I spend a lot of time researching all kinds of things. Current events, systems, places, new technology, social mores, human behavior and activities. All writers do. And, like with most things, exposure brings experience and enlightenment. The more you know about something, the more apt what you know is to change your perspective, your opinions, and/or your attitudes.
We seek to gain knowledge and understanding. We seek to gain wisdom. Bluntly put, we seek answers to find the truth.
Those objectives make it imperative that we are judicious in where we seek our information and that we view what we find through a prism of discernment. You cannot believe everything you see, read or hear online any more than you can offline. If you seek only in echo chambers, you can trust even less that you’re getting clear-eyed and objective information.
It’s noteworthy that no human being can be totally objective. Every human being sees a given thing—any given thing—through his own personal prism. That prism is a compilation of his experiences, understanding, and the foundation that forms deep inside based on beliefs, values and morals. The things taught from the cradle that we carry with us and adjust as we grow. In other words, we view things based on what we know to be true at the time we view them.
At some time, our truths are challenged, and we must decide whether those truths are truths or if they must change. Knowledge can challenge. Wisdom can challenge. An intense event, physical or emotional or spiritual, can challenge.
Our perspective is our prism, and like opinions, everybody’s got one. That’s why no human being can be totally objective. It’s also why we must use discernment and good judgment in where we seek truth and from whom we seek it. This is especially important online. Why?
When we interact in person, we automatically note body language, inflections in voices, tones, and other tips that cue us as to whether or not the other person is being honest, sincere and genuine, or being untruthful to sway us or our opinion. We get intuitive nudges—where you know deep inside the person is being straight with you or if he has more twists than a pretzel. We pick up on these things instinctively because we’ve used them all our lives, seeking approval, working out conflicts, preparing for something important to us. Let me share a practical example:
A three-year-old wants praise and approval. So, he reacts in a way that gains your praise and approval. Or, if upset, in a way that won’t so he gains your attention, because that is his underlying goal. To get your attention. If he can’t get it by being good, (his experience at interacting with you and your reaction tells him what your response will be), he’ll toss a temper tantrum and take your bad attention, admonishing him. Good or bad attention is better than no attention.
Adults are typically a little more subtle, but the underlying motivation is pretty much the same. Try good actions. If they work, great. If not, try bad actions. Either way, you gain attention and you’ve moved the needle off the human being’s nemesis: indifference.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about information sharing and getting good or bad information and how-to tell the difference. We tend to think that everyone is like us. Their motives are good, their intentions are good, and they’re doing the best they can in a world where many have lost their way. But that isn’t the truth.
Like in life, online there are people who do good things and people who do bad things. Their acts are deliberate. Sometimes mistakes are made, apologies are offered and accepted. Other times, we discover a person or entity is a nail looking for a cross.
Now there are times when things push our buttons and we fire off a blistering response. This is why we should avoid responding immediately. Sometimes we need to pause and give ourselves time for a cooler head to prevail. The upside of pausing is that we end up having to apologize less often, we don’t regret as much of what we say, and we’re not proven wrong nearly so much. Those are substantial upsides.
For the same reason, when we receive a blistering response, we should also pause before responding. Maybe it’s deliberate, but maybe that person is having a bad day, venting, or up to their earlobes in alligators. Perhaps what is most needed is a little grace.
We all mess up, make mistakes, vent and, because we do, we should grant grace. Why? Because there will come a time when we mess up, make mistakes, vent, and we’re going to need it. If we grant grace to others, we are far more apt to receive grace from others.
All of these things wrap right back around to our online information-sharing and the intense interest lately between Patriots and Pay-triots.
In years of research, I’ve run into basically three groups of people who information-share online. Here are some common practical observations that may guide you:
These are Patriots. They share for the purpose of informing, of enlightening. They don’t want or need your money. Their objective is to share knowledge, the truths they’ve acquired. Some share so that you’ll stop making uninformed mistakes and screwing things up for everyone, including them. Some share because they’ve figured things out, found the truth, and they want to help you (or to warn you so you) figure them out, too. They are altruistic, their goals noble.
These Patriots might be right or wrong. Their truths might not be all of the truth but the truth as they know it, and it well might lead you to the whole truth, a deeper truth. Their motives and actions are constructive and apparent in their details. What they offer might be facts and figures, emotional perspective, historical context, or spiritual perspective. All are important and valuable. And when these Patriots make a mistake, they’re first to admit it. They seek feedback and many straight out ask for those who have different takes or conflicting information, to share them. They too are hungry for truth and confidence in their findings. They do not fear being wrong and welcome deeper insights. We are blessed by many knowledgeable, discerning, and generous-spirited Patriots.
Those, who for many of the same reasons as those in Group One, share but they do need to worry about money. They are very good at research and are glad to do it, but they can’t not earn living expenses while doing it. These people like to have a roof over their family’s heads, and they like to eat every day, too. They work hard and willingly share. They accept donations and have patrons and they might sell t-shirts and mugs and books or other merchandise.
They do not charge for information but ask for your support to fund their research expenses, their equipment and production expenses, their living expenses. In return, they share their insights, knowledge, wisdom and/or experience—their truth. That’s fair. None survive on air. These people take a large leap of faith that if they provide their best, you’ll provide them support. They, too, are a blessing. They, too, are Patriots.
These are those who are all about the money. They see an opportunity to bilk others hungry for information, for truth, and so they gather enough truth to convince some they have the “inside scoop” and can enlighten everyone. They have “sources” who are “connected.” They often drop names to impress you, so you know how important they are. Often, they pad their resumes, so you deem them experts. And they often tell you how smart they are, which of course, they wouldn’t have to do if they were truly smart. You’d know it.
These tactics to draw you in are reminiscent of high school and college sororities, aren’t they? Childhood secret clubs? The cool-people cliques? All of these proclivities are red flags, warning you to search out the motivations of the people in this group.
Often in Group Three, you also see these red flag warnings: Some information is free, but if you want the “scoop” information, you must be a patron or a regular donor or donate at a certain level to get to the inside group. That’s where these scoops are stored, and to get them, you must pay. They often sell products as well as information. And if they aren’t earning what they want to earn, then they flip their views and come at people from “the other side” to get more money. This group is not motivated by principle or ethics but by money.
Some in Group Three are paid by individuals or entities to shift or shape public opinions and views. To mold your perspective. They are not emotionally invested or driven by ideals, morals or values. They’re not driven by love of country or respect for their fellow man. They’re driven by your wallet. The wallets of those paying them. And they will take whatever stance or position proves most lucrative for them. These are the Pay-triots.
If you’re devoting your time and attention to the first two, you’re spending your time well. If the last… Well, you’re adults. You don’t need me to tell you what is or is not the best investment of your time, energy and attention.
Lastly, be careful who you give your time and attention, remembering that you can’t get out of your mind what you don’t first put into it. Guard your mind. Guard your thoughts. And listen to your own intuition.