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A New Year's Resolution We Can All Share: Be Informed, Be Engaged

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published
New Year's Day has come and gone -- welcome to 2014. For many, it is time to get back to the daily grind as the holiday season has come to an end -- or will soon come to an end.

Some people began the year with their own resolutions for 2014, personal achievements to strive for, but often fall at the wayside. For some, these resolutions are often the same -- lose weight, pick up a book, travel more -- but a goal is only worth something if there are real efforts to pursue it.

2014 is likely to be an eventful election year. While there are only a handful of competitive elections, election seasons are always the same.

Midterm elections get less media coverage than presidential elections, but 2014 will be full of mudslinging, finger pointing, and one liners the mainstream media will spend weeks focusing on instead of real issues. In every election, at least one politician will make a "binders full of women" remark or some misguided comment about the female reproduction system.

Another year in election politics means a few more installments to what Michael Austin refers to as the Great American Outrage Machine. It is a machine that never breaks down as there is always something the mainstream media will waste time and resources on to keep the cogs turning. This machine has become the proverbial singularity -- a monstrosity that continues to feed itself without end and it has consumed so much and become so massive that it now defines contemporary media.

We are hypnotized by it, drawn to it -- there is no escape.

Ok, perhaps that is a bit over-dramatic, but we have turned "water cooler" conversations and turned them into news. And while we think the solution to this problem is simple, things done in theory are always easier than in practice.

We can blame it solely on the mainstream media, but cable news stations are just a division of a larger corporation concerned with profits. There is nothing wrong with generating profit. That is the purpose of a company after all. They know people like to be entertained and the bread and circuses that are meant to distract can be so enticing.

We are quick to judge these people as the uninformed citizens. We convince ourselves that if the problem is not the media itself then it must be these uninformed voters who are just too lazy or too apathetic to make a change.

We don't consider, however, how difficult it is to truly be an informed citizen. In fact, many who accuse others of being uninformed are not as informed as they believe. It is just easier to point out the flaws in others. To be truly informed requires time, resources, and money the average citizen does not have. They have priorities that take precedent and understandably so.

If people were truly honest with themselves they could admit that they don't know as much as they think they do. We could all make an effort to be a little more informed. No one knows everything about every issue or topic, and we must be willing to admit when we are wrong or ignorant of a subject. We should all strive to better understand the world around us and the issues that are not only important to us, but the nation as a whole.

It is often the people who are quick to label others as uninformed that offer the largest tribute to the Great American Outrage Machine. These are the people who publicly condemn outrageous remarks of someone one day, demanding their head for such insensitivity, and then defend equally insensitive remarks the next day as "defenders" of free speech. These are the people who are comfortable in their own bubble where the world is exactly how they perceive it to be and refuse to look at the larger picture.

Let us, together, make a commitment to see the bigger picture. The only way we are going to find pragmatic solutions that go beyond partisan agendas is a willingness to understand how people we disagree with see the issue. Perhaps we missed something. Perhaps there is more to the issue than we once thought. We will never know unless we are willing to explore different perspectives. We shouldn't be afraid of knowledge.

This commitment should not just be a New Year's resolution to be cast aside in a week. It should be a promise we make to ourselves. We should promise to work within our means to become a little more informed. We should make a promise not to feed the Great American Outrage Machine. We should make a promise to look beyond the distractions and focus on what matters. If for nothing else, we should make these promises for our own benefit, because knowledge is a rewarding pursuit.


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