What You Don’t Know? How Lack of Knowledge Influences Others

The 2016 presidential election prompted conversations that many of us probably never expected to have, and even though the votes have long been cast and the outcome determined, the conversations continue. Living overseas for this election though provided deeper exposure and an insightful perspective for me (although I spent the 2012 election living overseas, being more electronically and culturally connected allowed me to interact with a foreign culture’s perspective on our election). The revelation is quite simply this: there is a trend towards human-manipulated information and human-repudiated discernment.
While that observation is hardly new and profound, a look at it’s impact through the eyes of another culture adds a deeper level of demoralization that leaves a person disheartened about the state of affairs of people. While I typically try to avoid political discussions in foreign cultures, this past election I watched as people were openly deceived by the information they were presented. Having access both to the information presented through the same sources as the people here and to the information from the United States, it was apparent that the stories being reported were incomplete (and sometimes just down right false) in order to provoke hatred towards a specific person or group. While bias is expected from any source, that combined with a level of indiscretion and lack of discernment allows distortion, dishonest, and deception to prevail.
The expanse of this issue is important because it not only impacts the culture where I live, but recent discussions about ‘false news’ shows it to be an issue in the United States as well (although why we are surprised by this I don’t understand, considering it has been happening for years, just look at the checkout line in your local supermarket or consider the bias of media organizations when reporting events). The fact that people are so easily manipulated by this falsehood should incite us to action. While content to discuss the prevalence of bias, false reports, and fake news and even accuse others of promoting it, we fail to consider our own role both in proclaiming it and preventing it.
I fear that we fail to respond because we fail to grasp the impact that falsehood has on people. In fact, we are inclined to play the ‘false news’ game when it benefits us, but decry it when it works against us. However, three distinctive results can be noted:
  • Generates False Reports: Obviously falsehood generates falsehood. However, it spreads. That is the issue we have here. The falsehood spread in the United States eventually gets portrayed as reality here in Argentina. To continue spreading is deceptive not only to those in one’s immediate circle of influence, but it permeates other circles, casting a wider net of deception as it goes.
  • Generates False Responses: False reports are used to incite others to respond. However, a response based on falsehood will garner no lasting impact because eventually it will be revealed as it is. This should cause two points of concern. First, the mere idea that people are so willing to be mislead by others. Second, people who join a cause upon false premises can easily leave it when they recognize the deception within it.
Such distressing results should provoke two questions: What promotes this behavior and how do we respond?
The roots of any problem should never be a surprise because they find themselves beginning first in sin. We are humans tainted by sin (Romans 3:23) and therefore it should be expected that this is simply yet another manifestation of that sin. Related to that though comes our selfishness, which causes many of the problems that exists for people (James 4:1-3). Whether that selfishness drives our desire to be liked by others, have others agree with us, or be important, the reality is that we find selfishness bearing upon our relationships with others. Finally, I would add to that slyness (for lack of better term). Out of the selfish disregard for others and a higher regard for self many will continue to use bias, tactics, and misinformation in order to influence other people towards predefined conclusions. Rather than teaching discernment and critical thinking it has become acceptable to misguide people into conformity.
Finally, we are left with one essential question to answer. What do we do? I have a great concern about the way we filter the information we are presented, or rather don’t filter it, and instead pass along faulty info to others because of the damage it can do. So there are three things that we must do:
  1. Be Informed: First we muse be informed, certain that the information we are passing on is indeed right and true.
  2. Educate Others: Second, when others are influenced by it or when others try to pass it on, the situation requires more than merely correcting them. Instead, it is an opportunity to teach others on how to be discerning, think critically, and incorporate the Bible into that process.
  3. Observe Restraint: Finally, we must restrain ourselves from the tendency to add observations and dialog to circumstances that we are not informed about. This has the tendency to advance the whole falsehood that we should be standing against.
Over the past several months I have watched people become angered, speak with great hatred, and incite others to the same responses based on information that is false or incomplete. I live between two worlds in which I watch people of one culture pronounce conclusions upon those of my home culture based on limited information, and in like manner those from my home culture will declare judgments upon my adopted culture also on limited information. This does not happen merely cross-culturally, but also between cultures and thus it requires us to be informed. Unless we have a working knowledge of a subject, we probably have no business commenting on it. The goal here is not to suppress opinions, but instead to compel a resurgence of critical thinking and discernment where it is becoming extinct.
(Photo “Lost Souls” courtesy of user Patrick Marione and Flickr).