Archives for posts with tag: Gossip

Nicholas D. Kristof writes for the New York Times. In an article entitled “Media should try to fight, not spread, fear and lies,” he had an interesting observation about fake news and biased reporting.

Often information is passed on by the media and everyday people without verifying its truthfulness. Fact checking can be time consuming and tedious but Kristof adds an interesting angle on the way we process information.

According to this journalist, social psychology experiments have found that when people are presented with factual corrections that contradict their beliefs, they may cling to mistaken beliefs more strongly than ever. This is called the “backfire effect.” I had never heard this term before so I decided to check it out.

In 2006, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler at The University of Michigan and Georgia State University created fake newspaper articles about polarizing political issues. The articles were written in a way which would confirm a widespread misconception about certain ideas in American politics. As soon as a person read a fake article, researchers then handed over a true article which corrected the first.

They repeated the experiment with several “hot button” issues like stem cell research and tax reform. Again they found corrections tended to increase the strength of the participants’ misconceptions. This was consistent even when people on opposing sides of the issue read the same articles and then the same corrections. When new evidence was interpreted as threatening to their beliefs, the corrections backfired. Instead of changing what people believed, their beliefs were strengthened.

This is nothing new. Hundreds of years ago Francis Bacon (1561-1626) said, “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate.”

Psychologist Thomas Gilovich, Professor of Psychology at Cornell University concludes, “When examining evidence relevant to a given belief, people are inclined to see what they expect to see, and conclude what they expect to conclude.”

I do not intend to suggest that a person should be open to just anything. I am not suggesting that we discard our understanding or position on any issue. I believe there are some absolutes in life. All things are not negotiable. Strong convictions and firm beliefs are desirable but we need to be open to the possibility that there is a different perspective that we have not yet seen. We could be mistaken. Our opinions (beliefs) might be subject to correction. There could be more than one way to look at a particular topic.  

God, help us to be open to truth!

Jamie Jenkins

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Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. This childhood chant is reported to have appeared in The Christian Recorder of March 1862, a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where it is presented as an “old adage.”

The purpose of this rhyme is to suggest that one should ignore name-calling or disparaging remarks and refrain from retaliation. It is to be used as a reply to an insult, indicating that the insult has been registered as such, but did not have any effect.

While this is an easily remembered childhood saying, it is not true. The truth is words can be terrific tools for good but they are also powerful instruments of pain as well as. Recovery from the physical injuries inflicted by sticks and stone- and other objects- is often much easier and more complete than healing from emotional and psychological wounds.

Words have a way of burrowing into your psyche. International speaker and author Yehuda Berg says, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

A decade after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison he said: “It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are, and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.”

Marvin Williams wrote in the devotional Our Daily Bread, “Words have the potential to produce positive or negative consequences. They have the power to give life through encouragement and honesty or to crush and kill through lies and gossip.”

King Solomon said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)

“We all make mistakes in all kinds of ways, but the man who can claim that he never says the wrong thing can consider himself perfect, for if he can control his tongue he can control every other part of his personality! Men control the movements of a large animal like the horse with a tiny bit placed in its mouth. Ships too, for all their size and the momentum they have with a strong wind behind them, are controlled by a very small rudder according to the course chosen by the helmsman. The human tongue is physically small, but what tremendous effects it can boast of! A whole forest can be set ablaze by a tiny spark of fire, and the tongue is as dangerous as any fire, with vast potentialities for evil. It can poison the whole body, it can make the whole of life a blazing hell.” (James3:2-6, J.B. Phillips)

Maybe the prayer of the psalmist should be ours: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Jamie Jenkins

 

 

Perhaps you have played the Gossip Game. The first person in a group is handed a piece of paper with a gossip phrase or sentence written on it. This player reads the phrase but doesn’t show it to anyone else. He or she whispers the phrase to the next person in line, who whispers what they thought they heard to the next person, and so on down the line. The last person repeats what he/she heard to the entire group. The first person then tells the group what the phrase actually was.

If you have played the game, you know that the final report is always much different from what is was at the beginning. That simple game demonstrates how difficult it is communicate effectively and accurately. What one hears is not necessarily what is said. People “have the unique ability to listen to one story and hear another” (Pandora PoikilosExcuse Me, My Brains Have Stepped Out).

Cover of Review of General Psychology (medium)

The fact that language is not always a reliable vehicle for communication leads to gossip and the spreading of rumors.  Researchers wrote in a 2004 study in the Review of General Psychology: “In many cases defamation of the target’s character is not the primary goal, and may even be irrelevant.” Nevertheless, conversations or reports about other people or events easily result in details that are not confirmed as being true. It is just the way it works but sometimes it is intentional.

In the book, The Untrivial Pursuit, Joseph Epstein says, “Gossip is no trivial matter; despite its reputation. He also concludes that gossip has “morphed from its old-fashioned best—clever, mocking, a great private pleasure—to a corrosive new-school version, thanks to the reach of the mass media and the Internet.”

American poet and philosopher Criss Jami concludes that “Popular culture is a place where pity is called compassion, flattery is called love, propaganda is called knowledge, tension is called peace, (and) gossip is called news.” In this age of information, social media provides a much faster way to share gossip. In only a matter of minutes, gossip and rumors can spread online around the world.

When we are bombarded with information, how do we filter it? How do we separate useful information from gossip? The most obvious answer would be of course to use our common sense. However, that clearly doesn’t seem to be helping. This story of the Greek philosopher Socrates might help us make better judgments about the information that we consume on the internet or from any source.

 Image result for images of Socrates

In ancient Greece, Socrates was visited by an acquaintance of his. Eager to share some juicy gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to know the story he’d just heard about a friend of theirs. Socrates replied that before the man spoke, he needed to pass the “Triple-Filter” test.

 

He explained, the first filter is Truth. “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” The man shook his head. “No, I actually just heard about it, and …”

Socrates cut him off. “You don’t know for certain that it is true, then. Is what you want to say something good or kind?” Again, the man shook his head. “No! Actually, just the opposite. You see …”

Socrates lifted his hand to stop the man speaking. “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true, and it isn’t good or kind. One filter still remains, though, so you may yet still tell me. That is Usefulness or Necessity. Is this information useful or necessary to me?”  A little defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”

“Well, then,” Socrates said, turning on his heel. “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”

The Bible offers the following instruction that underscores Socrates’ instruction: “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts. Never say anything that isn’t true. Have nothing to do with lies and misleading words” (Proverbs 4:23-24Good News Translation).

Jamie Jenkins