This article is a truncated version of the original article.
I doubt that many people today would consider themselves to be illiterate but in reality many people are effectively illiterate because they don’t know “HOW” to read and analyze the news. For example, since Donald Trump became president of the United States the mainstream media has gone absolutely crazy with stories about him so I stopped reading them. I realized that almost every headline was misleading and every article devoid of anything approaching relevancy. In short, I realized that I would not learn anything from the reading. Let me explain.
Words have power, and words used the right way trigger people’s emotions.
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When you read, you must first look at the actual words used and determine from the sentence construction, the meaning of the written sentence.
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Disciplining yourself to pay attention to the actual words used and the actual meaning of the sentence is very important, especially so since so much of what purports to be news is little more than the writer’s opinion about the facts of the news. For instance, I recently read a headline that announced President Trump’s new plan for something or other. I got halfway through reading it before I came upon the statement which said that this plan has not yet been given to the President for consideration. Therefore, the headline misrepresented the facts. I did not continue reading because I understood that whatever followed was not actual news.
When a writer offers an opinion about the news, it is just that, an opinion and it is always interesting to read people’s perspectives on the news. But that is quite different to presenting opinions, assumptions and presumptions as facts.
I recently read an article about a new discovery in relation to dinosaurs. The headline presented a fact, but the article was full of things like ‘perhaps,’ ‘it is possible that,’ ‘scientists believe that,’ and ‘if this is correct then ….’ The article was what is called ‘fluff.’ Like cotton candy it looks big and delicious but it really doesn’t have much substance.
One must first analyze both the words used and the obvious meaning of sentences. Unfortunately, people easily succumb to emotive language such as ‘Donald Trump demonstrates his stupidity again!’ Such a headline is designed to reinforce in the minds of those who don’t like Trump, that he is an idiot. But for those who like him, it causes a negative reaction, and of course the ultimate aim is to create tension and division in society because this type of news sells newspapers. It is quite deliberate.
As far as negative press concerning the President is concerned, in 2010 John J. Walsh in We love to hate our presidents wrote “It is a fact it is for sure, that no matter who is president, one half of the country speaks nothin but bad of him; while the other half thinks that the sun shines out his ass, while the other half pontificates on Presidential suitability without ever having voted at all.”
Discerning the meaning of words and sentences however is not enough. We must determine what is fact and what is hyperbole (exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.) We need to research the facts involved in important news (especially political and economic news) because often what we are fed is a misrepresentation of real facts. How many people have read that Donald Trump implemented a ‘Muslim Ban’ when he put a hold on visa applicants from seven different countries? How many people actually know that this list was created during the Obama administration? Facts are often misrepresented in the news. It is about playing with words.
Many years ago I was in the library reading a book by a famous academic and he stated that the year in which a certain event occurred in antiquity was such and such, and beside the date was a footnote. The footnote cited another famous academic and so I went and found his book and went to the cited page number and found that when he quoted the same date, there was a footnote beside it. When I went to the footnote I found that he had cited the first academic. They were citing each other but actually offering no proof of what they were asserting.
Being careful to understand the meanings of words and sentences, and having checked the facts to ensure that we have not been misled, and having separated factual news reporting from opinion, there is still another aspect to reading which is very important. And that concerns our personal rose colored glasses or worldview.
To explain this within the context of Donald Trump’s Presidency, anything written which warns that Donald Trump is going to cause great harm to this, that or some other situation is bound to trigger our prejudices; our worldview. When Donald Trump became president, something like $30 billion was wiped off of the Australian stock exchange and people on my Facebook page were actually blaming the President. What did he do? He did nothing! All those protestors during his inauguration were accusing him of tyranny, and yet he was not officially president.
Donald Trump’s opponents know with certainty that he is leading the world into World War Three. I am sure that they will be thrilled to have been proven right if it happens and thoroughly disappointed if it doesn’t happen. Such is the logic of prejudice.
Another thing of which to be careful when reading is the inclination to ‘interpret’ what we read within the context of our religious, cultural and political worldviews.
We often read into something, something that is not actually written. In the comments section to an article, I once used the expression ‘democratic countries’ and copped a long written lecture correcting my statement that the United States was a democracy when in fact it is a republic. But nowhere did I state that the U.S. was a Democracy.
In my student textbook there is a reading passage about a man named John who goes well and truly out of the way to help his very old sickly neighbor who is referred to as Grandma and every year 90 percent of students write about what John did to help his Grandma. Why do the student’s not see this? The answer is simple. Within their cultural mindset it is not reasonable to believe that a mere neighbor would do all of these things for Grandma, and so Grandma must be ‘his’ grandma.
We often overlay our own cultural thinking onto a situation even though our eyes and ears tell us correctly what we are seeing and hearing, our brain does not.
It has never ceased to amaze me that even though Hamas in Gaza repeatedly says in the press that there will never be peace with Israel, and even though Hamas repeatedly states that their charter requires the complete removal of all Jews from Palestine, apparently mindless idiots in the liberal progressive camp keep insisting that if only Israel would make concessions, there would be peace.
Another important lesson in learning how to read is to learn to pay attention to the SPECIFIC words contained in an article. A good journalist knows which words to use and which words not to use and so does a propagandist.
I recently read an article about domestic violence and several cases were cited. There was the case of this husband who did that, and that boyfriend who did this, and another husband who did that, and yet another boyfriend who did this, and then there was the one which really stood out. It cited the case of a woman’s partner who did this, that and something else, and I just had to wonder why the word partner was used. Could it have been a way of hiding the fact that this partner was a woman? Can’t have people thinking women are violent now can we?
Finally, once we have carefully dodged all the traps into which it is so easy to fall, we have to stop and consider what the writer’s intention was when he put his article together. Why did he write what he did? What was his purpose? Is there some secondary and not so obvious meaning in the article? Has his article been constructed from an original source (the primary text) and if so, is his writing faithful to what was presented in the original source?
Words can be extremely deceptive. A student once performed in a concert and afterward came running down to me to ask what I thought of his performance. I answered him honestly. ‘Wow! I have never heard anyone sing that song like you did!’ He went away happy! The message we take away is not always the truth behind the statements made. We may deceive ourselves or be deceived by the language used.
To summarize then, in order to avoid media manipulation and self-deception, our first duty is to read what the writer actually wrote and think about his/her purpose, goal and meaning in the statements made.
When you have read an article; when you have paid attention to the actual wording; and when you have assessed the writer’s purpose, then and only then should you begin to consider how you feel about what you read, and when you do this, you need to ask yourself why you feel that way.
News articles today are very intentionally designed to TRIGGER responses. This is something which we must not let people do to us. They can try but it is up to us to use our brains and not be triggered.
The bottom line folks, is that we actually have to pay attention to the FACTS displayed in what we read. The FACTS recorded by the writer – not the facts we thought we read or assumed we read. What does the writer ACTUALLY write and what do those words mean. What do we guess is his meaning (if it doesn’t seem to be specifically stated) and how do his words make us feel and more importantly, why do they make us feel that way?
The problem is that people just don’t take the time to analyze what they read. They just REACT.
If I could give President Trump some advice on education it would be to begin teaching students “HOW” to read.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and are not not necessarily either shared or endorsed by iPatriot.com.