equal footing on yahoo news

It may sound as if I’m picking on Yahoo but I’m only using it to illustrate a trend in news reporting and aggregating. Since I started using Yahoo email (recently) I’ve found the juxtapositions on the home page startling.

screenshot of headlines on Yahoo News August 23, 2013

We live in a world where news of wildly differing degrees of importance is presented on equal footing. Do I want to read about a “wacky hairdo” or the plight of a Syrian refugee? Developing details of the apparent murder of a WWII veteran or the first public appearance of North West? It’s fine with me if people want to read entertainment news and other “fluffy” fare. I’ll come right out and admit I’m obsessed with Kate Middleton, but it bothers me that a beautiful picture of a duchess and her family shows up above a picture of a young man receiving oxygen after a chemical weapon attack.

Maybe this is pandering: news services want to offer what people want to read. And I can definitely see the possibility that if the serious stuff were relegated to a “serious place” there’s a chance fewer people would read it. Mixing it in with things that are fun to read may actually allow it to reach a wider audience.

Something about it still troubles me, though. Would it make sense to divide an aggregate’s home page into sections–each quarter devoted to its own type of news: world headlines, celebrity gossip, nutty trends, U.S. politics…? What do you think?

Are the people who design the presentation of this information finally achieving the journalistic ideal of being fair and balanced, or are they mistakenly encouraging their readers to view all headlines as equally weighty?

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human kindness

Yesterday a hearty dose of human kindness came my way, an antidote against the cynical thinking to which I have become increasingly prone.

red bicycle leaning against wooden structure with yellow flowers

I rode my bike to complete an errand about three miles from home. I took one route there and a different route back. The route back would have been more difficult and dangerous anyway, because it involved passing the entrance/exit areas of several businesses on a main thoroughfare, riding uphill on a narrow sidewalk with high walls on both sides, and then—what I didn’t know when I started—running out of sidewalk altogether. The cherry on top? I decided to try this route at 5 pm. Oops.

As I approached the first business exit I noticed a driver in her car, awaiting the chance to turn left across two lanes and attempt to join the flow in the opposite direction. “She’s focused on making the turn; she’s not going to notice me,” I thought to myself.

I didn’t need to get home in a hurry, and besides, I’d rather get home slowly than be in an accident, so I braked. But the driver did see me rolling up on her left. In fact, she glanced over her shoulder, put her car in reverse, and made it abundantly clear that she was going to wait on me.

Pleasantly surprised, I gave a wave and a smile of thanks, passed in front of her, and cautiously proceeded home. I abandoned that busy route for a quieter residential one as soon as I could, but before then two more people did the exact same thing–backed up to signal a clear intention to let me pass, even though it meant missing opportunities to turn out of the parking lots where they waited. A fourth driver pulled the reverse-and-wait at a four-way stop in the residential area.

Maybe the fact that this floored me means that I’m letting myself get too cranky, but let me tell you, I felt far from cranky after that. As the scenario unfolded my thinking was, “I am the vulnerable, potentially invisible one. I will be patient and careful because others, with their own concerns in mind, may cut me off if I try to put myself first.” (Cynicism disguised as maturity.)

But what they said back to me, using actions rather than words, was, “You are the vulnerable, potentially invisible one but we see you. We honor your need to pass by in safety, and we sacrifice our own immediate goals to make a way for you.”

It took me about twenty minutes to get home, which means that, on average, this positive message played out for me once every five minutes. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband about it! How about you? How have you experienced the kindness of others? Did you expect it or were you surprised?

color-kindness

In the United States people of various races have always co-existed, even intermingled. Some eras and areas have handled it better than others. History reveals some shameful errors, and I’m not just talking about African-American slavery. The “internment” of Japanese-American families during World War II and some current attitudes toward Mexican-Americans show that a lack of understanding can lead to unjust treatment.

What perpetuates our lack of understanding? The causes are too many and too interwoven to form a tidy list, but I wonder if at least one attempt to fix the problem is making it worse. Leaders and educators, aspiring to achieve an accord that’s been often discussed but never fully realized, tend to use “color-blindness” as a guide. I don’t think color-blindness does us much good.

The principle denies any difference between One and The Other. It assumes that if each can ignore the other’s lighter/darker pigmentation, they will get along. Ironically, it focuses us on the very thing it’s meant to help us ignore. Awareness that you’re not supposed to acknowledge an obvious difference–and, in fact, something must be wrong with you if you even notice the difference–can lead to interactions where One is so focused on his dissimilarity to The Other that the dissimilarity causes him to feel anxious. What if he slips up and reveals that he noticed? Will he be accused of intolerance?

Possessing observational skills needn’t be a liability. No one thinks it’s inappropriate to notice striking physical features other than skin. (At least not that I know of. And please understand that I’m only talking about noticing, not ridiculing.)

Would it be better to acknowledge our differences than to ignore them? I think it would be better as long as we keep in mind what lies behind the concept of color-blindness, which isn’t that there are no differences, but that there is no difference in value. What unites people of every color is that we are on a human journey together.

That said, it’s a difficult journey. Humans tend to form groups with those they find familiar, which is where shared heritage, manners, expectations, etc. enter in. These shared characteristics often occur among people with matching skins, but not always. Not all Chinese families hold academic achievement as the highest ideal. Not all tanned blonds are looking for the closest party. It’s easier to discover errors in our assumptions if we’re allowed to confess our assumptions in the first place instead of anxiously trying to hide them.

What if we exchanged the misleading ideal of color-blindness for a more practical approach: color-kindness? We could acknowledge the obvious–we look a little different from each other. Proximity to the unfamiliar creates a little stress because we’re afraid to misstep. Stereotypes are a sloppy shortcut, but we’re prone to rely on them anyway. With all this openly acknowledged, one of us might still do or say something that offends the other. But if we begin by nodding hello to the elephant in the room, maybe we’ll find our common ground faster than we do when we pretend that the elephant isn’t there, even though it’s stepping on our toes.

What do you think? Has color-blindness been useful to you? Do you think color-kindness would help us get along, or would it make things even more complicated?