Usually, I love information!  I absorb it with curiosity and enthusiasm. But these are not standard times. Between COVID-19, the racial protests, the 2020 elections on top of everyday life, we are bombarded with a continuous stream of high volumes of information, much of it conflicting, contradictory, and plain old inaccurate. 
 
After several exhausting weeks, I realized I was suffering from information overload when I yet again found myself frustrated almost to a breaking point.  In a silent fit, I went about deleting all the news apps, Facebook, and LinkedIn off of my devices with the commitment to put myself on an information diet.  
 
My commitment was a bit short-lived and hit the brakes the first time I was asked about a current event. Instead of attempting to perform an unnatural act of putting my head in the sand, I decided to discover a better way of taking the information in.  The more information that comes my way, the more I feel compelled to consume it and sort out facts from opinions. In my quest for answers, I found that much of what we hear is just that – opinions.  I started to question if that was not the source of anguish, not information overload, but an opinion overload?  Perhaps I am on to something here!  
 
To dig into sorting out my thoughts, I always want to start with a foundational definition. Thank goodness for online dictionaries. 

Simply put, an opinion is an expression of personal beliefs and views. Opinions: everyone has a least one.

The opinion is often more than just an idea.

On to itself, an opinion does not have to be wrong when it is based on fact and void of bias.

Opinions can not only be dead wrong, but can be dangerously toxic when grounded in false premise:

  • Eugenics as a basis for racial bias
  • Homosexuality is a choice
  • Poverty is caused by laziness
  • COVID-19 is a hoax.

Or when grounded on dogma:

  • My God is better than your God
  • Boys will be boys as an excuse for the degradation and/or sexual assault of women and girls

The opinion is a window into a person’s mind. I want to hear a friend or colleague’s view or judgment and appreciate when they can provide the facts or knowledge that led them to the belief. Their opinion is of interest to me as it leads to discussion, and there is a likely chance, I will learn something from it. For example, my friend and colleague, Martha, and I have to be mindful of the time when sharing our opinions; we can get lost in our conversation for hours. We trust each other enough to know that we don’t have to agree. We often start a debate in disagreement, but through our heartfelt and mindful conversations, always come out of it better informed and never at odds.

Opinions are founded in experience and influenced by personal bias.

With everyone having an opinion, it is essential to understand which ones are based on facts. Few would disagree that the current world environment is as stressful as anyone alive has experienced. There is little that we feel we can control. As we search for something to control, one of our fallback position of control is our position, our opinion. The longer the stress lasts, the deeper we dig in our heels. Among the barrage of opinions, I often hear the following statement: “This is what I think—and I am entitled to my opinion!” In other words, “It is mine, and I am holding on tight.”

Comments like this give me pause. Everyone is indeed entitled to their own opinion. As a nation, we value our 1st Amendment Constitutional freedom of speech so that people can communicate their opinion without fear of prosecution. We have a right to believe what we think is right and to express our views accordingly.

However, what is not true is that an opinion is a fact. Many people believe that their opinions are facts and that their thoughts are always correct. We believe just because we think it, so it has to be true. And to prove my opinion right, all I need to do is search the internet, and I am sure to find several opinion leaders who support me. Because another person supports my opinion does not necessarily make it any more right.

What is most upsetting is that our country has grown so divided that we can no longer talk with each other as we have come to believe a different version of “reality”. The very concept of “alternative truth’s” has a very toxic impact when applied to opinions.

Indeed, the news outlets have played a role in forming and maintaining our opinions. Unfortunately, we most often choose the news source that supports our belief. Social media has a lot to do with our opinion and bias. I say this as someone who has enjoyed social media and the connections it offers and enables. Through Facebook, I’ve reconnected with friends from a past life from decades past. I keep up with my large family scatted across the US and friends living abroad. It is a good thing – or at least it was.

I no longer believe it is. I have come to realize that social media networks, specifically Facebook and Twitter (I’ve yet figured out how LI algorithm works) are suspect sources of information, and frankly unhealthy, an echo chamber. 

My Facebook page and Twitter feed became places I would go to express my opinions and have them echoed back to me. There were plenty of links to follow, but the algorithm in these tools direct me to yet more pieces that support the beliefs I already held. Somewhere along the way, I stopped using Facebook to build a social bridge. It became much more of a safe place to construct an ideological silo around me.

I know this because when people express a difference of opinion, no matter how innocuous it is, there is often an immediate reaction to declaring the wrong. Rarely, do you see the conflicted parties engage in seeking to understand. It wasn’t until lately that I began to know that I bought into this pattern, hook, line, and sinker. And I did not like it. I knew I needed to sort it out.

Sorting it all out

I began to think about the best way to break the habits that are so far afield of my core values. I share them here in hopes that others will gain from my sharing my vulnerabilities.

  1. The first step in any change is acknowledging the need to change. I knew I could not change anyone but myself, and it is not my job to change anyone’s mind. I can teach by example, I can live in integrity, but I do not need or want to push my agenda. I came across Olivia Newton John’s “Serenity. It helps to remind me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcfo5E9qYk4
     
  2. Be mindful of excessive news consumption and outlet bias. When I hear or see a news article, the first thing I seek is to understand the source with the intent of sorting out the bias of the news outlet. If the topic is particularly interesting or of concern, I purposefully seek the alternative views. Yes, it takes more time and yes, I to be discerning of what news topic I care enough to learn more about; I use ‘ad fontes media” news ratings as my guide.

 

The live interactive site is much more interesting:

https://www.adfontesmedia.com/interactive-media-bias-chart

3.   All individual opinions, be they posted on a blog or newsletter as “expert opinion or a friend commenting, are based on personal experience and influenced by their bias. Go back to the Opinion Definition – an opinion is an expression of personal beliefs and views. I will respect it as their view. Again, if the opinion causes me to question the basis or is important enough to me understand I can kindly inquire. I may ask, “Interesting. Can you share the source of facts behind your opinion?” I will understand my questions may invoke three different responses: (A) facts are shared and we hold a great conversation where we both learn; (B) silence, which I then drop any further discussion; or (C) a defensive response that spews more opinion without facts which generally results in putting both of us on the defensive. Job #1 is when faced with (C) is to focus on remaining calm and avoid falling into my own defensive trap by pushing to provide objective truths backed by facts. I accept that I have no control over another’s’ opinion, at the same time I look to learn from others.

In Closing

All that I share here is my opinion based on my experience and bias. I expect many to disagree with my view. I would love to learn your approach to sorting it all out either in the comments here or an email.

In support of focusing on priorities, this will be my last article until Fall. Think of it as a summer hiatus. I am committed to focusing on listening and learning while supporting my current clients through these tumultuous times. I will be around lurking, learning, and posting judiciously on social media.

See you in late September. Until then, I am here if you need or want to talk.

Warm regards,

Mary

Mary Patry 
IT Executive Advisor and Leadership Coach   
 480.393.0722 (AZ) 
 Mary.Patry@iteffectivity.com 
LinkedIn: http:// www.linkedin.com/in/mleonardopatry 

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