I was driving an unfamiliar freeway yesterday and took an exit to get some gas. As I was sitting at the stop light at the top of the exit, a pickup truck pulled up next to me and the driver started shaking his fist and grimacing at me.
I didn’t remember having done anything wrong. I try to be a conscientious driver. But I drive thousands and thousands of miles every year. Bound to make a mistake once in awhile.
As I turned left off the exit, I ended up right next to the same guy at the next stop light. Normally you’d sit there uncomfortably not glancing at each other. Instead I rolled down my window and signaled for him to do the same.
I said, “Can I help you with something?”
And he started yelling at me immediately. “Yeah, you cut me off back there! I had to slam my brakes and there was a truck behind me!”
I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I’d done that. My apologies.”
He continued yelling. “You could have killed someone back there! You cut me right off!”
I smiled at him and said, “I’m very sorry about that. I’m not from around here and not familiar with that exit. Didn’t realize I’d done it.”
He paused for a moment, smiled back at me, and said, “Ok then, you have a good day now.”
Defused, just like that. Because we both learned something. I learned I’d made a mistake. He learned that it was a mistake and I wasn’t trying to antagonize him.
I’m not telling you this story to prove what a great guy I am. Instead, it’s to show that learning and talking can smooth things out.
I saw a comment from a lady on Facebook recently that said, “I’m tired of you educated people thinking you know more than everyone else!”
“Knowing more than other people” is exactly the definition of being educated. And seeing the growing disdain for learning and experts is a scary thing. The replacement of facts with “feelings” isn’t doing us any good.
That guy in the truck felt like I’d wronged him. And fortunately he believed my fact that I’d simply made a mistake. And we could both go on with our day with one less bit of animosity.
Keep in mind, I’m talking about both sides of whatever spectrum here. Shallow, uneducated people exist in all portions of society, as do deep, thoughtful people. And when talking about education, I don’t mean a college degree. I mean people with an array of life experiences who make an effort to actually learn about the world around them.
Subvert The Algorithm
Unfortunately, our consumption of knowledge has been overly focused down to soundbites and 140 character tweets. All of it funneled into algorithms that only show us more of what we want to see and nothing that we don’t want to see.
Being further distanced from those we don’t agree with isn’t going to help us come to any sort of understanding or compromise. It’s only segregating us into opposing camps.
So we have to make an effort to go out and learn new things. Seek the knowledge of others and try to understand their motivations. We’re learning more that Islamic terrorists are created through a combination of poverty, inexperience, and brainwashing by demagogues. I’d argue that American racists are a product of the same combination.
How many people (on either side) actually tried to learn more about the 2012 Benghazi attack instead of just using it as a slogan? How many people looked up any of the facts about the Trump University law suit? And from something other than a source that just agrees with you?
Yes, facts can be manipulated and the victors write the history. But we have to have something as a baseline to start the discussion. When we have more viewpoints on a subject we can have more insight to a problem and help keep our media outlets improve their integrity.
Who’s got the time?
I get it, there’s too much out there to keep track of. We’re all busy trying to scrape together a living wage. Who’s got time for all this research and learning?
It has to become part of your daily events. I learn something every day. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering. Recently I learned that my kitchen faucet has a small regulator in it that isn’t necessary and was clogged and making my faucet not work right. Wouldn’t have known that without my helpful plumber stepping in to show me.
But if something filters up and you’re using it to explain something to someone else, you should have an idea of what you’re actually talking about. I heard rants about Benghazi for months before I finally got around to looking it up and reading the details.
The simple bottom line is that you need to learn something new every day. Not stuffing your brain 24/7. But try to find something that will give you new knowledge or a different viewpoint each day. Success is made through knowledge and thoughtfulness. Ignorance and fear only stunt the growth of the human race.