Confessions of a Rabble Rouser
by Terri White
Recently, a friend affectionately called me a “rabble rouser”, stating that the truth is rarely popular. Indeed. Unfortunately, folks stuck in a mental rut never consider the validity of another point of view.
When I teach persuasive writing, I include propaganda techniques introduced in the 20th century Nazi regime. One tactic uses fear, a fundamentally irrational emotion. When a propagandist warns the audience that disaster will result if you do not follow a particular course of action, he plays on the audience's deep-seated fears. Practitioners of this technique hope to redirect attention away from the merits of another course of action that would reduce the fear.
Then propaganda became popularized when media sources, funded by advertisements, expanded. As a result, the general populace grew accustomed to the barrage of ads on radio, TV, and now social media. Without thinking. Without filtering. Without questioning.
Selling a boat? Place a sexy woman next to it. Selling corn flakes? Surround the table with a smiling family. Selling a diamond ring? State that it symbolizes forever love. Want people to vote for Mr. X? Give us lofty promises. And so forth. Get it? They sell love, sex, happiness, and promises. Quite frankly, I enjoy all three and hope for the best with candidates. So do you. But that’s not the point, is it?
Well, what is the point? Let’s return to my persuasive writing class. One of my assignments requires students to create an auto accident and write witness reports from the north, south, east, and west. Each report views the accident from a different angle. If we assume that we see the full accident from the north, we neglect to understand that the other reports see something not viewed from the north. Do you get my drift?
We are all limited by our perspectives. Consider a cartoon that I show my students. In the first frame, a scrawny guy on a dinky island, spotting a tiny boat approaching his island, shouts, “Boat!” The next frame reveals an equally scrawny guy in the tiny rowboat yelling, “Land!” That’s you and me. Boat! Land! Boat! Land!
Our 2020 crises provide an opportunity to develop our critical thinking skills. Because without critical thinking, we swallow the news hook, line, and sinker. Not everything is as it seems. We must dig deeper. We must open our minds to other perspectives to arrive at a broader understanding. Remember the north, south, east, and west assignment?
Truth is rarely accepted easily. Since we often stubbornly resist another point of view, we ridicule it. Following that, we sometimes violently oppose the truth. Sound familiar? Then finally – finally – it becomes accepted as a self-evident truth.
Throughout history, mankind has resisted truth. Looking back, we see more clearly. However, when in the midst of the controversy, we are often blind to it. Flat earth. No brainer now. But a few hundred years ago, it was the truth. Just because it’s truth to you, does not make it true.
What is happening today is no different. How will we proceed down the road of truth? Will we exercise critical thinking to find answers? Will we respectfully listen to others who share a different viewpoint (boat! land!)? If we don’t, our nation is in deep trouble.