In the name of progress

15 May 2015
15 May 2015
West Lafayette, IN
5 mins

In these biweekly posts, I like to address current issues or unique problems I find and look at them from new angles. And the majority of that involves offering criticism of some current issue, picking apart the negative effects of the status quo and looking for changes that can improve our lives from what we have today. But as a side effect, most of my posts also take a rather negative tone, criticizing what we have in education, government, or the media. And because the vast majority of news media and journalism tries to do the same – pick apart and criticize – there’s a mismatch between the positive events taking place in the world and how much of it we reflect in our discussions and debates.

There’s a mismatch between the positive events taking place in the world and how much of it we reflect in our discussions and debates.

There’s a solid rationale behind the news media that’s saturated with more negativity than positivity. If, for example, a family very narrowly survived an escape from a building collapse and another family is missing after a fire, it would make sense to report on and talk about the negative news of the missing family, the issue that requires a more immediate solution and attention. On the other hand, there are also arguments that say that criticism for the sake of improving the status quo is more worthwhile and valuable than seeing the positivity and contenting ourselves with the present. I think the media leans disproportionately on the side of negativity and criticism because of these two goals – constructive criticism and urgent news delivery. And both of these are noble and worthwhile goals – without the criticism of the media, companies and politics may never have the same motivation to improve. And without the delivery of urgent news in times of devastation, those who need help the most may never get it in time. But at the same time, I think there is a bit of a feedback loop happening in journalism and similar discussions in other places, where the atmosphere of criticism and negativity leads to more criticism and picking-apart of the present issues with no real constructive purpose. While a respectable article on, for example, the recent tragedy of Amtrak’s derailed passenger train may deliver accurate information and go a step further to suggest opportunities that the infrastructure could have taken to improve safety, another article covering the same story may turn out to be nothing more than a sophisticated rant about the weakness of American transpiration infrastructure.

The same problem, criticism for the sake of criticism, digs even deeper in more personal and idealistic stories. Articles covering the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of Indiana from a month ago ranged anywhere from high-quality, neutral, and constructive pieces to well-written but biased pieces, to articles whose quality was completely destroyed by the lack of rationality and extreme bias of the author – and this happened on both sides of the debate. And one of the issues we often encounter is pieces that only exist to criticize, rather than to ultimately lead to improvement.

In psychology, there is a multi-step process to resolving mental problems that begins with the patient “admitting that he or she has a problem.” Naturally, this step is the key to motivating those with problems to work and improve. And a very similar process, I think, can be applied to resolving issues that societies have as a community. The first step, of course, is the people of a community realizing that there is a problem to be resolved. But when the discussions that are taking place focus more on the issue itself and less on ways to improve on the present, that’s a bit like the patient admitting there’s a problem, but stopping there and doing nothing to get better. Ultimately, it goes nowhere, and the negativity only makes for a generally pessimistic atmosphere.

But the fact that a patient refuses to take any action definitely doesn’t mean the doctor should give up. And likewise, the fact that our criticism is often misdirected doesn’t mean we should stop paying attention to the faults we have. On the contrary, rather than spending too much time on exposing the problems we face, if we invest a little bit of that effort into finding solutions to improve upon and solve the issues we know we have, that might make for a much better use of our words and discussion. I’m certainly guilty of this problem as well. Most of my posts exist to point out a problem we have that I think is worth more attention, but more than a handful of the times, I stop there. I write a few paragraphs about the issues I think are supposedly important, but I don’t do anything about it. What does that way about how much I really care about these issues?

We like to admit we have a problem. In fact, we like to talk about a whole lot of them, every day. But like an unmotivated patient, we stop there, and don’t put nearly as much effort into resolving the problems we identify. Too often we neglect the problems we say we care about when we have to put forth effort to resolving those issues. We criticize and participate in heated discussions in the name of progress, but when it really comes the time and opportunity to take the next step, we digress. And at that moment, with that decision, we willingly give up the privilege we were given to be able to advocate for the changes we deem necessary. And just like that, our words become purposeless, speaking out but not being heard. And it’s time to change that.

As a part of that effort, today, I’m personally taking an action to at least attempt to resolve something I’ve felt is an issue in my school. And because I know you’ve probably spoken out against something in the past few weeks, I’d like to challenge you to do the same. Take the next step.

The artist's motivation

Victims of circumstance

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