“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. “
Take a look at these two headlines.
They are reporting exactly the same story.
In one there is optimism tinged with pessimism (“more than expected”) and the other is pessimism tinged of optimism (“stuck at 9.1%”).
This is an old media technique, of course, exemplified in stark contrast by a leading liberal website (msnbc.com) and a leading conservative website (foxnews.com). Both statements are true, yet by changing the headline the reader is left with a different impression.
Newspapers have been doing this for hundreds of years to arouse emotion and make sales. Fortunately, the discriminating reader who understands this trick can look beyond the headlines to find the real story.
And yet, even the most discriminating reader has a hard time avoiding the emotion that came from just reading those words. Read the article on the left, positive feelings are aroused. The right, negative. And unfortunately the negative far outweighs the positive most of the time.
Everyday the negative engulfs us. We read depressing headlines. The radio blares out bad news. The television’s lead is about another murder. Stocks markets are panicking. There is new fighting in the Middle East.
But there are easy things we can do to avoid the black waves of anger which come with reading the news.
- Double every bad number – If jobless rates are 9.1%, imagine them at 18.2%. Suddenly, 9.1% looks better.
- “But” is bad – “But” is an effective word for erasing the positive. “Violence in cities has declined, but it could escalate again.” This is actually good news. “But” made it bad. Put “But” in its place, read the first part of the sentence again.
- Read different news websites – The language the news site uses is designed to titillate. If it is obviously sensational, start reading a different website.
- Note the tone of the announcers – Are they yelling at you, warning you? Another sure sign of bad news.
- Watch Your Own Language – How often do you start a sentence with, “The problem is …”? Every problem has an opportunity. Find different language and you might find yourself viewing those “problems” differently.
These are not meant to be a silver bullet, nor are they placebos. The feelings that arise from reading a sensational headline are real. Our perceptions are modifiable though, as is our language.
By looking at the language, the tone, the statistics, and our own word choice, we can brighten our feelings.
And if we are feeling lighter we are more hopeful, kind, encouraging, and optimistic.
Maybe optimistic enough to go back and read the news again.
Online volunteering today to go with the online news theme. Free rice to help feed someone, somewhere who is hearing some happy news. I hope.