Dear Tracey: We don’t know each other, but I follow you on Facebook and I have a bone to pick with you.
Last week, there was that terrible shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. More lives lost. It’s sad for those families and that town, well, for all of us.
But what did I find on your Facebook page? You looking all happy, promoting your show. I bet you don’t have a care in the world. How thoughtless to put that picture on at a time like this, so self-centered. People all across the country are suffering and you can only think about your show. Next time, think before you put something out there. — Signed, Concerned American
Dear Reader: Whenever I receive an email such as the one you sent me, the first thing I do is take a great big breath. Something that simple helps me keep my emotions in check and my rational brain working. Then, I usually drag such emails to the trash. As a columnist for over 20 years, I understand that people need to share their opinions and vent but that doesn’t necessarily mean I need to deal with them. No, I prefer to keep the focus of my column on helpful, positive topics as much as I possibly can.
However, I am choosing to respond to your sentiments because sadly, they reflect an excellent example of how Facebook, as well as other forms of social media and some radio and television programs, can lead us down the wrong path. Why? We have become a nation of assumption makers.
You saw my Facebook post and went straight to making assumptions. You assumed I knew about this tragic event and ignored it so that I could post about our show. Fact: I didn’t know about the tragedy until I was in my car on the way to our matinee that afternoon. You assumed I was thoughtless. Fact: As soon as I could I added two other Facebook posts about the tragedy to my page. Finally, you assumed from one picture that I “don’t have a care in the world.” Fact: Guess again. If you read my column over the summer you’d know that this simply isn’t true.
But your email is a valuable teachable moment because it is remarkably easy for all of us to make assumptions; all it takes is incomplete information and our brains are off and running. Why? Human nature seems to have a great need to connect the dots. But when we make assumptions, we connect those dots with our own experience and perceptions, which may or may not be anywhere close to the reality of what is in front of us. The end result? We jump to conclusions that are all wrong.
Let there be no mistake … I make assumptions, too. Here’s an example of one I made about one of the victims of the synagogue shooting, 97-year-old Rose Mallinger. Someone on Facebook posted that she was a Holocaust survivor. When I read this I was beside myself with grief over the sheer ugliness of mass shootings and the rampant gun violence in our country. I was in an emotional state so, without thinking it through, I promptly posted the story to my public Facebook feed.
About 30 seconds later it hit me — was this indeed factual information or was I reacting totally out of my emotions? I quickly checked Snopes (www.snopes.com/fact-check). Nope, nothing there.
But in my gut, something felt wrong. Trust me, the last thing I wanted to do was somehow add to this family’s grief. I deleted the post immediately. I’m glad I trusted my instincts because eventually the information was proven to be false.
In our current culture it is critical that we try to curb our assumptions. When your button gets pushed, take that deep breath I mentioned. You might even try counting to 50 or 100 as a means of keeping your emotions in check. Then put on your thinking cap. Fact check the source and the reliability of information. Be relentless in your pursuit of factual information. Instead of jumping to a conclusion, ask questions, lots and lots of questions.
If we could all try to practice this approach to information more often, I think we would find ourselves living in a less stressful, more productive and respectful culture.
Tracey Barnes Priestley is a life coach with a master’s degree in community counseling psychology and more than 30 years of experience as a counselor, educator and consultant. She is married and the mother of three adult children, and the author of “Duck Pond Epiphany.” Visit her website, www.thesecondhalfonline.com; email her at: email@example.com; or send your letters to 665 F St., Arcata, CA, 95521. Tracey regrets she cannot answer all letters and emails.