Is The Sky Falling?
Chicken Little

Judging by this week’s news, you could say that Alberta, Canada is overrun with gun-toting psychotic murderers, California is covered with snow, and Play-Doh toys are designed to corrupt children. The truth, however, is not quite so horrifying.  There have been two Albertans who shot people this week, there is some snow in some parts of California, and Play-Doh designed one toy that unintentionally looks a lot like a penis.  The way we phrase things is so important.

Similarly, we pay too much attention to the picture that goes above the fold, or is on the six o’clock news, or is on the first screen of our internet news feed. These pictures are carefully selected for the most dramatic effect, and they may be cropped, edited, and photo-shopped to make us take notice. Thus, we all get a skewed view of the world outside our doors.  We see a picture of a flood  in a foreign land and we think the whole country is under water. We hear of violence associated with protest demonstrations and we think all the demonstrators are violent people.

Logically, we know that those things are not true, but the emotional impact of the news stories has a more lasting impact than the facts. The trigger words and powerful images hit us first and stay with us longer.  This leads to behaviours that probably were not intended or anticipated by the journalists. They make us afraid.

I have friends who won’t travel to the United States—anywhere in the United States–because they fear the gun violence that they have heard about. Probably there are people all over the world who have a similar fear, and they don’t visit for the same reason. That means that there are many lovely tourists and millions of dollars that the US won’t see, all because of journalistic drama. I shake my head at this because I spend several months every year in the US and have yet to see any gun violence or even a gun for that matter.  I know gun violence happens, but I haven’t seen it and neither have any of my American friends and family members.

Obviously, my anecdotal evidence is not sufficient to sway anyone’s opinion, but neither should  headlines or news photos. The truth about what is really going on is more nuanced and complex. Most of us are more at risk from cars than we are from guns in America.

This week, though, Americans read about gun murders in Alberta, Canada and were glad they don’t live there. Funny, that.


  1. This one is a head-scratcher – why many of continue to fall for the sensationalistic “news” items. As you point out, rationally, we’re less safe driving in a car than most other places, and yet so many of don’t even give it a second thought to jump in a drive somewhere. Many of us even do so while distracted.
    I think it has something to do with our view of “the other” – someone that seems different from us. Once we start to notice we’re not all that different, then this type of misinformation loses its ability to manipulate us. Once we start to live in compassion for ourselves, it’s harder to hook us into this fear-based thinking.
    That doesn’t help the newspaper and TV media publishers, and they’ve been on a slippery slope for decades, as more and more people are waking up and choosing their own media and dropping their subscriptions. It’s become like the cigarette companies selling to a shrinking (and dying) group of consumers, with their tactics becoming ever more desperate as they struggle to hold on to those last few customers. So it goes.
    Let’s make up our own minds and make our own choices.

  2. I agree with you, ViewPacific, that our perceptions of the “other” are vulnerable to manipulation. It is so easy to be afraid of that which we find strange, but when we travel and visit unfamiliar places and people, we usually come home with more understanding.

    I stopped watching television news some time ago because I didn’t like the way they repeated snippets of information about a few stories without providing any thoughtful analysis. But, like everyone else, I am still vulnerable to dramatic images and headlines in the electronic news that I read. It’s easier to make up your own mind when you have a variety of sources and thoughtful debate.


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