Monthly Archives: February 2014

News or no news?

Best coffee in the world, Valencia, Spain

This is carajillo, the best coffee in the world, Valencia, Spain

Every morning, I make myself a cup of coffee, return to bed, open my iPad and check the news on BBC. Then I move on to The Guardian and sometimes I look at Gazeta Wyborcza, the main Polish daily. It is as much my morning ritual as a harmless addiction, probably shared by many (many!) others in the world. But I am beginning to wonder about the adjective “harmless” that I have so hastily and indifferently tagged on to my news fixation.

This is because I have finally decided to acknowledge my total disgust with the media. Well, the feeling is not new, of course, it’s been lurking in the remote(r) recesses of my mind for a very long time. But, as of today, I have allowed it to emerge in its full abhorrent glory and therefore have a need to rationalise and justify it.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the media display an insistent and unquenchable thirst for the news, as each channel, website, newspaper and digital social platform try to outdo each other in how fast they can report events. Combined with our growing desensitisation to entertainment and the resulting lowering of the mass boredom threshold, that compels them to report any (and I mean, ANY) insignificant, preposterous, idiotic, ridiculous, absurd event or any such statement made by any such nonentity. Then it travels all over the world at cyber-speed and people reflexively take it as bigger than it is – because it’s on the news – so it must be newsworthy. Of course, other media obligingly re-report it, however inconsequential, pointless or irrelevant it may be. And so it goes.

But as we read/see it, the brain begins to absorb and process it, generating an inevitable reaction, either positive or, more likely, negative. So, we may become indignant, enraged, repulsed, or scared. Quickly, we jump to conclusions, we inform friends and family, ultimately, we may even go out in the streets and protest against it… And the news grows, perpetuates itself. The media now have to continue reporting because the initially minor, local episode in a provincial town or village in a faraway country has become a ‘global’ development, although, if left to its own devices, it may have died a natural death of triviality.

Yes, of course, this may bring about recognition of serious issues and give rise to greater justice. But it can also result in giving voice, shape and identity to something undeserving of any such attributes – like some groups (gradually renamed “organisations”), which originally were nothing but a bunch of unwashed, unshaven and uneducated, murderous lunatics, but acquired “legitimacy” through relentless reporting and rewriting and rebranding their “narratives” (oh, yes). There is a lot to be gained from this – fame, money, power… And both sides stand to reap profits, the reporting one and the one being reported on.

That said, I will continue with my daily ritual, cognizant of the potential harm it can cause to my sanity. But, I must admit that my own curiosity is as insatiable as is the media’s desire to satisfy it and be paid handsomely in return. Thankfully, I get the news for free, but should my circumstances change, I’d eagerly pay my TV and radio licence, and my subscription to a cable packet, and my broadband fees just to keep abreast of any developments.

In the end, what brought on this rant was of course insignificant and stupid, as well as outdated – a piece of rather laughable, absurd, no-newsy news from 2008, mistakenly included on, and swiftly removed from, today’s BBC website. However, the article made me explode with indignation. And then I realised how easily hatred and prejudice sustain themselves if not checked by rational thought. I will try to nurture my own rationality and approach the news with greater caution, but still can’t help blaming the media for their tendency to trade sense for sensation.

P.S. While on the topic of curiosity and sensation, the disturbing issue of our mind’s upper boundary for permissible belief should also be discussed. At some point.

About thinking

Stones for thought (my sister took this picture in Greece)

Stones for thought (my sister took this picture in Greece)

As far as thinking is concerned, inevitably, there is the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ dichotomy – ‘them’ being those who think the opposite. Confronted with that fact, we (they) question their (our) ability to think in any manner or mode. We (they) think it is only our (their) thinking that makes sense, is rational and based on sound premises (with each side probably also having a different, mutually exclusive, notion of rationality and logic). In other words, we (they) don’t think they (we) think at all, but at the same time, they (we) think that they (we) think anyway and think better than us (them) – it’s just that they (we) think what they (we) think and not what we (they) would like them (us) to think. By the same token, they (we) may want to convince us (them) that we (they) should think like they (we) do. And so it goes. So, who’s right? We are, of course, just as they are, naturally.

I think I must sound very culturally-relative here, but someone else might think something else and good for them.

The paradox of western educators teaching non-western students: we – willingly, obligingly, enthusiastically – give them thinking tools through classroom instruction in, of all things, critical thinking, and they increasingly use those tools not to change their own way of thinking into ours, but to defend it and question what we think. How critical is that…

Dreams

At work, there’s been a lot of talk about dreams recently – it’s the time of the year when our students begin to dream. They express their dreams on paper, clumsily and un-engagingly, as they write their personal statements and university application letters. What’s in their dreams? Engineering features big, so does doctor-ing, computing and business-ing. A few dream of being diplomats or economists or communication majors, whatever that might entail. When probed, many, if not most, are quite unsure about what it all means since they don’t really know what a petroleum engineer (or a computer analyst, or a dermatologist, or a …) does. But they still dream of becoming one. Because, to them and to many other young people, a dream implies a target at the end of a path through university to a safe and well-defined future career with a massive salary, clear promotion pattern, and social respect.

But a dream is not that at all. In fact, when one is young, one doesn’t really have any dreams. One has wants and desires, projected towards the future which still lies ahead, like a vast and mysterious ocean of luminous water and countless boats bobbing up and down on the surface, all ready to go in different directions. That’s not a dream scenery, that’s profusion of destination options.

A dream has nothing to do with water, but more with smoke or fog, which swivels gently behind as one looks back on life approaching its end. It is only then that the fog of one’s dream begins to shape itself into a mould, a template offering a post-factum explanation of one’s life and a confirmation or denial of its fulfilment.

So, thinking of dreams, I look back at my life, not forward to getting a doctorate, a new job, a new house, organising weddings for my children, babysitting future grandchildren, or spending peaceful retirement touring the world and writing preposterous novels. When I think of dreams, I see choices I had many years ago, I see what I chose and I don’t regret it. I chose to live a life I hadn’t dreamt of. It has been a life of happiness, adventure and fun, as well as upheavals, bewilderment, embarrassment and randomness. And yet I have lived a dream, I have fulfilled my dream. The fog takes on the shape of my husband – because everything I have done of any significance is linked to him. If I hadn’t chosen him, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. But I did, so I don’t. And that’s my dream in action, that choice made many years ago and lack of regret now. Mind you, it hasn’t been easy and my dream inspected backwards occasionally looks like a nightmare. But it’s a dream alright and I hereby confirm its achievement.

Oman March 2013

I took this picture in March 2013, in Muscat, Oman.