“Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.” — Aristotle
“A whole generation of people are being confused and overwhelmed by the electronic media and are finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish fiction from reality.”
~ Prof. Paul Kurtz, SUNY
U.S. News & World Report, May 21, 1979
For half a lifetime I’ve been fascinated by the problem of fraud, deception and gullibility. In the 1980s I published an article called “Look Before You Leap” addressing the problem of business opportunity fraud. In the Seventies young people were being seduced in waves by cult leaders who took advantage of their earnestness and naïveté.
What amazes me is this. America is probably the most educated country in human history, yet we seem to have a stupifying lack of common sense. It is this alarming tendency to be duped that concerns me.
One morning in January 2004 the subject of man’s walk on the moon came up in our department at work. To my great surprise our web assistant stated that he did not believe man walked on the moon, that it was a hoax. I was somewhat chagrined. I knew there were people who thought that way, but to meet one in person was a surprise. For me it’s like stating that there is no such thing as England. It’s just a fact. Even though I’ve never been there, I know it exists.
This incident, and several more like it, led me to wonder what impact this kind of thinking has on today’s world.
It’s important to learn how to read the news with a critical eye. Likewise, when we see movies, it takes discipline to resist the temptation to swallow what we see hook line and sinker. Modern films have great power to influence. But their power can be equally potent disinformation and misinformation. It is O.K. to be emotionally moved, but it is vital when watching films, or reading books, that we exercise discernment, ingest with care only after additional research.
Do we really need to have an opinion on every topic?
Maybe the problem today is that we are so overwhelmed with information that it takes too much work to sift through it to the kernels of truth. One helpful tool for sorting things is to not assume you have to have an opinion on everything at all times. That is, if you can have a shelf in your mind where you set ideas aside until you have more time to investigate, this can be a very helpful stance.
I like what G.K. Chesterton had to say on this matter. “Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”
Let’s be careful. We not only need to get better at reading and listening, but also at hearing what’s behind what we read and hear. We need to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.