How Information Empowers
I know you’ve heard this expression before, “Information is power.” As a citizen anywhere on the globe, we’ve all heard it. Over and over.
So I looked up “Power.” It said, “Possession of control, authority, or influence over others.”
Then I looked up the word “Information,” which is, “Knowledge of a particular event or situation.”
So if information is power, then, it would be alright to say that “Information Power” is “Having control over others through the knowledge of a particular event or situation.”
I don’t know about you, but I think we’ve been ascribing to our immediate-breaking-news addiction for information power for far too long. And the networks know they are fighting for your time and viewership loyalty, so they’ll sensationalize the news to ensure you “stay tuned” to them (What a great old radio-era expression.)
Awhile ago, I could tell when the congregation had been particularly bombarded by sensationalized calamity. When the not-so-long-ago news of the banks being in trouble first surfaced, with the “too big to fail” slogans being hurled back-and-forth, our church was a somber place.
One Sunday, I asked that we might consider giving ourselves a respite from watching television so much. Scale back a bit.
I could see the unspoken reply in their earnest expressions, “But, we need to know what’s going on.” Yet, during our coffee time afterwards, the conversations indicated less news saturation might be a good idea.
Let me ask you to also rethink this belief. Do you really need to know what’s going on minute-by-minute? On every issue, confronting every people, in every corner of the world, all the time, over and over and over again?
It was a brilliant marketing prediction to think people would want to see the world news updated every 15 minutes 24-hours a day. Known as CNN, I couldn’t imagine people would go for it. I didn’t appreciate the nature of addiction like I do now.
When I was stationed in Italy from 1992-95, the commanding U.S. Air Force general got news updates on our situation in Bosnia (we were flying Deny Flight from our base) from ongoing CNN reports. Defense department monitoring is probably a justifiable application of 24-hour-a-day information delivery.
But how many of us are making real-life decisions, that impact global catastrophes, from news reports replayed non-stop, on every channel, in their own sensational and visually-compelling way?
In competitive situations, whether at work, regarding national defense, or even within sibling rivalries, withholding or sharing information is actually managing power, isn’t it? Most of us know exactly how it works.
When we share information, we are also sharing our personal power. When we withhold information, we are choosing to keep that power; sharing it only with those we trust or those with whom we want to create alliances.
Information power is a tool we can use, but is more often than not, a tool used on us. When we refuse to think for ourselves we set ourselves up to be misinformed. And perhaps not as sinister, but also carrying huge consequences, when we forget to filter what we hear, and decide how much of it we believe we need in order to be effective in our lives, we set ourselves up for emotional exhaustion and compassion burnout.
And this is the main point I wanted to suggest today. Compassion fatigue is everywhere. We cannot take in so much repeated telling of endless global suffering. We cannot address it or fix it. We cannot even remember the names of all the affected countries, there are so many reports.
To me, information power is being reasonably informed (you decide what forms of media feed you best) and once informed, thoughtful in our compassionate choices for the actions we feel led to take.
The life journey is as much about developing compassion as anything else I can imagine. Over-stimulation of our sympathies leads to an overload situation and eventual shut-down. We are inactivated because our personal compassion capacity simply cannot cover the globe. Our system shuts down completely, as we are absolutely informed yet utterly unequipped to do anything with the data.
And we wonder why we see young people, connected to every media as it’s produced, walking around so unresponsively? Depression is a body in shut down, self-protection mode. And it’s not affecting only the younger, more impressionable, ones.
To me, real information power is informed compassion. And information empowerment happens when a person thinks for himself or herself and takes in what they need, and refuses to be bullied by the media that readily admits it is all about selling its products within the entertainment industry.
The older I get, the more I prize my human journey that takes me deeper and deeper into our shared humanity; our compassionate core. I haven’t owned a television in five years, but I read more than I ever have.
It takes much more time and effort to read the news instead of having someone I don’t know tell it to me. But, I get to decide what it means for me. And then, more often than not, I can calmly decide what I want to do about it. What do you think?
Sharon is pastor of the Garberville Community Presbyterian Church. Worship is at 10:30 a.m. every Sunday during the school year. Children’s Sunday School is offered during the service. Comments or questions should be addressed to: Dr. Sharon Latour, c/o A Pastor’s Perspective, P.O. Box 65, Garberville, CA 95542. (707) 923-3295.