Monday, 11 June 2012

As an (ir)regular

correspondent with the print media I sometimes get criticised for stating a point of view someone else deems "controversial". It is part of the risk you take if you write a "letter to the editor" and you have to expect it.
What always surprises me however is how other people, who also write letters to the editor, fail to actually read what I - or someone else - has to say before before pounding their own keyboard in response.
I do not expect everyone will agree with me. I know they will not.
If I write a letter to the editor it is because I feel there is a point which needs to be raised. It is not always something I will agree with but, in the interests of balanced debate, I feel it needs to be said. Or it may be that the reporting has been more than usually biased.  Our print media is not known for printing both sides of an argument. There are also times when an issue will be reported - as a tiny paragraph eleven pages in. Oh yes, they will have said something - but only just.
I have been asked, more than once, to "use (my) influence" to express a point of view. No, I will not do that either. Quite apart from the fact that I doubt I have any influence I do not write letters to order. I have been known to help someone else write a letter even when I disagree with their point of view - but the final writing and sending is their responsibility, not mine.
There is a letter in this morning's paper criticising me. It comes from one of the usual suspects. Almost all the letters this person writes are about the same subject and they carry the same message.
I read it carefully, far more carefully than she had read my letter. She sets herself up as an expert in her chosen subject. She states opinions as facts. She uses facts selectively. Her writing is fluent and often persuasive - or it appears to be until you actually analyse what she has to say.
And that, I think, is the problem. Like so much of what is written in the "letters to the editor" and the rest of the print media opinions get in the way of facts.
All this tells me that I need to be very careful about what I say. If I state something as fact then it must be a fact and it must be accurate. If I state an opinion then I must make it clear that it is an opinion and not a fact. I must read what others have to say with this in mind.
There is something however I cannot do much about. I cannot make other people read with comprehension. I cannot get them to read critically. I will sometimes need to say to someone who accosts me in the street, "No, that is not what I said." They probably will not believe me because that will be what they have read even though it will not be what I have written.
We need to learn to read.


the fly in the web said...

I had similar problems in the days when I wrote letters to the editors.
It was clear from some of the responses that those responding had not read what I had written but had jumped to conclusions and reacted accordingly.

I occasionally have the same problem with reactions to blog posts about life in France.

Miriam said...

Is it possible that politicians are sometimes correct when they claim their words were "misunderstood" or "taken out of context"? Or do they always use this to get out of saying, "I made a mistake"? Just wondering....

Anonymous said...

Yes Miriam, it does happen. Media is guilty as anyone else at using what suits them - but politicians also use it to avoid saying "I was wrong".
Our current leader of the opposition has been deliberately misquoted on a number of occasions recently. It might make a good story but it is irresponsible reporting. Chris

cathyc said...

Part of the problem is 'nobody' reads anymore since the advent of the computer, the internet etc. We scan. Scanning is a careless superficial activity resulting in careless superficial understanding.

Redleg said...

I'm terrible with this, but rather in conversation than in writing. I never, ever listen to what the other person says, and just think about what I have to say next. I know it's rude and I know the best thing to do would be to stop and think about what the other person said before continuing. I attribute it to my mind going a mile a minute. Maybe I should only have conversations when I'm very drunk. Being drunk for every disucssion can be an aspirational goal.

catdownunder said...

Once in a while the same thing happens here Fly-in-the-web but so few people comment it is not a big problem.
Miriam, I think Chris is right. (And there are certainly a great many attempts to set politicians up - particularly the current leader of our opposition!)
Cathy - interesting thought - and, I would think, a very fair analysis - information overload?
Redleg - you are very brave to admit that. I doubt you are alone though. How many people are really good listeners?