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). The Hadith below summarises it simply (emphasis mine)
“The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, though there is good in both. Be avid for that which benefits you. Rely on Allah and do not deem yourself incapable…”[Muslim 4816, Ibn Majah 76, Ahmad 8436]