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.