Final reprise: Media Rule of Thumb
In the first three parts of this mini-series (first, second, third) we’ve looked at a simple way to first become aware, and then to challenge the selective focus and blatant partiality so often present in our current news and media climate. A three-step heuristic consisting of:
- Step One: Identify the source (author, publisher, [and promotion interests])
- Step Two: Identify values systems in play (Gravesian worldviews)
- Step Three: Holistic perspective top-of-mind (quadrant mnemonic)
“I didn’t do it!”
However, we must remember that the simple truth is it’s much easier to see problems in a partial, piecemeal fashion. Overall, it’s just easier to see the old homeless woman on the corner as the problem. Selective, partial reporting is able to shape public thinking—and, ultimately, policy—mostly by appealing to convenience (e.g., biased media shorthand) and emotion (guilt, fear, frustration). It’s much easier for Eric Johnson, and KOMO, to make the issue exclusively about 12,000* homeless people than to acknowledge the part the other two-point-two million people who live in Seattle and King County play in the dynamics of the Seattle situation. Seeing the issue of homelessness as a problem of both the one (~12,000 individual homeless persons) and the many (2.2 million King County residents) is the only known way to reconcile these two populations and this tragic lack of compassion in our very affluent society.
Avoidance by proxy
If your/my preferred media/information provider selectively excludes and overlooks half of the problem, then we’ll have little chance of reconciling this or any of our other seemingly intractable problems. Rather, the effect is to proxy responsibility away from the privileged. The selective way that our news/media systems report on problems like homelessness is the very root of the perception that these issues are intractable and cannot be reconciled—”That’s just the way it is, always has been, always will be.” Political tribes who have demonized their opposites feel strongly they have nothing to learn from the other’s perspective. When news and media monetize and profit greatly from polarizing division, society simply must become aware, intentional, and disciplined about keeping a holistic perspective top-of-mind.
Steps toward healing homelessness
In February of 2006 Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece for the New Yorker entitled, “Million Dollar Murray.” NPR’s Scott Simon interviewed Gladwell about the piece and the problem of homelessness (here). Gladwell argues in very pragmatic terms and focuses on the cost of solutions. He shows the obvious, there is far less cost in simply getting the core/chronically-homeless persons off the streets by getting them an apartment and a case-manager to help them keep their lives on track than the astronomical costs involved in doing nothing. This is a very Orange [ER] values, bottom-line approach to a problem.
From strictly a cost-benefit perspective, it is impossible to deny the veracity of Gladwell’s claim. This approach also has the advantage of being very measurable in terms of efficacy. Obviously, however, the problem with this solution is more of an ethical one. This kind of plan seems unjust to people who work two or three jobs to pay for their own apartments. The question involves a balance between the interests of individuals and collectives. If the question of fairness is exclusively decided on the basis of individuals and personal responsibility, then, on face value, Gladwell’s plan is unjust. If, however, the question is decided more holistically, the social benefits gained by all helps re-frame fairness.
Healing homelessness holistically…
After high school Rosanne Haggerty began working in a New York homeless shelter and became passionate about homelessness and solving the problem. Haggerty is now a world-renowned activist/advocate for the homeless who offers education and consultation to communities interested in taking a holistic approach to homelessness [see her TED video below].
Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg have formed a podcast enterprise, Pushkin Industries. A new podcast in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation is called #Solvable. In this podcast series, problems that are regarded by most as intractable and unsolvable are considered and shown to actually be solvable. In the June 9th podcast, “Homelessness is #Solvable,” Gladwell interviews Haggerty and discovers homelessness is indeed a solvable problem. Haggerty’s “housing first” approach makes the individual homeless person the locus of the response, but does so in ways far more holistic than the upper-quadrants-only approach taken in the KOMO, “Seattle Is Dying,” documentary. Haggerty’s “by name, in real time” approach requires recognition, and integration, of the holistic nature of the problem, a problem of both the one, and, the many. The #Solvable podcast is well worth a listen!
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?