Editorial: Resolve to be a better citizen in 2017

The first bad habit to drop: Willful ignorance
A 2014 citzenship swearing-in ceremony in Albany.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
A 2014 citzenship swearing-in ceremony in Albany.

As we reflect back on 2016 and look ahead to a fresh start in 2017, we all have to admit one thing: We all could do a better job at being citizens.

The presidential campaign exposed some weaknesses in our citizenry and brought out the worst in many of us.

If we’re to make America great again (to borrow a phrase), we’re going to have to overcome those shortcomings.

It seems that each time we were challenged, we became intractably chained to a single position, intolerant of other points of view, unwilling to move off the small patch of philosophical space we’d staked out for ourselves.

And the more we acted that way, the more entrenched we became in those behaviors and beliefs.

If we’re to become better citizens in 2017, the first bad habit we’re going to have to drop from 2016 is willful ignorance.

Ignorance isn’t born. It’s made. And many times, we choose it for ourselves.

We insist on retaining our own degree of ignorance, believing only what we want to believe, even in the face of facts or developments that might counter that.

Through willful ignorance, we deliberately give credence to statements made by untrustworthy sources while purposely ignoring facts presented by those with real knowledge of an issue — as long as the unworthy sources state what we believe.

Through willful ignorance, we purposely ignore the substance and context of what someone has said or written, picking and choosing the parts that fi t our arguments and ignoring the parts that don’t. We see what we want to see, and that doesn’t always lend itself to a correct interpretation of the facts.

Through willful ignorance, we refuse to seek out alternative sources of information.

Admit it. How many times during the presidential campaign did you accept at face value the statements made by your favored candidate about their own positions and the positions of their opponent?

With so many opportunities to get actual facts from easily accessible, objective sources, why didn’t we? Willful ignorance.

As good citizens, we also need to resolve in 2017 to be more welcoming and tolerant of viewpoints that might differ with our own beliefs.

Even when someone doesn’t agree with us, they still might have legitimate points to make that could help give us a fuller understanding of a complex issue.

With that understanding, we might be able to identify better solutions or forge compromises.

If we’re locked into our own beliefs to the exclusion of others’, we simply perpetuate stagnation and isolation.

Another resolution: Don’t accept false equivalencies.

All actions and statements are not created equal. One source is not always as reliable or correct as another. Not even all facts are equal.

The debate over climate change is an example of a false equivalency. An overwhelming number of credible scientists say it exists.

To consider the opinions of an ill-informed non-scientist who denies the existence of climate change equally with all those scientists is accepting false equivalencies.

Consider the sources of your information and use your reasoning ability to assign the proper weight to each argument.

Resolve to be more civil. The surest way to polarize is to stoop to name-calling and insults.

Rise above your urge to be petty and vindictive and stick to the facts and reasonable arguments when engaged in a debate.

Finally, resolve to be more active citizens in 2017. Go to government meetings or watch them online. Vote. Question your leaders.

Read more. Discuss more. Think more.

Make resolution to become a better citizen in 2017

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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